EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010

(W051)

From the mouth of God: 'the political' from a post-secular perspective

Location Education Seminar Room
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30

Convenors

Lucia Michelutti (University College London) email
Alice Forbess (London School of Economics) email
Mail All Convenors

Long Abstract

Although it is now widely acknowledged that the master narrative of secularisation fails to properly account for religion's influential impact on the public sphere, normative models of 'the political' predicated on the axiomatic separation of politics and religion remain largely unchallenged in mainstream scholarship, policy-making and development work. This panel challenges a set of cutting edge theorists and comparative work (from Europe to the Americas, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia), to re-think 'the political' from a post-secular perspective. Across the globe, post-secular understandings of 'the political' and 'democracy' have provided spaces for the development of new practices, languages of political legitimation, transformative political experiments. This work highlights the need for a re-theorisation of 'the political' capable of conceptualising the merging of sacred/profane domains both in everyday life and institutional contexts. Speakers are invited to address the following themes:

1) To what extent do new forms of governance and ongoing transformations of existing institutions privilege particular political theologies and religious rhetorics?

2) Why is it that democratic ideas and practices, and particularly ideas of legitimacy, freedom, agency, social justice are so often reinterpreted in ways that blur the boundaries between religion and politics?

3) Through what 'religious' mechanisms do politicians gain popularity and charisma?

4) How is 'the politics of hope' and of 'aspirations' caught in the language of religion by politicians in different socio-cultural contexts and transnationally?

Discussant: David Gellner, Mark Lamont

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

'Post-secular socialism'? Religion and identity politics in Hugo Chavez's revolutionary Venezuela

Author: Lucia Michelutti (University College London)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Using the ethnography of the everyday life of the Bolivarian revolution the paper explores how the idiom of the 'socialism of the XXI century' is reinvented and reinterpreted on the ground. More specifically, it investigates the socio-cultural life of 'Venezuelan socialism' and sheds light on what I call the 'post-secular' character of Chavez's alternative project. The paper assesses the contradictions and tensions born from the encounter between local cosmological and religious worlds on the one hand and the state religious policies and the Afro-Venezuelan movement on the other. By so doing it reflects on the ways new emergent socialist forms of governance are actively couching their 'politics of hope' in the language of religion and cultural politics across Latin America. In this broader comparative scenario, the Venezuelan political ethnography is used to understand how and why post-secular interpretations of 'the political' are increasingly providing spaces for the development of novel languages of political legitimation and transformative political experiments across the globe.

Concepts of secularism in contemporary Nepal

Author: Chiara Letizia (UQAM)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

In 2008, a secular republic replaced the Hindu monarchy of Nepal. Secularism faces numerous challenges, as the country has preserved for centuries a symbiotic relationship between Hinduism and the State, and Hindu religion permeates the legal system, state policies and everyday practices. Secularism is viewed as the separation of Church and State only among a certain intellectual elite; it is more widely understood as the abolition of the primacy formerly given to Hinduism and a constitutional guarantee that all religions will enjoy equal rights and opportunities.

This paper introduces different understandings of secularism in contemporary Nepal and outlines related political debates in a period of Constitution writing, focusing in particular on 'religious' interpretations of secularism: sometimes criticized as the imposition of an inappropriate Western category or as an invitation to live without religion, or yet again reduced to the logic of religious reform or confounded with the concept of 'religious harmony'.

Styles of religious leadership among Muslims in Europe

Author: Thijl Sunier (VU University, Amsterdam)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

The proposed paper addresses the emergence of new forms of religious leadership among Muslims in Europe, by elaborating the nexus between mass mediated forms of religion, the contemporary 'unsettling of religious authority', among Muslims in Europe, and the shifts in the position of Islam in European societies in the last two decades. New types of Islamic leadership that have emerged since are hardly tight anymore to 'traditional' constituencies and structures. A shift has taken place from representative to performative styles of religious leadership. An increasing number of leaders operate on the intersection of mediatised stardom, political leadership and religious innovator. They address a public rather than a 'natural' rank-and-file. Following insights in studies on media and religion, I argue that new media technologies and mass-mediated consumerism are not only instrumental in the emergence of these new religious expressions, these new leaders are themselves part of a process of religious renewal.

Between God and Caesar: Orthodox monastics in two political settings

Author: Alice Forbess (London School of Economics)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

This paper examines how Orthodox Christianity intersects with 'the political' in Montenegro and Romania, two democratizing Orthodox majority countries where secularist ideologies were strongly in-habituated during socialism. Eastern Orthodox dogma challenges the religious/secular distinction, but what have been the on-the-ground consequences of this ideological stance in each setting? Montenegro is former theocracy where warrior bishops led anti-Ottoman resistance, becoming deeply interwoven with the national project. After the secession from Serbia (2006) struggles over Orthodox religiosity and patrimony have increasingly come to index contrasting political attitudes, mobilizing factions in intense intra and inter-state disputes. Meanwhile in Romania, the recent revelation that leading Orthodox clerics had acted as secret police informants under communism placed the Church at the centre of renewed contestations over the past and future. The comparative focus is on the transformations of 'the religious' and its interaction with political life across a series of modernisation projects, including socialism and its aftermath.

For a post-secular political, a post-secular social: from ethnography on Brazilian Marxism and the problem of friendship

Author: Ashley Lebner (University of Toronto/Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

This paper argues that in order to properly rethink the political from a post-secular perspective, anthropologists must similarly revise the social - the secular paradigm that separates 'religion' from the 'political' also problematically deems the 'social' a separate, even autonomous domain. Consequently, ethnographic misapprehensions abound, particularly where religious-secular distinctions are 'indigenous,' such as in the 'West.' Brazilian ethnography provides a number of examples of how one either studies 'religion' as modes of worship or the 'social' and 'political.' Yet, among the Northeastern migrants to Southeastern Amazonia (and elsewhere) the lack of orthodox 'religious worship' does not imply that divine forces are not seen to ground everyday sociality and hence politics. This paper describes the particular relevance of popular Christianity for understanding the problem of friendship for my interlocutors, which has implications for the dynamics and secular political forms within the Marxist Landless Worker's Movement in the region and beyond.

Statecraft and the politics of culture: Lao Buddhist political theology under late socialism

Author: Patrice Ladwig (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Laos is one of the few remaining socialist countries and officially endorses a secular political line. However, with Buddhist institutions being firmly integrated into the Party State, Buddhism and the language, moral values and lifestyles associated with it, are now again promoted as 'civilisational markers' crucial for defining national culture under late socialism. Moreover, Buddhism and its ethics are presented as an antidote to the 'decadent' influences of a globalised capitalist modernity and Buddhification is seen as a potential means for countering the increasing Christian missionary activity among 'animist' minorities. With reference to Charles Taylor's ideas of the secular and Carl Schmitt's work on political theology, this paper wants to investigate to what extent modern Lao state socialism is still imbued with prerevolutionary patterns of Buddhist statecraft and develop an approach for thinking about a 'Buddhist political theology'.

Rituals and commemoration: State-Church relationships and the politics of memory in contemporary Russia

Author: Tobias Koellner (isw Institute; Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Since state atheism was abandoned in the 1990ies, the Russian Federation entered what can be called a post-secular phase in which the political, the secular, and the religious are interconnected. During the time of my fieldwork in 2006/2007, a tendency to favour the Russian Orthodox Church and to facilitate its return to the public reached its climax. New public holidays were introduced and many public rituals were reinterpreted in religious terms. The setting and the language at these events drew heavily on religious and national symbols, thus merging the sacred and the profane. Following Max Weber I perceive the institutional charisma of the state and the church as constantly imperilled and interpret these rituals as means to provide legitimacy and to allow for the re-personalisation of charisma. However, I also try to show the limits of the efficacy of these rituals as they remain controversial to some people.

"Orthodoxy - State - Russian Ethnicity": A Possible Aberration of Pre-1917 Imperial Ideology in Post-1991 Russia

Authors: Dmitri Bondarenko (Institute for African Studies)  email
Larissa Andreeva (Center for Civilizational and Regional Studies)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

In Russia today one can observe the latent rebirth of the official pre-revolution ideological postulate, "Orthodoxy - autocracy - nationhood", in the new shape: "Orthodoxy - state - Russian ethnicity". This postulate's instilling can be possible only in a state the power of which "impends" over the people being legitimized by the assertion about the relation between it and the society by way of Orthodox Christianity. In the quasi-religious present-day Russian society Orthodox Christianity's actual becoming the state ideology would also result in quasi-sacralization of power: The appearance of a civil religion with a distinctive nationalistic component under its cloak. The instilling of the "Orthodoxy - state - Russian ethnicity" ideological postulate would contradict the Russian society's present conditions and trends of development, as well as the global tendencies. Formal religiosity has already become, and consolidation of Orthodox Christianity as state ideology can become, a characteristic feature of the Russian version of contemporary post-religious society.

e-paper 'They have always been post-secular': arguments on the 'political' from a subaltern community in north India

Author: Manuela Ciotti (Aarhus University)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

'Religion' amongst untouchable communities in India usually evokes attributes of marginality, alterity and contestation. A tense site of social relations, the 'sacred' for these communities could never be de-linked from the 'secular' and from the ways in which these communities envisaged their own project of modernity. It is argued that manifestations of the 'political' emerging from untouchable movements have always been of a 'post-secular' nature. Re-conceptualising the 'political' in India along post-secular lines will not only signify comparatively exploring the homology between 'Europeans [who] have recently stopped having been modern' and 'the 'others', by contrast, [who] have also stopped having been 'other' in the culturalist way modernism had imposed on them'(Latour 2009: 460), but also striking the fine balance between an already existing 'post-secular' phenomenology of the political and compulsions of religious nationalism, de-orientalising efforts and the universality of human rights, social justice and citizenship.

e-paper The Return of the Gods: perceptions of Bolivian socialist state among indigenous highlanders

Author: Nico Tassi (UCL)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

On the 21st of January the indigenous President of Bolivia Evo Morales has been invested in the pre-columbian site of Tiwanaku as the spiritual guide of the new 'Socialist' state and of all indigenous peoples through a spectacular religious ceremony. The election of Morales had been associated in the discourse of indigenous movements with the mythological and apocalyptic return of time and space which had been interrupted by the Spanish Conquest. My intention in this paper is to shed light on the contemporary perceptions of the New State among Bolivia's indigenous sectors. Indigenous highlanders have tended to interpret their relation with the state power as characterised by a ritualised form of reciprocal exchange and warfare. In this paper I will try to outline the contemporary understandings of the theocratic socialist state through emphasizing the dynamics of persistence and innovation in the traditional understanding of the colonial-republican state and even the Inca empire.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.