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ENGL 529 B: Topics In Nineteenth-Century Studies: Religion, Secularization, and Literature
“Almost every cultural theorist today passes over in silence some of the most vital beliefs and activities of billions of ordinary men and women, simply because they happen not to be to their personal taste.”…..critic Terry Eagleton
Religion has always had an outsized influence upon anglophone literature, and yet until the recent “religious turn” in literary studies, it was also somewhat neglected. The Marxist critic Terry Eagleton does not exaggerate much when he states that, “Almost every cultural theorist today passes over in silence some of the most vital beliefs and activities of billions of ordinary men and women, simply because they happen not to be to their personal taste.”
This course introduces students to “the religious turn” in literary studies, and it pursues the literary and cultural implications of secularization and religion (especially evangelical religion) as they relate to literature and as they come down to us from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It will investigate a new scholarly consensus about the vigor of nineteenth-century religion but will also focus upon religious conflict, especially in the period surrounding Darwin’s The Origin of Species. It further will explore competing paradigms for secularization, such as that of the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, who writes of secularization as a condition of modern life that helps to constitute modern selfhood and that (at least historically) brings about both the destabilization and recomposition of religious forms. Readings will be drawn chiefly from a British context, but American, European, and imperial parallels will be unmistakable and frequent.
In addition to literature, there’ll be a fair amount of reading from Charles Taylor’s *A Secular Age*, as well as things like Charles Darwin, William James, Paul Ricoeur, Eve Sedgwick, maybe some Cornel West.