This essay posits that scholars interested in studying the history of secularism might avail themselves of the tools attendant upon the study of another well-worn historically important but empirically fraught object: literature. Precisely because secularism is a story—a bad alibi, a false descriptor, a failed promise, an expiring explanation of enduring historical transformations—literature may prove to be an exemplary domain for investigations into the historiography of secularism. Moreover, the study of literature at the present time is attentive not only to the form of a text—its language, tone, syntax, and style—but also to the technological and social mechanics of its circulation. The methodologies of literary studies may offer some inroads to the historical study of secularism, because secularism is like literature in the sense that each is reliant for its existence on material structures that its fictional narrative contents may belie, yet each is palpable in its purchase on the world just the same.
Jordan Alexander Stein; Angels in (Mexican) America. American Literature 1 December 2014; 86 (4): 683–711. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2811778
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