Events

Credulity: Enchantment and Modernity in the 19th-Century U.S.

General Programming

Cosponsor
  • Department of English and Comparative Literature
Organizer
  • Emily Ogden, Society of Fellows
Notes
  • RSVP suggested
  • Free and open to the public
  • Photo ID required for entry

What is the place of enchantment in nineteenth-century America? Scholars of the secular have been accumulating a rich description of what it meant in this period to "aim for 'modernity,'" in Talal Asad's phrase. This conference asks about the persons and knowledges which appeared as excessive, even dangerous, to this project—while assuming that this excess cannot simply be described as "religion." Credulity, a frequent term of abuse in antebellum sources, meant believing too readily and too well, often with the implication of bodily mismanagement: the credulous person's nerves or brain did her down. So who were the credulous, and what did they know? Detractors saw an ad-hoc collection of gullible scientists, political patsies, occult practitioners, religious enthusiasts, fiction readers, and superstitious primitives, all of them behind the times. But how were such alleged failures distinctively modern? Did connections develop between forms of credulity at first linked only by their bad reputations? How should we understand credulity's angle on the rational—as symptom, queering, disability, doubling? Working on the assumption that modern enchantment is as much in need of historical description as secularity is, we are interested in topics including, but not limited to:

  • seductive literature and its credulous readers, literary frauds, lying memoirs;
  • queer beliefs and excessive epistemic desires;
  • the occult, magic, wonder shows, witchcraft;
  • contested sciences and contested scientific methods;
  • hysteria, nervousness, and models of the body;
  • revivals, "primitive" religion, Spiritualism;
  • defenses of credulity, attacks on skepticism, conventions of the exposé;
  • eighteenth-century precursors (enthusiasm debates, the Great Awakening) and twentieth-century aftermaths (the crowd, suggestion, surrealism).

Note: Image courtesy of American Antiquarian Society

Program

March 29, 2013  Friday

9:30am - 10:15am EDT

Breakfast

10:15am - 12:00pm EDT

Panel 1
Welcoming Remarks

Emily Ogden

Assistant Professor of English

University of Virginia

"Alchemy, Transmutation, and Romantic Wonder"

Jennifer J. Baker

Associate Professor of English

New York University

"The White of their Eyes: Believing Mary Webb's Dramatic Readings"

Jennifer L. Brady

Fellow of Academic Research, Division of Arts and Humanities

Harvard University

Moderator

12:00pm - 1:30pm EDT

Lunch

1:30pm - 3:15pm EDT

Panel 2
"'The Depths of Astonishment': Underground City Mysteries"

Lara Langer Cohen

Assistant Professor of English

Wayne State University

"Sacred Theories of Earth, or, What It's Like to Channel a Thing"

Dana Luciano

Associate Professor of English

Georgetown University

Moderator

Vesna Kuiken

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English

Columbia University

3:15pm - 3:30pm EDT

Coffee Break

3:30pm - 5:15pm EDT

Panel 3
“Prophets in Love: Polygamy and Indigeneity in Early Mormonism”

Peter Coviello

Professor of English

Bowdoin College

"Cybernetic Belief"

John Lardas Modern

Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Franklin and Marshall College

Moderator

Sarah Rivett

Assistant Professor of English

Princeton University

March 30, 2013  Saturday

9:30am - 9:45am EDT

Breakfast

9:45am - 11:30am EDT

Panel 4
“'Humanization Run Wild': Vandover and the Brute”

Jennifer Fleissner

Associate Professor of English

Indiana University

“'A Negative of All Previous Experience': Mesmerism's Errant Knowledge”

Emily Ogden

Assistant Professor of English

University of Virginia

Moderator

11:30am - 11:45am EDT

Coffee Break

11:45am - 1:30pm EDT

Panel 5
"A Casual Irregularity of Hand: Hawthorne's Autographs and the Limits of Print"

Christopher Hunter

Assistant Professor of English

California Institute of Technology

"‘Matter no more’: Poe, Public Science, and the Paradoxes of Materialism"

John Tresch

Associate Professor, History and Sociology of Science

University of Pennsylvania

Moderator

Jordan Alexander Stein

Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow

Fordham University

Participants
  • Jennifer J. Baker Associate Professor of English New York University
  • Jennifer L. Brady Fellow of Academic Research, Division of Arts and Humanities Harvard University
  • Lara Langer Cohen Assistant Professor of English Wayne State University
  • Peter Coviello Professor of English Bowdoin College
  • Jennifer Fleissner Associate Professor of English Indiana University
  • Christopher Hunter Assistant Professor of English California Institute of Technology
  • Vesna Kuiken Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English Columbia University
  • Dana Luciano Associate Professor of English Georgetown University
  • John Lardas Modern Associate Professor of Religious Studies Franklin and Marshall College
  • Emily Ogden Assistant Professor of English University of Virginia
  • Sarah Rivett Assistant Professor of English Princeton University
  • Jordan Alexander Stein Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow Fordham University
  • John Tresch Associate Professor, History and Sociology of Science University of Pennsylvania