Secularism has many critics in the academy these days, but not all have given up on it. This is made abundantly clear in the recently published volume, Religion, Secularism, and Constitutional Democracy edited by Jean L. Cohen and Cécile Laborde.
Posts Tagged ‘religion’
There are reductive categories . . . that have been and should be abandoned in scholarly discourse because the terms are inherently pejorative. But there are other terms—such as religion—that, while not explicitly denigratory, can very rarely be used without legitimating a deeply problematic political position.The issue is ideology and not only oversimplification.
Reflecting on the consequences of the recent events in Egypt for the theory of religion, Carl Raschke writes that the insurrection “probably will cut significantly into the commercial relevance of today’s generations of Islamic and religous [sic.] studies scholars.” In the face of a major political movement in the Middle East that is—as Slavoj Žižek insists—based upon appeals to universal, secular values, the category of religion, Raschke’s reasoning goes, will no longer have much explanatory power. . . . Here, I want to briefly hint at how Talal Asad’s thought can help us make sense of religion in the context of the revolution in Egypt.
At the Martin Marty Center’s Religion and Culture Web Forum, Slavica Jakelić shares a chapter from her Collectivistic Religions: Religions, Choice, and Identity in Late Modernity, with responses from Grace Davie, Edin Hajdarpasic, and Kevin Schultz.
Television broadcasting has played a significant role in the creation of a public governed by norms of secular reason in Turkey. The state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) held a monopoly on broadcasting until the liberalization of television and radio broadcasting in the 1990s. . . . TRT represented “religion” only in the form of limited mosque sermon broadcasts on officially designated religious holidays, as well as a 15-30 minute show called “The World of Faith” (“İnanç Dünyası”) played every Thursday evening to mark the beginning of Islam’s day of special worship on Friday. The overall effect of TRT’s demarcating such programming as “religious”—and its dealing with issues only related to “personal faith” in these shows (as emphasized in its title)—was to subtract “religion” from other factors regulating the public lives of Turkish citizens (such as education, politics, high culture, and so on) and to reinforce the notion that Islam is primarily a matter of “faith.”
There is something very liberating about Jonathan Sheehan’s call for moving orthogonally into the mundanities of everyday research, even though a part of me is skeptical of ever proceeding without at least tacitly presupposing the very ideological commitments he suggests we shy away from. As my former graduate colleague, Sean Silver, notes in a wonderful essay “Locke’s Pineapple and the History of Taste“: “The problem with empiricism, the argument goes, is that it doesn’t know that it is an ideology.” Be that as it may, perhaps this willing suspension of disbelief (to dip into my literary critic’s toolkit) is just the type of maneuver that can gain some traction in our attempt to think critique immanently.
On April 16-17, 2010, Macaulay Honors College of The City University of New York is hosting an international conference on The Politics of Religion.
In the New York Times, Robbie Brown reports on a local debate in Georgia over the appropriateness of cheerleaders using biblical language on their banners during public high school football games.
Like others in this discussion, I’m not sure that recent neurological studies will dramatically change contemporary religious belief or practice, though my reasons are more historical than philosophical or psychological. To put it simply, American Christians and Jews—Brooks‘s embattled Bible believers—have shown themselves remarkably adept at harmonizing new scientific insights with older religious notions and practices. Let me offer three historical examples that illustrate this, and a few final comments concerning the astonishing survival power not of a generic new religion (neural or otherwise) but of an older, doctrinal one: Christianity. […]
The New York Times opinion piece by David Brooks, titled “The Neural Buddhists,” drives a wedge between mystical and “revealed” religions by citing recent philosophical and scientific scholarship. Brooks suggests that neuroscience (including psychology) poses a considerable challenge to religions that emphasize divine law or revelation. Brooks is right to predict that neuroscience will profoundly affect our culture’s thinking. Neuroscience forces us to revise our concept of self. And I agree that the investigation into universal moral intuitions raises interesting questions about the emergence of religion. My guess is that its most significant cultural contribution will be, simply, increased happiness. […]
A century ago, in “Religion and Neurology,” the opening chapter of The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James argued against a “medical materialism” that would reduce religious experiences to their neurological causes for the purpose either of dismissing them or confirming them. Since that time, many have tried to understand religion through the study of religious experience and, like James, many have given special attention to mysticism. New techniques for the study of the brain have brought great advances, but David Brooks’s New York Times column “The Neural Buddhists” and the work of Andrew Newberg, to whom he refers, stand squarely in the tradition James was criticizing. […]
Not long ago, researchers wired up the atheist Richard Dawkins with a helmet that would create magnetic fields partially simulating the brain activity of temporal lobe epilepsy, which they linked to dramatic visionary religious experiences and to less dramatic feelings of sensed presences. It turns out, though, that hooking up a hardboiled atheist to a machine, known as the transcranial magnetic stimulator, produced no such experiences. “It was a great disappointment,” Dawkins related after 40 minutes on the machine. “Though I joked about the possibility, I of course never expected to end up believing in anything supernatural. But I did hope to share some of the feelings experienced by religious mystics when contemplating the mysteries of life and the cosmos.” As my own mind was being massaged with images of Richard Dawkins having his temporal lobes stimulated, an odd notion popped into my head: namely, when it comes to religion, history and culture trump neurology. […]
The past fifteen years or so have been a period of extraordinary activity in pursuit of what are called “cognitive” and/or “evolutionary” explanations of religion. These include, in addition to Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (the focus of my previous post), a number of other self-consciously innovative books with titles like How Religion Works: Towards a New Cognitive Science of Religion, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. What unites these works and distinguishes them from the broader naturalistic tradition in religious studies is, first, the centrality for their approach of methods and theories drawn from evolutionary psychology and the rather sprawling field of “cognitive science” and, second, the more or less strenuous identification of their efforts with “science,” itself rather monolithically and sometimes triumphalistically conceived. In these two respects, these and related works constitute what could be called the New Naturalism in religious studies. […]
What’s so bad about heteronomous thinking, anyway? Stathis Gourgouris has used the term in several posts here on The Immanent Frame. He says that Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age is an example of heteronomous thinking, and he also thinks that Saba Mahmood’s post on secularism and critique exemplifies it. Though Gourgouris doesn’t define “heteronomous thinking,” he seems to mean something like “thinking that depends at some crucial point on something outside itself.” He thinks this kind of thinking is pretty bad—though it’s less clear exactly why he thinks so. […]
One of the most influential works among recent “cognitive” and/or “evolutionary” studies of religion is a book by French anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Pascal Boyer. It is titled, with imposing finality, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. […]
One great problem is that the term “secular” is a western term, and corresponds to a very old distinction within Christendom. Then it goes through a series of changes in order to surface in such neologisms as “secularization,” and “secularism.” But even so, some of the original meanings carry over. These terms are then applied unreflectingly to what are seen as analogous processes and ideas elsewhere, and the result can be great confusion. […]