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#2: Revisiting the Secular. Multiple Secularities and Pathways to Modernity

Monika Wohlrab Sahr; Marian Burchardt

For the last few decades, sociological debates about religion and secularisation have been characterised by confrontation between (often American) critics and (mostly European) defenders of secularisation theories. There has also been a remarkable rise in academic and public debates about the role of secularism in political regimes and in national as well as civilisational frameworks. These debates are shaped by the context of the changing position of the West in world politics, Islamist terror and the war on terror, struggles of religious minorities for recognition and influence, and the concomitant negotiations over the place of religion in the public sphere, as well as the emergence of post-national citizenship. Contributions from political theory, social anthropology and religious studies that emerged from this context have enriched the debate, but also contributed to fragmenting existing theories on the relationship between religion and modernity. Whereas scholars previously aimed to develop ‘general theories’ of secularisation that included deviations from the general model, newer approaches tend to highlight the specificity of Western European developments as opposed to those in the rest of the world, and sometimes even highlight their incomparability.

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#1: Research Programme of the HCAS "Multiple Secularities - Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities"

Christoph Kleine; Monika Wohlrab-Sahr

The project seeks to explore the boundaries that distinguish between the religious and non-religious, in modern as well as pre-modern societies. In doing so, we are aligning ourselves with current debates but we are approaching the debated issues from a basic theoretical perspective. At present, a general distinction can be drawn between three narratives: The first claims the dwindling presence and relevance of religion (“secularisation”); the second regards religion to be returning globally, consequently irritating the self-perception of modern societies (“return of religions”, “post-secular society”). According to the third, religion has always been present and has simply changed shape, meaning secularisation assumptions are misleading (“invisible religion”). There is also a theoretical-methodological conflict to be taken into consideration. Where the secularisation hypothesis considers its theories and methods to be universally applicable, the critics of this theory not only increasingly challenge the transferability of Western development paths, but also the transferability of the concepts used. This applies right down to the challenge of the religious/secular dual, which is understood to be an expression of Western experience and power of interpretation that forces other cultures into Western schematisations. In contrast, we are formulating an alternative position, in which we are trying to explore the boundaries between the religious and non-religious beyond normative concepts. We are particularly seeking such boundaries in regions that differ greatly from the so-called “West” in the “Modern World” in terms of culture and history: In various Asian regions and – partly overlapping with these – in the so-called “Islamic World”, but also in different epochs. This is linked to a plea for comparability across multifaceted regions and cultural contexts, and for investigating their entangled history.

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