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Chapter 14 - Religion and Science in the 1890s

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2023

Dustin Friedman
Affiliation:
American University, Washington DC
Kristin Mahoney
Affiliation:
Michigan State University
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Summary

Until the late twentieth century, literary scholars often assumed that Victorian scientific advances challenged the dominance of religion, theorizing that religious institutions and beliefs decline with modernity. More recently, scholars affiliated with the “religious turn” in Victorian studies have suggested Christian denominations gradually embraced scientific ideas, with new religious movements such as Spiritualism and Theosophy enabling Victorians to preserve elements of Christianity (e.g., belief in an afterlife) in a rapidly changing world. This chapter intervenes in these debates using two very different novels as case studies: Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890, 1891) and Marie Corelli’s The Sorrows of Satan (1895), both of which freely mix Christianity with science: Wilde blends Catholicism, neuroscience, and aestheticism, while Corelli creatively revises scientific theories to align with her heterodox faith. With their occult and pseudoscientific leanings these works ask us to reconsider what counted as religion or science and to redraw the boundaries of faith to encompass unorthodox trends.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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