This essay examines Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun as an early expression of (post)secular imagining. Scholars have tended to frame Hawthorne’s engagement with religion as yet another example of the ambivalence that drives much of his writing. On the one hand, they identify the persistence of religious critique in his novels—his criticism of Puritanism in The Scarlet Letter or Transcendentalism in The Blithedale Romance, for example. On the other hand, they have noted his fascination with such traditions, offering readings that uncover the historical specificity of his Puritan sources and his temporary investment in Transcendentalism. Rich as they are, such readings tend to focus on his engagement with these specific religious traditions rather than note his novels’ oscillation between enchantment and disenchantment. This essay takes up this charge by examining The Marble Faun’s depiction of Catholicism, a depiction that critics have similarly read in terms of Hawthorne’s admiration or criticism of Catholicism. This essay suggests, instead, that both impulses represent Hawthorne’s lasting search for what secular studies philosopher Charles Taylor calls “a third way”; that is, a space between orthodoxy and unbelief. Rather than locate The Marble Faun as another instance of Hawthorne’s chronic ambiguity, then, this essay locates it as a prime example of the spiritual tensions marking our “secular age.”

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