Credulity: Enchantment and Modernity in the 19th-Century U.S. (Day One)

Friday 29 March, 2013
10am - 5:15pm, $0/Rsvp

Columbia University, The Heyman Center
2960 Broadway, Floor 2 (Common Room)

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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?


    • 10:15a12:00p
      Panel 1
      • "Alchemy, Transmutation, and Romantic Wonder"

        Jennifer J.  Baker

        New York University

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

        Jennifer L.  Brady

        Harvard University

    • 12:00p1:30p
    • 1:30p3:15p
      Panel 2
      • "'The Depths of Astonishment': Underground City Mysteries"

        Lara Langer Cohen

        Wayne State University

      • “Sacred Theories of Earth”

        Dana Luciano

        Georgetown University

    • 3:15p3:30p
      Coffee Break
    • 3:30p5:15p
      Panel 3
      • “Prophets in Love: Polygamy and Indigeneity in Early Mormonism”

        Peter Coviello

        Bowdoin College

      • "Cybernetic Belief"

        John Lardas Modern

        Franklin and Marshall College

    • 5:15p6:15p
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