The road to modern secularism is not only bumpy but seems virtually endless. Flourishing right alongside a contemporary American culture committed to humanism and scientific discovery (if it is, in fact, committed to anything) is an American culture defined by its suspicion of this evolution away from religion and its dogged adherence to faith. Modern religious belief, from this perspective, is less an exception to the rule of secularism than one of its most interesting by-products. Caleb Smith's The Oracle and the Curse is the prehistory of this development. Indeed, that the pressures of secularism produce—as its twin and opponent—a certain version of religious fervor is one of Smith's main points. The book charts a dual transformation in American culture over the first half of the nineteenth century—the rise of law as an impersonal (rather than divinely ordained) system of justice and...
stacey margolis is associate professor of English at the University of Utah and the author of The Public Life of Privacy in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (2005). She has completed a book on the concept of public opinion in the era before polling.
Stacey Margolis; Curses!. Novel 1 November 2015; 48 (3): 482–484. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-3150461
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