We all know the thesis: country kid goes off to university and sheds Christian belief en route to brilliant literary career. Advocates of secularization point to stories of famous 19th-century Brits like George Eliot, Matthew Arnold and J. S. Mill as evidence that acquisition of knowledge was then (and, implicitly, has been ever since) a short step from abandonment of religion. Larsen has an antithesis: lots of converts to atheism reverted to Christianity, and indeed became leading church lights of their day. Larsen is a learned guide to the world of Victorian British church and academe; prodigious learning is here leavened with frequent humor and readable prose. His thesis, like his opponents’, is not merely historical: it is that the much trumpeted rise of atheism in general is less pervasive than often thought, since atheists can grow unsure of their deeply held beliefs as much as Christians can.


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