This essay works to clarify Edward Said’s writings on religion, criticism, and the secular, arguing that this clarification has serious implications not only for Said’s project of “secular criticism” but also for understanding the workings of what he called the “critical consciousness” within a “purely secular view of reality.” The essay holds that there are not one but two concepts of the religious operative in Said’s work and maintains that most commentators on Said have ignored the second concept and have therefore misconstrued secular criticism’s relationship to what it nominates as religious. By reexamining Said’s writings on religion, criticism, and the secular, as well as his early studies of modern literature, this essay contends that a secular criticism aware of its commitment to both concepts of the religious allows for a more nuanced and powerful account of the manner in which such criticism can call itself secular. It suggests, furthermore, that this account not only clarifies the workings of Said’s own critical consciousness but also provides a likewise more nuanced view of the “method” or “rationality” such a consciousness deploys in making sense of human life, ingenuity, and history.

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