EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Refractions of the secular: localisations of emancipation in the contemporary world

Location Wills M
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 17:00


Susanne Brandtstädter (University of Cologne) email
Lorenzo Cañás Bottos (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel explores the religious and 'cultural' challenge to secularism's monopoly on human emancipation. It will ask how non-secular discourses and practices have become refractions of the secular promise of a right to politics and responsive justice.

Long Abstract

This panel will focus on the refractions of the secular promise of subjectification and of a universal right to politics under a global formation of secularism. It will ask how practices and discourses, originally defined as outside of and opposed to modernity, have come to contest secularism's monopoly on emancipation of the subject, through the appropriation of some of its core ideas and resources. In the contemporary world the appeal of secularism as a project of emancipation seems to have exhausted itself. At the very moment that secularism attained universal reality via the global triumph of capitalism, its narrative of universal emancipation was being challenged from spaces it defines as beyond itself: resistive spaces of non-domesticated culture and public uncivil religion. The refusal to accept the secular separation of domains has increasingly relativised secularism's universalist narrative. Anthropologists, too, have critiqued secular universalism as a myth and highlighted its repressive and Western nature. What seems obscured behind these oppositions, however, is how the right to politics and self-realisation, at the heart of the secular project, has itself been universally appropriated and is now used against secularism proper. The panel suggests analysing alternative projects of subjectification and of (cultural/religious) emancipation as refractions of the secular. It will ask how the secular promise of equal liberty has survived in anti-secular guises and has come to drive the efflorescence of public religion and the cultural particular in post-modernity. We invite papers that look at these exchanges between the secular and its other, and that highlight (from a variety of temporal, cultural and geographical settings) the diversity of perspectives and resources from which challenges to the secular monopoly on emancipation are being constructed.


Reflections on the relation between secular law and popular religion in China

Author: Susanne Brandtstädter (University of Cologne)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

This paper reflects on the relation between popular religion and law in contemporary China, both of which are defined by the state as mirror opposites: the one are made to represent order, progress, modernity, and rationality, the other chaos, corruption, and regression. As politics in the Maoist era, law is today enchanted with the power to remake the person and society and to transcend the present to lead China to a better future. But as China is not a democratic country, the promise of political emancipation has always been postponed until a 'better future'. Also today, state law is promoted as the new ideology of the self-disciplining citizen, rather then as a resource of rightful citizen. In this situation, non-private religion becomes a sphere beyond that individualising control. It allows the creation of a community of equals that bestows rights and empowers through collective membership. This paper approaches the revival of popular religion in rural China through the prism of Maoism, arguing that territorial festivals, in which local people re-appropriate the local from the state, reinstitute local collectives as the proprietors of self, and as historical agents. With their festivals set against the 'science' of the (post)socialist state, 'peasants' claim a right to politics in the here and now, from a state who has located 'liberation' always either in the past (in 1949) or in a future paradise.

A loosely wired globality: alternative currencies and alternative modernities in eastern Indonesia

Author: Nils Bubandt (Århus University)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

The paper traces the loose, global links between a Scottish-based Sufi movement and a project for political renewal in eastern Indonesia.

In the wake of violent conflict and 30 years of Indonesian state-centrism, the Sultan of Ternate and his staff have embarked on a political project that seeks to revive local tradition to make it the moral basis for their visions of a just society. Combined with a grand if idiosyncratic design for a new economy based on the Islamic gold dinar, local traditions are to provide divine, ancestral and mystical legitimacy for the reinvention of 13th century sultanate rule. To sultanate adherents, the combination of traditional values and Islamic economic principles provide an explicit, and mystically validated, political alternative to both Western modernity and capitalist globalization.

If the Ternatan political vision can be said to constitute a 'global assembly' in Collier and Ong's sense, it is an 'uncommon' one. The paper argues that this and other similarly 'heterotopic' globalist projects, which form eddies in the mainstream of global political flows are, nevertheless, central to an understanding of the global situation.

Secularism, Islam and everyday challenges in the lives of university students: a case study from Amman, Jordan

Author: Daniele Cantini (University of Halle - Wittenberg)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

This paper analyses the variety of ways in which young women and men, students at the University of Jordan (or having recently obtained a degree from it), represent themselves and their sense of belonging in religious and social terms. Through ethnographic biographies (gathered during a year-and-half fieldwork in Amman) I show in which ways their different "technologies of the self" (as Foucault defined it) combine and overlap in their daily lives.

Their self-representations are proposed in the context of a strongly felt competition with the "West" and with what this term is taken to imply, secularism. This contrast is more practical than theoretical. The king's perceived Westernised lifestyle (and the developmental rhetoric he brings forth) is compared to the lives of many Jordanians, and in this way the "West" comes to represent economic exclusion of a majority of the population. At the same time many students (themselves a privileged category) see the "West" as a space that allows personal freedom (in contrast with the political and social control they experience at home).

I argue that youth is a category particularly apt to demonstrate how different identities are brought together in everyday life, regardless of their apparent contradictions. The embodiments and the discourses of the students show a certain mixture of elements of different "traditions". Some aspects of the secular project, that is assumed to be rejected by an overwhelmingly Muslim society due to its characteristics of the separation of domains (quite unconceivable in the framework of the discursive tradition of Islam) are actually integral part of the daily lives of many young men and women who claim to be "true Muslims", and hence opponents to the "West" and its secularising projects. They subsume this apparent unsolvable opposition (secular vs. non-secular) in their everyday practices. An individual able, and willing, to take an active role in the shaping of his/her own self and in his/her own life (while on campus or in the choice of a job, a place to live, and so forth) is part of the project of secularism. Yet students that claim a belonging to very different "traditions", namely the discursive tradition of Islam, quite often show a precise desire to act to emancipate themselves from the perceived immobility of their society. Thus subjectification, intended here as the desire for an emancipation of the self (sexual, familiar, societal, economical emancipation, as I will show in this paper) is quite present in Jordan today, at least among university students. But this doesn't imply a reject of traditions that may appear, to a "liberal" eye, contrary to the project of secularism.

In conclusion, what seems to be integral to the project of secularisation, the desire of self-realization, might as well be, and often is, present also in non-secular traditions. Being Muslim today doesn't in any way mean to be ipso facto outside of the framework of secularism - at least in one of its core point, the aim of emancipating the individual wherever in the world may he/she be. To adhere to the project of secularism or not is often a matter of political engagement, whose practical consequences have to be understood in local contexts.

Refracted Christianity: reflections on a Swedish case

Author: Barbro Blehr (Stockholm University)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

The Lutheran church of Sweden is a broadly encompassing national church, counting at present 77% of the population as its more or (often) less active members. In recent years, critics outside and within the organisation has accused it of abandoning truly Christian tenets, in order to please its secular surroundings. Based on my reading of contributions to debate in Christian newspapers and journals, the paper will reflect upon this case in terms of refraction and the relationship between the religious and the secular. It will show how those who advocate seemingly secular ideals and values can do so strongly motivated by religious concerns, and discuss whether the arguments presented as truly, uncompromisingly Christian may in themselves refract secular world-views and agendas.

Old Colony Mennonites and the superabundance of the sacred

Author: Lorenzo Cañás Bottos (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

In this paper I propose the concept of the "superabundance of the sacred" as a means to explore the case of the Mennonites as one source of challenges to the secularist monopoly on emancipation. I argue that their holding of tenets such as sola scriptura, and separation of church and state, ought to be taken as early prefigurations that were later refracted by the secularist emancipatory project. These, have led them through a process of separation of domains distinct to that proposed by the modernist narrative of secularization and disenchantment through techne (which can be interpreted as an expansion of the natural over the supernatural, leaving the latter as the residual domain over which religion specialises). By contrast, I argue, the Mennonites project of emancipation is based on the disenchantment of the world arising from the naturalization of the supernatural as the consequence of the "superabundance of the sacred" and the externalization of the profane.