Tag Archives: Secularism

Ozzano & Giorgi, “European Culture Wars and the Italian Case”

In September, Routledge released “European Culture Wars and the Italian Case: Which side are you on?” by Luca Ozzano (University of Turin) and Alberta Giorgi (University of Coimbra).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book aims to understand the European political debate about contentious issues, framed in terms of religious values by religious 9781138840324and/or secular actors in 21st century. It specifically focuses on the Italian case, which, due to its peculiar history and contemporary political landscape, is a paradigmatic case for the study of the relationships between religion and politics.

In recent years, a number of controversies related to religious issues have characterised the European public debate at both the EU and the national level. The ‘affaire du foulard’ in France, the referendum on abortion in Portugal, the recognition of same-sex marriages in many Western European States, the debate over bioethics and the regulation of euthanasia are only a few examples of contentious issues involving religion. This book aims to shed light on the interrelation between these different debates, as well as their broader meaning, through the analysis of the paradigmatic case of Italy. Italy summarizes and sometimes exasperates wider European trends, both because of the peculiar role traditionally played by the Vatican in Italian politics and for the rise, since the 1990s, of new political entrepreneurs eager to exploit ethical and civilizational issues.

This work will be of great interest to scholars and students of a number of fields within the disciplines of political science, sociology and law, and will be useful for courses on religion and politics, political parties, social movements and civil society.

Stolz, et. al., “(Un)Believing in Modern Society: Religion, Spirituality, and Religious-Secular Competition”

In January, Ashgate will release “(Un)Believing in Modern Society: Religion, Spirituality, and Religious-Secular Competition” by Jörg Stolz (University of Lausanne, Switzerland), Mallory Schneuwly Purdie (University of Lausanne, Switzerland),  Thomas Englberger (University of Lausanne, Switzerland), Judith Könemann (University of Münster, Germany), and Michael Krüggeler (University of Münster, Germany). The publisher’s description follows:

This landmark study in the sociology of religion sheds new light on the Unknownquestion of what has happened to religion and spirituality since the 1960s in modern societies. Exposing several analytical weaknesses of today’s sociology of religion, (Un)Believing in Modern Society presents a new theory of religious-secular competition and a new typology of ways of being religious/secular. The authors draw on a specific European society (Switzerland) as their test case, using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to show how the theory can be applied. Identifying four ways of being religious/secular in a modern society: ‘institutional’, ‘alternative’, ‘distanced’ and ‘secular’ they show how and why these forms have emerged as a result of religious-secular competition and describe in what ways all four forms are adapted to the current, individualized society.

“Reimagining the Sacred” (Kearney & Zimmermann, eds.)

Next month, Columbia University Press will release “Reimagining the Sacred” edited by Richard Kearney (Boston College) and Jens Zimmermann (Trinity Western University). The publisher’s description follows:

Contemporary conversations about religion and culture are framed by two reductive definitions of secularity. In one, multiple faiths and nonfaiths coexist free from a dominant belief in God. In the other, we deny the sacred altogether and exclude religion from rational thought and behavior. But is there a third way for those who wish to rediscover the sacred in a skeptical society? What kind of faith, if any, can be proclaimed after the ravages of the Holocaust and the many religion-based terrors since?

Richard Kearney explores these questions with a host of philosophers known for their inclusive, forward-thinking work on the intersection of secularism, politics, and religion. An interreligious dialogue that refuses to paper over religious difference, these conversations locate the sacred within secular society and affirm a positive role for religion in human reflection and action. Drawing on his own philosophical formulations, literary analysis, and personal interreligious experiences, Kearney develops through these engagements a basic gesture of hospitality for approaching the question of God. His work facilitates a fresh encounter with our best-known voices in continental philosophy and their views on issues of importance to all spiritually minded individuals and skeptics: how to reconcile God’s goodness with human evil, how to believe in both God and natural science, how to talk about God without indulging in fundamentalist rhetoric, and how to balance God’s sovereignty with God’s love.

Prothero, “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections)”

In January, HarperCollins Publishers will release “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): The Battles That Define America from Jefferson’s Heresies to Gay Marriage,” by Stephen Prothero (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows: 

In this timely, carefully reasoned social history of the United States, the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One places today’s heated culture wars within the context of a centuries-long struggle of right versus left and religious versus secular to reveal how, ultimately, liberals always win.

Though they may seem to be dividing the country irreparably, today’s heated cultural and political battles between right and left, Progressives and Tea Party, religious and secular are far from unprecedented. In this engaging and important work, Stephen Prothero reframes the current debate, viewing it as the latest in a number of flashpoints that have shaped our national identity. Prothero takes us on a lively tour through time, bringing into focus the election of 1800, which pitted Calvinists and Federalists against Jeffersonians and “infidels;” the Protestants’ campaign against Catholics in the mid-nineteenth century; the anti-Mormon crusade of the Victorian era; the fundamentalist-modernist debates of the 1920s; the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s; and the current crusade against Islam.

As Prothero makes clear, our culture wars have always been religious wars, progressing through the same stages of conservative reaction to liberal victory that eventually benefit all Americans. Drawing on his impressive depth of knowledge and detailed research, he explains how competing religious beliefs have continually molded our political, economic, and sociological discourse and reveals how the conflicts which separate us today, like those that came before, are actually the byproduct of our struggle to come to terms with inclusiveness and ideals of “Americanness.” To explore these battles, he reminds us, is to look into the soul of America—and perhaps find essential answers to the questions that beset us.

Kezer, “Building Modern Turkey”

In December, the University of Pittsburgh Press will release “Building Modern Turkey: State, Space, and Ideology in the Early Republic,” by Zeynep Kezer (Newcastle University).  The publisher’s description follows: 

Building Modern Turkey offers a critical account of how the built environment mediated Turkey’s transition from a pluralistic (multiethnic and multireligious) empire into a modern, homogenized nation-state following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. Zeynep Kezer argues that the deliberate dismantling of ethnic and religious enclaves and the spatial practices that ensued were as integral to conjuring up a sense of national unity and facilitating the operations of a modern nation-state as were the creation of a new capital, Ankara, and other sites and services that embodied a new modern way of life. The book breaks new ground by examining both the creative and destructive forces at play in the making of modern Turkey and by addressing the overwhelming frictions during this profound transformation and their long-term consequences. By considering spatial transformations at different scales—from the experience of the individual self in space to that of international geopolitical disputes—Kezer also illuminates the concrete and performative dimensions of fortifying a political ideology, one that instills in the population a sense of membership in and allegiance to the nation above all competing loyalties and ensures its longevity.

“Teaching Civic Engagement” (Clingerman & Locklin, eds.)

In December, the Oxford University Press will release “Teaching Civic Engagement,” edited by Forrest Clingerman (Ohio Northern University) and Reid B. Locklin (St. Michael’s College and University of Toronto).  The publisher’s description follows:

Using a new model focused on four core capacities-intellectual complexity, social location, empathetic accountability, and motivated action–Teaching Civic Engagement explores the significance of religious studies in fostering a vibrant, just, and democratic civic order.

In the first section of the book, contributors detail this theoretical model and offer an initial application to the sources and methods that already define much teaching in the disciplines of religious studies and theology. A second section offers chapters focused on specific strategies for teaching civic engagement in religion classrooms, including traditional textual studies, reflective writing, community-based learning, field trips, media analysis, ethnographic methods, direct community engagement and a reflective practice of “ascetic withdrawal.” The final section of the volume explores theoretical issues, including the delimitation of the “civic” as a category, connections between local and global in the civic project, the question of political advocacy in the classroom, and the role of normative commitments.

Collectively these chapters illustrate the real possibility of connecting the scholarly study of religion with the societies in which we, our students, and our institutions exist. The contributing authors model new ways of engaging questions of civic belonging and social activism in the religion classroom, belying the stereotype of the ivory tower intellectual.

“God and the EU” (Chaplin & Wilton, eds.)

In January, Routledge will release “God and the EU: Faith in the European Project,” edited by Jonathan Chaplin (Cambridge University) and Gary Wilton (Wilton Park-Executive Agency of FCO).  The publisher’s description follows:

The current political, economic and financial crises facing the EU reveal a deeper cultural, indeed spiritual, malaise – a crisis in ‘the soul of Europe’. Many observers are concluding that the EU cannot be restored to health without a new appreciation of the contribution of religion to its past and future, and especially that of its hugely important but widely neglected Christian heritage, which is alive today even amidst advancing European secularization.

God and the EU offers a fresh, constructive and critical understanding of Christian contributions to the origin and development of the EU from a variety of theological, national and political perspectives. It explains the Christian origins of the EU; documents the various ways in which it has been both affirmed and critiqued from diverse theological perspectives; offers expert, theologically-informed assessments of four illustrative policy areas of the EU (religion, finance, environment, science); and also reports on the place of religion in the EU, including how religious freedom is framed and how contemporary religious actors relate to EU institutions and vice versa.

This book fills a major gap in the current debate about the future of the European project and will be of interest to students and scholars of religion, politics and European studies.

“Religion, Secularism, and Constitutional Democracy” (Cohen & Laborde, eds.)

In January, Columbia University Press will release “Religion, Secularism, and Constitutional Democracy” edited by Jean L. Cohen (Columbia University) and Cécile Laborde (University College London). The publisher’s description follows:

Polarization between political religionists and militant secularists on both sides of the Atlantic is on the rise. Critically engaging with traditional secularism and religious accommodationism, this collection introduces a constitutional secularism that robustly meets contemporary challenges. It identifies which connections between religion and the state are compatible with the liberal, republican, and democratic principles of constitutional democracy and assesses the success of their implementation in the birthplace of political secularism: the United States and Western Europe.

Approaching this issue from philosophical, legal, historical, political, and sociological perspectives, the contributors wage a thorough defense of their project’s theoretical and institutional legitimacy. Their work brings fresh insight to debates over the balance of human rights and religious freedom, the proper definition of a nonestablishment norm, and the relationship between sovereignty and legal pluralism. They discuss the genealogy of and tensions involving international legal rights to religious freedom, religious symbols in public spaces, religious arguments in public debates, the jurisdiction of religious authorities in personal law, and the dilemmas of religious accommodation in national constitutions and public policy when it violates international human rights agreements or liberal-democratic principles. If we profoundly rethink the concepts of religion and secularism, these thinkers argue, a principled adjudication of competing claims becomes possible.

Ghosts in Norway

The_ScreamChesterton famously said that if people do not believe in God, they will believe in anything. And the historian Christopher Dawson wrote that in the absence of God, people will take as gods Hitler or Stalin. Both were arguing the same point: people are naturally religious, and they seek a system of beliefs in order to understand the transcendent nature of human existence.

In our own day, denial of that religious impulse results in a curious schizophrenia. The belief in ghosts, for example, now on the rise in ostensibly faithless places like Norway, coincides with the equally sharp loss of organized religion, or even widespread reflection on what religion is. “God is out but spirits and ghosts are filling the vacuum,” the article quotes a professor Methodist preacher in Oslo. But what does that mean?

According to the secular imagination, this was not supposed to happen. Religion – by which is often meant churches – would disappear, to be replaced by science and empirical data. But this is not how it is turning out.

The challenge is that it is difficult for most common forms of secularism to accommodate religious beliefs. The contrary is not equally true. In the Christian tradition, science is perfectly compatible with religion and empiricism has a useful place in understanding the world, even if it is not the only criterion for that understanding. Indeed, there is a not insubstantial body of scholarship that argues Christianity enabled science by positing a comprehensible world according to the laws of nature. But for secularism, religion, either in organized churches or in “spiritual” positions such as the belief in the ghosts must be understood either as irrational or as pathology.

But jettisoning a concrete and intellectually disciplined tradition like Christianity has removed a way to understand spiritual phenomenon like, yes, whether ghosts exist. Replacing that tradition with a loose “postmodern” belief in various “weird things” (as the article calls them) completely severs the connection Christianity formed with empirical science. Further, postmodern faith of this type provides no resistance to secular power. Clairvoyants and ghost-hunters are no Thomas a Becket or Thomas More.

So these trends are not so much a challenge to secularism as a reinforcement of the secular state. It robs believers both of a ground to reality and a mode of resistance to those who treat their beliefs as well, a little spooky.

“Religious Citizenships and Islamophobia” (eds. Andre and Pratt)

In November, Routledge will release “Religious Citizenships and Islamophobia,” edited by Virginie Andre (Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University, Burwood, Australia) and Douglas Pratt (University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand).  The publisher’s description follows:

The attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January 2015 once again brought to the fore the place of Islam in Western secular democracies, and the questioning of Muslim citizenship. The hyper-mediatisation of jihadist terrorism and its subsequent conflation with Muslim communities in general, has led to both an increase in widespread popular fear of Islam and its followers, and the further marginalization and stigmatization of Muslim communities living in Western societies.

This book brings together a range of studies and reflections pertinent to the contemporary issues surrounding religious citizenship and Islamophobia. Sentiments of insecurity and uncertainty, which far-right populist movements focus on, are increasingly finding resonance among ordinary citizens. Some traditional political parties are now flirting with demagogic discourse with respect to matters Islamic to the point where there is a hardening within Western democracies, manifested in the adoption of illiberal policies, the narrowing of the conception of secularity, and the alienation of a younger generation of Muslims. Yet there can still be found both glimmers of hope and slivers of sanity. This book was originally published as a special issue of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations.