2010-2011 Theme Seminar


Joan W. Scott, Organizer
Additional readings open only to Seminar Participants

In the light of what, for many, is being defined as a world-wide resurgence of religiosity both as a spiritual and political force, attention has been drawn to the question of the secular. For those who take secularism to be one of the foundational principles of modernity, the appearance of religious-based movements constitutes a critical challenge to the established ways of life associated with liberalism and democracy. Those skeptical of the universalist claims of liberalism argue that sharp oppositions between the secular and the religious, modernity and traditionalism, obscure historical and political processes of state-building, colonial domination, and post-colonial negotiation. Although the question of secularism is a broad one, recent discussions have focused on Islam, on its compatibility with the practice of state religious neutrality; on the assimilability of Muslim minorities in the nominally secular nations of Western Europe; on the relationship between democratic elections and the coming to power of Islamic religious parties in North Africa and the Middle East.

We don’t intend to resolve the disputes between universalists and particularists or to offer a conclusive answer to the many questions posed about Islam. Rather, we want to study with those who take different positions on these questions to see what their various approaches reveal. We approach the theme with the following questions: What has been the history of secularization in different places in the world? What are the forms secularism has taken? How has secularism been defined and by whom? Is religion the opposite of secularism? Are there characteristics that define ours as a “secular age?” Can we say that there are secular subjects whose very constitution differs from those who are non-secular? Is secularism synonymous with liberal values of equality and emancipation? Does secularism promote economic development while religion discourages it? What about gender equality? Can we detect a universal principle of secularism amidst the many particular instances of it?

Link to the HS/SS Library "Secularism" collection.

Blogs and Links:

Case of Lautsi and Others v. Italy, Judgment, March 18, 2011, European Court of Human Rights.

"Why has religion become increasingly more important in contemporary Asia?"

"Why the United States Didn't See Egypt Coming" by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd

"Myths of Mubarak" by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd

The Middle East Report on Tunisia, by Nadia Marzouki.

IASC Upcoming Events

ESF-LiU Conference: Religion, Gender and Human Rights: Challenges for Multicultural and Democratic Societies

"Contending Modernities" at the Immanent Frame from the SSRC

Special secularism issue of Comparative Studies in Society & History

Liptak, Adam. "Justices Revisit Use of Tax Credits for Religions Schools." The New York Times, November 4, 2010, U.S.

Charles Gelman's report on the IAS Geroulanos seminar held October 20, 2010.

The Immanent Frame from the SSRC

Call for Papers: 'Gender and religiosity in multicultural societies'

The Judgment in the Ayodhya Court Case in India (Sept 30, 2010)

Surveying religious knowledge, The Immanent Frame for Tuesday October 5, 2010:

Off the cuff: Surveying religious knowledge 

An empirical perspective on religious and secular reasons by John H. Evans 

The future of China's Past: an interview with Mayfair Yang by Nathan Schneider 

The spiritual politics of healing by Pamela Klassen 

An atheism a theologian can love by James K.A. Smith 

Against Judaist-Christianism by Arjun Appadurai 

Enchantment, disenchantment, and the secular 


Anidjar, Gil. "Secularism." Critical Inquiry 33(Autumn 2006) pp. 52-77.

Fernando, Mayanthi. "Reconfiguring Freedom: Muslin Piety and the Limits of Secular Law and Public Discourse in France." American Ethnologist 37(1) 2010, pp. 19-35.

Laborde, Cécile. "Female Autonomy, Education and the Hijab." Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Vol. 9(3), September 2006, pp. 351-377.

Dalenda Largueche's Occasional Paper, "Monogamy in Islam: The Case of a Tunisian Marriage Contract.

Nachi, Mohamed. "Concept commun et concept analogique de compromis: 'un air de famille.'" SociologieS [En ligne], Théories et recherches, mis en ligne le 04 février 2010,

Nachi, Mohamed. "Introduction: Dimensions du Compromis. Arguments Pour la Constitution D'une Théorie du Compromis." Social Science Information, June 2004 (43) pp. 131-143.

Nachi, Mohamed. "The morality in/of compromise: some theoretical reflections." Social Science Information, 43(2) pp. 291-305.

Pierce, Steven. "Farmers and 'Prostitutes': Twentieth-Century Problems of Female Inheritance in Kano Emirate, Nigeria." Journal of African History. 44(3), pp. 463-486.

Pierce, Steven. "Identity, Performance, and Secrecy: Gender Life and the "Modern" in Northern Nigeria." Feminist Studies 33(3), pp. 539-565.

Stout, Jeffrey. "Rorty on Religion and Politics," in The Philosophy of Richard Rorth, eds. Randall E. Auxier and Lewis Edwin Hahn, (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court 2010).

Stout, Jeffrey. "Secularization and Resentment," in Democracy and Tradition, (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2004).

Stout, Jeffrey. "2007 Presidential Address: The Folly of Secularism." Journal of the American Academy of Religion, pp. 1-12.