The Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies, Santa Barbara
Rethinking Secularism – A Seminar Discussion
Friday, November 18, 2011 – 12:00 noon, Orfalea Center seminar room – 1005 Robertson Gym
Craig Calhoun, President, Social Science Research Council, and Prof of Sociology, NYU
Jonathan Van Antwerpen, Editor-in-Chief, The Immanent Frame, SSRC online magazine
Mark Juergensmeyer, Director, Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies
Benjamin (Jerry) Cohen, UCSB Political Science
Wade Clark Roof, UCSB Religious Studies
Giles Gunn, UCSB Global & International Studies
The speakers will discuss the background and content of the multi-year project of the Social Science Research Council on the crisis of secularism that resulted in their recently published, co-edited volume Rethinking Secularism (2011 Oxford UP). The project (and the volume) involved an interdisciplinary group of leading theorists and scholars, including the philosopher Charles Taylor, the literary theorist Talal Asad, the political scientist Peter Katzenstein, the sociologist Jose Casanova, and many more. The project focused on the central issues of how ”the secular” emerged historically, how it is now constituted and understood in different ways around the global, and how it has presented an analytic challenge for the social sciences, the humanities, and international affairs.
I’ve just been reading the following and I thought it pretty much summarised the problems for religion inherent in religious diversity:
“This is the cancer of choice. To the extent that we are free to choose our religion, religion cannot have he power and authority necessary to make it any more than a private leisure activity. Far from creating a world in which religion can thrive, diversity and competition undermine the plausibility of religion”
From Steve Bruce, 1999. Choice and Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 186
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.
If I weren’t broke, I’d definitely consider making the trip down from Edinburgh for this one. Callum Brown has some interesting ideas regarding the role played by gender equality in the seeming demise of the mainstream church in Britain. You should check out the book mentioned below if you can…
Callum Brown (author of ‘The Death of Christian Britain’ amongst other things) will speak to the Modern Cultural History Seminar, in the History Faculty at the University of Cambridge, on Wednesday 12 October, at 5pm, in the Panelled Combination Room, Gonville and Caius College.
Title: ‘The people of no religion: the demographics of secularisation in the English-speaking world since c.1900’
I would totally be attending this conference if I weren’t on my way to present at another conference in the US. For those in the UK, it will definitely be worth checking out!
I have just received the following through a mailing list, so I don’t have a link to the source. However, it seems incredibly bizarre. Whilst I can see the potential benefits – I have witnessed some utterly atrocious ministers in my time – it seems like an avenue which could allow certain fundamentalists to organise mass votes to oust more liberal clergy, for example. Just one more example of ‘Rational Choice Theory’ and ‘pick-and-mix’ religion, I think. As every other sector of our society becomes dominated by feedback forms and ‘satisfaction’, it was only a matter of time before churches jumped on the bandwagon…
Is this a good thing? What does it spell for the future? I haven’t decided yet…
Ecumenical News International
17 August 2011
German website allows congregations to rate clergy
Berlin (ENInews)–Does your pastor set a glowing example to his or her flock? Or does the herd tend to drift? A new website launched in Germany allows churchgoers to rate their “shepherd’s” performance on worship, youth work, work with seniors, credibility, and engagement with current issues. “The idea behind Hirtenbarometer [shepherd barometer] is that pastoral work should be and often is qualitative,” one of the website’s founders, Andreas Hahn, said in an email interview. “We wanted to create … an open platform for dialogue between priests and the members of congregations.” [391 words, ENI-11-0432]
With four days to go until thesis submission, I just thought I’d let you know that I have finally had my journal article published! If you’d like any more information, please just get in touch. Here are the details:
Full citation: Cotter, Christopher R., 2011. “Consciousness Raising: The critique, agenda, and inherent precariousness of contemporary Anglophone atheism.” International Journal for the Study of New Religions 2 (1): 77-103.
From the editors preface:
The fourth article, Christopher R. Cotter’s “Consciousness Raising: The
Critique, Agenda, and Inherent Precariousness of Contemporary Anglophone
Atheism,” deals with a completely different area, contemporary atheism
(sometimes called the “new atheism”). The author discusses what agenda
is promoted in opposition to the criticized “religion.” Not only religion, but
also atheism, is changing over time and in specific contexts, and thus different
kinds of agendas are pursued. The author pinpoints certain characteristics
of contemporary atheism, bearing interesting resemblances to the New Age
And the abstract:
Atheism, as a subject in its own right, has received comparatively little scholarly attention in the past. This study begins by unpacking the term ‘atheism’, specifying an appropriate timescale and limiting the scope of the investigation to the work of four key authors. Their critiques of religion are considered and common themes under the appellation ‘dangerous religion’ are discerned. The author then pursues a closer reading of the texts, discerning what agenda is promoted in opposition to the heavily criticised ‘religion’, and discussing contemporary atheism in relation to Enlightenment values. Finally, the author examines why contemporary atheism fails to state its agenda more explicitly. The main players are shown to be individuals, with different foci that cannot be encapsulated by labels such as ‘Enlightenment’. Indications emerge of a ‘consciousness raising’ agenda, resulting from various factors that make contemporary unbelief a particularly organisationally ‘precarious’ phenomenon – a precariousness enhanced by an implicit ambivalent attitude to certain aspects of Christianity, and a correlation with Enlightenment, Romantic and New Age concerns.
Contributors include: R. Scott Appleby, Talal Asad, Rajeev Bhargava, Craig Calhoun, José Casanova, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Mark Juergensmeyer, Peter Katzenstein, Cecelia Lynch, Richard Madsen, Alfred C. Stepan, Charles Taylor, and Peter van der Veer.
“Much is being written about religion and secularism, but, from the very definition of the terms on down, there is little agreement. This books brings us not consensus but clarity about what the issues are and how the major schools of thought can be understood. It is an important step in the right direction.”
—Robert N. Bellah
“This volume brings together a variety of analytical perspectives on secularism, staging an important intervention into multiple disciplines on a topic that is both timely and urgent. Rethinking Secularism has the virtue of orienting newcomers to the stakes of the current debate while challenging others to push beyond their assumptions and received frames of reference. This is an important addition to the field of secular studies.”
The Immanent Frame is a collective blog publishing interdisciplinary perspectives on secularism, religion, and the public sphere, and a production of the Social Science Research Council.
The Social Science Research Council is an independent, nonprofit international organization founded in 1923. It nurtures new generations of social scientists, fosters innovative research, and brings necessary knowledge to bear on important public issues.
For anyone vaguely interested, I have another publication. It’s freely available to download. If you are interested in the wide variety of research being currently conducted into Nonreligion from a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives, then I suggest you give it a look.
I have also added this paper, and another, to my recently created Academia.edu page.