Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Introducing Discomforts

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Introducing Discomforts

Article excerpt

'Secular Discomforts: Religion and Cultural Studies' invites debate about the enactment of scholarship at the discursive juncture of religion, secularism and cultural studies. For the purposes of this special issue we have co-located questions of religion and secularism as objects of intellectual analysis and aligned them paradigmatically with a posture of anxiety. This alignment represents a keenness to unsettle the normative understanding that the secular is associated with neutrality, objectivity and rationality in opposition to the category of religion. We acknowledge that this arousal of interests in religion, secularism, and cultural studies might be seen to pique anxieties. As John Frow acknowledged in his influential essay, 'Is Elvis a God?':

Religion is an embarrassment to us. It's an embarrassment to me, and above all because we Western intellectuals are so deeply committed to the secularization thesis which makes of religion an archaic remnant which ought by now to have withered away.1

Frow was writing in 1998, at a time when the secularisation thesis-the sociological contention that religious affiliation and activity in the West had continuously declined since the 1950s-was under renewed contention (and has since been revisited and debunked by a number of scholars).2 Of course, religion has not withered away as a category of enquiry, and yet a certain kind of withering might be detected in the orientation toward religion Frow so candidly depicts. In the face of the religious, narratives of an assuredly 'secular' cultural studies might be seen to suffer a withering blow. This raises important questions about investments in particular narratives of secularism that underpin cultural studies scholarship. We are pleased to introduce a range of essays that grapple with questions of how cultural studies, secularism and religion are enacted at intersections that upset and discomfort binary logic. Hence, this special issue offers new conceptual paradigms for doing scholarship at the limits of normative (secular and religious) comforts.

The articles that comprise this section are related through their capacity to unsettle and occupy a position of discomfort, rather than appeasement, in their engagements with cultural studies, secularism and the religious. Critical to this capacity is resistance to the idea that 'religion' and 'cultural studies' are irreconcilable opposites, or that 'secularism' might form the neutral ground upon which to stage debate. Rather, in offering this collection we are keen to unsettle the idea that the secular underwrites analyses of the religious and, further, that the secular marks the terrain from which cultural studies is enacted. In this way the secular appears across this issue as a set of iterations at times strange rather than familiar, intolerant rather than inclusive, specific rather than universal, problematic rather than resolved, and hegemonic rather than neutral. Given the historical and cultural ideological loading of the terms we use (secularism, religion and cultural studies), our title may not appear to indicate the degree of nuance and critical daring each essay brings to the debate. However, by positioning 'discomfort' as a central posture with critical perspicacity, 'Secular Discomforts' presents the opportunity for discussion and debate that endures the excitations, upsets and uneasinesses which mark spaces where discourses of religion and secularism meet.

To engender discomfort is to deprive one of comfort, easiness and, in older usages, courage. The Oxford English Dictionary describes discomfort as a verb meaning to distress, grieve or sadden.3 Hence, discomfort can be read as an indication that a loss of easiness has taken place. Yet it can be read more productively as a term that indicates a positive unmaking of the conditions associated with the relative comfort of familiarity and ease. Enquiry into the politics of discomfort includes paying critical attention to what counts as the experience or sense of comfort which must be, by definition, a priori. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.