Tag Archives: Secularism

Call for Papers: State Neutrality, Religion, and Private Enterprises

The Université Catholique de Louvain is soliciting papers for its upcoming conference “State Neutrality, Religion, and Private Enterprises.”  A description of the conference follows:

Debates on the social responsibility of businesses raise the question of the universalist or particularist nature of the ethics upheld by private legal institutions, ethics which may be legitimized or delegitimized by social practices, but also validated and invalidated by constitutional laws or anti-discriminatory legislations. Indeed, if secular States have separated themselves from Churches and cannot be directly involved in religious affairs, it is also because they are secular, and the necessity to protect fundamental rights imposes itself on them so that they become, in turn, involved with the religious sphere, of which they will appoint themselves as interpreters, and that, with respect to the values which are present, often in opposition, in a society. In this thematic session we will question how the sphere of the social responsibility of enterprises confront secular States and their institutions, in particular tribunals, to new ethical and religious resources, thus renewing the question of their interpretation. This reflection on the confrontation of tribunals to particularist ethics in the sphere of private enterprise management will be laid out on the basis of theoretical and empirical research so as to facilitate dialogue between legal constraints and the critical resources of the field of the sociology of religion and social ethics. A re-evaluation of the doctrinal and theological tenets of the evoked ethical referents will permit not only a critical assessment of the data submitted to tribunals in cases of litigation, but will also provide an opening to more efficient modes of interaction, within the boundaries of common law, and of more relevant approaches to mediation, with the contextual data.

Paper proposals should be submitted no later than December 15, 2014 and should be submitted via the online form provided here.  Any questions can be directed to Louis-Léon Christians (Université Catholique de Louvain) at louis-leon.christians@uclouvain.be or to David Koussens (Université de Sherbrooke) at david.koussens@usherbrooke.ca.

“Radical Secularization? An Inquiry into the Religious Roots of Secular Culture” (Latré et. al., eds.)

Next month, Bloomsbury Publishing will release “Radical Secularization? An Inquiry into the Religious Roots of Secular Culture”  edited by Stijn Latré, Walter Van Herck, and Guido Vanheeswijck (all of the University of Antwerp, Belgium). The publisher’s description follows:

What does it mean for a society to be secular? Answering this question from a philosophical angle, “Radical Secularization?” delves into the philosophical presuppositions of secularization. Which cultural evolutions made secularization possible? International scholars from different disciplines assess the answers given by many leading philosophers such as, among others, Löwith, Blumenberg and Habermas (Germany), Gauchet and Nancy (France), Taylor and Bellah (North America). They examine the theory that secularization cannot only be regarded as a cultural change that was forced upon religion from an external source (e.g. science), but should also be considered as a phenomenon triggered by motives internal to religion. If religions are indeed capable of inner transformations, the question arises whether religions can persist in the secular societies they inadvertently helped to bring about, and how secular societies may accommodate religion.

Kreeft, “Ecumenical Jihad”

This January, St. Augustine’s Press will release “Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War” by Peter Kreeft (Boston College).  The publisher’s description follows:

Ecumenism and JihadJuxtaposing “ecumenism” and “jihad,” two words that many would consider strange and at odds with one another, Peter Kreeft argues that we need to change our current categories and alignments. We need to realize that we are at war and that the sides have changed radically. Documenting the spiritual and moral decay that has taken hold of modern society, Kreeft issues a wake-up call to all God-fearing Christians, Jews, and Muslims to unite together in a “religious war” against the common enemy of godless secular humanism, materialism, and immorality.

Aware of the deep theological differences of these monotheistic faiths, Kreeft calls for a moratorium on our polemics against one another so that we can form an alliance to fight together to save Western civilization.

Lassander, “Post-Materialist Religion: Pagan Identities and Value Change in Modern Europe”

In October, Bloomsbury Publishing released “Post-Materialist Religion: Pagan Identities and Value Change in Modern Europe” by Mika T. Lassander (Abo Akademi University, Finland). The publisher’s description follows:

Post-Materialist Religion discusses the transformations of the individual’s worldview in contemporary modern societies, and the role general societal value change plays in these. In doing so, Mika Lassander brings into conversation sociological theories of secularisation and social-psychological theories of interpersonal relations, the development of morality, and the nature of basic human values. The long-term decline of traditional religiosity in Europe and the emerging ethos that can be described as post-secular have brought religion and values back into popular discussion. One important theme in these discussions is about the links between religion and values, with the most common assumption being that religions are the source of individuals’ values. This book argues for the opposite view, suggesting that religions, or people’s worldviews in general, reflect the individual’s priorities.

Mika Lassander argues that the transformation of the individual’s worldview is a direct consequence of the social and economical changes in European societies since the Second World War. He suggests that the decline of traditional religiosity is not an indication of linear secularisation or of forgetting traditions, but an indication of the loss of relevance of some aspects of the traditional institutional religions. Furthermore, he argues that this is not an indication of the loss of ethical value base, but, rather, a change in the value base and consequently the transformation of the legitimating framework of this value base.

 

Rosati, “The Making of a Postsecular Society”

In January, Ashgate Publishing will release “The Making of a Postsecular Society: A Durkheimian Approach to Memory, Pluralism and Religion in Turkey” by Massimo Rosati (University of Rome ‘Tor Vergata’). The publisher’s description follows:

Drawing on the thought of Durkheim, this volume focuses on societal changes at the symbolic level to develop a new conceptualisation of the emergence of postsecular societies. Neo-Durkheimian categories are applied to the case of Turkey, which in recent years has shifted from a strong Republican and Kemalist view of secularism to a more Anglo-Saxon perspective. Turkish society thus constitutes an interesting case that blurs modernist distinctions between the secular and the religious and which could be described as ‘postsecular’.

Presenting three symbolic case studies – the enduring image of the founder of the Republic Atatürk, the contested site of Ayasofia, and the remembering and commemoration of the murdered journalist Hrant Dink – The Making of a Postsecular Society analyses the cultural relationship that the modern Republic has always had with Europe, considering the possible implications of the Turkish model of secularism for a specifically European self-understanding of modernity.

Based on a rigorous construction of theoretical categories and on a close scrutiny of the common challenges confronting Europe and its Turkish neighbour long considered ‘other’ with regard to the accommodation of religious difference, this book sheds light on the possibilities for Europe to find new ways of arranging the relationship between the secular and the religious. As such, it will appeal to scholars of social theory, the sociology of religion, secularisation and religious difference, and social change.

Cimino & Smith, “Atheist Awakening”

This October, Oxford University Press will release “Atheist Awakening: Secular Activism and Community in America” by Richard Cimino (University of Richmond) and Christopher Smith.  The publisher’s description follows:

Atheist AwakeningSurveys over the last twenty years have seen an ever-growing number of Americans disclaim religious affiliations and instead check the “none” box. In the first sociological exploration of organized secularism in America, Richard Cimino and Christopher Smith show how one segment of these “nones” have created a new, cohesive atheist identity through activism and the creation of communities.

According to Cimino and Smith, the new upsurge of atheists is a reaction to the revival of religious fervor in American politics since 1980. Feeling overlooked and underrepresented in the public sphere, atheists have employed a wide variety of strategies-some evangelical, some based on identity politics-to defend and assert themselves against their ideological opponents. These strategies include building and maintaining communities, despite the absence of the kinds of shared rituals, texts, and laws that help to sustain organized religions.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with self-identified atheist, secularist, and humanist leaders and activists, as well as extensive observations and analysis of secular gatherings and media, Cimino and Smith illustrate how atheists organize and align themselves toward common goals, and how media-particularly web-based media-have proven invaluable in connecting atheists to one another and in creating a powerful virtual community. Cimino and Smith suggest that secularists rely not only on the Internet for community-building, but on their own new forms of ritual.

This groundbreaking study will be essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the growing atheist movement in America.

Gray on the Ubiquity of Evil

John Gray has a long, superb essay on the subject (h/t L. Joseph), with scathingly acute criticisms of the modern sense in which evil is eminently conquerable through (of all things) politics, or really doesn’t exist, or must somehow be the result of somebody’s mistake, or could be cleared up as a simple matter confusion. Particularly keen are Gray’s comments about the way in which the old religious traditions offer certain insights on the matter, insights that are today largely either ignored or disbelieved. Read it all, including this:

It’s not that [most western leaders] are obsessed with evil. Rather, they don’t really believe in evil as an enduring reality in human life. If their feverish rhetoric means anything, it is that evil can be vanquished. In believing this, those who govern us at the present time reject a central insight of western religion, which is found also in Greek tragic drama and the work of the Roman historians: destructive human conflict is rooted in flaws within human beings themselves. In this old-fashioned understanding, evil is a propensity to destructive and self-destructive behaviour that is humanly universal. The restraints of morality exist to curb this innate human frailty; but morality is a fragile artifice that regularly breaks down. Dealing with evil requires an acceptance that it never goes away.

No view of things could be more alien at the present time. Whatever their position on the political spectrum, almost all of those who govern us hold to some version of the melioristic liberalism that is the west’s default creed, which teaches that human civilisation is advancing – however falteringly – to a point at which the worst forms of human destructiveness can be left behind. According to this view, evil, if any such thing exists, is not an inbuilt human flaw, but a product of defective social institutions, which can over time be permanently improved.

Paradoxically, this belief in the evanescence of evil is what underlies the hysterical invocation of evil that has lately become so prominent. There are many bad and lamentable forces in the world today, but it is those that undermine the belief in human improvement that are demonised as “evil”. So what disturbs the west about Vladimir Putin, for example, is not so much the persecution of gay people over which he has presided, or the threat posed to Russia’s neighbours by his attempt to reassert its imperial power. It is the fact that he has no place in the liberal scheme of continuing human advance. As a result, the Russian leader can only be evil. When George W Bush looked into Putin’s eyes at a Moscow summit in May 2002, he reported, “I was able to get a sense of his soul”. When Joe Biden visited the Kremlin in 2011, he had a very different impression, telling Putin: “Mr Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.” According to Biden, Putin smiled and replied, “We understand each other.” The religious language is telling: nine years earlier, Putin had been a pragmatic leader with whom the west could work; now he was a soulless devil.

It’s in the Middle East, however, that the prevailing liberal worldview has proved most consistently misguided. At bottom, it may be western leaders’ inability to think outside this melioristic creed that accounts for their failure to learn from experience. After more than a decade of intensive bombing, backed up by massive ground force, the Taliban continue to control much of Afghanistan and appear to be regaining ground as the American-led mission is run down. Libya – through which a beaming David Cameron processed in triumph only three years ago, after the use of western air power to help topple Gaddafi – is now an anarchic hell-hole that no western leader could safely visit. One might think such experiences would be enough to deter governments from further exercises in regime change. But our leaders cannot admit the narrow limits of their power. They cannot accept that by removing one kind of evil they may succeed only in bringing about another – anarchy instead of tyranny, Islamist popular theocracy instead of secular dictatorship. They need a narrative of continuing advance if they are to preserve their sense of being able to act meaningfully in the world, so they are driven again and again to re-enact their past failures.

Many view these western interventions as no more than exercises in geopolitics. But a type of moral infantilism is no less important in explaining the persisting folly of western governments. Though it is clear that Isis cannot be permanently weakened as long as the war against Assad continues, this fact is ignored – and not only because a western-brokered peace deal that left Assad in power would be opposed by the Gulf states that have sided with jihadist forces in Syria. More fundamentally, any such deal would mean giving legitimacy to a regime that western governments have condemned as more evil than any conceivable alternative. In Syria, the actual alternatives are the survival in some form of Assad’s secular despotism, a radical Islamist regime or continuing war and anarchy. In the liberal political culture that prevails in the west, a public choice among these options is impossible.

There are some who think the very idea of evil is an obsolete relic of religion. For most secular thinkers, what has been defined as evil in the past is the expression of social ills that can in principle be remedied. But these same thinkers very often invoke evil forces to account for humankind’s failure to advance. The secularisation of the modern moral vocabulary that many believed was under way has not occurred: public discourse about good and evil continues to be rooted in religion. Yet the idea of evil that is invoked is not one that features in the central religious traditions of the west. The belief that evil can be finally overcome has more in common with the dualistic heresies of ancient and medieval times than it does with any western religious orthodoxy.

There follows an interesting discussion of Manicheanism and the views of Augustine, and then this:

In its official forms, secular liberalism rejects the idea of evil. Many liberals would like to see the idea of evil replaced by a discourse of harm: we should talk instead about how people do damage to each other and themselves. But this view poses a problem of evil remarkably similar to that which has troubled Christian believers. If every human being is born a liberal – as these latter-day disciples of Pelagius appear to believe – why have so many, seemingly of their own free will, given their lives to regimes and movements that are essentially repressive, cruel and violent? Why do human beings knowingly harm others and themselves? Unable to account for these facts, liberals have resorted to a language of dark and evil forces much like that of dualistic religions.

The efforts of believers to explain why God permits abominable suffering and injustice have produced nothing that is convincing; but at least believers have admitted that the ways of the Deity are mysterious. Even though he ended up accepting the divine will, the questions that Job put to God were never answered. Despite all his efforts to find a solution, Augustine confessed that human reason was not equal to the task. In contrast, when secular liberals try to account for evil in rational terms, the result is a more primitive version of Manichean myth. When humankind proves resistant to improvement, it is because forces of darkness – wicked priests, demagogic politicians, predatory corporations and the like – are working to thwart the universal struggle for freedom and enlightenment. There is a lesson here. Sooner or later anyone who believes in innate human goodness is bound to reinvent the idea of evil in a cruder form. Aiming to exorcise evil from the modern mind, secular liberals have ended up constructing another version of demonology, in which anything that stands out against what is believed to be the rational course of human development is anathematised.

“Transformations of Religion and the Public Sphere: Postsecular Publics” (Braidotti et al. eds.)

Next month, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Transformations of Religion and the Public Sphere: Postsecular Publics”  edited by Rosi Braidotti (Utrecht University), Bolette Blaagaard (Aalborg University), Tobijn de Graauw (Utrecht University), and Eva Midden (Utrecht University). The publisher’s description follows:

Transformations of Religion and the Public Sphere: Postsecular Publics contributes a counter-discourse to the myth of secularism. This myth is a strongly-held belief, predominantly advocated in the westernised world, that progress and modernity is intimately linked to secular politics and social relations. This book develops a range of critiques of this myth through discussions on the current political, social, and technological conditions in which we find ourselves. It explores the political implications of the myth, as well as exploring postcolonial relations, liberal-secularism and religious sentiments, and the mediated public sphere, with an in-depth focus on the Dutch case. Transformations of Religion and the Public Sphere: Postsecular Publics takes issue with the secular condition and accepted beliefs of its liberal emancipatory foundations.

“The Oxford Handbook of European Islam” (Cesari, ed.)

This December, Oxford University Press will release “The Oxford Handbook of European Islam” edited by Jocelyn Cesari (Center for European Studies).  The publisher’s description follows:

OXford Handbook of European IslamFor centuries, Muslim countries and Europe have engaged one another through theological dialogues, diplomatic missions, political rivalries, and power struggles. In the last thirty years, due in large part to globalization and migration from Islamic countries to the West, what was previously an engagement across national and cultural boundaries has increasingly become an internalized encounter within Europe itself. Questions of the Hijab in schools, freedom of expression in the wake of the Danish Cartoon crisis, and the role of Shari’a have come to the forefront of contemporary European discourse.

The Oxford Handbook of European Islam is the first collection to present a comprehensive approach to the multiple and changing ways Islam has been studied across European countries. Parts one to three address the state of knowledge of Islam and Muslims within a selection of European countries, while presenting a critical view of the most up-to-date data specific to each country. These chapters analyze the immigration cycles and policies related to the presence of Muslims, tackling issues such as discrimination, post-colonial identity, adaptation, and assimilation. The thematic chapters, in parts four and five, examine secularism, radicalization, Shari’a, Hijab, and Islamophobia with the goal of synthesizing different national discussion into a more comparative theoretical framework. The Handbook attempts to balance cutting edge assessment with the knowledge that the content itself will eventually be superseded by events. Featuring eighteen newly-commissioned essays by noted scholars in the field, this volume will provide an excellent resource for students and scholars interested in European Studies, immigration, Islamic studies, and the sociology of religion.

Foret, “Religion and Politics in the European Union”

This November, Cambridge University Press will release “Religion and Politics in the European Union: The Secular Canopy” by François Foret (Université Libre de Bruxelles).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion and Politics in the EUThis book analyzes the place and influence of religion in European politics. François Foret presents the first data ever collected on the religious beliefs of European decision makers and what they do with these beliefs. Discussing popular assumptions such as the return of religion, aggressive European secularism, and religious lobbying, Foret offers objective data and non-normative conceptual frameworks to clarify some major issues in the contemporary political debate.