Partial Faiths has three main goals: to survey the contemporary popular and philosophical movement that is sometimes called postsecularism; to show that a surprising number of eminent contemporary novelists are engaged in this movement; and to offer, by so doing, a new way of configuring the terrain of contemporary fiction. Postsecularism, a mode of being and seeing that is at once critical of secular constructions of reality and of dogmatic religiosity, is being studied and theorized in North America by thinkers such as Harold Bloom, William Connolly, Richard Rorty, and Charles Taylor. In Europe the project of inventing and understanding postsecularism is identified with philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, Jürgen Habermas, Pierre Hadot, and Gianni Vattimo. But novelists such as Don DeLillo, Louise Erdrich, Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje, Thomas Pynchon, and Leslie Marmon Silko are also vigorously exploring postsecularism and postsecularist modes of being. These novelists, whom critics often relegate to separate domains within contemporary fiction, are all thinking in the narrative mode about postsecular movements and possibilities that the theorists and sociologists treat more abstractly. All of them tell stories about new forms of religiously inflected seeing and being. And in each case, the forms of faith they invent, study, and affirm are dramatically partial and open-ended. They do not provide, or even aspire to provide, any full “mapping” of the reenchanted cosmos. They do not promise anything like full redemption. And they are partial in another sense as well in that they are selectively dedicated to progressive ideals of social transformation and well-being. In all these respects, of course, postsecularism is at odds with resurgent fundamentalisms.
Rutgers University has been a splendid place to study postsecularism. From the first, as I turned my attention to the religious dimensions of contemporary literature and culture, I was patiently challenged and supported