The Age of Doubt: Tracing the Roots of Our Religious Uncertainty

Overview

The Victorian era was the first great “Age of Doubt” and a critical moment in the history of Western ideas. Leading nineteenth-century intellectuals battled the Church and struggled to absorb radical scientific discoveries that upended everything the Bible had taught them about the world. In The Age of Doubt, distinguished scholar Christopher Lane tells the fascinating story of a society under strain as virtually all aspects of life changed abruptly.

In deft portraits of ...

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The Age of Doubt: Tracing the Roots of Our Religious Uncertainty

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Overview

The Victorian era was the first great “Age of Doubt” and a critical moment in the history of Western ideas. Leading nineteenth-century intellectuals battled the Church and struggled to absorb radical scientific discoveries that upended everything the Bible had taught them about the world. In The Age of Doubt, distinguished scholar Christopher Lane tells the fascinating story of a society under strain as virtually all aspects of life changed abruptly.

In deft portraits of scientific, literary, and intellectual icons who challenged the prevailing religious orthodoxy, from Robert Chambers and Anne Brontë to Charles Darwin and Thomas H. Huxley, Lane demonstrates how they and other Victorians succeeded in turning doubt from a religious sin into an ethical necessity.

The dramatic adjustment of Victorian society has echoes today as technology, science, and religion grapple with moral issues that seemed unimaginable even a decade ago. Yet the Victorians’ crisis of faith generated a far more searching engagement with religious belief than the “new atheism” that has evolved today. More profoundly than any generation before them, the Victorians came to view doubt as inseparable from belief, thought, and debate, as well as a much-needed antidote to fanaticism and unbridled certainty. By contrast, a look at today’s extremes—from the biblical literalists behind the Creation Museum to the dogmatic rigidity of Richard Dawkins’s atheism—highlights our modern-day inability to embrace doubt.

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Editorial Reviews

The Chicago Reader
The charm of The Age of Doubt is that it returns us to Victorian England, when the absence of God was a new idea—a new idea, at any rate, to a number of intelligent people raised in the Anglican Church who would happily have continued subscribing to their realm's official faith if science hadn't lately posed so many inconvenient contradictions.—Michael Miner, The Chicago Reader

— Michael Miner

Englewood Review of Books
A welcome and timely entry into the discussion . . . The Age of Doubt is important reading for all who want to better understand the way our culture has unfolded while uncovering the roots of our religious skepticism. Lane creates a very readable volume in which these struggles of faith and doubt come to life . . . compelling reading.—Bryan Berghoef, Englewood Review of Books

— Bryan Berghoef

Literary Review (UK)
Lane asks the right questions of the doubting pundits, past and present. Easy to read and render[ing] complicated ideas accessible, [his book] is an altogether admirable study—and ends with an amusing tour of the intellectual trivialities at American Creationist 'museums.''—Edward Norman, Literary Review

— Edward Norman

PopMatters
Lane has hit upon something interesting. While many people believe that human history is the story of 2,000 years of blanket Christianity followed by a recent emergence of atheism, the book stresses the very important fact that theological and philosophical squabbles over these subjects are nothing new (and indeed, far more fierce than some of our debates today)... The Age of Doubt is a call for others to examine this material.—Christopher Holden, PopMatters

— Christopher Holden

York University
The story of Victorian doubt is both fascinating and important for understanding why we continue to be mired in fierce cultural battles over the status of evolution and the value of religious faith. This provocative book is well worth the read.—Bernard Lightman, York University

— Bernard Lightman

Kroniek
[This] is a well-written work, stylistically speaking: very clear and honest. The argument is well structured and, more to the point, he never loses his theme for a moment. The hardcover is beautifully published, tied into a neat cover, . . . providing a feast for the eye and the mind. Highly recommended, without hesitation.—Karel D’huyvetters, Kroniek

— Karel D'huyvetters

Victorian Studies
In this elegantly written book, Christopher Lane tells the story of Victorian doubt by exploring the public and private writing of figures such as Thomas Carlyle, Charles Lyell, Robert Chambers, J. A. Froude, Alfred Tennyson, George Eliot, Herbert Spencer, and Leslie Stephen. While some of their personal stories are better known than others, in each case Lane finds something insightful to say about the nature of belief and “what it felt like to lose one’s religious faith—as an individual and, more broadly, as a people and society—Mark Knight, University of Toronto

— Mark Knight

Literary Review (UK) - Edward Norman
"Lane asks the right questions of the doubting pundits, past and present. Easy to read and render[ing] complicated ideas accessible, [his book] is an altogether admirable study—and ends with an amusing tour of the intellectual trivialities at American Creationist 'museums.''—Edward Norman, Literary Review
PopMatters - Christopher Holden
“Lane has hit upon something interesting. While many people believe that human history is the story of 2,000 years of blanket Christianity followed by a recent emergence of atheism, the book stresses the very important fact that theological and philosophical squabbles over these subjects are nothing new (and indeed, far more fierce than some of our debates today)... The Age of Doubt is a call for others to examine this material.”—Christopher Holden, PopMatters
The Chicago Reader - Michael Miner
"The charm of The Age of Doubt is that it returns us to Victorian England, when the absence of God was a new idea—a new idea, at any rate, to a number of intelligent people raised in the Anglican Church who would happily have continued subscribing to their realm's official faith if science hadn't lately posed so many inconvenient contradictions."—Michael Miner, The Chicago Reader
Bernard Lightman
“The story of Victorian doubt is both fascinating and important for understanding why we continue to be mired in fierce cultural battles over the status of evolution and the value of religious faith. This provocative book is well worth the read.”—Bernard Lightman, York University
Jude V. Nixon
"A fresh and nuanced examination of how the major scientific assumptions of the nineteenth century informed and were shaped by doubt."—Jude V. Nixon, Professor of English & Dean of Arts & Sciences, Salem State University, and Editor of Victorian Religious Discourse
Kroniek - Karel D'huyvetters
“[This] is a well-written work, stylistically speaking: very clear and honest. The argument is well structured and, more to the point, he never loses his theme for a moment. The hardcover is beautifully published, tied into a neat cover, . . . providing a feast for the eye and the mind. Highly recommended, without hesitation.”—Karel D’huyvetters, Kroniek
Englewood Review of Books - Bryan Berghoef
"A welcome and timely entry into the discussion . . . The Age of Doubt is important reading for all who want to better understand the way our culture has unfolded while uncovering the roots of our religious skepticism. Lane creates a very readable volume in which these struggles of faith and doubt come to life . . . compelling reading."—Bryan Berghoef, Englewood Review of Books
Keith Thomson
“Lane’s stimulating analysis asks whether acknowledging how science, religion, and society have produced a growing chasm between faith and doubt, and even destroyed belief, can offer a way forward.”—Keith Thomson, author of Before Darwin and The Young Charles Darwin
Victorian Studies - Mark Knight
In this elegantly written book, Christopher Lane tells the story of Victorian doubt by exploring the public and private writing of figures such as Thomas Carlyle, Charles Lyell, Robert Chambers, J. A. Froude, Alfred Tennyson, George Eliot, Herbert Spencer, and Leslie Stephen. While some of their personal stories are better known than others, in each case Lane finds something insightful to say about the nature of belief and “what it felt like to lose one’s religious faith—as an individual and, more broadly, as a people and society”—Mark Knight, University of Toronto
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300141924
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2011
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 971,373
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Lane is the Pearce Miller Research Professor of Literature at Northwestern University and a recent Guggenheim fellow. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Slate, and many other newspapers and periodicals. He is the author of numerous essays and several books on literature, belief, and psychology, including Shyness, published by Yale University Press. He lives in Chicago.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Putting Faith in Doubt 1

Chapter 1 Miracles and Skeptics 14

Chapter 2 Stunned Victorians Look Backward and Inward 36

Chapter 3 Feeling Doubt, Then Drinking It 63

Chapter 4 Natural History Sparks Honest Doubt 92

Chapter 5 Uncertainty Becomes a Way of Life 123

Chapter 6 Faith-Based Certainty Meets the Gospel of Doubt 159

Notes 187

Acknowledgments 223

Index 225

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 22, 2011

    Highly recommended--I enjoyed it a lot

    This is a fascinating book, devoted to the recent history of religious doubt and debates about belief, and I liked it a lot. It's a good read, nicely paced, describing major events in the nineteenth century that predate many of today's arguments about atheism, doubt, and fundamentalism. the book takes issue with some of Dawkins's arguments in The God Delusion. I learned a lot from it and recommend it highly.

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