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...

You do not currently have access to this content.