Posts Tagged ‘secularity’

May 30th, 2014

The specific order of difficulty of religion

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In a recent essay on equality and citizenship in a multi-religious Sudan, Noah Salomon describes a commitment among development experts to equality before the law as a “non-ideological” solution to the problems of post-conflict societies. Salomon disagrees with the consensus, suggesting rather that “law, the institutions which promote it, and our relationship to them enfold deep ideological and political commitments which require a whole host of presumptions about justice and how best to achieve it.” While the rule of law is assumed to govern from a neutral public space that has transcended ideological and political particularities, the hegemony of rule of law discourse should not be taken as a mark of neutrality. It would be a mistake to remove the rule of law from conversations about power, history, difference, and governance.

The same may be said of secularism.

February 13th, 2014

The theology blind spot

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I have always been puzzled by the fact that Charles Taylor starts his book A Secular Age with a long quote from Bede Griffith in order to describe a religious type of experience. It is the description of a scene experienced by the author as a school-boy: trees are blossoming, birds are singing, the author has the sensation that angels are present and that God is looking down on him. My question is: Why this quote? Why choose an image and a language of sunset, trees and birds in order to describe something for which the different languages of theology have worked out precise and elaborate codifications? I understand, of course, that in the context of the introduction to A Secular Age, Taylor uses this quote in order to make a soft claim to the human openness to experiences of transcendental nature. He uses the rest of the eight-hundred pages of the book to explore why it has become increasingly rare and difficult in our secular age to live these kinds of experiences, let alone to look for them in the context of an organized religious tradition. Most of us, he says, live our lives in an “immanent frame” and religious belief “has become one option among many.”

February 11th, 2014

The secular in non-Western societies

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The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the wider Islamist movement of which it is an instance, are in many ways a secular phenomenon. If we define “secularity” not only as the weakening of religious belief, but also as the idea that faith becomes one option among others; and “secularization” as the process of institutional and functional differentiation of modern state structures and the resultant marginalization of religious authority, then the Brotherhood, similarly to other Islamist entities, can be seen as a product of modernity and the “secular age.” This transpires in two ways. First, for the Brotherhood, “Islam” is an identifiable set of beliefs that can be actively implemented and used as guidelines to reform society. Second, the parameters of the political order it proposes are defined by the context of the secular, modern nation-state.

January 21st, 2014

CFP: Secularism and Secularity

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It was a successful first year for the Secularism and Secularity Program Unit of the American Academy of Religion, which sponsored or co-sponsored four panels at the AAR’s annual meeting in Baltimore this past November. The call for papers for the 2014 meeting in San Diego is now available, and the deadline for submissions is March […]

November 22nd, 2013

Debating secularities

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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.”

November 20th, 2013

Secularism and secularity at the AAR

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At the upcoming annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, to be held November 23-26 in Baltimore, a new program unit on “Secularism and Secularity” will sponsor four sessions.

September 10th, 2013

The return of sacred history

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Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation is an expansively ambitious work. Indeed, its aim is to provide nothing less than an “explanation of why the Western world today is as it is.” In this regard it sits comfortably alongside Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, with whose neo-Thomist structure, content, and purpose it has much in common. Both writers mix their Thomism with Hegelianism, treating the secular world as the form in which man confronts his own alienated or sublimated religious impulse. Lying behind this philosophical-historical theory of secularization is a conception of the world as the space in which its transcendent creator manifests himself sacramentally

July 22nd, 2013

Contesting Secularism: Comparative Perspectives

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In Contesting Secularism: Comparative Perspectives, editor Anders Berg-Sørensen compiles works from leading scholars to provide an interdisciplinary, comparative approach to the debate of religion and secularism in the public sphere.

July 16th, 2013

Secularism and the invention of American evangelicalism

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Few books in the field of American religious history has received more attention over the few years than John Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America.

March 4th, 2013

Confused parchments, infinite socialities

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Ambivalence, avoidance, hedging, delay—these are but some of my responses to Michael Warner’s richly rendered provocation and response to my book Secularism in Antebellum America.

Indeed, was antebellum America secular?

To answer his title question definitively, yes or no, is to commit oneself to a vision of the present in which religion recedes into oblivion, or flowers, or does battle with its secular other. Definitive answers, moreover, serve a politics of normativity for they help determine the ideas, objects, and persons to be jettisoned, not to mention what views of the world become authoritative, which moral feelings count, and which ones become unaccounted for and forgotten.

Warner engages crucial work on secularity even as he considers the dissolution of the entrenched differential of the religious and the secular. Consequently, Warner’s essay is also incitement for a renewed interrogation of the history of the difference between the religious and the secular and how that difference makes a difference in the lives of individuals—no less for historical actors than for the scholars who study them.

January 31st, 2013

CFP: Secularism and Secularity

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In November we published the proposal for a new American Academy of Religion program unit—Secularism and Secularity.

November 29th, 2012

Secularism and secularity

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Our proposal for the creation of a new program unit on “Secularisms and Secularities” within the American Academy of Religion (AAR) seeks to promote and enable more sustained interdisciplinary engagement among scholars of secularism and secularity and those researchers whose work has focused on variously conceived forms of “non-religion.”

October 2nd, 2012

Was antebellum America secular?

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The question “Was Antebellum America Secular?” obviously depends on what one means by secular. Because the term is dialectical by nature and immanent to the struggles of the age, we cannot expect it to be a neutral analytic framework; like secularism or religion, it requires constant qualification to be of any analytic use. As Gauri Viswanathan has noted, in many polemical contexts “words like ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ have lost their descriptive value and function instead as signposts to given attitudes.” It is almost impossible to see the question of my title without anticipating that a question of validity will be at stake.

May 2nd, 2012

What Matters? Ethnographies of Value in a Not So Secular Age

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Columbia University Press has just released What Matters?: Ethnographies of Value in a Not So Secular Age, edited by Courtney Bender and Ann Taves.

February 8th, 2012

After the secular age

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Just out from Verso Press, Simon Critchley’s The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology investigates the role of religion in the postsecular twenty-first century.

January 12th, 2012

Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network launches website

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The Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network (NSRN) recently launched its new website.

January 9th, 2012

Normative or empirical comparisons?

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Monika Wohlrab-Sahr confesses that she is not an expert with regard to “the value of normative theory for legal and constitutional concerns, and for political theory.” She rightly thinks that “for empirically grounded comprehension and explanation of societal and political processes, institutions, and practices” the use of normative theory “is limited,” but wrongly attacks normative theorizing as such and also misunderstands my proposal to “replace secularism.” In this brief response, I focus on three issues: first, her criticism of “normative theory” and “value judgments”; second, her krypto-normative remarks on learning from empirical comparisons; and third, her construction of “four types of secularity.”

December 13th, 2011

Multiple secularities and their normativity as an empirical subject

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It is difficult to come to an agreement when normative issues are concerned. Are the “moderate” forms of European secularisms flexible enough to include the Muslim population as well, as Tariq Modood suggests? Or are they “irretrievably flawed,” as Rajeev Bhargava has argued, because they emerged from a context in which Christian confessions dominated and were not set up to include non-Christian minorities? Or should we get rid of the language of secularism altogether and instead refer to liberal-democratic constitutionalism as a meta-language, as Veit Bader has proposed?

August 3rd, 2011

Forthcoming SSRC book: What Matters?

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Edited by Courtney Bender and Ann Taves, and forthcoming from Columbia University Press, What Matters? Ethnographies of Value in a (not so) Secular Age is the product of a collaboration between the SSRC and the School for Advanced Research.

July 20th, 2011

The rise and fall of Christian rock

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Meghan O’Gieblyn, writing for Guernica, forays into the history of CCM, or Christian contemporary music, which also happens to be that of her own adolescence, tracing the gradual displacement of the more overtly gospel elements of Christian pop, rock, and rap, as the Christian music industry, in its growing drive for “relevance,” felt the squeeze of secular music, especially under the pincers the more profitable and marketing-savvy MTV. More than the fate of explicitly Christian popular music, this course, O’Gieblyn suggests, reflects the simultaneous devolution of a distinctly evangelical way of being in the world, which, stuck as it is between oppositional self-cloistering and secularizing dissipation, seems to O’Gieblyn to have tended toward to the latter.

July 18th, 2011

Conference: Multiple Secularities and Global Interconnectedness

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On October 13-15, the Centre for Area Studies, University of Leipzig, will hold its second annual conference, Multiple Secularities and Global Interconnectedness.

July 11th, 2011

Religion as culture in “spiritual cultivation”

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Despite its roots in a religious entity, OISCA [The Organization for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement] is registered as a non-religious group. Many of the staff express ambivalence about the religious aspects of OISCA’s vision, staff composition, and history. In an avowedly “secular” Japanese society—an environment crafted in the immediate years after the Second World War by the U.S. Occupation, which was intent on eradicating the principles of “State Shinto” that were seen as the basis of an evil imperial regime—the term “religion” often triggers an allergic reaction. The terrorist attacks by the cult Aum Shinrikyō, in 1995, have not helped either. Wedged between a religious heritage and demands for secularity, OISCA offers a telling case in which religion and aid work entwine in complicated ways. How does the religious-secular boundary sharpen or blur in the trainings described as “person-making” (hitozukuri)? What kinds of persons are made in these activities?

March 18th, 2011

Surviving the secular

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Whether you see “the secular” as a threat or a refuge, an option or an impulse, we are all trying to survive it, and one could argue that religious folks are trying to survive the secular far more ardently than secular folks are trying to survive the religious (at least in the United States). Of course, most of us fall somewhere in between—looking for and cobbling together meaning in and around the edges of religious and secular schools of thought and belief. Yet, for all of the boundary marking and making, secular and religious are not mutually exclusive; they are mutually constitutive.

And that’s where Lofton (along with an audience of millions) finds Oprah:  at the intersection of religious and secular, in between spiritual and material, personal and communal, ritual and improvisational. And it is a brilliant discovery.

March 11th, 2011

Asecular revolution

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Why have I chosen the term “asecular,” and not, say, “non-secular” or “post-secular,” to describe the power manifested by these protests? The term “non-secular” is too easily confused with the notion of the religious. And unlike post-secularity, asecularity is not a temporal marker. It allows for the possibility that asecularity has, in different forms, always been with us, even from within the traditions from which state secularity arises. Explorations of post-secularity typically try to identify the emergence of new norms. Such attempts fail to recognize that the process of identifying and distinguishing secular from non-secular norms is part of what secularism is, and that this process is integral to its power. In contrast, the term asecularity specifies a situation not where norms are no longer secular, but where the questions against which such norms are adduced and contested as answers are no longer seen as necessary.

February 21st, 2011

Egyptian revolution round-up

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For the eighteen days that tens of thousands of Egyptians were rallying to push strongman Hosni Mubarak ever closer to abdication, time itself seemed to pass differently than usual. Something has been happening, though nobody knows exactly where it will go.

January 23rd, 2011

All Things Shining

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Susan Neiman reviews All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age, by philosophers Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly.

January 7th, 2011

Disenchantment and the mind-dependence of the moral

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At the core of contemporary secularism is the denial of the existence of deities and the supernatural. There is only the natural, as described by our best sciences. This ‘disenchantment’ of the world seems to leave no place for value, and this exclusion of value from the world is, Akeel Bilgrami argues in his essay “What is Enchantment?” one of the central and damning failures of contemporary secularism.

How does secularism crowd values out of our picture of the world?  If we accept a secularist metaphysics, then a necessary condition for the existence of values is that they can be accommodated by our best sciences. But our best sciences do not seem to have any room for values. Values make demands on human beings as actors—for instance, we ought to pursue the good, we ought to avoid the bad, and so on—but science describes no such free-standing “oughts.”

November 19th, 2010

“Women, Family, and Society in Islam and Catholicism”

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The University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies concluded the New York City launch of its new research initiative, Contending Modernities, this morning with a four-woman panel discussion on “Women, Family, and Society in Islam and Catholicism.”

November 17th, 2010

New blog on religion and modernity

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Contending Modernities, a research initiative of the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, has launched a new blog, featuring essays by Margot BadranDaniel Madigan, S.J., Vincent Rogeau, and Scott Appleby, as well as video and information on the project’s upcoming launch events in New York City.

November 17th, 2010

Contending Modernities

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On November 18-19, dozens of scholars, religious leaders, business people, and intellectuals will gather in New York for the public launch of a new, multi-year project called “Contending Modernities: Catholic, Muslim, Secular.” Based on the premise that Catholic, Muslim, and secular modernities each bring distinctive resources to the task of illuminating and resolving an array of characteristically modern problems, the project will examine the dynamic co-existence and competition of these “multiple modernities”—as well as the conflicts and contentions among them—with the aim of opening “new paths for constructive engagement between and among religion and secular people and institutions.”

In anticipation of the launch of this new project, we asked a distinguished group of scholars: What is gained by framing research on religion, secularity, and modernity in terms of “multiple” or “contending” modernities, and what “new paths for constructive engagement” might such a frame afford?

November 15th, 2010

Is there a secular body?

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Is there a secular body? Or, in somewhat different terms, is there a particular configuration of the human sensorium—of sensibilities, affects, embodied dispositions—specific to secular subjects, and thus constitutive of what we mean by “secular society”? What intrigues me about this question is that, despite its apparent simplicity, the path toward an answer seems not at all clear. For example, are the scholarly sensibilities and the modes of affective attunement that find expression here elements of a secular habitus? What would be indicated by calling such expressive habits “secular”?

August 17th, 2010

Taylor’s Constantinianism

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In the July 2010 issue of Modern Theology, Stanley Hauerwas and Romand Coles reflect on Charles Taylor‘s A Secular Age.

July 15th, 2010

Something more mundane

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Pondering a bit the posts so far in Notes from the field—those focused on the theoretical side of the secularization question, anyhow—it is not clear to me how much daylight there actually is between, say, Justin Reynolds’s position and my own. My interest in my initial foray was not so much to liberate secularization or the secular for an appropriately contextualized present (i.e., one that has taken on board both the historical dynamics of modern religious transformation and the critiques of secular reason that abound in our contemporary moment). Rather, it was to offer some kind of hope for something else “after secularization,” something other than the repetition of the same.

July 6th, 2010

Not just a bill to support women’s rights or secular values

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On July 13, French parliament will vote on a bill to ban burqa-style veils in the name of gender equality and secular values. More than advocating for women’s rights and a “state-sanctioned Islam that respects the secular state,” this particular version of the bill also implicates “husbands and fathers who impose such veils on female family members.”

July 3rd, 2010

Hours of unrelieved, humorless argument

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Wars of Religion 2.0

June 28th, 2010

Gauging irreligion in the heart of Europe

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Conventional wisdom states that the Czech Republic is the least religious society in the West. At The Guardian, Dana Hamplová discusses the historical origins of the Czechs’ famed secularity, which reach back before Communism, and highlights the abiding forms of religious activity in the former Soviet satellite.

December 4th, 2009

Judith Butler and Cornel West in conversation

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rethinkingIn a recent symposium held by the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU, the Social Science Research Council and the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University, Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West came together to discuss the project of “rethinking secularism.” Today we are posting audio and a transcript of the discussion that took place between Butler and West, moderated by Eduardo Mendieta, in which the two leading thinkers exchange thoughts on the ethics and limitations of citizenship, as well as temporality, memory, and the problematics of progress. (Listen to the paper presentations that preceded this discussion here and add your own voice to the discussion here.)

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December 2nd, 2009

Secularity and prosperity

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At Miller-McCune, David Villano explores the recent publication in the online journal Evolutionary Psychology of a study by independent researcher, Gregory S. Paul, which indicates a correlation between prosperity and secularity at the national level.  Paul found that amongst a group of develped nations, those that were least religious were also the most prosperous.

April 1st, 2009

Wolterstorff’s Bible-as-“frame”

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In short, I agree with Wolterstorff that, while there is no theory in this extremely diverse array of biblical texts, readers may “nonetheless sense a certain rhetorical unity pervading the great bulk of these writings.” We just disagree about what this narrative unity is. What if we said that the “red thread” (so to speak) which unites these tales is not a “frame” guaranteeing rights but rather the clear and repeated indication that humanity is faced with traumatic contingency, surprise, and uncertainty, and that they are at times (for this very reason) subjects of remarkable, even Promethean moments of invention?

March 9th, 2009

Secular accounts: A response to Chambers

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I want to re-emphasize the structure of my discussion about secular accounts of human rights.  The project of trying to ground human rights is the project of trying to find what it is about human beings that gives each and every one a dignity sufficient for their possessing human rights.

March 9th, 2009

The fine texture: A response to Smith

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<br />I will respond here to the three postings on The Immanent Frame by James K. A. Smith concerning my Justice: Rights and Wrongs.

March 5th, 2009

Do good philosophers make good citizens?

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<p></p>Perhaps one might argue that Justice: Rights and Wrongs is not simply a contribution to a conversation among philosophers.  It is also a contribution to a public dialogue about human rights and thus a conversation among citizens.  Here one might argue that because human rights are the sorts of things that are instituted and enforced by governments, we need to approach the conversation from the point of view of what we could agree upon, and not from the point of view of establishing what we think is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

February 24th, 2009

Justice and rights-talk in liberal democracies

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<p></p>Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs is a profoundly ambitious book.  His normative aspiration is nothing less than “speaking up for the wronged of the world” by reorienting contemporary thinking on rights and justice. … But what about the practice of liberal democracy?  What would it mean to govern so that members of a society can “enjoy the goods to which they have a right”?  Justice is not a book of practical application, but it is clearly on Wolterstorff’s mind.

February 22nd, 2009

Nicholas Wolterstorff’s fear of the secular

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<p></p>The truly dynamic discussion in America today about religion and politics is not between “wall of separation” secularists and Christian political theologians attempting to turn American into a theocracy. Instead, the promising but fledgling discussion is between religious and non-religious democrats who are acutely aware of the two horns of this essential American dilemma. First, one has a right to express one’s convictions in whatever terms one holds them, including religious terms; second, one cannot assume that one’s fellow citizens’ convictions are shaped by the same terms.

February 20th, 2009

Rehabilitating religious rights talk

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<p></p>In December, we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, it has served as a charter for the modern human rights movement. Many scholars are unaware of the religious underpinnings of the Declaration. […]

February 19th, 2009

Justice and theism

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<p></p>The central claim of Nicholas Wolsterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs is that justice is based on natural human rights that inhere in the worth of human beings, a worth that is bestowed on each and every human being through God’s love.  He contrasts this view of “justice as inherent rights” with an alternative notion of “justice as right order,” the view that was espoused by pagan philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle and dominated philosophical thinking until relatively recent times. […]

November 7th, 2008

The magic ballot

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I regret that we are forced to catch the special aura of this election without a deep and serious space for the idea of magic, magic as it used to be.

September 22nd, 2008

The ruse of “secular humanism”

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Discussions of the secular can often be peculiarly remote.  Whenever secularism is imagined as unbelief, or political neutrality, or an empty social space to be filled up with religious pluralism, it can be difficult to remember how it can also serve as a framework of corporeal experience and struggle.  We are used to associating corporeal discipline and affect with religion, but not with the secular.  So it might be excusable to begin with some personal reflection, not for the sake of autobiography but in order to tether analysis in some awareness of how the problem comes to have stakes. […]

August 25th, 2008

The challenge of creating change

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Abdullahi An-Na‘im’s Islam and the Secular State has rightfully received a great deal of attention and commentary. A prominent Muslim scholar and human rights activist, he brings to bear an impressive scholarship and candor in addressing a pivotal and hotly contested issue in contemporary Islam. Although An-Na‘im wishes to present his views from within the Islamic tradition, he also states early on that his arguments are not exegetical in nature and therefore do not aim to interpret traditional Islamic sources such as Qur’an, hadith, tafsir, or legal theory (usul al-fiqh). Rather, An-Na‘im desires to provide an “interpretative framework” upon which more substantive arguments and analysis can be built in the future. This reliance on theory rather than on textual sources or theology is flawed if one expects to foster broad-based reform rather than be read and celebrated by a small elite Muslim and non-Muslim readership. […]

August 19th, 2008

Preaching to the converted

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Islam and The Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari`a is avowedly didactic, aiming to persuade Muslims in public debate that constitutional rule of law, human rights and democratic citizenship in a secular state represent the only form of political regime consistent with Islam in the modern world. Despite lengthy and repetitious exposition of the notions of democratic constitutionalism, “civic reason,” citizenship and human rights, An-Na`im fails in his explicit purpose of justifying and legitimizing them in Islamic terms, which appear somewhat incidentally and do not carry the primary charge of justification. In this regard, his preaching can only have an effect on those already converted.