Scott Thompson response to Sara Lyons

Sara Lyons usefully frames Lecourt’s argument in terms of “the problem of belief.” On the one hand, Lecourt is very much trying to “escape” the “belief-centred” definitions of religion. This escape allows Cultivating Belief to revise the narrative of Victorian secular liberalism from one of religious doubt compounded by “traumatic loss” to one of secular pluralization and cosmopolitan expansion.

On the other hand, though, Lyons questions how far Lecourt’s argument actually gets away from the belief model of religion. In her reading, there still remains a “mysterious sense of inwardness” in the Victorian writers under examination. I also sensed this “mysterious” inwardness in Cultivating Belief, and, in my response, I discussed it in terms of semi-vague psychological vocabulary. It does seem as if the Victorian writers do still value a type of interiority and maintain a personal belief system in some form. Lecourt’s “many-sided individual,” rather than completely abandoning Protestant inwardness in favor of an embodied sense of religion, holds both inner and outer values at play simultaneously. Rather than “solving” this binary, Lecourt’s argument complicates our understanding of nineteenth-century secularism and religion.

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