April 14, 2016

Lecture: Jared Hickman on “The Book of Mormon in a History of (Post) Secular Reading”

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SPEAKER: Jared Hickman

TITLE: ‘Speaking of Things to Come As Though They Had Already Come,’ or, The Book of Mormon in a History of (Post) Secular Reading”

Lecture given April 14th at 7:30pm at Claremont University

On April 14, 2016, Dr. Jared Hickman, assistant professor of English at Johns Hopkins University, delivered a lecture entitled “‘Speaking of Things to Come As Though They Had Already Come,’ or, The Book of Mormon in a History of (Post) Secular Reading.” Orienting his lecture from Charles Taylor’s work on understanding how belief can exist in a secular age, Hickman argues that Mormonism is best understood as a religion that is “genetically secular.” This means that Mormonism is a religion born in a secular age that responds to its secular environment by making claims about spiritual matters against a worldview that does not accept spiritual and transcendental realities as established facts. Rather than defining Mormonism as a continuation of Christianity, Mormonism is better understood, Hickman maintains, as “an envelope-pushing secular phenomenology”; that is, as a religion that opens up new possibilities for belief in a secular age. Mormonism’s function as a religion in a secular age is manifested through the Book of Mormon’s use of time. Hickman argues that the Book of Mormon challenges both secular and religious conceptions of time; respectively, the conceptions of clock time needed to run the secular state and the religious belief in a spiritual, eternal realm where time does not exist. Through its use of time, specifically messianic time, the Book of Mormon also challenges the “colonial project” of European settlers by making the “indigenous people of the Americas” “the primary actors in the building of a new heaven and new earth in their homeland.” Hickman explains that the Book of Mormon uses messianic time in an attempt to disrupt colonialism by teaching “modern Native Americans” that they hold claim to the covenants of ancient Israel and by teaching them that “God is on their side.” Additionally, the Book of Mormon offers a new approach to history through its phrase, “speaking of things to come as though they had already come.” Hickman notes how characters in the Book of Mormon who lived before Christ were already living in the messianic moment; that is, living as if Christ had already died. For those living before Christ, then, messianic time had become part of the mundane. Finally, the Book of Mormon implies that the messianic moment (for example, the appearance of Christ in third Nephi) needs additional messianic moments to remain potent; after all, the Nephite utopia established after Christ’s appearance failed.

Jared Hickman is assistant professor of English at Johns Hopkins University.  He researches the intersection of literature, religion, and race in the U.S. and the Atlantic world from the colonial period through the nineteenth century.  He is the author of Black Prometheus: Race and Radicalism in the Age of Atlantic Slavery (Oxford University Press, forthcoming) and co-editor of two volumes–with Martha Schoolman, Abolitionist Places (Routledge, 2013) and, with Elizabeth Fenton, Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).  He has published articles in American Literature, Early American LiteratureThe New England QuarterlyNineteenth-Century LiteraturePMLA, and other venues.