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Sexular practice

Notes on an ethnography of secularism

Oskar Verkaaik and Rachel Spronk

In Europe today, the most heated identity politics revolve around matters of sexuality and religion. In the context of “integration” debates that occur in different forms in various countries, sexuality has gained a new form of normativity, and new sexual sensitivities have replaced former ones. So far, scholarly discussions deal with these sensitivities in a deconstructivist and critical manner, denaturalizing discourses on culture, identity, and religion. However, these debates do not consider the experiences of people implicated in these debates, and their often emotional and political engagement in matters where sexuality and religion intersect. Joan Scott’s coinage of the term “sexularism” denotes a particular form of embodiment that is part of secularism in Europe today. Rather than studying the discourse of secularism, this article focuses on the practice of secularization; how do people fashion their daily lives concerning sexuality, religion and its intimate intersection?

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Bassam Tibi

Modernity believed that processes of secularization and rationalization are universally applicable. What is taking place in the 21st century, however, suggests that the reverse, a process of de-secularization, is becoming the hallmark of the present age. In the case of Islamic civilization, in which law is shari'a, the challenge to secularization takes the form of a process of shari'atization. This is not the traditional or inherited shari'a, restricted to civil matters and to a penal code, but an invented shari'a, one which also claims to be a constitutional law. Moreover, the constructed shari'atized constitutional law, in conflict with secular constitutionalism and appearing to offer no middle way, has been universalized to engender an international conflict between secularization and de-secularization. Since, for most Muslims, Islam without shari'a is unthinkable, this article examines the potential for religious reform of the shari'a in the direction of cultural change, freedom and democratic constitutionalism.

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The End Point of Zionism

Ethnocentrism and the Temple Mount

Tomer Persico

Zionism has always displayed a complicated relationship with the Temple Mount. While secular socialist Zionism wanted little to do with the site for pragmatic reasons, right-wing and guerilla Zionist groups considered it, before the founding of the state, as the embodiment of Jewish sovereignty over the Holy Land. And although Religious Zionism, until very recently, shied away from the site, over the past decade tremendous changes in this public’s attitude have taken place, leading to intense interest and activity concerning it. This article surveys past and present attitudes toward the Temple Mount, studying its recent rise as a focal point for ethnonational yearnings, and analyzing these developments vis-à-vis the secularization process.

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A Political Theology of the Empty Tomb

Christianity and the Return of the Sacred

Roberto Farneti

This article argues a case against the theory of the sacred put forward by the French anthropologist René Girard. In particular, Girard seems to have obliterated one of the tenets of Christian theology, namely, the doctrine of Christ's ascension, in accord with his critical reading of Paul's letter to the Hebrews, which contains a rare emphasis on Christ's departure from the world. This article adopts a 'neo-Hobbesian' perspective in understanding the return of the sacred and fosters a 'political theology of the empty tomb', where the doctrine of Christ's ascension is called upon to again play a major theological role as a workable antidote to the contemporary resurgence of the sacred.

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Calling It Mammon

Instrumentalised Secularity and Religious Futures in Northern Ireland

Liam D. Murphy

Competitive funding by the European Union for community projects in Northern Ireland operates according to a political logic in which some groups and projects (deemed progressive, modern and generally secular) are prioritised, while others (discursively positioned as anachronistic, traditional and religious) are precluded. In this process, EU processes of statecraft seek to instrumentalise grassroots organisations as means to the many ends of a disenchanted, modern EU federation. In turn, overtly religious groups (among them churches, parachurches, and confraternities of various kinds) adapt to these conditions by instrumentalising EU processes and goals to the general end of securing a future place for religiosity in the 'new' Northern Ireland. This paper discusses the intersection of religious objectives and ideologies with that of European modernism in the context of two organisations: the Orange Order and the Divine Fellowship Congregation (DFC). Speci fically, I argue that both associations have developed distinctive forms of practice (the 'Orangefest' and 'Utopia' projects, respectively) that re-conceive what is possible for modern EU-funded initiatives. This adaptation has implications for both sets of institutions, in that each is transformed through articulation with the other.

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Wedding Ceremony, Religion, and Tradition

The Shertok Family Debate, 1922

Lilach Rosenberg-Friedman

The complex approach of the Yishuv to religion and tradition was articulated in the matter of marriage rites. On the one hand, wedding ceremonies were seen as an expression of Diaspora social values that the Yishuv wished to renounce, while, on the other hand, such occasions were viewed as having national and collective significance. The decision made by Ada Shertok and Eliyahu Golomb not to have a wedding ceremony in May 1922 aroused a fierce debate within one of the most prominent families of the Yishuv. The family dispute surrounding the issue of the marriage ceremony and the diverse opinions presented in it are the focus of the article. This debate is a starting point for a broader discussion on the question of the complex attitude of the Yishuv to religion and tradition in the early 1920s.

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The Relocation of Transcendence

Using Schutz to Conceptualize the Nature Experiences of Secular People

David Thurfjell, Cecilie Rubow, Atko Remmel and Henrik Ohlsson

Denmark, Estonia, and Sweden are, if measured by certain sociological criteria, considered to be three of the world’s most secular countries. Nature—forests, pristine beaches, and the countryside—plays a specific role in the allegedly secular discourse of the mainstream populations of these nations. Not only is it almost without exception deemed as a positive asset worthy of protection, it is also thought of as holding certain existential qualities. Based on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews, this article suggests that Alfred Schutz’s conceptualization of transcendence—further developed by Thomas Luckmann—can be used to describe the existential experiences in nature of contemporary secular people. The article results in a suggestion for an operational definition of transcendence.

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Thomas Kselman

This article examines some of Langlois's major works on nineteenth-century French Catholicism, which taken together suggest a vision langloisienne defined by three central, intimately interrelated insights. First, for Langlois a chronology of French Catholicism based on an assumption of an ineluctable process of dechristianization needs to be replaced by a more nuanced and contingent understanding of the evolution of belief and practice. Second, a revised chronology illuminates important sectors of creative vitality within Catholicism, particularly with regard to female religious congregations. Third, historians of religion must be willing to use a variety of methods in exploring their subject; social scientific approaches are crucial, but they complement rather than replace traditional narrative, biography, and a close reading of literary texts. The article concludes with reflections on the normative posture that is implicit in Langlois's historical writing, a position based on his commitment to the values of toleration and equality.

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A People between Languages

Toward a Jewish History of Concepts

Guy Miron

The field of modern European Jewish history, as I hope to show, can be of great interest to those who deal with conceptual history in other contexts, just as much as the conceptual historical project may enrich the study of Jewish history. This article illuminates the transformation of the Jewish languages in Eastern Europe-Hebrew and Yiddish-from their complex place in traditional Jewish society to the modern and secular Jewish experience. It presents a few concrete examples for this process during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The article then deals with the adaptation of Central and Western European languages within the internal Jewish discourse in these parts of Europe and presents examples from Germany, France, and Hungary.

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Socialist Secularism

Religion, Modernity, and Muslim Women's Emancipation in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, 1945–1991

Pamela Ballinger and Kristen Ghodsee

This article uses the examples of socialist Bulgaria and Yugoslavia to propose some new directions for rethinking scholarly understandings of “secularism” and the ways in which socialist secularizing projects were intricately intertwined with questions of gender equality. Current scholarly debates on the genealogy of secularism root its origins in the Catholic/Protestant West, and systematically ignore cases from the former communist world. This article takes two cases of Balkan states to explore the theoretical contours of what we call “socialist secularism.” Although Bulgaria and Yugoslavia’s experiences of socialist secularism differed in the degree of their coerciveness, this article examines the similarities in the conceptualization of the secularizing imperative and the rhetoric used to justify it, specifically the rhetoric of communist modernism and women’s liberation from religious backwardness.