Tag Archives: Secularism

Should Catholic Hospitals be Catholic?

This is the kind of essay that we will see more of. Jerry Coyne argues that religious liberty has no place in hospitals, “even Catholic ones.” The piece nicely combines bigotry in the name of science with an innocence of what actually would happen if he were heeded. It is somewhat shameful that The New Republic would publish such a tendentious piece, but then again, that magazine is not what it once was.

Coyne makes two points. First, he argues that the mere prevalence of Catholic hospital networks means they should have to waive objection to treatments they find morally objectionable – in Coyne’s tragic real life example, that of a woman who needs a caesarean and a tubal ligation. The Catholic hospital agreed to perform the first but not the second (leave aside for a moment whether this is congruent with Catholic teaching, and it is unclear whether the tubal ligation was necessary at the time).

Second, Coyne basically says Catholic institutions can’t be Catholic:

One could [love that could! – ed.] argue that yes, individual doctors who are pious Catholics should not be compelled to perform birth control, even when necessary to save a woman’s life. But, as noted above, the Church Amendment also stipulates that a Catholic hospital itself cannot be forced to perform practices [sic] sterilizations or abortions. Even if its doctors aren’t Catholic, then, and are willing to do the ligation, they must abide by the law and tell Mann to go elsewhere.

Coyne ignores a couple of key points. First, the reason why rights are considered immune from state interference is precisely to avoid the lazy utilitarian argument Coyne sets out. It doesn’t matter if there are many religious institutions or a few, the state cannot abrogate religious freedom in the name of secular goals.

The second point Coyne tries to make is simply unrealistic. If Catholic hospitals allowed non-Catholic doctors to perform procedures contrary to Catholic doctrine, how would a patient even know? Would the hospital be required to keep such doctors on staff, just in case? How about nurses or other employees; would there have to be a quota for them as well? This is another reason why institutional affiliation and exercise of corporate rights makes sense; it eliminates confusion and burden in the exercise of a right. And as Hobby Lobby shows, there is nothing unconstitutional about an institution acting on its beliefs.

Ansari, “Islam and Nationalism in India”

In November, Routledge will release “Islam and Nationalism in India: South Indian Contexts” by M.T. Ansari (University of Hyderabad, India). The publisher’s description follows:

Islam in India, as elsewhere, continues to be seen as a remainder in its refusal to “conform” to national and international secular-modern norms. Such a general perception has also had a tremendous impact on the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, who as individuals and communities have been shaped and transformed over centuries of socio-political and historical processes, by eroding their world-view and steadily erasing their life-worlds.

This book traces the spectral presence of Islam across narratives to note that difference and diversity, demographic as well as cultural, can be espoused rather than excised or exorcized. Focusing on Malabar – home to the Mappila Muslim community in Kerala, South India – and drawing mostly on Malayalam sources, the author investigates the question of Islam from various angles by constituting an archive comprising popular, administrative, academic, and literary discourses. The author contends that an uncritical insistence on unity has led to a formation in which “minor” subjects embody an excess of identity, in contrast to the Hindu-citizen whose identity seemingly coincides with the national. This has led to Muslims being the source of a deep-seated anxiety for secular nationalism and the targets of a resurgent Hindutva in that they expose the fault-lines of a geographically and socio-culturally unified nation.

An interdisciplinary study of Islam in India from the South Indian context, this book will be of interest to scholars of modern Indian history, political science, literary and cultural studies, and Islamic studies.

Mislin, “Saving Faith”

In October, the Cornell University Press will release “Saving Faith: Making Religious Pluralism an American Value at the Dawn of the Secular Age,” by David Mislin (Temple University).  The publisher’s description follows:

In Saving Faith, David Mislin chronicles the transformative historical moment when Americans began to reimagine their nation as one strengthened by the diverse faiths of its peoples. Between 1875 and 1925, liberal Protestant leaders abandoned religious exclusivism and leveraged their considerable cultural influence to push others to do the same. This reorientation came about as an ever-growing group of Americans found their religious faith under attack on social, intellectual, and political fronts. A new generation of outspoken agnostics assailed the very foundation of belief, while noted intellectuals embraced novel spiritual practices and claimed that Protestant Christianity had outlived its usefulness.

Faced with these grave challenges, Protestant clergy and their allies realized that the successful defense of religion against secularism required a defense of all religious traditions. They affirmed the social value—and ultimately the religious truth—of Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. They also came to view doubt and uncertainty as expressions of faith. Ultimately, the reexamination of religious difference paved the way for Protestant elites to reconsider ethnic, racial, and cultural difference. Using the manuscript collections and correspondence of leading American Protestants, as well the institutional records of various churches and religious organizations, Mislin offers insight into the historical constructions of faith and doubt, the interconnected relationship of secularism and pluralism, and the enormous influence of liberal Protestant thought on the political, cultural, and spiritual values of the twentieth-century United States.

Mahmood, “Religious Difference in a Secular Age”

In November, Princeton University Press will release “Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report” by Saba Mahmood (University of California, Berkeley). The publisher’s description follows:

The plight of religious minorities in the Middle East is often attributed to the failure of secularism to take root in the region. Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges this assessment by examining four cornerstones of secularism—political and civil equality, minority rights, religious freedom, and the legal separation of private and public domains.

Drawing on her extensive fieldwork in Egypt with Coptic Orthodox Christians and Bahais—religious minorities in a predominantly Muslim country—Saba Mahmood shows how modern secular governance has exacerbated religious tensions and inequalities rather than reduced them. Tracing the historical career of secular legal concepts in the colonial and postcolonial Middle East, she explores how contradictions at the very heart of political secularism have aggravated and amplified existing forms of Islamic hierarchy, bringing minority relations in Egypt to a new historical impasse. Through a close examination of Egyptian court cases and constitutional debates about minority rights, conflicts around family law, and controversies over freedom of expression, Mahmood invites us to reflect on the entwined histories of secularism in the Middle East and Europe.

A provocative work of scholarship, Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges us to rethink the promise and limits of the secular ideal of religious equality.

Luehrmann, “Religion in Secular Archives”

In August, the Oxford University Press releases “Religion in Secular Archives: Soviet Atheism and Historical Knowledge,” by Sonja Luehrmann (Simon Fraser University).  The publisher’s description follows:

What can atheists tell us about religious life? Russian archives contain a wealth of information on religiosity during the Soviet era, but most of it is written from the hostile perspective of officials and scholars charged with promoting atheism. Based on archival research in locations as diverse as the multi-religious Volga region, Moscow, and Texas, Sonja Luehrmann argues that we can learn a great deal about Soviet religiosity when we focus not just on what documents say but also on what they did. Especially during the post-war decades (1950s-1970s), the puzzle of religious persistence under socialism challenged atheists to develop new approaches to studying and theorizing religion while also trying to control it. Taking into account the logic of filing systems as well as the content of documents, the book shows how documentary action made religious believers firmly a part of Soviet society while simultaneously casting them as ideologically alien. When juxtaposed with oral, printed, and samizdat sources, the records of institutions such as the Council of Religious Affairs and the Communist Party take on a dialogical quality. In distanced and carefully circumscribed form, they preserve traces of encounters with religious believers. By contrast, collections compiled by western supporters during the Cold War sometimes lack this ideological friction, recruiting Soviet believers into a deceptively simple binary of religion versus communism. Through careful readings and comparisons of different documentary genres and depositories, this book opens up a difficult set of sources to students of religion and secularism.

Horn, “The Spirit of Vatican II”

In September, the Oxford University Press will release “The Spirit of Vatican II: Western European Progressive Catholicism in the Long Sixties,” by Gerd-Rainer Horn (Sciences Po, Institut d’Etudes Politiques). The publisher’s description follows:

Vatican II profoundly changed the outlook and the message of the Catholic Church. After decades, if not centuries, in which Catholic public opinion appeared to be primarily oriented towards the distant past and bygone societal models, suddenly the Catholic Church embraced the world as it was, and it joined in the struggle to create a radiant future.

The Sixties were a time of great socio-cultural and political ferment in Europe as a whole. Especially the second half of the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s witnessed an astounding range of “new” and “old” social movements reaching for the sky. Catholic activists provided fuel to the fire in more ways than one. Catholics had embarked on the quest for new horizons for some years prior to the sudden growth of secular activism in and around the magic year of 1968. When secular radicals joined up with Catholic activists, a seemingly unstoppable dynamic was unleashed.

This book covers five crucial contributions by Catholic communities to the burgeoning atmosphere of those turbulent years: a) the theological innovations of Vatican II, which made such an unprecedented engagement of Catholics possible in the first place, but also post-conciliar theological developments; b) the resurgence of the worker priest experiment, and the first-ever creation of autonomous organisations of radical parish priests; c) the simultaneous creation of grassroots organisations – base communities – by (mostly) lay activists across the continent; d) the crucial roles of Catholic students in the multiform student movements shaping Europe in these years; e) the indispensable contributions of Catholic workers who helped shape – and often initiated – the wave of militant contestations shaking up labour relations after 1968.

Adrian, “Religious Freedom at Risk”

In October, Springer will release “Religious Freedom at Risk: The EU, French Schools, and Why the Veil Was Banned,” by Melanie Adrian (Carleton University). The publisher’s description follows:

This book examines matters of religious freedom in Europe, considers the work of the European Court of Human Rights in this area, explores issues of multiculturalism and secularism in France, of women in Islam, and of Muslims in the West. The work presents legal analysis and ethnographic fieldwork, focusing on concepts such as laïcité, submission, equality and the role of the state in public education, amongst others. Through this book, the reader can visit inside a French public school located in a low-income neighborhood just south of Paris and learn about the complex dynamics that led up to the passing of the 2004 law banning Muslim headscarves. The chapters bring to light the actors and cultures within the school that set the stage for the passing of the law and the political philosophy that supports it. School culture and philosophy are compared and contrasted to the thoughts and opinions of the teachers, administrators and students to gage how religious freedom and identity are understood. The book goes on to explore the issue of religious freedom at the European Court of Human Rights. The author argues that the right to religious freedom has been too narrowly understood and is being fenced in by static visions of Islam. This jeopardizes the idea of religious freedom more broadly. By becoming entangled with regional and domestic politics, the Court is neglecting important nuances and is jeopardizing secularism, pluralism and democracy. This is a highly readable and accessible book that will appeal to students and scholars of law, anthropology, religious studies and philosophy of religion.

Rupp, “Beyond Individualism: The Challenge of Inclusive Communities”

In September, Columbia University Press will release “Beyond Individualism: The Challenge of Inclusive Communities” by George Rupp (former president of Rice University, Columbia University, and the International Rescue Committee). The publisher’s description follows:

In many places around the world, relations between ethnic and religious groups that for long periods coexisted more or less amicably are now fraught with aggression and violence. This trend has profound international implications, threatening efforts to narrow the gap between rich and poor. Underscoring the need for sustained action, George Rupp urges the secular West to reckon with the continuing power of religious conviction and embrace the full extent of the world’s diversity.

While individualism is a powerful force in Western cultures and a cornerstone of Western foreign policy, it elicits strong resistance in traditional communities. Drawing on decades of research and experience, Rupp pushes modern individualism beyond its foundational beliefs to recognize the place of communal practice in our world. Affirming the value of communities and the productive role religion plays in many lives, he advocates new solutions to such global challenges as conflicts in the developing world, income inequality, climate change, and mass migration.


Göle, “Islam and Secularity”

In October, the Duke University Press releases “Islam and Secularity: The Future of Europe’s Public Sphere,” by Nilüfer Göle (entre d’Etudes Sociologiques et Politiques Raymond Aron, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris)). The publisher’s description follows: 

In Islam and Secularity Nilüfer Göle takes on two pressing issues: the transforming relationship between Islam and Western secular modernity and the impact of the Muslim presence in Europe. Göle shows how the visibility of Islamic practice in the European public sphere unsettles narratives of Western secularism. As mutually constitutive, Islam and secularism permeate each other, the effects of which play out in embodied and aesthetic practices and are accompanied by fear, anxiety, and violence. In this timely book, Göle illuminates the recent rethinking of secularism and religion, of modernity and resistance to it, of the public significance of sexuality, and of the shifting terrain of identity in contemporary Europe.

Lee, “Recognizing the Non-religious: Reimagining the Secular”

This month, Oxford University Press releases “Recognizing the Non-religious: Reimagining the Secular” by Lois Lee (University College London). The publisher’s description follows:

In recent years, the extent to which contemporary societies are secular has come under scrutiny. At the same time, many countries, especially in Europe, have increasingly large nonaffiliate, ‘subjectively secular’ populations, whilst nonreligious cultural movements like the New Atheism and the Sunday Assembly have come to prominence. Making sense of secularity, irreligion, and the relationship between them has therefore emerged as a crucial task for those seeking to understand contemporary societies and the nature of modern life.

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in southeast England, Recognizing the Nonreligious develops a new vocabulary, theory and methodology for thinking about the secular. It distinguishes between separate and incommensurable aspects of so-called secularity as insubstantial – involving merely the absence of religion – and substantial – involving beliefs, ritual practice, and identities that are alternative to religious ones. Recognizing the cultural forms that present themselves as nonreligious therefore opens up new, more egalitarian and more theoretically coherent ways of thinking about people who are ‘not religious’. It is also argued that recognizing the nonreligious allows us to reimagine the secular itself in new and productive ways.

This book is part of a fast-growing area of research that builds upon and contributes to theoretical debates concerning secularization, ‘desecularization’, religious change, postsecularity and postcolonial approaches to religion and secularism. As well as presenting new research, this book gathers insights from the wider studies of nonreligion, atheism, and secularism in order to consolidate a theoretical framework, conceptual foundation and agenda for future research.