Culture and Redemption Reviewed


When the right book meets the right reviewer, intellects spark. Case in point: Kathryn Lofton's review of Tracy Fessenden's Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature (the link may or may not work, depending on whether you have library access) -- published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. A key passage to chew on:

. . . . if by the end you have not learned to read again (to think again) about such lofty suspects as democratization, feminization, and, yes, even that old warthog, secularization, then you have missed an opportunity to read, to read intensely, something that truly earns such reading. . . .

Fessenden's tough task is to show where and how this process of entrenchment takes place over and against increasing squeals of secularity. Social scientists and political observers have made easy mush of the secularization thesis, using twentieth-century fundamentalisms and new religious movements to mock the anticipated apocalypse of religion in the wake of science and social freedom. Students of history have had a harder fight with secularization, noting again and again that the success of orthodox religions within modernity is no trump to the postulated end of public practice. Any description of the post-industrial world requires an awareness of religion's uninterrupted endurance alongside (and within) the astounding cornucopia of competing ideologies, capitalist consumer practices, and celebrations of radically atomized selfhood that early modern observers would have rendered positively pagan. "Secularization" did not happen, precisely, but it also did not
not happen, as talk of a spiritually divested public sphere lingered in political debates and sociological prognostications.


Anonymous said…
As one who wrote review draft after review draft of Fessenden's book, let me say that Lofton's piece is just about perfect. It's a difficult book to review because Fessenden makes so many contributions - whether to Puritanism, Native Americans in the white mind, Bible wars, anti-Catholicism, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, and even F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Randall said…
Great review. Gotta get the book now!

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