here & there:

Debating secularities

posted by John D. Boy

In H-Soz-u-Kult, Susanne Kimmig-Voelkner reports from the closing conference of the University of Leipzig-based program on “Secularities: Configurations and Developmental Paths.”

According to Kimmig-Voelkner’s report, Monika Wohlrab-Sahr‘s opening talk under the title “Conflicting Conceptions of the World?” argued that tensions between secular and religious commitments need not develop out of diverging worldviews. Rather, the source of these tensions can be discerned using three different analytical perspectives. The first perspective foregrounds global developments, examples of which include the “migration of religion,” clashing understandings of religion as belief or as a cultural heritage, and global human rights policies. The second perspective looks at specific social settings that play a role in differentiating between the secular and the religious. Third and finally, there are arenas of conflict in which tensions come to the fore, such as the fringes of social systems like art, science, law and media communications where their autonomy is called into question.

Four panels with participants from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and several different German, Swiss and Canadian universities pursued these themes further: (1) “Constructions of identities between secularity and religion,” (2) “Secularities and institutions,” (3) “Religiousness and the secular in early modern art and natural science,” and (4) “Secularities within religions.”

In summary, Kimmig-Voelkner writes,

The heterogeneous contributions of the interdisciplinary conference enable us to gain an overview of the interactions between the secular and the religious in a variety of regions and epochs. The conference theme as well as the opening remarks [by Monika Wohlrab-Sahr] encouraged participants to focus on the potential for conflict, though it became clear that while conflicts often arise, they are not a necessary outcome. The analysis of the tensions between the religious and the secular needs to pay particular attention to temporality. It appears as though in the present conflicts are more likely to arise as there appears to be a tendency towards stronger efforts at polarization between the secular and the religious. Contributors demonstrated the importance of questioning and renegotiating traditional delineations for adequate historical understanding.

The plenary discussion following the presentations arrived at the conclusion that it makes sense, and may even be necessary, to distinguish between the concepts of processual secularization and secularities as an attained status. Thus secularities can occur in religious fields without a process of secularization. The division of panels, which was thematic rather than chronological or regional, helped make configurations of tensions as well as developments and trajectories visible.

Read the full report with summaries of individual presentations here (in German).

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