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Working Paper Series

The Working Paper Series of the Centre for Advanced Studies on "Multiple Secularities - Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities" is intended to make research results and conceptual sketches available for scholarly discussion at an early stage.

Researchers from outside the research group who wish to contribute to these discussions are invited to submit their contributions for review (please send an e-mail to: multiple-secularities@uni-leipzig). This is especially the case for participants of conferences and workshops of the research group. The first publication of papers in the Working Paper Series shall not be an obstacle to later publication by other means.

Use the search box below to search through all titles and abstracts and find papers that are relevant to you more quickly.


#9: How (Not) to Take ‘Secularity’ Beyond the Modern West: Reflections from Islamic Sociology

Florian Zemmin

Debates about the usability of the concept of ‘secularity’ in academic research are not merely theoretical. Standpoints are also politically informed and arguments are sometimes emotionally charged. To some, merely using the term ‘secularity’ seems to inflict violence upon certain objects of research or even upon themselves. Others object to applying the concept beyond a particular arrangement of secularity, lest that defense-worthy arrangement be undermined. Taking a step back, however, the actual hermeneutical problem and historical question still seems rather clearly to be this: is it possible to uncouple the link between secularism as a political regime and secularity as an analytical concept with broader historical purchase? In this paper, I argue that the basic approach of Multiple Secularities is indeed the commendable way forward, but could be refined and improved, also by learning from the valid points of its critical alternatives. Thus, this paper aspires to shed light on two basic questions, namely, how to take ‘secularity’ beyond the modern West, and, as a logical prior, why take ‘secularity’ beyond the modern West in the first place?

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#8: "Be a civilized citizen!" Corporate social responsibility and the new Chinese secular

Thomas David DuBois

Disagreement over the nature of religion in China - a civilization that has long confounded the vocabulary of religious and secular - is nothing new. With an imperial institution that eclipsed confessional structures, and bound Heaven and Earth in ritual cosmology, China was what John Lagerwey called a “religious state.” When native notions of religion were forced into European-derived categories, the result was either a clash of interests, particularly with Christian missionaries, or dreadful mistranslations, such as the still pervasive idea of “emperor worship.” Religion in the twentieth century was been punctuated by periods of intense persecution, but the more longstanding policy of the People’s Republic has been to allow organized religion to exist, and even thrive, albeit at the cost of being coopted or transformed into a museum piece, its teaching is reduced to moral platitudes. The ideological wave under Xi Jinping is something new. Combining nationalism, personal advancement, economic welfare, and an unprecedented level of surveillance of public and virtual spaces, this wave has made the state more ideologically pervasive than it has been in half a century. It has tamed the independent charitable organizations that grew up over the previous decade, but even this is just a symptom of the larger reorientation of ideology to public spaces to become what I call the “Chinese secular.”

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#7 Modes of Religionization: A Constructivist Approach to Secularity

Markus Dreßler

This article discusses four concepts: religionization, religio-secularization, religio-secularism, and religion-making. These concepts are proposed as heuristic devices for the analysis of the processes through which social networks, practices, and discourses come to be understood as ‘religious’ or ‘religion.’ I use the term ‘religionization’ to describe situations where assemblages of knowledge (structures, practices, discourses) are being made sense of through the modern concept of religion. I use ‘religio-secularization’ to illustrate the connection between religionization and secularization in the modern context. I use ‘religio-secularism’ to denote the knowledge regime that legitimizes processes of religionization and secularization. Finally, the term ‘religion-making’ is proposed as a means of focusing on agency in processes of religionization.

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#6 Mistaken Anti-modernity: Fardid After Fardid

Ali Mirsepassi

In this article, I undertake several lines of enquiry in the history of ideological and political movements centered on the “modernity” polemic at the transnational level. By analyzing these movements in juxtaposition, I explore the possibility of more diverse narratives of modernity and antimodernity than are assumed by conventional dichotomies in contemporary academic writings. The results of my enquiry challenge several pervasive “dogmas” of post-colonial theory: that orientalism is a purely modernist intellectual project, while anti-orientalism is by necessity its more “local” discursive counterpart in a dualism of East and West.

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#5: The Secular Ground Bass of Pre-modern Japan Reconsidered. Reflections upon the Buddhist Trajectories towards Secularity

Christoph Kleine

As can be easily recognised, the title of this paper alludes to a famous statement by Robert N. Bellah. In his article “Values and Social Change in Modern Japan,” originally published in 1970, Bellah identified “worldly affirmativeness, the opposite of denial” as “the ground bass […] of the Japanese tradition.” This may, at first sight, seem to be consistent with my rather provocative notion of the ‘secular ground bass of pre-modern Japan.’ Is “worldly affirmativeness” not actually a key feature of ‘secularity,’ and of ‘modernity’ for that matter? However, Bellah’s argument runs in the very opposite direction. Contrary to what one might expect, worldly affirmativeness, in Bellah’s view, did not pave the way for secularity but, rather, prevented it. The reason is, says Bellah, that the alleged ground bass of worldly affirmativeness was responsible for the ‘failure’ of the early modern Japanese to actualise the moment of transcendence that had been recognised and strongly emphasised by medieval Buddhist thinkers already. I adopt a completely different approach. I aim to demonstrate that the medieval Japanese had already developed a set of epistemes with a longue durée, which turned out to be favourable for appropriating modern Western concepts of secularity in the 19th century, because they clearly distinguished between two social domains, which we – from a modern perspective – would label roughly as ‘religion’ on the one hand and ‘politics’ on the other. In other words, we find social structures and related systems of classification that come quite close to the ideal type of secularity as originally defined by Monika Wohlrab-Sahr and Marian Burchardt, namely: “institutionally as well as symbolically embedded forms and arrangements for distinguishing between religion and other societal areas, practices and interpretations.”

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#4: Healing and/or Salvation? The Relationship Between Religion and Medicine in Medieval Chinese Buddhism

C. Pierce Salguero

A wide variety of Buddhist writings originating on the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere in South and Southeast Asia were translated into Chinese between the mid-second and the early eleventh centuries C.E. As this material was read, digested, commented upon, and integrated into daily life, Chinese audiences came to be familiar with Buddhism’s basic teaching that overcoming all forms of suffering (Ch. ku 苦; Skt. duḥkha) is its core function. As one of the most obvious forms of suffering encountered in everyday human life, illness was a frequent topic of concern in these discourses. Of particular concern was the question of the relationship between the alleviation of the suffering of illness and the total, final salvation from suffering of all kinds (commonly referred to as Ch. niepan 涅槃; Skt. nirvāṇa; among other terms). This question appears and reappears across the genres of the Buddhist canon. From sūtras (loosely meaning “scriptures”), to disciplinary texts, ritual manuals, narratives, parables, philosophical treatises, and poetry, illness and healing are everywhere in Buddhist literature.

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#3: The Islamicate Adab Tradition vs. the Islamic Shari‘a, from Pre-Colonial to Colonial

Armando Salvatore

The goal of this paper is to provide a bird’s eye view on what might qualify as ‘the mother of all distinctions’ within Islamicate history affecting the regulation of human conduct. It is a rather ‘soft’ distinction, whereby the ethical and literary tradition of adab works as an harmonious counterpoint, more than as a sheer alternative, to the normative discourse subsumed under the notion of shari‘a, the law originating from Divine will (shar‘). Adab does so, however, while clearly affirming a distinctive, non-divine (and in this sense ‘secular’) source of norms of human interaction. The paper is divided into two parts: the first delineates the traits of adab in pre-colonial times, while the second focuses on key transformations it underwent during the colonial era.

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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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