Christianity and Literature

CFP: The Secular and the Literary

In the past decade we have seen a surge of interest in secularism (as a mode of governance) and “the secular” (as a background condition of modernity).   The terms of debate have by now achieved something of a rough equilibrium: Is “secularization” an outdated concept, or does it still capture something true about the modern world? Is secularism a mode of governmentality or a normative ideal to be defended? What is secularism’s role in colonial and imperial ventures? Is its story best told as a matter of intellectual, social, or political history? Does the term “post-secular,” which has begun to appear with some frequency, describe anything more than an academic trend? Most of these questions originated in the social sciences (anthropology, sociology, and political science), or in hybrid disciplines like religious studies and intellectual history, and it is there that they are being most actively debated.

Though literary studies has productively adopted some of this work, the place of literature and the literary within the secular (and indeed, whether literature has anything but an ancillary role to play in this conversation) remains, with a few notable exceptions, ill-defined.   For example, Edward Said’s defense of “secular criticism” as intrinsic to a certain kind of literary relation to the world remains one touchstone, and yet Said’s concerns and themes (critical distance, exile) are largely orthogonal to the current interest in secularism. Or consider Hans Joas’s 2008 reminder that dissatisfaction with the narrative of secularization does not lead in any obvious or straightforward way to an increase in religious practice, commitment, or sacred expression.

This special issue seeks, then to push further the theorization and application of secularism and postsecularism, with a particular emphasis upon the ways that literary studies and literature have advanced, altered, or intercepted the social science and religious studies conversation. What, then, is the place of the literary within the history and formation of the secular? What histories of the field, discipline, or literary object might have purchase on the secular / religion binary? If that binary has outlived its usefulness, what might replace it? We also are interested in critical engagements with those modes of analysis that have become most prominent in so-called postsecular literary studies, from the turn to religion and the presumed demise of secularization theory to the political and ethical implications of naming something (a text, an era, a methodology) postsecular.


Full-length essays (8,000 words) and shorter (4,000 word) “think” pieces are both welcome.

Deadline: January 15, 2017

Contact: Colin Jager, Professor of English, Rutgers University

Submit at:

(please indicate in the field on the 4th page of the submission process that asks “Is this manuscript a candidate for a special issue?” that it is for the Secularism/Postsecularism issue). Direct Submission queries to