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Conference: The “Religious”, the “Civic” and the “Secular”: Methods and Concepts

Terms such as religious/secular, individual/collective, private/public or civic/civility are central to the discussion of processes of religious, social and political change. But how can we define these terms, considering, for instance, the fact that these terms are seen differently in the countries of the larger region (Maghrib/Mashriq)? Are all of these terms part of binary constructions or do some of them coexist and complement each other?

In order to solve these problems of approach and of definition, we propose to observe and to follow specific forms of individual and collective human behaviour and speech that we (from an “etic” and academic perspective) identify as forms of – for instance – religious (or “secular”) behaviour in respective local contexts/milieus, historical constellations. In a subsequent step of analysis we propose to identify forms of emic self-description as well as emic ascriptions of religiosity or secularity in the respective local context, the respective historical context as well as the respective social milieu. In concrete terms we should examine, for instance, which practices and convictions are seen, in a specific local and historical context, as specifically “religious”, “secular” (or “civic”), as something “individual” and “private”, or as “collective” and “public”. What is - for instance - regarded as “ÎarÁm” or “makrÙh” (detestable) or simply as “non-religious”? From a sociological
perspective, this leads into interactive processes, since ascriptions of religiosity, civility and secularity are an interactive process of claims-making and form part of boundary-making, of inclusion and exclusion. In this context we furthermore propose to ask whether we can observe, in certain historical and social formations, a shift of the boundaries of the “religious” as, for instance, in the guise of an increasing “banalisation of the sacred” (or, for that matter, a cumulation of non-religious behaviour). Such processes of “banalisation of the sacred” have been observed in the way in which religious festivals such as Christmas and Easter have been transformed (and commercialized) in Europe in the 20th and 21st centuries.

From sociological perspectives, such processes have been described as shifts towards the popularization and “Entgrenzung” (blurring of borders) of the religious domain. Are such dynamics of “Entgrenzung” (and “banalization”) indicators of processes of “secularization” and of the emergence of “secular” and/or “civic” societies – in particular when we accept that processes of “secularization” in the greater region (North Africa, Near East) do not necessarily follow the same logic as processes of secularization in Europe? How can we understand, in this context, the debate regarding the “civic state” (al-dawla al-madaniyya) and the “civil society” (al-mujtamÝ al-madanÐ) that is presently taking place in many countries of the greater region?

To summarize, we propose to approach the question of how we can define the concepts mentioned above by comparing temporal, spatial and agency-oriented factors and by looking closely at respective local contexts/milieus and historical legacies. The conference aims at bringing together experience from a variety of disciplines as well as a variety of research experience in different local contexts.