The Age of Doubt (Hardcover)

Tracing the Roots of Our Religious Uncertainty

By Christopher Lane

Yale University Press, 9780300141924, 248pp.

Publication Date: March 29, 2011

List Price: 28.00*
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By analyzing the parallel battles over faith and reason in the nineteenth century and ours, scholar Christopher Lane makes a case for the benefits of religious uncertainty.

The Victorian era was the first great “Age of Doubt” and a critical moment in the history of Western ideas. Leading nineteenth-century intellectuals battled the Church and struggled to absorb radical scientific discoveries that upended everything the Bible had taught them about the world. In The Age of Doubt, distinguished scholar Christopher Lane tells the fascinating story of a society under strain as virtually all aspects of life changed abruptly.

In deft portraits of scientific, literary, and intellectual icons who challenged the prevailing religious orthodoxy, from Robert Chambers and Anne Brontë to Charles Darwin and Thomas H. Huxley, Lane demonstrates how they and other Victorians succeeded in turning doubt from a religious sin into an ethical necessity.

The dramatic adjustment of Victorian society has echoes today as technology, science, and religion grapple with moral issues that seemed unimaginable even a decade ago. Yet the Victorians’ crisis of faith generated a far more searching engagement with religious belief than the “new atheism” that has evolved today. More profoundly than any generation before them, the Victorians came to view doubt as inseparable from belief, thought, and debate, as well as a much-needed antidote to fanaticism and unbridled certainty. By contrast, a look at today’s extremes—from the biblical literalists behind the Creation Museum to the dogmatic rigidity of Richard Dawkins’s atheism—highlights our modern-day inability to embrace doubt.

About the Author

Christopher Lane is professor of English at Northwestern University and a recent Guggenheim fellow. He lives in Chicago.

Praise For The Age of Doubt: Tracing the Roots of Our Religious Uncertainty

"Lane asks the right questions of the doubting pundits, past and present. Easy to read and render[ing] complicated ideas accessible, [his book] is an altogether admirable study—and ends with an amusing tour of the intellectual trivialities at American Creationist 'museums.'''—Edward Norman, Literary Review

— Edward Norman

“Lane has hit upon something interesting. While many people believe that human history is the story of 2,000 years of blanket Christianity followed by a recent emergence of atheism, the book stresses the very important fact that theological and philosophical squabbles over these subjects are nothing new (and indeed, far more fierce than some of our debates today)... The Age of Doubt is a call for others to examine this material.”—Christopher Holden, PopMatters

— Christopher Holden

"The charm of The Age of Doubt is that it returns us to Victorian England, when the absence of God was a new idea—a new idea, at any rate, to a number of intelligent people raised in the Anglican Church who would happily have continued subscribing to their realm's official faith if science hadn't lately posed so many inconvenient contradictions."—Michael Miner, The Chicago Reader

— Michael Miner

"The story of Victorian doubt is both fascinating and important for understanding why we continue to be mired in fierce cultural battles over the status of evolution and the value of religious faith. This provocative book is well worth the read."—Bernard Lightman, York University

— Bernard Lightman

"A fresh and nuanced examination of how the major scientific assumptions of the nineteenth century informed and were shaped by doubt."—Jude V. Nixon, Professor of English & Dean of Arts & Sciences, Salem State University, and Editor of Victorian Religious Discourse

— Jude V. Nixon

“[This] is a well-written work, stylistically speaking: very clear and honest. The argument is well structured and, more to the point, he never loses his theme for a moment. The hardcover is beautifully published, tied into a neat cover, . . . providing a feast for the eye and the mind. Highly recommended, without hesitation.”—Karel D’huyvetters, Kroniek

— Karel D'huyvetters

"A welcome and timely entry into the discussion . . . The Age of Doubt is important reading for all who want to better understand the way our culture has unfolded while uncovering the roots of our religious skepticism. Lane creates a very readable volume in which these struggles of faith and doubt come to life . . . compelling reading."—Bryan Berghoef, Englewood Review of Books

— Bryan Berghoef

“The story of Victorian doubt is both fascinating and important for understanding why we continue to be mired in fierce cultural battles over the status of evolution and the value of religious faith. This provocative book is well worth the read.”—Bernard Lightman, York University

— Bernard Lightman

“Lane’s stimulating analysis asks whether acknowledging how science, religion, and society have produced a growing chasm between faith and doubt, and even destroyed belief, can offer a way forward.”—Keith Thomson, author of Before Darwin and The Young Charles Darwin

— Keith Thomson

In this elegantly written book, Christopher Lane tells the story of Victorian doubt by exploring the public and private writing of figures such as Thomas Carlyle, Charles Lyell, Robert Chambers, J. A. Froude, Alfred Tennyson, George Eliot, Herbert Spencer, and Leslie Stephen. While some of their personal stories are better known than others, in each case Lane finds something insightful to say about the nature of belief and “what it felt like to lose one’s religious faith—as an individual and, more broadly, as a people and society”—Mark Knight, University of Toronto

— Mark Knight