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Utopian History

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

This paper analyzes how the "new" genre of Utopia (nominally invented by Thomas More in the sixteenth century) historicizes in a way that is not, strictly speaking, tied to history. More builds his imaginary world using details culled from life in sixteenth-century England, and Utopia—a fictional island society—is itself a commentary on the values and politics of More's society. This dual focus on the real and the ideal explains why this prosaic genre has intrigued so many commentators, notably Fredric Jameson, who (I argue) has written repeatedly about Utopia as a way to think through the unresolved implications of his own injunction to historicize. Working out of a commitment to historical materialism, Jameson has found it difficult to articulate hope for an alternative future that is itself appropriately historicized and not naively utopian. Analyzing More and Jameson in tandem thereby illuminates the theoretical dilemmas involved in critiquing history.

Affiliations: 1: Indiana University, Department of Religious Studies, Sycamore Hall, Rm. 227


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