Archive | October 2011

Atheism and Secularism Explained

Now that things are finally starting to get done – conference papers and abstracts submitted, book editing entering a new phase, PhD applications underway, book reviews in progress, house moved, US trip nearly over, distinction achieved in MSc by Research – it is time to start going through the 160 emails in my inbox which are largely interesting articles to disseminate and comment on through my blog.

Today’s offerings are a couple of PDF’s… the first quite short… the second very long. The first is an Events Report from the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network on Jonathan Lanman’s lecture earlier this year entitled ‘Atheism Explained‘, where Katie Aston engages with Lanman’s innovative cognitive anthropological approach.

The second is one that I cannot hope to read in the near future, but which looks thoroughly stimulating at the same time. If you have the time to read Akeel Bilgrami’s 36-page ‘Secularism: Its Content and Context‘ then I suggest you do. The abstract is as follows:

This paper addresses two sets of questions. First, questions about the meaning of secularism and second questions about its justification and implementation. It is argued that Charles Taylor‘s recent efforts to redefine secularism for a time when we have gone ‘beyond toleration’ to multiculturalism in liberal politics, are based on plausible (and laudable) political considerations that affect the question of justification and implementation, but leave unaffected the question of the meaning and content of secularism. An alternative conceptualization of secularism is offered, from the one he proposes, while also addressing his deep and understandable concerns about the politics of secularism for our time. In the characterization of secularism offered, it turns out that secularism has its point and meaning, not in some decontextualized philosophical argument, but only in contexts that owe to specific historical trajectories, with specific political goals to be met.

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Something I should finally read…

It took me to go to San Francisco to get a copy of this…

Something I definitely need to read. Nice and old too – from 1959 :)

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Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular

Please see below for details of a CfP for the book I hope to edit with Abby Day as part of the AHRC/ ESRC Religion and Society Ashgate Book series. Please circulate as you see fit :)

Chris

Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular

Edited by Abby Day and Christopher R. Cotter

 Call for Papers

Many people may not identify strongly or consistently as religious, yet religion still matters for them at certain times and in certain contexts. Rather than dismiss those self-identifications as meaningless, incoherent or insignificant, we may find through in-depth research that they are meaningful, coherent and differently significant (Day 2011).

What is sometimes construed as empty space is filled with something – but what? One typology advanced by Day (2006; 2009; 2011) suggested Christian ‘nominalism’ is an important way to mark social identities she described as Christian ethnic nominalism; natal nominalism and aspirational nominalism.  While her theory about Christian ethnic nominalism has been analysed cross-culturally and operationalized (see, for example, Storm 2009; Voas 2009) it is still limited by its Christian scope. Are there Muslim or Buddhist ‘nominalists’, for example? How can we best describe and understand such people who are neither, or are, perhaps, more fluidly, religious or secular? (Woodhead 2012)

Such explorations require innovative methods that do not force religious answers with religious questions and suggest new interpretations of what it may mean to be ‘non-religious’ (Cotter 2011). This under-explored domain between the secular and the sacred is a contested space that requires further investigation through innovative methods and fresh analytical thinking.

We are therefore delighted that we have been encouraged by the editors and publisher of the new Ashgate AHRC/ESRC Religion & Society series, edited by Prof. Linda Woodhead and Dr Rebecca Catto, to submit a full proposal for an edited collection:  Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular.

Our first priority has been to confirm the participation of key Religion & Society programme scholars.  We are now extending our Call to the wider academic community. Publication dates will be negotiated but we will aim for chapter submission date by April 2012, assuming 12-14 chapters of 5,000 words each.

 Below you will find a summary of the publication. If you would like to contribute, please let us know as soon as possible and provide a title and 100-word abstract by October 31 2011.

 Email: a.day@sussex.ac.uk and chris.r.cotter@gmail.com

 Summary

This collection of interdisciplinary chapters will present current empirical scholarship from local, national and international contexts. Work will negotiate and advance knowledge and understanding of the important conceptual and lived spaces between the contested poles of the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’.

Researchers finding themselves in this space often did not expect to be here.   Many may have intended to study ‘traditionally’ religious or non-religious individuals, communities, and institutions, but found something else, something that was neither religious nor secular. It is that important work we aim to capture.

Book structure

The collection will be divided into three sections. We are summarising these below with questions intended to stimulate rather than prescribe.

1. The methodological space:

What issues were encountered and innovations made when researching these contested spaces? How are scholars to conceptualise these spaces? What do they do to existing concepts of ‘religion’ and the ‘secular? How can existing methodological approaches be adapted to studying these spaces? Do these spaces open up and demand new approaches? New vocabulary? How have those challenges been met?

2. The public space:

An exploration of these spaces can include, but are not limited to, the spatial, such as the university campus, the community centre, schools, prisons, urban streets, festivals, hospitals, or the football pitch. We are also concerned with the political space, dealing with issues such as legal definitions of what ‘counts’ as a religion, or foreign policy decisions and anti-terror laws. How is the in-between secular/sacred space described, mediated and discursively in media-related spaces? What are the ‘effects’ of our modern, globalised age upon the space between sacred and secular? What institutional manifestations of this in-between space defy easy emic or etic categorisation?  How do people use different spaces in different contexts, perhaps even vicariously? (Davie 2007)

3. The social,  identity-dominated space

How do individuals negotiate their identity when it falls into this in-between space? What are their personal pragmatic strategies? How is this space felt, embodied, sensed, articulated? What do terms and ideas like religious/secular belief, practice, or attitudes mean to people? What is the sacred/secular space that arises through inter-subjective and inter-corporeal real lives?

The Editors

Dr Abby Day is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Kent and a Principal Investigator at the University of Sussex.  Her qualitative longitudinal research has expanded conventional views of belief and belonging through empirical research based initially in the UK and extended through cross-cultural comparisons. Her latest book, Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World (Oxford University Press) is published in October 2011 by Oxford University press. She also edited the Ashgate collection, Religion and the Individual, 2008.

Christopher R. Cotter is a post-graduate student at the University of Edinburgh. His publications and research have centred on contemporary atheism and his recent MSc project concerned university students whose personal (non)religiosity challenged the reification of the religion-secular distinction. His future research work will continue the theme of ‘non-religion’. He is co-founder and podcast co-host at The Religious Studies Project, and a web editor at the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network.

 References:

  •  Cotter, Christopher R. 2011. Toward a Typology of “Nonreligion”: A Qualitative Analysis of Everyday Narratives of Scottish University Students. Unpublished MSc by Research Dissertation, Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, August.
  •  Davie, Grace, 2007. “Vicarious religion: A methodological challenge”. In Nancy T. Ammerman, Ed. Everyday religion: observing modern religious lives. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press: 21-36.
  •  Day, Abby, 2011.  Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  • –          2009. Researching belief without asking religious questions. Fieldwork in Religion, 4, no. 1: 89–106.
  • –           2006. Believing in belonging: a case study from Yorkshire. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK.
  •  Storm, I. 2009. “Halfway to heaven: Four types of fuzzy fidelity in Europe.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 48: 702–718.
  • Voas, D. 2009. “The rise and fall of fuzzy fidelity in Europe”. European Sociological Review 25, no. 2: 155–68.
  • Woodhead, Linda 2012. “Introduction” In Linda Woodhead and Rebecca Catto, Eds, Religion and change in modern Britain. London: Routledge: 1-33.

The Semiotics of Professor Email Signatures…

I’m quite pleased to discover where I stand on this chart with most academics :)

A Funny for You

The month of September was a manic month. 180 emails had built up in my inbox… I have been attending conferences, applying for PhDs, and getting a number of secret projects under way…

Things are becoming a bit more routine now, and as such I am working through various articles that I have flagged up for blogging. Before I start, however, I discovered this image which made me chuckle. A lot.

Hopefully my posts will increase in profundity as October goes on…