Deadline Extended: American Literature Call for Papers: After the Postsecular
Call for Papers Date:
Rising on the flood of recent work on secularization, secularity, and secularism is a term often invested with particular promise—the postsecular. In its finest articulations, the term does not carry with it a particular historical claim, as opposed to the “desecularization” narrative recently offered by the chastened secularization theorist Peter Berger. The postsecular need not be taken as periodizing or prophesying eras of secularity or unsecularity. Rather, it refers to an epistemological and methodological reorientation from which history might look different. As Hans Joas has assiduously argued, “postsecular” does not “express a sudden increase in religiosity, after its epochal decrease, but rather a change in mindset of those who, previously, felt justified in considering religions to be moribund.” In these terms, the “postsecular”— regardless of one’s empirical assessment of or political hopes for the present or future secularity index—simply names the attempt to examine the historical past unburdened by a particular fantasy of the inevitable or necessary suppression or supersession of something called “religion,” and, more broadly, of the triumph of a particular sense of the “material” over and against the “spiritual.”
With its varied and extraordinary religiosity, the United States is often enlisted as a counterexample that sinks the secularization thesis in its most sweeping and dogmatic formulations. The homegrown prophet Joseph Smith, for instance, was no outlier to the nineteenth-century culture in which he appeared when he declared that “all spirit is matter.” Although we tend to remember otherwise, spiritualists, sex-radicals, antislavery polemicists, poets and novelists, and believers of many stripes all would have shared in Smith’s now counterintuitive premise. The antinomies through which we are accustomed to reading these expressions (spirit vs. matter, soul vs. body, earthly vs. heavenly spheres) have less to do with the evidence of the archive, we suspect, than with the persistence of implicitly secularizing conceptual frameworks. But the objective of this special issue is not simply to foreground—yet again—the “religious” in Americanist literary and cultural studies. Rather, we wish to consider how all objects in the US historical field, particularly those that have arguably been ceded to the domain of the secular—race, sexuality, and aesthetics, for example—might suddenly look different through postsecularist lenses. That is to say, the postsecular hermeneutic might do important work not only in recovering the “religious” but in redescribing the avowedly “secular.”
Our aim in this special issue is to collect scholarship that is “after the postsecular” in at least two senses. First, we solicit work that follows the postsecular move all the way to its logical ends, work that dislodges the premise that the unfolding of modernity is synonymous with secularization and with the divisions and disenchantments understood to follow from it. This release from the codings of secularist presumption—codings of belief, of politics and political engagement, and not least of the body itself—can have, we believe, the salutary effect of making available fresh lines of inquiry into some of the most contentious, consequential aspects of American life, many of which encompass but also expand considerably beyond the purview of the history of religion: race and Atlantic slavery; gender and sentimental culture; emerging technologies of representation; indigeneity and sovereignty; sex and intimate life; and the politics of canonicity itself. Second, we invite submissions that are “after the postsecular” in the sense of seeking to move beyond such a paradigm. How might the postsecular paradigm be inadequate both in general and in particular so far as the American case is concerned? How do we grapple with supple redefinitions of secularism itself, in the work of scholars like Charles Taylor, Talal Asad, and John Modern? What better terms and approaches can we adopt in order to understand better what our objects of study are doing?
In considering what the secularization narrative might obscure from view in our readings of the canon in its broadest conceptions, we wonder: How can we begin to reconceptualize debates around indigeneity and slavery in the Atlantic world as matters of political theology—disputes around what we might think of as the racialization of god(s) in the postcontact world? How have secularization narratives worked as a way of telling, and perhaps misapprehending, the history of the body? How differently might the history of sexuality appear once we recognize, for instance, that the line Foucault draws from the Catholic confessional to the psychiatric couch runs decidedly more crookedly in an American context convulsed by revivalism, spiritualism, indigenous rescriptings of inherited forms, and a multitude of other derangements of embodied devotional experience? To what degree is our sense of the “literary” itself a by-product of an implicitly taxonomizing narrative of secularization? (Would Emerson be considered “literary” if he hadn’t written poetry? Would Whitman? And do we consider their work “poetry” if we understand them as nonsecular?) What happens to our estimations of different kinds of writers (Black Elk, Mary Baker Eddy) once those taxonomies are suspended? And what, finally, are the specifically methodological challenges entailed in addressing ourselves to works that so disarticulate the categories we use to make “writing” intelligible to varieties of criticism?
Special issue editors: Peter Coviello and Jared Hickman. Submissions of 11,000 words or less (including endnotes and references) should be submitted electronically at www.editorialmanager.com/al/default.asp by October 30, 2013. When choosing a submission type, select “New Submission-Special Issue.” For assistance with the submission process, please contact the office of American Literature at 919–684–3396 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please direct other questions to Peter Coviello (email@example.com) or Jared Hickman ( firstname.lastname@example.org).
Johns Hopkins University
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