This five-day dissertation workshop convened twelve advanced graduate students and five distinguished professors in Pacific Grove, CA. The workshop provided participants with a unique opportunity to share their ongoing work and receive critical feedback from their peers as well as from a small group of faculty members. During the course of the workshop, students lead discussions of their own projects and entertained critiques from both student and faculty participants on their fieldwork, research plans, writing strategies, and conceptual frameworks.
What are the consequences of the increasing salience of “spirituality” in American civic and political life? Do actors and groups publicly identified as spiritual challenge commonly held understandings of social and political involvement? How strongly are they committed to any particular set of political goals or ideals of citizenship? How do they engage in public life, and do their patterns of involvement differ in a systematic way from those of others? What kinds of alternatives to, or cautionary tales about, dominant understandings of civic engagement might political expressions of “spirituality” present? Building on a wide swath of recent scholarship, the SSRC conference on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life explored the institutions and traditions that construct spiritual activities and identities, and it considers their relations to systems and patterns of political participation and public engagement in the contemporary United States.
The Institute for Public Knowledge and the SSRC Program on Religion and the Public Sphere is delighted to host the launch of the "Lives of Great Religious Books," a new book series at Princeton University Press. The Institute for Public Knowledge and the SSRC Program on Religion and the Public Sphere are delighted to host the launch of the "Lives of Great Religious Books," a new book series at Princeton University Press. Join three authors from the series in discussion about their new books with Jeremy Walton, Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow of Religious Studies at NYU. Donald Lopez, Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan, will discuss The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography. Martin E. Marty, Professor Emeritus of Religious History at the University of Chicago, will discuss Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison: A Biography. Vanessa Ochs, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at University of Virginia, will discuss The Passover Haggadah: A Biography. The Lives of Great Religious Books is a new series of short volumes that recount the complex and fascinating histories of important religious texts from around the world. This event is co-sponsored by Princeton University Press and the SSRC Program on Religion and the Public Sphere.
Held in conjunction with the SSRC's ongoing work on religion and international affairs, this two-day workshop convened a group of interdisciplinary academics and practitioners to engage in a comparative conversation concerning the role of religious communities and beliefs in development and peacebuilding efforts in Cambodia and Kenya.
In conjunction with the SSRC's ongoing work on religion and international affairs, this workshop convened a select group of interdisciplinary scholars for a two-day workshop. Aimed at establishing the theoretical links between religious beliefs, rites, and actors, and peacebuilding and development efforts abroad, the discussion also examined links and discrepancies between the distinct actors and ideologies, both secular and religious, dedicated to peacebuilding and development practices throughout the world.
In collaboration with the Henry Luce Foundation, the SSRC convened over thirty leaders of ongoing and recently concluded projects supported by the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs for a two-day conference on the present state of the field. A select number of special guests were also invited on the basis of their renowned expertise and unique perspectives on the multiple intersections of religion and global affairs. Participants represented a broad spectrum of institutions, from major universities to international nongovernmental organizations to widely recognized public affairs media outlets. The conference was organized around an extensive and multifocal set of thematic areas and operational concerns; it also provided a unique opportunity to forge new relationships while extending and reinforcing existing networks among scholars and practitioners working at the crossroads of religion and international affairs.
The conflict in Mindanao raises important questions regarding the cultural and religious dimensions of economic development and peacebuilding. At the heart of the conflict over land and resources, one encounters issues of social and communal identity; material inequality owing to the economic, political, and social marginalization of Muslims and indigenous peoples; and institutions (policies, laws, structures) that perpetuate this inequality. Gathering a group of scholars, peacebuilding professionals, and development practitioners from the U.S. and abroad, including several participants from Mindanao, this workshop fostered two days of discussion centered on the extent to which religion figures as a cause of conflict as well as a source of peace and development on the island; the politics of peacebuilding and development, particularly in relation to political dynamics in Manila; and comparative questions concerning how lessons learned in the continuing struggle for peace and economic advancement in Mindanao can be utilized in other areas of conflict in the region and across the globe.
In recent decades, the United States has seen a remarkable decline in religious affiliation and, correspondingly, the emergence of "spiritual-not-religious" as an alternative index of identity. Concomitant with these phenomena is a widespread premonition—and anxiety—that such transformations of the religious topography of the United States mark a turn toward an insidious individualism and the dissolution of those forms of civic engagement and political participation thought to have traditionally sustained American democracy. In the interest of challenging such assumptions and, in so doing, developing a sharpened analytic perspective from which scholars can engage questions of American spirituality and politics in new ways, the participants in the Sites of Civic Engagement Workshop came together for two days of vigorous debate and discussion focused on the historical emergence of spirituality as an articulation of individual and collective identities, the construction and deployment of discourses of the spiritual in the public sphere today, and the optimal methods for the study of spirituality in both its historical and present-day configurations.
Jürgen Habermas’s recent work has centered in part on an analysis and critique of the secularization thesis that has informed much of mainstream sociological theory. This work has included attention to: how such theories fail to properly address the challenge of different paths to modernity; how religion challenges the secular self-understanding of liberal, democratic, rule of law-based societies; and how postmetaphysical thinking should work toward the development of a postsecular understanding of reason, one that does not invidiously prejudge a Eurocentric or rationalistic understanding of reason and the social achievements of the West. The SSRC, in concert with the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University and the Humanities Institute at SUNY Stony Brook, convened an international cohort of scholars in both philosophy and social theory to engage directly with Habermas on the topic of religion's place in postmetaphysical philosophy and the public spheres of today's multicultural world society.
On Thursday, October 22, 2009, from 4:00-8:30PM, the SSRC, the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University, and Stony Brook University co-sponsored a major public event at The Great Hall at Cooper Union, in New York City. The event featured four of the most important and innovative public intellectuals of our time—Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor and Cornel West—discussing the role religion can, should, and might play in the public sphere.
There has been a great deal of talk in recent years suggesting that we have entered a “post-secular” age. But what, if anything, does the term “post-secular” even mean? Have we really entered into a post-secular age? And if so, what implications, if any, does this have for the social sciences? Do these developments imply a new approach to the study of religion? A wholesale reconstruction of social science? A shift towards social philosophy? Is there such a thing as “post-secular social science”? This conference brought together a number of analysts of religion and its entanglements with the world in an attempt to assess these questions. It addressed the possible meanings of religion and the various terms with roots in the term “secular”: secularism, secularity, secularization. Without some grappling with the question of what religion is, it is very difficult to say what secularity or secularization might entail. This conference explored the extent to which the “return of religion” is a product of an actual upsurge of religiosity around the world as opposed to greater scholarly attention to religion, and examined the ways in which the global religious situation may compel us to reconsider how we think about both religion and social science.
This workshop brings together leading scholars in order to ask to what extent developments in a variety of religious traditions (past and present) can fruitfully be understood as religious counterpublics. The increasing prominence of modern media techniques in religious organizing, and by extension the increasing religious presence within mass media, have been obvious to almost everyone. And this seems to be true in all parts of the world, as well as all the major religious traditions. But less obvious, or less well understood, is how environments of circulating media have affected the practice, social imaginaries, and political form of religious worlds.
Scholars and practitioners alike have constantly invoked and constantly confused distinctions among religion, secular, and spiritual life. The proliferation of terms has left social scientists uncertain about how to proceed. Conference participants addressed the interplay between religious, spiritual, and secular in a range of institutional and personal pursuits with an eye to the ways these terms allow individuals and groups to position themselves relative to institutions and histories that they simultaneously engage and resist, thus signaling what we have called “ambivalent attachments.” The conference laid the groundwork for a forthcoming edited volume.
Contemporary activist groups saturate our worlds with images and sounds. Seeking solidarity with different movements and publics, some groups use media complexes to generate outrage and others to invoke sympathy; some seeking to minimize religious, national, and regional differences and others working to intensify them. While distinctions between religious and secular activist media often seem self-evident, this panel asked what they might share. How do religious and secular forms of activism overlap? How do contemporary humanitarian and activist movements use complex networks of mediation? How do visions of suffering function when mediated and deployed globally? How do the formal properties of media signs and symbols constitute humanitarian and activist movements? Co-sponsored by the SSRC and Columbia University's Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, the panel included Birgit Meyer, Charles Hirschkind, Peter Redfield, and moderator Brian Larkin.
In conjunction with the one year anniversary of the launch of The Immanent Frame, the Social Science Research Council’s blog on secularism, religion and the public sphere, this panel discussion featured Michael Warner on the topic of “Sex and secularity,” with responses from Stathis Gourgouris and Kathryn Lofton.
Co-sponsored by the SSRC and New York University's Institute for Public Knowledge, this series of public dialogues were hosted and moderated by SSRC President Craig Calhoun: Secularism, Liberalism, and Modern Governance, September 13, 2007, King Juan Carlos I Center, New York University, Rajeev Bhargava, Mark Juergensmeyer, Saba Mahmood | Secularism, Religion, and Human Rights, October 30, 2007, King Juan Carlos I Center, New York University, Saad Eddin Ibrahim | Exploring the Post-Secular, Febrary 12, 2008, Jurow Hall, Silver Center, New York University, Jorhn Torpey, Philip Gorski | Religion, Secularism, and Spirituality, March 26, 2008, The Bronfman Center, New York University, Ann Taves, Courtney Bender | A Secular Age, April 2, 2008, Jurow Hall, Silver Center, New York University, Charles Taylor, Michael Warner | Religion and U.S. Politics: Election 2008, April 29, 2008, D. Michael Lindsay | Who Speaks for Islam?, May 6, 2008, Kimmel Center, New York University, John Esposito | Sex and Secularity, October 8, 2008, Institute for Public Knowledge, New York University, Michael Warner, Stathis Gourgouris, Kathryn Lofton | The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, October 22, 2009, The Great Hall, Cooper Union, Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, Cornel West.
As religiously motivated political activity has captured more and more headlines in the post-Cold War world, it has increasingly become conventional wisdom that we live in a “post-secular society,” as Jürgen Habermas and others have put it. But to what extent is the burgeoning scholarly preoccupation with religion a matter of an empirically ascertainable resurgence of religious devotion and practice, and to what extent is it simply the product of a shift in scholarly interests, which now once again are increasingly focused on religion after at least a generation of relative neglect? While there is no doubt that religion has assumed a more dramatic role in public life, that is different from saying that there is “more of it” than there was before, and that we are leaving behind a period that was “more secular” than is the present. In order to understand religion’s place in the public sphere, we must certainly come to a more adequate understanding of shifting historical patterns of religious affiliation and activity. Co-sponsored by the SSRC and the CUNY Graduate Center, this workshop explored both shifting historical patterns of religious affiliation and activity and, especially, shifting patterns of scholarly research.
Co-sponsored by the SSRC and the School for Advanced Research, this working meeting was broadly concerned with the current state of knowledge regarding spirituality and religious experience, both in the United States and in global comparative perspective. The two-day discussion was focused not only on “spirituality” and “religious experience” as objects of academic knowledge, but on the forms, practices, and assumptions of social scientific knowledge production itself, specifically as concerns the “problem” of knowing about religious belief and spiritual experience within the context of the contemporary secular university.
Discussion of secularism has been unfolding at a rapid rate over the past few years. In this international debate, it is no longer taken for granted that secularism is a neutral governance structure, or that it can be understood simply as the negation of “religion.” Yet disagreements are also emerging. How closely can secularism be identified with the Christian culture from which it arose? Within the umbrella of a globalizing secular imaginary, what distinctions are to be made among varieties of secularism? How does a critical analysis of the secular affect our understanding of modernity, sovereignty, the postcolonial, or the academic disciplines? Anticipating an engaging array of responses to these and related questions, the aim of this one-day event is to bring together a diverse group of scholars, in order to take stock of the unfolding conversation and to assess the current stakes of debate.