Posts in religion-non-religion
On the Origins and Character of “Social Justice”

One of the great ironies of Western political history involves the term “social justice.” Although a core idea within liberalism and socialism for at least 175 years, the background and origin of “social justice” was a cultural and political conservatism. The irony of the “cultural appropriation” of social justice by liberalism and socialism has recently redoubled. Suggestive of a seemingly undeniably intangible good—that is, of just, fair, well-ordered, and harmonious social relations—social justice is now implicated in fierce and sometimes violent antagonisms. Social justice crystallizes in two words some of the most contentious issues roiling North American politics today. Contemporary social justice bears little resemblance to the original social justice or even more recent movements that have gone by the same name.

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Introduction: Global Secularisms in a Post-Secular Age

One of the great ironies of Western political history involves the term “social justice.” Although a core idea within liberalism and socialism for at least 175 years, the background and origin of “social justice” was a cultural and political conservatism. The irony of the “cultural appropriation” of social justice by liberalism and socialism has recently redoubled. Suggestive of a seemingly undeniably intangible good—that is, of just, fair, well-ordered, and harmonious social relations—social justice is now implicated in fierce and sometimes violent antagonisms. Social justice crystallizes in two words some of the most contentious issues roiling North American politics today. Contemporary social justice bears little resemblance to the original social justice or even more recent movements that have gone by the same name. [n Michael Rectenwald, Rochelle Almeida and George Levine, eds. Global Secularisms in a Post- Secular Age. Boston: De Gruyter (2015): 1-24.

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Mid-Nineteenth-Century British Secularism and its Contemporary Post-Secular Implications.

In the late 1840s, a new philosophical, social, and political movement evolved from the freethought tradition of Thomas Paine, Richard Carlile, Robert Owen, and the radical periodical press. The movement was called “Secularism.” Its founder was George Jacob Holyoake (1817–1906).2 Holyoake was a former apprentice whitesmith turned Owenite social missionary, “moral force” Chartist, and leading radical editor and publisher. Given his early exposure to Owenism and Chartism, Holyoake had become a freethinker. With his involvement in free-thought publishing, he became a moral convert to atheism. But his experiences with virulent proponents of atheism or infidelity and the hostile reactions to infidelity on the part of the state, church, and press induced him to develop in 1851–52 the new creed and movement he called Secularism.In Michael Rectenwald, Rochelle Almeida, and George Levine, eds. Global Secularisms in a Post-Secular Age. Boston: De Gruyter (2015): 43-64.

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Secularism and the cultures of nineteenth-century scientific naturalism

This essay examines Secularism as developed by George Jacob Holyoake in 1851–1852. While historians have noted the importance of evolutionary thought for freethinking radicals from the 1840s, and others have traced the popularization of agnosticism and Darwinian evolution by later Victorian freethinkers, insufficient attention has been paid to mid-century Secularism as constitutive of the cultural and intellectual environment necessary for the promotion and relative success of scientific naturalism. I argue that Secularism was a significant source for the emerging new creed of scientific naturalism in the mid-nineteenth century. Not only did early Secularism help clear the way by fighting battles with the state and religious interlocutors, but it also served as a source for what Huxley, almost twenty years later, termed ‘agnosticism’. Holyoake modified freethought in the early 1850s, as he forged connections with middle-class literary radicals and budding scientific naturalists, some of whom met in a ‘Confidential Combination’ of freethinkers. Secularism became the new creed for this coterie. Later, Secularism promoted and received reciprocal support from the most prominent group of scientific naturalists, as Holyoake used Bradlaugh’s atheism and neo-Malthusianism as a foil, and maintained relations with Huxley, Spencer and Tyndall through the end of the century. In Holyoake’s Secularism we find the beginnings of the mutation of radical infidelity into the respectability necessary for the acceptance of scientific naturalism, and also the distancing of later forms of infidelity incompatible with it. Holyoake’s Secularism represents an important early stage of scientific naturalism. In The British Journal for the History of Science. 46.2 (2013): 231-254. Print. Copyright The British Society for the History of Science.

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From Romantic Catastrophism to Victorian Gradualism: A Reading of Epistemes

Several nineteenth-century scholars have remarked upon the movement from “catastrophism to gradualism” in the transition from Romantic to Victorian culture. They see the shift to gradualism in literature (and society) as the result of the incursion of science and its ideas into cultural realms  (e.g., Cosslett, Culler). While recent writings in the discourse of science and literature studies have complicated this one-way traffic by acknowledging a dialectical flow between cultural realms, such readings are nevertheless situated with reference to C.P. Snow’s “two cultures” paradigm.1 In referring literature to scientific discourse and vice versa, science and literature studies may capture a mutual conditioning of respective cultural spheres, but nevertheless continues to discount a reading of the determinations of both spheres by other important social and political factors.

In order to account for a shift from catastrophism to gradualism, I argue that science and literature must be referred to underlying discursive pressures mediating between cultural spheres. Rather than considering literature as appropriating the idioms of science, and/or vice versa, the social and political significations of competing epistemologies and philosophical positions within and across cultural spheres should be traced to account for changes within cultural representation.



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