A (Post)Secular Age: Protestant Epistemologies and the American Novel

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Post-secular critics are currently challenging the theory that the rise of historical empiricism, as a mode of thought, replaced religious belief and praxis. According to theorist Benedict Anderson, the seventeenth century ushered in a break between a religious cosmology and history, creating a need to link fraternity, power, and time in new ways. Nationalism, an ideology that links subjective identity to a history unfolding in "homogeneous, empty time," filled this need. New literary genres like the novel presented stories that occurred in the time and space of the nation, offering readers a means of identifying as members of a community with a common, secular history.

This panel invites papers that challenge Anderson's well-known thesis, specifically as it posits a single epistemological function for the realist novel. As post-secular critics are aware, the realist novel does not simply hasten secular modes of thinking: instead, it engages the shifting grounds of contemporary epistemology from a variety of positions, many of which are and have been explicitly religious. We are particularly interested in papers that deal with the wide array of popular Protestant novels in America. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such novels have asked readers to imagine themselves simultaneously as historical and soteriological subjects. Our question is then: What do popular Protestant novels tell us about the relationship between historical empiricism, secularism, and religious belief? Could it be that these novels complicate dominate narratives of secularism in ways we have yet to account for?

Please send 250 word abstracts to Kathleen Howard at khoward@rci.rutgers.edu by September 30th.