Narratives of secularization?

A few weeks ago, Amardeep Singh of the Valve put up an interesting post about “literary secularism” on that blog, to coincide with the appearance of his new book with the same name.  Here’s his announcement, on a stand-alone blog devoted to the book’s topic:

Apparently, Amardeep’s argument takes up recent social theories of secularization and secularity (running from Said through Asad and Viswanathan), modernity, and religion, and how those issues have affected literary works produced in the fractured or overlapping religious spaces of modernity: not just the Anglo-Judaic England of Daniel Deronda, but the novels of Joyce, Tagore, Pamuk, and Roth, as well.

I was intrigued by this description, because I came to this discussion from my own point of departure, which is really the transition from the early modern to the Enlightenment in England and Great Britain.  And, if you recall, this kind of secularizing narrative plays a prominent role in both McKeon and Parker’s works, which we read last term, and which take the story back to the English Civil War or even the Reformation.  And I sent Amardeep a post, and told him that I thought these were fairly standard historical arguments within our field.

Nonetheless, since I’m still mulling these issues over, I thought it would be interesting to see if others have been thinking about these issues in their own research, and what kinds of historical or literary examples they might choose to talk about, or what kinds of theoretical models they might use to illuminate them.



2 responses to “Narratives of secularization?

  1. Laura Rosenthal

    Hi Dave,
    In preparing to teach The Merchant of Venice, I just happened read an article by Regina Schwartz, “The Price of Justice and Love in The Merchant of Venice.” The essay begins:

    “At the dawn of the process of secularization, during what historians now refer to as the early modern period and some literary critics still call the Renaissance, the medieval religious worldview began to erode and concerns that were once clearly governed by religious institutions, rituals, and doctrines gradually became the purview of secular thought and pratice–including the law and drama.”

    One can certainly see such tensions in “Merchant” and other Shakespeare plays. In short, there is a whole other narrative that places secularization even earlier than the eighteenth century.

  2. David Mazella

    Hey Laura,

    Yeah, that makes sense. And there’s an argument that Shakespeare was useful to the creators of a national English literary canon to the extent that he avoided the more sectarian or allegorical modes typical of more religious writing.