University of Pennsylvania
Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies
Core Faculty, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies
Member of the Graduate Group, Comparative Literature


Feeling Science and Secularism After Darwin

Winner of the 2023 Ludwik Fleck Prize from the Society for Social Studies of Science

Winner of the 2023 Book Prize from the International Society for Science and Religion

Finalist for the 2023 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, Analytical-Descriptive Studies, from the American Academy of Religion

In Wild Experiment, Donovan O. Schaefer challenges the conventional wisdom that feeling and thinking are separate. Drawing on science studies, philosophy, affect theory, secularism studies, psychology, and contemporary literary criticism, Schaefer reconceptualizes rationality as defined by affective processes at every level. He introduces the model of “cogency theory” to reconsider the relationship between evolutionary biology and secularism, examining mid-nineteenth-century Darwinian controversies, the 1925 Scopes Trial, and the New Atheist movement of the 2000s. Along the way, Schaefer reappraises a range of related issues, from secular architecture at Oxford to American eugenics to contemporary climate denialism. These case studies locate the intersection of thinking and feeling in the way scientific rationality balances excited discovery with anxious scrutiny, in the fascination of conspiracy theories, and in how racist feelings assume the mantle of rational objectivity. The fact that cognition is felt, Schaefer demonstrates, is both why science succeeds and why it fails. He concludes that science, secularism, atheism, and reason itself are not separate from feeling but comprehensively defined by it.

You know that jolt that arrives when everything clicks, when the pieces suddenly fit? At once heady and visceral, this experience of cogency—when lucidity emerges out of the messy thicket of experiment—is the focus of this book. From Darwinian science to conspiracy thinking to New Atheism to racialized cognition and more, Donovan O. Schaefer offers a lively account of how intellect and affect are thoroughly intertwined. Readers from several disciplines—religious studies, affect theory, critical science studies, and more—will feel themselves ‘clicking’ with surprise and delight.

Gregory J. Seigworth

Digital Communication and Cultural Studies, Millersville University

Donovan O. Schaefer’s new book is well and truly a wild experiment. It is a lively and compelling analysis of the emotional dimension of rationality that engages with a range of relevant subjects, from philosophy and social science to affect theory and the histories of science and religion. I was quickly won over to Schaefer’s view that ‘science feels’ and often find myself thinking along with his ‘cogency theory.’

Ian Hesketh

Author of Victorian Jesus: J. R. Seeley, Religion, and the Cultural Significance of Anonymity



The Evolution of Affect Theory