This book offers an interpretation of the rise of secular historical thought in nineteenth-century Europe. Instead of characterizing 'historicism' and 'secularization' as fundamental breaks with Europe's religious heritage, they are presented as complex cultural permutations with much continuity; for inherited theological patterns of interpreting experience determined to a large degree the conditions, possibilities, and limitations of the forms of historical imagination realizable by nineteenth-century secular intellectuals. This point is made by examining the thought of the German theologian W. M. L. de Wette and that of the Swiss-German historian Jacob Burckhardt. Burckhardt's meeting with de Wette and his subsequent decision to study history over theology are interpreted as revealing moments in nineteenth-century intellectual history. By examining their encounter, its larger historical context, and the thought of both men, the book demonstrates the centrality of theological concerns and forms of knowledge in the emergence of modern, secular historical consciousness.
"Some readers may be more interested in Howard's contribution to theoretical arguments about the nature of secularity. Others may be drawn more by the power of his narrative. Both sorts will be richly rewarded." First Things "Burckhardt emerges...as a serious interlocutor who can illuminate the content of contemporary experience and help clarify the implications of current historicist perspectives... It is a striking example...of how the reconstruction of historical cultural contexts should not bury the dead in the past worlds but allow them to speak in ours." John E. Toes, Central European History