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Pilgrimage to the “Secular Center”

Pilgrimage to the “Secular Center”

Tourism and the Sentimental Novel

(p.147) 4 Pilgrimage to the “Secular Center”
Apocalyptic Geographies
Jerome Tharaud
Princeton University Press

This chapter revises standard accounts of the secularization of antebellum culture by examining the widespread practice among Protestant travelers of using physical landscapes as media for visualizing sacred history. It refers to tourism literature, aesthetic treatises, and best-selling sentimental novels by Susan Warner and Maria Cummins to uncover the clash of religious and secular interpretations in tourist landscapes. It also redefines the “secular center” of the American 1850s, not as a cultural space from which religion has been evacuated but one in which the proliferation of religious “options” plays out. The chapter examines the literary and visual production generated around the Catskill Mountain House and similar tourist sites. It analyzes how popular mediascape offers a way to rethink standard scholarly accounts that tell the story of antebellum culture as an orderly, linear transition away from the pieties of the Puritan past and toward the spiritual crisis of the Civil War.

Keywords:   secularization, antebellum culture, Protestant travelers, tourism literature, tourist landscapes

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