Akeel Bilgrami’s article, “Secularism: Its Content and Context,” is an important and welcome contribution on a topic that has acquired momentum with the renaissance of the public role of religions, in democratic and non-democratic societies alike. Bilgrami clarifies in a penetrating and lucid way, three fundamental ideas on secularism: first, that it is “a stance to be taken about religion”; second, that it is not an indication of the form of government or the liberal nature of a regime; and third, that the context is a crucial factor in issues concerning the relationship between politics and religion.
Posts Tagged ‘Italy’
Should religious discourse be welcomed in the public sphere, or should we require that it first be translated into secular terms? Part of the concern in the debate is that such translation would be demeaning to religiously-committed people, and that they would be unwilling to do this. But in something like the Rimini Meeting it seems that the opposite is the case—translation into secular idiom may in fact be an attractive prospect to religious groups: an attempt to retain a freshness of content by changing the form, a way to express their way of life in a public forum that might invite those who might otherwise steer clear.
The Rimini Meeting is run almost entirely by unpaid volunteers. Everything from the physical construction and take-down of the arena, to its cleaning staff, to the various literary, scientific and artistic exhibits, to food services, is the prerogative of around 4,000 unpaid volunteers who give up their vacation time and pay money (covering their own travel and lodging costs) to work at this event. [...] I interviewed nearly 100 of these volunteers, including university students, factory workers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors, housewives, and retirees. Among the questions I asked them was whether they would consider the Meeting a “religious” event. Nearly half of them immediately replied “no.” A handful replied “yes” right away, and the rest couched with “it depends.” But regardless of the initial answer, they all offered very much the same explanation.
Dominant accounts of the religion-modernity relationship, at least among sociologists of religion in the US, have tended to focus mainly on what falls into these categories of decline, capitulation, withdrawal, or confrontation. But the Rimini Meeting and its offshoots are among a host of new phenomena that really don’t fit into the above, and seem to warrant a different category.
Pietro della Valle. Pietro della Valle was a highly sociable geek with an interest in all things Middle Eastern, c. 1620. His extensive surviving personal correspondence, preserved in the Vatican Archives in Rome, allows me to reconstruct the far-flung intellectual community of which he was a part. By exploring Della Valle and his world, I hope to discover why Europeans suddenly became so interested in Arabic and other “Orientalist” studies in the early seventeenth century, and how this knowledge affected the ways in which they related to Middle Eastern Christians and Muslims.