James Reeves

Jun 28, 2021

Godless Fictions in the Eighteenth Century

A Literary History of Atheism

Cambridge University Press 2020

Although there were no self-avowed British atheists before the 1780s, authors including Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Sarah Fielding, Phebe Gibbes, and William Cowper worried extensively about atheism's dystopian possibilities and routinely represented atheists as being beyond the pale of human sympathy. In Godless Fictions in the Eighteenth Century: A Literary History of Atheism (Cambridge University Press, 2020), Dr. James Bryant Reeves challenges traditional notions of secularization that equate modernity with unbelief, revealing how reactions against atheism instead helped sustain various forms of religious belief throughout the “Age of Enlightenment.” He demonstrates that hostility to unbelief likewise produced various forms of religious ecumenicalism, with authors depicting non-Christian theists from around Britain's emerging empire as sympathetic allies in the fight against irreligion. Godless Fictions traces a literary history of atheism in eighteenth-century Britain for the first time, revealing a relationship between atheism and secularization far more fraught than has previously been supposed.

James Bryant Reeves is an assistant professor of English at Texas State University in San Marcos. His work has appeared in Eighteenth-Century Studies, Eighteenth-Century Fiction, the Keats-Shelley Journal, and SEL Studies in English Literature 1500–1900. He has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar, Linacre College, Oxford, and UCLA, where he earned his PhD in 2016.

Carrie Lynn Evans is a PhD student at Université Laval in Quebec City.

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