Ideas of Secularization in Trans-Atlantic Perspectives

Thursday, June 3, 2010
12:00 AM - 12:00 AM
Board Room Stanford Humanities Center
  • Winnifred Fallers Sullivan,
  • Daniel Weidner,
  • Russell A. Berman,
  • Andrea Schatz,
  • Jean Claude Monod,
  • Adrian Pabst,
  • Brian Britt,
  • John McCole,
  • David N. Myers,
  • Christian Sieg,
  • Christopher Soper,
  • Nitzan Lebovic

This workshop will address different ideas of secularization, the ways they have been historically narrated, and now function discursively, and how these insights may help us address the subject’s present day politicization. Workshop sessions will especially focus on the different approaches to secularization in the US and Europe.

In cultural, sociological, and geopolitical realms, religion and religiosity have become central issues in the contemporary world. This centrality raises questions about associating modernity with the secular, and also about what we mean by ‘secularism’ or ‘secularization.’ These concepts have been used variously to designate the progressive disappearance of religion and also its transformation into modern institutions, and connoting both emancipation and a nostalgia for lost origins. Today, this ambiguity is less an obstacle than a promise for future theory, since it encourages a promising debate about the modern and its relation towards religion.

Concepts of secularization appear to follow distinct perspectives: While an American debate focuses on the political issue of secularism and on sociological approaches, in Europe the concept is rather related to philosophy and cultural history. Both perspectives should be understood as interrelated and each responds to different historical and contemporary roles of religion in Europe and America, and raises important political questions. The 'neutrality' of the state toward religion, for example, as seen from a juridical or a historical perspective, has different meanings in the U.S. and Europe. No less important are the relations of Europe and the U.S. towards Islam in particular.

The present workshop aims to develop understandings of secularization that will be productive for cultural, political, and legal applications. Beyond a unified theory, secularization may be understood as a discursive construct, and as a series of figurative ideas: including metaphors such as the ‘death of God’ or modern ‘disenchantment,’ topoi such as Mysticism, Nihilism or the Vera Icon, and narratives such as the Weber-Thesis or the afterlife of antiquity. This workshop is intended to facilitate analysis of historical and contemporary issues including: Can ideas of secularization contribute to a fruitful analysis of the relation between religion and modernity? In what ways are secularism and faith integral to modern and postmodern thought? How can we put into productive debate American and the European approaches towards secularization? Does the idea of secularization necessarily cast theological communities as anti-modern?


June 3

9:30am: Breakfast

10:00am:  Welcome and Workshop Introduction, Daniel Weidner

I. (Secularization in Question) 10:15am – 11:45am 

  • Adrian Pabst, "The Paradox of Faith – Religion beyond secularization and de-secularization"
  • Jean Claude Monod, "Has the concept of 'Secularization' lost any relevance?"

Lunch break 12:00pm-1:00pm

II (Rhetorics and Politics of Secularization) 1:00pm-2:30pm

  • Daniel Weidner, " ‘Secularization’ as Metaphor, Myth, and Allegory"
  • Christopher Soper, "Clothing the Naked Public Square:  Religion, Secularism, and the Future of Politics"

Break: 2:30pm-3:00pm

III (Case studies) 3:00pm-4:30pm

  • David Myers,  "Reflections on the 'Deprivatization' of Religion: Lessons Learned from Kiryas Joel, New York"
  • Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, "Disestablishment, American Style"

Day 1 summary remarks 4:30pm-5:00pm


June 4

8:30am Breakfast, with day 2 opening remarks by Daniel Weidner

IV (Secularization in between) 9:00am-10:30am

  • John McCole, "Between disenchantment and the post-secular: Georg Simmel on religion"
  • Brian Britt, "Secular Reading, Religious Writing: Benjamin and Freud on Schreber"

    Break 10:30-10:45am

    V (Secularization and Literature) 10:45am-12:15pm

    • Christian Sieg , "Between the Religious and the Secular. Heinrich Böll’s Early Oeuvre in the Context of the Secularization Debate"
    • Russell Berman, "Konrad Weiss and the 'Christian Epimetheus' -- Secularization and the Weimar Crisis"

    Lunch break 12:15pm-1:30pm

    VI (Temporalities sacred and secular) 1:30pm-3:00pm

    • Andrea Schatz, "Irresistible Secularism? Time, Language and the Jewish Enlightenment"
    • Nitzan Lebovic, "Hannah Arendt and Extraordinary Secularism"

    Workshop concluding remarks (Weidner) with concluding discussion 3:00pm-4:00pm.