The American nineteenth century has of late been described as “The Golden Age of Freethought.” While contemporary “freethinkers” continue to advocate for a secular philosophy based upon reason, skepticism and empiricism opposed to God, authority, and tradition, this course is more concerned with locating “Freethought” historically, as a uniquely American undertaking.
We aspire to trace the long nineteenth century literary tradition of U.S. Freethought. In addition to Paine, Jefferson, and the antebellum contributions of abolitionists and suffragettes, we will examine the fiery orations of “American infidel” Robert Ingersoll, the destructive satire of Mark Twain, the “cosmic” poetry of Walt Whitman, the unrepentant anarchism of Emma Goldman and more! The course will conclude by interrogating the modern-day return of religious fundamentalism in the face of secularist consensus; and the subsequent, often violent, reactions of the so-called “new atheists.”
In addition to expanding the knowledge of U.S. cultural history, the course aims to cultivate critical analysis through class discussions, regular responses, group presentations, and a short essay.