Religious humanism, or the worship of humanity, was the unofficial religion of God-bereft Victorian writers. Is a society without religion emancipated or lost? We will explore this and similar questions in poetry, fiction, and essays by members of a lost generation; not the American 1920s, but the sages of Victorian England. We shall read works by Thomas Carlyle, Charles Darwin, Matthew Arnold, Alfred Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, and Charlotte Bront to see what it means to worship men and women in a world without divinity. For contrast, we shall read some poetry by two of the rare Victorians who were formally religious: Christina Rossetti and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Is this poetry better than poetry of doubt? Is it more assured? Is it different?
There will be two examinations, a midterm and a final. In addition, each student will write a 10-odd page paper on faith or faithlessness in a nineteenth-century work not included on our syllabus.