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Feeling secular

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In the past decade, “affect” has emerged as a keyword for queer and feminist studies-and beyond. The turn to affect is also a re-turn, with contemporary studies of affect drawing across rich earlier studies of emotion, feelings and sentiment. This article is less interested in offering a long history of affect studies than it is in asking: Why affect? Why now? As a provisional response this article situates the so-called “affective turn” (to use sociologist Patricia Clough's term) in relation to the anxiety that secularists, including and especially secular intellectuals in the US academy, have had at the resurgence of religion post-1979. This anxiety, I suggest, formed in response not just to any religion, but to religion understood as “fundamentalist”: 1979 is the date of the Iranian revolution, and also marks the emergence or re-emergence of a certain kind of US Christian fundamentalism. Jerry Falwell names his “Moral Majority” as such in 1979. These twinned emergences have shaken the epistemological foundations of large segments of the US academy for whom secularism has been and remains a kind of guiding sentiment. This article goes on to consider the political and epistemological stakes of the secular academy's disidentification not just with religion, but feelings coded as “religious.” Rather than reject the allegedly contaminating affects of religious feelings, this article argues, scholars of gender and sexuality studies might profit from considering the places where religious and secular feelings “touch.” The case study for this analysis is Hell Houses, Evangelical theatrical performances that seek to scare young people to Jesus.

Keywords: Pentecostalism; anxiety; fear; hell house; homosexuality; religion; secularism; war on terror

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Performance Studies and Religious Studies, New York University, New York, USA

Publication date: July 1, 2009


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