Rethinking Secularism is the title of a striking new collection of essays, edited by Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen that is rich with shrewd, and often detailed and intricate, discussions of the way the political and the social, the public and the personal, are threaded with, and frequently created out of, the interpretive, the symbolic, and the imaginary. It is also a book with whose central claim I could not be in fuller agreement: the religious and the secular do not designate different ends of a historical timeline, much less a simple binary, so much as different inflections of a process beginning, at least in the West, with the slow disintegration of Latin Christendom in the Late Middle Ages, and that we have come to recognize as the longue durée of the modern.
Posts Tagged ‘Rethinking secularism’
We live in a world in which ideas, institutions, artistic styles, and formulas for production and living circulate among societies and civilizations that are very different in their historical roots and traditional forms. Parliamentary democracy spread outward from England, among other countries, to India; likewise, the practice of nonviolent civil disobedience spread from its origins in the struggle for Indian independence to many other places, including the United States with Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, Manila in 1983, and the Velvet and Orange Revolutions of our time.
But these ideas and forms of practice don’t just change place as solid blocks; they are modified, reinterpreted, given new meanings, in each transfer. This can lead to tremendous confusion when we try to follow these shifts and understand them. One such confusion comes from taking a word itself too seriously; the name may be the same, but the reality will often be different.
This is evident in the case of the word “secular.”
Rethinking Secularism helps to reframe discussions of religion in the social sciences by drawing attention to the central issue of how ”the secular” is constituted and understood. It provides valuable insight into how new understandings of secularism and religion shape analytic perspectives in the social sciences, politics, and international affairs.
With the ascent of Marine Le Pen to the head of the National Front and her growing popularity in the polls, France joins the surge of nationalist parties that is sweeping over all of Europe. We must understand the new dynamics that underlie this relapse toward a continent-wide far-right movement: in its latest change of face, the far-right misappropriates the legacy of 1968 at the same time that it targets Islam under the guise of defending national values, just as its leaders claim to embody the value of personal liberty all the while asserting their belonging to the “land” of popular imagination, thus forging a new rhetorical repertoire and introducing it into European political culture.
On April 11th, the hotly debated “burqa ban” went into effect in France.
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.
The term ‘secular’ and its conceptual affiliates are doing a lot of work in misrepresenting the uprising in Egypt. ‘Secular’ politics has been taken to mean ‘good’ politics (limited democratization, stability, and support for the peace treaty with Israel), and ‘Islamic’ politics is being translated as ‘bad’ politics (the myriad dangers allegedly posed by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies). Accounts of the current situation in Egypt are handicapped by an inability to read politics in Egypt and Muslim-majority societies outside of this overly simplistic and politically distorting lens.
The fall 2010 issue of The Hedgehog Review addresses the question, “Does religious pluralism require secularism?” Several contributions are freely accessible online: Rajeev Bhargava’s essay on secular states, Charles Taylor’s on the meaning(s) of secularism, and Craig Calhoun’s on a non-subtractive understanding of secularism.
The Urbanophile discusses the vibrant presence of religion in modern metropolises.
Minnesota politics is a bit, well, different. But uproar over the place of religion in an election mailing may show that, at last in terms of the stakes of secularism debates, Minnesota’s not so strange after all.
Colin Jager’s reading of the British romantics places them at the center of debates about religion, secularism, and pluralism today. In The Book of God, he traces the ways in which design arguments for God’s existence—predecessors to the current Intelligent Design movement—were developed and discussed in British literature from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth. His interpretation challenges those in the habit of trying to disentangle the religious and the secular, in both the past and the present. Jager is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University and is currently at work on a second book, After Secularism: Romanticism, Literature, Religion.
An interesting article by Joe Friesen and Sandra Martin on secularism and multiculturalism in Canada appeared in The Globe and Mail earlier this month.
A newly published report from the Pew Forum Religion and Public Life shows that Americans seemingly know very little about religious faiths, including their own.
In many large cities around the world, religious people and secular people tend to live in separate neighborhoods. This has often been the case in Istanbul, where religious and secular differences frequently correspond to differences in class. But in the neighborhood of Fatih, Muslim and secular Turks are living together, though not without conflict, writes Borzou Daragahi in The Los Angeles Times.
At the end of our last post (an extension of our discussions at the IWM Summer School in Cortona), we asked whether secularism and liberalism in fact always go together, as is often supposed. In our second round of Skype conversations, we began to address this question by discussing a related one: to what degree are liberalism and privatized religion necessary for democracy? This discussion was inspired by our IWM course on “Religion and Democracy,” taught by José Casanova and Marcin Krol, which drew on examples of democratic societies to examine the variety of roles that public religion and liberalism, respectively, play in enhancing or inhibiting democratic life.
Paul Cliteur, author of The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism, defends the secularist stance at washingtonpost.com.
Let us recognize, from the outset, the delicious perversity of inviting comments upon comments about the comments about Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, itself a commentary, magisterial in scope, about the inability of Anglo-Europeans to end a certain cycle of commentary about themselves, their religion, and their humanity. Nevertheless, of the many thoughtful responses and salvos found in Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, I was most struck by Wendy Brown’s pointed and potentially devastating piece on the shortcomings of Taylor’s “odd historical materialism.”
Taylor’s sense of the material world is not unrelated to his not always implicit commitment to (or perhaps nostalgia for) the ideals of a self that flourishes, unfolds, and, at the end of the day, can be sufficiently liberated from history so as to be able to take the measure of itself—in concert, of course, with others, as they liberate themselves sufficiently from those very same forces.
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.”
As I transition my SSRC research from Senegal to the Philippines, I am constantly ruminating over the question: why compare these two places? Developing some coherent answer to this inquiry is a crucial task for helping me build theory on the idea of After Secularization.
Since our previous dispatch from the IWM Summer School in Cortona, we have settled back into our real lives in London, New York, and Washington, DC, respectively. But the discussions inspired by the summer school have continued—over email and group chats—and we wanted to share with you one recent exchange that followed from our course on “Religion and Multiple Modernities,” taught by Dipesh Chakrabarty, Sudipta Kaviraj, and Charles Taylor. The course drew on examples from European and Indian history that prompted us to think about the relation between modernity (a concept that itself was called into question) and secularism.
In the newest issue of Theory, Culture & Society, British sociologist Gregor McLennan takes a closer look at the “postsecular turn” in contemporary social theory. He argues that this “turn”—if indeed it amounts to one—finds expression in three broad trends: genealogical critique, neo-vitalism, and postcolonial antihistoricism. He mainly discusses these trends with regard to the work of three scholars, each representing one of the trends: Talal Asad, William Connolly, and Dipesh Chakrabarty (though Rosi Braidotti and Judith Butler are also mentioned, as representatives of neo-vitalism and antihistoricism, respectively). While these theoretical developments go some way in critiquing the problematic linkages between secular epistemology and political arrangements, McLennan argues that they are each riddled with inconsistencies. Rather than staking out an antisecular position, these perspectives remain within secularism, contributing to the “secularization of secularism.”
Religion and the sex scandal are still closely linked, though the targets of public outrage have morphed: it is often religious authorities and bearers of traditional morality whose sexual desires and actions are publicized and condemned. With so many religious institutions and their authorities rocked by sex scandals in a litany of abuse and victimhood, it behooves us to ask what, precisely, is being exposed and denounced, and, conversely, what is being protected and perhaps even obscured. What aspects of “religion” are under fire in these scandals? What role does “spirituality” play in this discursive reconfiguration of sexuality and religion?
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.
Following up on a recent interview with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on a special edition of the Charlie Rose Show, a Syrian embassy official contributed an op-ed piece in the Christian Science Monitor earlier this week extolling Syrian secularism as a model for the Middle East region. Buttressing the Syrian variety of secularism is the best defense against extremism in the region, the diplomat concludes.
In reflecting on the Notes from the Field contributions surrounding the topic of secularization, Jonathan Sheehan, in his recent post “Something more mundane,” reiterates his hope for the creation of “something else ‘after secularization’”. . . . In line with this, Sheehan suggests that a concept of secularization must not be taken as a “foundational first principal,” but rather that the uses of such an idea—if it does in deed prove to be useful—will manifest only as a result of dedicated research.
At last November’s AAR meeting in Montreal, a plenary session presided over by AAR President and SSRC Working Group Chair Mark Juergensmeyer featured a discussion between Craig Calhoun, José Casanova, Saba Mahmood, and Charles Taylor on the need to rethink the category of ‘secularism’ given religion’s enduring significance in the modern world. Watch the video
Tonight on Big Brother 12, the implosion of the secular age!
At a March 2010 conference, “Gendering the Divide: Conflicts at the Border of Religion and the Secular” (sponsored by Arizona State University’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict), I had the great fortune to speak on a panel with groundbreaking cultural historian and gender theorist Joan Wallach Scott, the Harold F. Linder Professor in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. The conference was the fourth and final meeting of ASU’s Ford Foundation-funded project on “Public Religion, the Secular, and Democracy.” In 2010-2011, Scott will lead the year-long seminar “Secularism” at the Institute for Advanced Study’s School of Social Science. Scott is the author of numerous influential essays and books, including, most recently, the timely and highly praised The Politics of the Veil. At the conclusion of the ASU conference, Scott and I met for the following wide-ranging conversation . . .
The latest issue of Transit, the Austrian journal of European affairs, takes as its theme and thrust “Säkularismus neu denken” (i.e., rethinking secularism). Featuring essays by an international assemblage of major thinkers (including many friends of The Immanent Frame), the issue also situates its intervention specifically in the contemporary European context.
In between my research trips to Senegal and the Philippines, I will be staying in Cortona, Italy, for a two-week summer school on religion and democracy with the Institut fur die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM). . . . The IWM is hosting a remarkable blend of scholars and students grappling with many of the same questions that drive our SSRC DPDF After Secularization group: religion, democracy, the secular, and modernity. The chance to spend a couple of weeks with scholars like Charles Taylor, Michael Sandel and Dipesh Chakrabarty—and in the Tuscan hills no less—is a little slice of grad student heaven.
n his most recent contribution to The Immanent Frame, “Waiting for Godot, who is either late or not coming at all“, Vincent Pecora provides a provocative response to posts by Alex Hernandez and Justin Reynolds, which question, criticize and reflect on Pecora’s distinction between “secularism” and “secularization” (and particularly his statement that “ ‘secularization’ is a conceptual improvement over ‘secularism’ ”).
It’s hard to say how Hans Blumenberg would have responded to recent data troubling the secularization thesis other than to see in such revisionist accounts further confirmation of precisely this contingency in the future of the secular. Still, I can’t resist pointing out the irony implied by a confrontation between the Blumenbergian and the priests of secularization theory in light of our post-secular moment. For isn’t the problem of the classical secularization thesis—its failure to deliver, both empirically in frustrated sociological models, and ideologically in the killing fields of various nationalisms—that of an eschatology deferred?
In his earlier post, Vincent Pecora suggests an “unfinished project” approach to secularization. He also hints that the difference between secularization and secularism may well lie in a certain openness to a contingent future. Precisely as an ideal—whether a good one or a bad one does not matter—secularism seems to foreclose on this contingency. In fact, its normative claims demand just this closure. Things should be like this (and not like that) in some future moment, which allows us to decide in the present between right and wrong. A courthouse lawn in Georgia should not have a statue of the Ten Commandments on it, even if every person who now goes to court is a believing Christian, presumably because (in part) some future litigant could well find their liberties infringed.
When it comes to the Catholic Church these days, news headlines offer few opportunities for levity. I’m referring, of course, to the thorny problem of sex abuse in the Church. As a student of Catholicism, I’m evidently disturbed by the Church’s handling of the scandal, but I’m also deeply troubled by the tendency among those outside the Church to treat this as a specifically “Catholic problem,” as if it were the logical conclusion of clerical celibacy or some element of Catholic dogma.
Over the course of the next three months, a small group of SSRC graduate student fellows associated with “After Secularization”—a summer research fellowship on new approaches to the study of religion and modernity—will be blogging regularly for The Immanent Frame. Read all of the latest contributions to “Notes from the field.”
One of the things that intellectual historians show us, although often only implicitly, is the fluidity of the terms of debates that we take to be self-evident. In An Atheism that Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought, Stefanos Geroulanos shows us this fluidity by focusing on the French history of objections to (and reformulations of) humanist discourse from 1929 to 1952, a history that suggests that the rigidity of the categories of “religion” and “humanism” in Anglophone discourse is exceptional and unnecessary.
I was asked after the 2008 Presidential election to make some loose predictions about the future of conservative political religions in the United States. As any handicapper would, I’ve kept tabs as the Town Halls grew first loud and then armed, as cries of outrage were heard in legislatures, as conspiracies once the province of Lyndon LaRouche were given a national airing, and as tea parties were held. I’m not surprised, of course, having written two books about the recrudescence of religious antiliberalism. But I found it very interesting that Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age—a wonderfully rich collection of reflections on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age—should appear in the thick of revived public panics regarding the perceived value of secularism. As bumper sticker-length slogans are hurled like grenades from various corners—celebrating the “divinely-inspired” vision of the Founders or defending their cautions against religious presence in public life—it seems obvious that secularisms are precisely what we should be scrutinizing. Right?
Recently, there was a brief back and forth at Cif Belief between Michael McGhee and Stephen Clark. The former, a self-described secular humanist, is currently on the philosophy faculty at Liverpool University, where the latter, “a professing Christian,” is Professor Emeritus.
The various essays on A Secular Age gathered in Michael Warner, Jonathan VanAntwerpen and Craig Calhoun’s Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age raise a host of important and interesting questions with respect to Taylor’s account of secularism: Do we really need recourse to a notion of transcendence that takes us beyond the immanence of natural and human life in order to re-enchant our world? What kind of history—or, perhaps better put, story or narrative—of secularism is Taylor offering us? Can one properly define Western secularism in isolation from explicit consideration of the West’s encounters and intertwining with non-Western cultures?
What I think is most intriguing, however, about this book is how it unfolds as a dialogue between various visions of secularism informed by different background beliefs, thus illustrating the very kind of interaction between different options of belief and non-belief that characterizes secularism itself according to Taylor.
Last week, the prime minister of Lower Saxony, a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), replaced several ministers in his cabinet. The new holder of the portfolio that includes social, health, and family policy, women’s affairs, and integration, is a 38-year-old woman called Aygül Özkan, also a Christian Democrat. She is not only the first minister of Turkish descent to serve in a German state government, but also the first Muslim to hold an executive office at this level in Germany. What does the reaction to her first public statements reveal about the nature of German secularism?
In the January issue of Rethinking Marxism (sub. req.), Saroj Giri explores the underlying assumptions that drive the conceptions of Indian secularism employed by both its critics and its advocates.
Over at the British weekly The Observer, Peter Stanford reviews Is God Still an Englishman?, the latest from Cole Moreton.
Profile Books recently published Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, an analysis of the demographic contradictions of modern capitalist societies, by Eric Kaufmann, a British sociologist and political scientist. Its general argument is familiar to those who have read the work of Norris and Inglehart: religious populations have higher birthrates, which offset secularizing tendencies. Says Kaufmann, “I am trying to force a certain rethink of the idea that we are moving naturally toward secularism. To shake up our complacency and, perhaps, stir up some debate.” That he has.
This weekend, a group of Lebanese citizens will take to the streets of Beirut to participate in a Laïque Pride rally. In the Guardian‘s Comment is Free blog, Elias Muhanna provides some background to this event.
Recent events in Europe, from the cartoon crisis in Denmark to the controversy over the construction of minarets in Switzerland, have brought the status of Islam in the secular public sphere to the forefront of European political debates. The consequences of these debates can be seen in a hardening of the boundary between what is public and what is private, as many assume that religion generally belongs to the private sphere. Collective views in Europe have come to dictate that any claim or expression in public space deriving from religious beliefs be seen as illegitimate. As Jürgen Habermas has noted, the liberal vision of a secular public sphere imposes a special burden on the shoulders of religious citizens. Many believers, however, would not be able to undertake such an artificial division in their own minds between their religious beliefs and their civic commitments without destabilizing their existence as pious persons.