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Multiple Secularities – Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities

The Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies "Multiple Secularities - Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities" investigates forms and arrangements of differentiation between religious and other social spheres, practices, interpretive frameworks, institutions and discourses in different eras and regions. We refer to such arrangements, which are often contentious, with the heuristic term “secularities”. Based on the hypothesis that the drawing up of boundaries between the religious and non-religious is not an exclusive sign either of modernity or of the “West”, we explore corresponding emic taxonomies, forms of social differentiation and modes of demarcation. These are to be analyzed in their internal developments as well as in relation to modern “western” concepts of social order. In this way, we hope to explain current forms of secularity in different regions and the concomitant conflicts about the power of interpretation and claims to validity.The particular nature of this project is that it transcends modernization theory, as well as the evolutionary, ethnocentric and normative perspectives, which are often peculiar to debates on secularization and secularism, may they be affirmative or critical. We are therefore opening up an interdisciplinary, global research perspective, which otherwise appears distorted by the narrowness of current debates. We bring together the perspectives of religious studies and sociology, different area studies, as well as history and anthropology. The systematic inclusion of premodern cultures is another novel element. Lastly, we transcend the isolated issue of the transcultural applicability of the term “religion” by focusing on the processes of differentiation between “the religious” and “the secular” or related distinctions as such. In the first four-year-period of its work, the Humanities Centre will focus on different regions of the “Islamic world” as well as of Asia – deliberately not starting with Europe or the US as the countries that might first enter one’s mind if the secular, secularism and secularity are being dealt with. [read more]