Tag Archives: Secularism

“Secularism on the Edge: Rethinking Church-State Relations in the United States, France, and Israel” (Berlinerblau et al., eds.)

In August, Palgrave Macmillan released “Secularism on the Edge: Rethinking Church-State Relations in the United States, France, and Israel” edited by Jacques Berlinerblau (Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University), Sarah Fainberg (Tel Aviv University), and Aurora Nou (graduate student at American University). The publisher’s description follows:

What is secularism, and why does it matter? In an era marked by global religious revival, how do countries navigate the presence of faith in the public square? In this dynamic collection of essays, leading scholars from around the world, including Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua and French female rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, examine the condition of church-state relations in three pivotal countries: the United States, France, and Israel. Their analyses are rooted in a wide variety of disciplines, ranging from ethnography and demography to political science, gender studies, theology, and law.

Prominent among the points addressed are the crippling nomenclatural confusions that have so hampered not only secularism as a political ideology, but secularism as an academic construct. This reader-friendly volume also offers a critical and nuanced look at how women are impacted by secular governance. Though secularism is often equated with modernity and progress, including with regard to gender equality, our contributors find that the truth is infinitely more complicated.

Anderson, “Conservative Christian Politics in Russia and the United States”

This October, Routledge Press will release “Conservative Christian Politics in Russia and the United States: Dreaming of Christian Nations” by John Anderson (University of St. Andrews).  The publisher’s description follows:

Conservative Christian PoliticsThis book explores the politics of conservative Christian churches and social movements in Russia and the United States, focusing on their similar concerns but very different modes of political engagement.

Whilst secularisation continues to chip away at religious adherence and practice in Europe, religion is often, quite rightly, seen as an influential force in the politics of the United States, and, more questionably, as a significant influence in contemporary Russia. This book looks at the broad social movement making up the US Christian Right and the profoundly hierarchical leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church as socially conservative actors, and some of the ways they have engaged in contemporary politics. Both are seeking to halt the perceived drift towards a more secular political order; both face significant challenges in handling the consequences of secularism, pluralism and liberal individualism; and both believe that their nations can only be great if they remain true to their religious heritage. In exploring their experience, the book focuses on shared and different elements in their diagnosis of what is wrong with their societies and how this affects their policy intervention over issues such as religious and ethnic belonging, sexual orientation and education.

Drawing on political, sociological and religious studies, this work will be a useful reference for students and scholars of religion and politics, Russian politics and American politics.

Ghobadzadeh, “Religious Secularity”

This November, Oxford University Press will release “Religious Secularity: A Theological Challenge to the Islamic State” by Naser Ghobadzadeh (Australian Catholic University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religious Secularity“Fundamentalism” and “authoritarian secularism” are commonly perceived as the two mutually exclusive paradigms available to Muslim majority countries. Recent political developments, however, have challenged this perception. Formerly associated with a fundamentalist outlook, mainstream Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Nahda, have adopted a distinctly secular-democratic approach to the state re-building process. Their success or failure in transitioning to democracy remains to be seen, but the political position these Islamic groups have carved out suggests the viability of a third way.

Naser Ghobadzadeh examines the case of Iran, which has a unique history with respect to the relationship of religion and politics. The country has been subject to both authoritarian secularization and authoritarian Islamization over the last nine decades. While politico-religious discourse in Iran is articulated in response to the Islamic state, it also bears the scars of Iran’s history of authoritarian secularization-the legacy of the Pahlavi regime. Ghobadzadeh conceptualizes this politico-religious discourse as “religious secularity”. He uses this apparent oxymoron to describe the Islamic quest for a democratic secular state, and he demonstrates how this concept encapsulates the complex characteristics of the Shiite religious reformation movement.

Smith, “Weird John Brown”

This November, Stanford University Press will release “Weird John Brown: Divine Violence and the Limits of Ethics” by Ted A. Smith (Emory University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Weird John BrownConventional wisdom holds that attempts to combine religion and politics will produce unlimited violence. Concepts such as jihad, crusade, and sacrifice need to be rooted out, the story goes, for the sake of more bounded and secular understandings of violence. Ted Smith upends this dominant view, drawing on Walter Benjamin, Giorgio Agamben, and others to trace the ways that seemingly secular politics produce their own forms of violence without limit. He brings this argument to life—and digs deep into the American political imagination—through a string of surprising reflections on John Brown, the nineteenth-century abolitionist who took up arms against the state in the name of a higher law. Smith argues that the key to limiting violence is not its separation from religion, but its connection to richer and more critical modes of religious reflection. Weird John Brown develops a negative political theology that challenges both the ways we remember American history and the ways we think about the nature, meaning, and exercise of violence.

Trigg, “Religious Diversity”

This past June, Cambridge University Press released “Religious Diversity: Philosophical and Religious Dimensions” by Roger Trigg (University of Oxford).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religious DiversityShould we merely celebrate diversity in the sphere of religion? What of the social cohesion of a country? There is a constant tug between belief in religious truth and the need for respect for other religions. Religious Diversity: Philosophical and Political Dimensions examines how far a firm faith can allow for toleration of difference and respect the need for religious freedom. It elucidates the philosophical credentials of different approaches to truth in religion, ranging from a dogmatic fundamentalism to a pluralism that shades into relativism. Must we resort to a secularism that treats all religion as a personal and private matter, with nothing to contribute to discussions about the common good? How should law approach the issue of religious freedom? Introducing the relevance of central discussions in modern philosophy of religion, the book goes on to examine the political implications of increasing religious diversity in a democracy.

Sniderman et al., “Paradoxes of Liberal Democracy”

This month, Princeton University Press released “Paradoxes of Liberal Democracy: Islam, Western Europe and the Danish Cartoon Crisis” by Paul Sniderman (Stanford University), Michael Peterson, Rune Slothuus, and Rune Stubager (all from Aarhus University, Denmark).  The publisher’s description follows:

Paradoxes of Liberal DemocracyIn 2005, twelve cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, igniting a political firestorm over demands by some Muslims that the claims of their religious faith take precedence over freedom of expression. Given the explosive reaction from Middle Eastern governments, Muslim clerics, and some Danish politicians, the stage was set for a backlash against Muslims in Denmark. But no such backlash occurred.

Paradoxes of Liberal Democracy shows how the majority of ordinary Danish citizens provided a solid wall of support for the rights of their country’s growing Muslim minority, drawing a sharp distinction between Muslim immigrants and Islamic fundamentalists and supporting the civil rights of Muslim immigrants as fully as those of fellow Danes—for example, Christian fundamentalists. Building on randomized experiments conducted as part of large, nationally representative opinion surveys, Paradoxes of Liberal Democracy also demonstrates how the moral covenant underpinning the welfare state simultaneously promotes equal treatment for some Muslim immigrants and opens the door to discrimination against others.

Revealing the strength of Denmark’s commitment to democratic values, Paradoxes of Liberal Democracy underlines the challenges of inclusion but offers hope to those seeking to reconcile the secular values of liberal democracy and the religious faith of Muslim immigrants in Europe.

Siedentop, “Inventing the Individual”

In October, Harvard University Press will release “Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism” by Larry Siedentop (Emeritus Fellow of Keble College, Oxford).  The publisher’s description follows:

Inventing the IndividualHere, in a grand narrative spanning 1,800 years of European history, a distinguished political philosopher firmly rejects Western liberalism’s usual account of itself: its emergence in opposition to religion in the early modern era. Larry Siedentop argues instead that liberal thought is, in its underlying assumptions, the offspring of the Church. Beginning with a moral revolution in the first centuries CE, when notions about equality and human agency were first formulated by St. Paul, Siedentop follows these concepts in Christianity from Augustine to the philosophers and canon lawyers of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, and ends with their reemergence in secularism—another of Christianity’s gifts to the West.

Inventing the Individual tells how a new, equal social role, the individual, arose and gradually displaced the claims of family, tribe, and caste as the basis of social organization. Asking us to rethink the evolution of ideas on which Western societies and government are built, Siedentop contends that the core of what is now the West’s system of beliefs emerged earlier than we commonly think. The roots of liberalism—belief in individual freedom, in the fundamental moral equality of individuals, in a legal system based on equality, and in a representative form of government befitting a society of free people—all these were pioneered by Christian thinkers of the Middle Ages who drew on the moral revolution carried out by the early Church. These philosophers and canon lawyers, not the Renaissance humanists, laid the foundation for liberal democracy in the West.

Fernando, “The Republic Unsettled”

This September, Duke University Press will release “The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism” by Mayanthi L. Fernando (University of California).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Republic UnsettledIn 1989 three Muslim schoolgirls from a Paris suburb refused to remove their Islamic headscarves in class. The headscarf crisis signaled an Islamic revival among the children of North African immigrants; it also ignited an ongoing debate about the place of Muslims within the secular nation-state. Based on ten years of ethnographic research, The Republic Unsettled alternates between an analysis of Muslim French religiosity and the contradictions of French secularism that this emergent religiosity precipitated. Mayanthi L. Fernando explores how Muslim French draw on both Islamic and secular-republican traditions to create novel modes of ethical and political life, reconfiguring those traditions to imagine a new future for France. She also examines how the political discourses, institutions, and laws that constitute French secularism regulate Islam, transforming the Islamic tradition and what it means to be Muslim. Fernando traces how long-standing tensions within secularism and republican citizenship are displaced onto France’s Muslims, who, as a result, are rendered illegitimate as political citizens and moral subjects. She argues, ultimately, that the Muslim question is as much about secularism as it is about Islam.

“Profane” (Grenda, Beneke, & Nash, eds.)

This month, University of California Press will release Profane: Sacrilegious Expression in a Multicultural Age, edited by Christopher Grenda (Bronx Community College and City University of New York), Chris Beneke (Bentley University), and David Nash (Oxford Brookes University).  The publisher’s description follows:

ProfaneHumans have been uttering profane words and incurring the consequences for millennia. But contemporary events—from the violence in 2006 that followed Danish newspaper cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed to the 2012 furor over the Innocence of Muslims video—indicate that controversy concerning blasphemy has reemerged in explosive transnational form. In an age when electronic media transmit offense as rapidly as profane images and texts can be produced, blasphemy is bracingly relevant again.

In this volume, a distinguished cast of international scholars examines the profound difficulties blasphemy raises for modern societies. Contributors examine how the sacred is formed and maintained, how sacrilegious expression is conceived and regulated, and how the resulting conflicts resist easy adjudication. Their studies range across art, history, politics, law, literature, and theology. Because of the global nature of the problem, the volume’s approach is comparative, examining blasphemy across cultural and geopolitical boundaries.

Audi, “Democratic Authority and the Separation of Church and State”

Earlier this month, Oxford University Press released Democratic Authority and the Separation of Church and Stateby Robert Audi (Notre Dame). The publisher’s description follows:

Democratic states must protect the liberty of citizens Audiand must accommodate both religious liberty and cultural diversity. This democratic imperative is one reason for the increasing secularity of most modern democracies. Religious citizens, however, commonly see a secular state as unfriendly toward religion. This book articulates principles that enable secular governments to protect liberty in a way that judiciously separates church and state and fully respects religious citizens.

After presenting a brief account of the relation between religion and ethics, the book shows how ethics can be independent of religion-evidentially autonomous in a way that makes moral knowledge possible for secular citizens–without denying religious sources a moral authority of their own. With this account in view, it portrays a church-state separation that requires governments not only to avoid religious establishment but also to maintain religious neutrality. The book shows how religious neutrality is related to such issues as teaching evolutionary biology in public schools, the legitimacy of vouchers to fund private schooling, and governmental support of “faith-based initiatives.” The final chapter shows how the proposed theory of religion and politics incorporates toleration and forgiveness as elements in flourishing democracies. Tolerance and forgiveness are described; their role in democratic citizenship is clarified; and in this light a conception of civic virtue is proposed.

Overall, the book advances the theory of liberal democracy, clarifies the relation between religion and ethics, provides distinctive principles governing religion in politics, and provides a theory of toleration for pluralistic societies. It frames institutional principles to guide governmental policy toward religion; it articulates citizenship standards for political conduct by individuals; it examines the case for affirming these two kinds of standards on the basis of what, historically, has been called natural reason; and it defends an account of toleration that enhances the practical application of the ethical framework both in individual nations and in the international realm.