Tag Archives: Secularism

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.

Lenz-Raymann, “Securitization of Islam: A Vicious Circle Counter-Terrorism and Freedom of Religion in Central Asia”

In May, Columbia University Press released “Securitization of Islam: A Vicious Circle. Counter-Terrorism and Freedom of Religion in Central Asia” by Kathrin Lenz-Raymann (political consultant, Zurich, Switzerland). The publisher’s description follows:

Diverse Islamic groups have triggered a revival of Islam in Central Asia in the last decades. As a result, there has been a general securitization of Islam by the governments: not only do they combat the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan but also outlaw popular groups such as the Gülen movement. However, strong repression of religion might lead to radicalization. Kathrin Lenz-Raymann tests this hypothesis with an agent-based computer simulation and enriches her study with interviews with international experts, leaders of political Islam and representatives of folk Islam. She concludes that ensuring religious rights is essential for national security.

Greece and the Price of Europe

Alexis Tsipras, head of the anti-bailout Syriza party, speaks during a financial conference in Athens on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014.  Tsipras said that Greece’s battered economy could not recover unless the money owed to other Eurozone country’s was cut significantly. The leader of Greece’s popular left-wing opposition says he will demand a massive debt haircut from bailout lenders if his party comes to power in a possible snap election early next year. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Last week was a momentous one for the European project. On Monday, the Greek Parliament passed an austerity package that other Eurozone members, especially Germany, had demanded as a condition for considering Greece’s request for an €86 bailout. Negotiations will now begin. How they will end is anybody’s guess.  No one thinks the austerity package itself will solve the economic crisis Greece faces, and pretty much everyone thinks it will lead to years of misery for the nation. Greece already owes creditors an unsustainable €320 billion. But Germany argues that EU rules prohibit any debt reduction for Greece. Perhaps the parties will find a way to extend Greek payments without calling it a debt reduction. I’m sure the lawyers are working on it.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Yes, Greece misled people about the state of its finances when it joined the euro and has spent beyond its means. And the left-wing Syriza government greatly misjudged the mood in Europe and allowed itself to be completely outmaneuvered. But the banks that made the loans should have known Greece was in no position to pay. Having collected their commissions, they passed the debts to national governments–privatized gains and socialized losses–and walked away. As for those national governments, they should have known a common currency without a common fiscal policy was an unworkable proposition. They ignored this truth in pursuit of the illusion of a common Europe, extending from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. Greece is now paying the price for that illusion.

All this has been said before. But I’d like to draw attention to a small element of the austerity package Greece’s creditors demanded, one that has largely escaped notice. Under the terms of the package, in order to stimulate commerce, Greece will have to repeal its restrictions on Sunday store openings. From now on, nationwide, Sunday will be a shopping day. (Two years ago, Athens allowed Sunday shopping in 10 tourist areas, a move that led to protests). Presumably, Greeks will respond by buying and selling and generally growing their economy. The increased tax revenues will allow Greece to pay some of its debt. And repeal of anti-liberal Sunday closing laws will allow Greece to create a rational European economy, like Germany’s—though, ironically, German stores are closed Sundays.

We Americans are likely to view this matter as trivial. In America, as Robert Louis Wilken once wrote, the only thing that distinguishes Sunday from other days of the week is that the malls open a little later. Besides, a country can’t be pre-modern forever. Sunday closing laws are hopelessly old-fashioned and illiberal. If Greeks want to stay home on Sundays, they can; but people should be able to shop if they want to.  Resistance probably comes from interest groups that oppose free competition.

But Greece isn’t America or Germany, or at least it didn’t want to be, and the reform is indicative of a larger issue. The Sunday closing laws reflected the fact that Greece had values in addition to the market. Greece has had a tradition of Sunday closings to allow people to spend time with family and attend church. (Sure, lots of people watch football instead, but that’s a different matter. Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue). The ban on Sunday trading acknowledged that Greece is an Orthodox Christian country, with its own rhythms and ways of life. No matter. In Europe today, if it’s a choice between religious and cultural traditions, on the one hand, and commerce, on the other, commerce wins.  That’s the economically sound choice.

I don’t suppose there’s anything to be done. Greece is in a terrible situation and needs to find a way out. And I know it’s a small matter, compared to the other hardships Greeks will have to bear. But something important is being lost. To be part of the European project, apparently, a country must do whatever it can to become a secular, consumerist, market-oriented place—Sundays included. Localized cultures that stand in the way of economic rationality must recede. Perhaps that’s the inevitable logic of modernity. But it’s not an image the Christian Democratic founders of Europe like Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman would have recognized.

Smith, “Secular Faith”

In September, the University of Chicago Press will release “Secular Faith: How Culture has Trumped Religion in American Politics,” by Mark A. Smith (University of Washington). The publisher’s description follows: 

When Pope Francis recently answered “Who am I to judge?” when
asked about homosexuality, he ushered in a new era for the Catholic church. A decade ago, it would have been unthinkable for a pope to
express tolerance for homosexuality. Yet shifts of this kind are actually
common in the history of Christian groups. Within the United States, Christian leaders have regularly revised their teachings to match the beliefs and opinions gaining support among their members and larger society.

Mark A. Smith provocatively argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is. In fact, in the long run, religion is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them. Smith makes his case by charting five contentious issues in America’s history: slavery, divorce, homosexuality, abortion, and women’s rights. For each, he shows how the political views of even the most conservative Christians evolved in the same direction as the rest of society—perhaps not as swiftly, but always on the same arc. During periods of cultural transition, Christian leaders do resist prevailing values and behaviors, but those same leaders inevitably acquiesce—often by reinterpreting the Bible—if their positions become no longer tenable. Secular ideas and influences thereby shape the ways Christians read and interpret their scriptures.

So powerful are the cultural and societal norms surrounding us that Christians in America today hold more in common morally and politically with their atheist neighbors than with the Christians of earlier centuries. In fact, the strongest predictors of people’s moral beliefs are not their religious commitments or lack thereof but rather when and where they were born. A thoroughly researched and ultimately hopeful book on the prospects for political harmony, Secular Faith demonstrates how, over the long run, boundaries of secular and religious cultures converge.

Baker and Smith, “American Secularism”

In September, the New York University Press will release “American Secularism: Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief Systems,” by Joseph O. Baker (East Tennessee State University) and Buster G. Smith (Catawba College). The publisher’s description follows:

A rapidly growing number of Americans are embracing life outside the bounds of organized religion. Although America has long been viewed as a fervently religious Christian nation, survey data shows that more and more Americans are identifying as “not religious.” There are more non-religious Americans than ever before, yet social scientists have not adequately studied or typologized secularities, and the lived reality of secular individuals in America has not been astutely analyzed. American Secularism documents how changes to American society have fueled these shifts in the non-religious landscape and examines the diverse and dynamic world of secular Americans.

This volume offers a theoretical framework for understanding secularisms. It explores secular Americans’ thought and practice to understand secularisms as worldviews in their own right, not just as negations of religion. Drawing on empirical data, the authors examine how people live secular lives and make meaning outside of organized religion. Joseph O. Baker and Buster G. Smith link secularities to broader issues of social power and organization, providing an empirical and cultural perspective on the secular landscape. In so doing, they demonstrate that shifts in American secularism are reflective of changes in the political meanings of “religion” in American culture.

American Secularism addresses the contemporary lived reality of secular individuals, outlining forms of secular identity and showing their connection to patterns of family formation, sexuality, and politics, providing scholars of religion with a more comprehensive understanding of worldviews that do not include traditional religion.