Can a Skeptic be a Lady? Domesticity and Irreligiosity in Antebellum American Literature

Dr Smith will be discussing this chapter from her first book, which looks at spiritual autobiography and anti-skeptical rhetoric in early American religious culture. A major focus of the book is how anti-skeptical stigma intersected with cultural categories of (idealized) race and gender. This chapter focuses on white womanhood, the ideals of Protestant domestic piety, and the influx of German Romantic conceptions of skepticism as a stage within male Bildung. It offers new readings of Catherine Beecher's Letters on the Difficulties of Religion (1836), Margaret Fuller's private self-writings, "Autobiographical Sketch," and Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1843), and Alice Hayes Mellen's autofictional novel The Female Skeptic, or Faith Triumphant (1859).

Caitlin Smith earned her Ph.D from the University of Notre Dame in 2020. Currently, she works as a postdoctoral researcher for the University of Heidelberg's Center for American Studies. She is revising her dissertation manuscript towards publication. She is also co-editor of a forthcoming critical anthology of the works of James W.C. Pennington, an early African-American intellectual, abolitionist, and peace activists; and she is co-editing an essay collection on the same. Her research interests include transatlantic Protestant culture, autobiography, Black intellectual history, and Holy Land literature.

The Oxford Early American Republic Seminar facilitates a network for UK-based graduate students and early career scholars who study the United States between the Revolution and Reconstruction. The network is based around a regular seminar series held at the University of Oxford. We welcome scholars from all disciplines who work in this area, including historians, literary scholars, and political scientists. For further details, please email