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17.05.2017

Call for Papers: Secularities

The GHI Rome organises an international workshop on "Secularities. Freethinkers in the Context of National Movements and the Rise of Nation States in Europe, 1789-1920s" from 21 to 23 March 2018. The theoretical framing of the workshop explicitly refers to the multiple secularities approach:


Among the latest approaches to secularism, the idea of multiple secularities proposed by Monika Wohlrab-Sahr seems most promising. The concept makes use of Shmuel N. Eisenstadt’s term of multiple modernities demonstrating that manifestations of modernity are regulated by specific culture traditions and conflicting historical backgrounds (Eisenstadt 2000, 2.) Accordingly, multiple secularities refer to the heterogeneous shape of the secular depending on cultural and historical constellations: “[T]he way secularity figures within configurations of modernity is fundamentally shaped by the long durée of civilizational history.” (Burchardt/Wohlrab-Sahr 2013, 605.)
Within this theoretical framework, the workshop aims to analyse nuances of the secular present in the European societies of the 19th and the beginning 20th century focussing on secular avant-gardes, especially the European freethinkers’ leagues. While recent works concentrate on the anti-clerical and anti-Catholic aspects of secular thinking (Borutta, 2010; Dittrich, 2014; Weir 2016) and pay little attention to Eastern Europe, this workshop prioritizes a wider setting. Contrasting different forms of secularity, it will analyse and discuss the ways European freethinkers contributed to the concept of the modern nation, helping to define its specifics and values. Thereby, the workshop traces the rooting of the secular projects including social and cultural backgrounds as well as the projects’ concrete designs.
Scrutinizing multiple secularities in the age of the European national movements and nationalism, especially the German, Italian, and Polish efforts for national sovereignty promise to provide insight into the above-mentioned processes. In each of the three cases those actively promoting the nation were deeply influenced by secularist tendencies. While both the Polish and the Italian cases evolve from a catholic background, the German case is associated with the Prussian-bourgeois leitmotif of protestant origin. The German national movement and the Italian Risorgimento were shaped substantially by freethinkers and Freemasons like Mazzini, Garibaldi or Crispi. Their radical and progressive understanding of democracy directly influenced the way of the Italian and German national formation. Through political movements and organizations such as the Sinistra Radicale (Bertani) or the Deutsche Freisinnige Partei (Virchow, Büchner), freethinkers temporarily gained considerable political influence, although the unity of the nation state was implemented by more conservative forces.
Freethinkers in Poland did not reach a comparable level of influence in the process of nation building. On the contrary, catholic-national thinkers, like Roman Dmowski, gained more and more influence in the Polish national discourse at the beginning of the 20th century. The Polish case illustrates that national or ethnic belongings were usually tied together with a concrete religion blocking any emerging secular understanding of the nation. Against this backdrop, it seems even more remarkable that the Polish Republic was founded as a secular nation state in 1918. Nevertheless, attracting attention for their ideas of statehood remained difficult for freethinkers. Therefore, Polish freethinkers had to deal with an uncomfortable situation: on the one hand they completely supported the idea of Polish statehood and sovereignty, but, on the other hand and due to their criticism of religion and the influence of the Catholic Church, they remained marginalized within the state. However, they managed to influence administration, education and politics in a discursive way.
The Italian, German and Polish cases exemplify the heterogeneous tendencies within Europe’s freethinker movements. Even though transnationally oriented the various national movements still had to cope with the realities of the given local conditions and terms. We invite proposals linking those manifold national contexts with approaches in the field of the history of ideas and institutional history covering the mentioned case studies and other examples focussing on Europe. They can address:
  • The genesis of freethinker groups in Europe in the context of national movements and the rise of nation states
  • Cultural and political impulses leading to the formation of European freethinker movements within various regional contexts
  • Possible regional differences within the freethinker movements
  • Structures, organization and actors of the freethinker movements and their international networks
  • Cooperation with or dissociation from other secular groups
  • Freethinkers as allies or contenders of the state
  • Possible tensions between a national self-identification of freethinkers and the transnational character of their movements
  • “Successful” freethinkers’ projects, their conditions and limits (e.g. in the field of legislation)
  • The adoption of ideas of free thought by elites and the wider public
  • Specifics and dynamics within the freethinker movements concerning secular practices
  • Varieties of secular practices according to various Christian cultural backgrounds (e.g. civil religious practices)
  • Contents and focus of freethought and its relation to the concept of secularity in the modern age
Presentations should last no longer than 20 minutes.The conference will be held in English. Travel and accommodation expenses will be covered. Scholars interested in presenting a paper at the workshop are invited to send a brief abstract of maximum one page as well as a short CV by 18 June 2017 to Carolin Kosuch  and Christhardt Henschel.

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