If Romantic Historicism Shaped Modern Fundamentalism, Would that Count as Secularization?

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Over the last decade, scholars have been reconsidering the way secularization organizes literary history. This essay suggests that recent advances have depended on a tacit distinction between the institutional and intellectual narratives once fused under the rubric of secularization. It also underlines the value of that distinction through a case study, examining the way dispensational fundamentalism has combined historicism with an anti-secular institutional agenda. Dispensationalism is now best known because of its prominence in the United States, where it spread the doctrine of a pre-tribulational Rapture. But the movement's origins lie in Britain, and its leaders were distinguished by a radically historical approach to the Bible. Edward Irving, for instance, discussed historical criticism with friends S.T. Coleridge and Thomas Carlyle, insisted on a contextual interpretation of Scripture, and saw the Gentile church as a provisional institution. Irving's fundamentalist historicism is hard to distinguish from the historicism that critics have identified as a secularizing legacy of Romantic literature. But the social consequences of his views diverged markedly from the consequences associated with historicism in, say, the Broad Church - suggesting that institutional and intellectual aspects of secularization aren't as thoroughly fused as literary historians sometimes assume.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-343
Number of pages17
JournalEuropean Romantic Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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