Rethinking Secularism

Rethinking Secularism

Rethinking Secularism

Rethinking Secularism

Synopsis

Recent decades have brought increasing awareness of the role religious commitments play in the cultural, social, and political dynamics of domestic and world of fairs. This so called "resurgence" of religion in the public sphere has forced scholars to reconsider both classical theories of secularization and a range of contemporary secular assumptions. Presenting groundbreaking work from an interdisciplinary group of leading scholars, Rethinking secularism surveys these efforts and helps to reframe discussions of religion in the social sciences by drawing attention to the central issue of how "the secular" is constituted and understood.

Excerpt

Until quite recently, it was commonly assumed that public life was basically secular. On one hand, scholars could write with authority about politics, economics, and social behavior as though religion did not exist at all. Secularism, on the other hand, appeared to have no ideological significance of its own, other than the taken-for-granted absence or obsolescence of religion. In recent years, however, a host of political activists—some with avowedly religious agendas and others with stridently antireligious programs—have appeared on the global scene, challenging established understandings of how the terms “secularism” and “religion” function in public life and calling into question a supposedly clear division between the religious and the secular.

At the same time, there has been rising academic interest both in an ostensible “religious resurgence” and in the very features of secularism itself. This has come with increasing recognition of the fact that the uncritical deployment of the categories of the religious and the secular severely limits the analysis of international politics and social change throughout the world. Reigning theories of secularization have seen mounting critical attention, even as scholars in various fields have sought to deal in more detailed and concrete ways with the processes of “secularization,” the practices of “the secular,” and the political ethic of “secularism.” Sociologists of religion have revisited long-standing general theories of secularization, and contemporary political theorists and anthropologists have brought greater attention to the “conceits of secularism” and “formations of the secular.”

Long the product of a relatively unexamined set of assumptions within the social sciences, dominant “modes of secularism” have also recently come under intensified scrutiny, laying the basis for a reconsideration of the relationship between religious movements and secular politics, for more nuanced analyses of secularization and religious expansion, for more sophisticated treatments of the complex patterns of religion’s growth and decline in the contemporary . . .

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