2008-09 AM Postsecular Britain? Religion, Secularity, and Cultural Agency

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The Independent: "At last, Blair is free to 'do God' – and America loves it", Friday, 6 February 2009 Dear students, I have corrected your written work. Come and see me in my office hours. Best, A.A.

Course Description

One option in the discussion of current political and social paradigm shifts has been to address our condition as postsecular. The term has come up in the course of the last twenty years, especially in the new millennium, and is widely associated with the challenges faced by a multicultural, pluralistic society. This course is organized around the international conference "Postsecular Britain? Religion, Secularity, and Cultural Agency", which will take place in Oldenburg on November 20-22, 2008. The workshop offers a short introduction into theoretical debates and aims at students who are interested in tracking recent developments in literary and cultural studies. We will meet before the conference for a preparatory glance at the conference program and abstracts. Students will then be asked to attend the conference, take notes and follow the discussions. Each student will concentrate on one keynote lecture and two further speakers. Finally, we will meet for a debriefing session to compare notes, discuss impressions as well as individual points of interest.


  • Please note: This is a workshop - you may gain 3 KPs only. To be combined with other courses under AM 2b, AM 10 and AM 11.
  • attend preparatory and debriefing sessions
  • Fr, 7 Nov 14-16h
  • Fr, 14 Nov 14-16h
  • Fr, 28 Nov 14-16h
  • Fr, 5 Dec 14-16h
  • become familiar with conference programme and abstracts
  • read two preparatory texts (Fish and McLennan - cf. Further Reading)
  • active participation during the conference
  • become an expert on one keynote lecture and two further speakers
  • take minutes which will include arguments of the paper, the following discussion, and your own thoughts
  • then present in writing: approx. 5 pages per speaker; formatting see style sheet
  • though this will not be your usual piece of academic paper, you may want to check our writing guide and roughly stick to the following structure
  • Reflect on the abstract, its main assumptions, arguments and sources. (do the authors define a problem in their abstract? how do they approach the problem?)
  • Discuss the abstract in relation to the speech. (do the speakers address the problem in their speech? what were the main conclusions and how did the speakers arrive at these?)
  • Comment on the reception of the speech. (what are the main points of discussion after the speech?)
  • State your own questions/problems/points of insight.

Course Programme

Preparatory Session 1: Friday, Nov 7

  • introduction into theoretical debates 1
  • Reading: Stanley Fish (2005)
  • conference programme and abstracts

Preparatory Session 2: Friday, Nov 14

  • introduction into theoretical debates 2
  • Reading: Gregor McLennan (2007)
  • research on and background of speakers

Conference: Thursday, Nov 20

  18.30 - 20.00: conference opening
  • Speakers: President of the Association, President of Oldenburg University, Conference Convenors
  keynote lecture 1

Conference: Friday, Nov 21

  09.00 - 10.45 section I: Religion in the British tradition
  11.15 - 13.00 section II, 1: The persistence of religious debates
  14.30 - 15.30 keynote lecture 2
  16.00 - 17.45 section II, 2: The persistence of religious debates
  • Dirk Wiemann (Englisches Seminar, Universität Tübingen), Only Citizens and No People? Communal Jurisdiction in a Secular State;

Conference: Saturday, Nov 22

  09.00 - 10.00 keynote lecture 3
  10.20 - 12.20 section III: The postsecular in contemporary debates: popular culture, media, theory
  13.45 - 15.00 Concluding round table discussion and questions

Debriefing Session 1: Friday, Nov 28

  • Comparing notes
  • Evaluation

Debriefing Session 2: Friday, Dec 5

  • Final discussion
  • Feedback on evaluation
 Hand in your written work by noon Dec 15, 2008

Keynote Speakers

  • 2007. Paisley: Religion and Politics in Northern Ireland. Oxford: Oxford UP.
  • 2002. God is Dead : Secularization in the West. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.
  • 2007. Australian Literature: Postcolonialism, Racism, Transnationalism. Oxford: Oxford UP.
  • 2001. The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins. London: Routledge.
  • 2007. Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea. Polity.
  • 2000. Ethnic Minorities in Britain: Diversity and Disadvantage. London: Policy Studies Inst.

Further Reading

  • Brown, Bill. 2005. "The Dark Wood of Postmodernity." PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 120.3 (May): 734–750. [IBIT, Systemstelle(n): asl 001 jc]
  • Milich, Klaus J. 2005. "The Divine Comedy of Terror." PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 120.3 (May): 879-81.
  • During, Simon. 2005. "Toward the Postsecular." PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 120.3 (May): 876-77. [Reply to 2005-2-11438; see also 2005-4-6976; 2005-2-11454; 2005-4-7708; 2005-4-7193; 2005-4-6960.]

Links and Quotes

  • "Rather than ushering in a new secular age, an age free from the influence of religion, spirituality and contemplation, the evidence seems to indicate that we are actually entering a Post Secular Age: an age wherein religion will necessarily fill up the vacuum created by the ruinous failure of 20th century secular materialism." Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D. "The Post Secular Age", 2007
  • "'I think 9/11 has changed the nature of the debate tremendously,' he said. 'A decade ago people wouldn't say "I'm a Christian" at a dinner party. You would no more speak about your religious belief than you would your sex life. But after 9/11 we no longer think people should be treated differently or given exemption from certain laws because they believe something. Secularists are now saying, "OK, believe in what you like, believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden if you want to, but don't force your beliefs on us or our children, and don't expect preferential treatment." To allow religious organisations more privileges and influence than a political party or trade union, for example, is to distort public debate. People are waking up to the fact it is anomalous.'" Observer, "Believe it or not: the sceptics beat God in bestseller battle", by David Smith on August 12, 2007
  • "In January 2004, the Catholic Academy of Bavaria invited Habermas and Cardinal Ratzinger to air their ideas about the moral foundations of society in a public forum. There, Habermas used the term 'post-secular' to describe what modern society ought to be. Secularization, he and others have argued, was first the process, begun in the 17th and 18th centuries, of prying the fingers of the church from government and economy — all the aspects of life in which it had gained control. The idea emerged of the state as a neutral foundation for its citizens and their varied beliefs. But in Europe, secularism then came to mean antireligion. Historically, this antipathy was directed at Catholicism as well as at Protestant churches; Muslim immigration has teased it back to the surface and given it a new target." The New York Time, "Keeping the Faith", By RUSSELL SHORTO, April 8, 2007
  • "The idea that secularization is the irreversible wave of the future is still the conventional wisdom in intellectual circles here. They would be bemused, to say the least, at a Dutch relapse into religiosity. But as the authors of a recently published study called De Toekomst van God (The Future of God) point out, organized prayer in the workplace is just one among several pieces of evidence suggesting that Holland is on the threshold of a new era--one we might call the age of 'post-secularization.' In their book, Adjiedj Bakas, a professional trend-watcher, and Minne Buwalda, a journalist, argue that Holland is experiencing a fundamental shift in religious orientation: 'Throughout Western Europe, and also in Holland, liberal Protestantism is in its death throes. It will be replaced by a new orthodoxy.'" The Weekly Standard, "Holland's Post-Secular Future: Christianity is dead. Long live Christianity!", by Joshua Livestro, Volume 012, Issue 16, 01/01/2007
  • "To guarantee equal access to the European public sphere and undistorted communication, the European Union would need to become not only post-Christian but also post-secular. [Footnote 13] Even in his new post-secular openness to the religious 'other' and in his call for the secular side to remain 'sensitive to the force of articulation inherent in religious languages', Jürgen Habermas still implies that religious believers must naturally continue to suffer disabilities in the secular public sphere. 'To date, only citizens committed to religious beliefs are required to split up their identities, as it were, into their public and private elements. They are the ones who have to translate their religious beliefs into a secular language before their arguments have any chance of gaining majority support.' Jürgen Habermas, 'Faith and Knowlwdge', in The Future of Human Nature, Cambridge 2003, 109. Only by holding to a teleological philosophy of history can Habermas insist that 'postsecular society continues the work, for religion itself, that religion did for myth' and that this work of 'translation', or rational linguistification of the sacred, is the equivalent of 'non-destructive secularization' and enlightenment." José Casanova, "Religion, European secular identities, and European integration", Eurozine, 2004-07-29, First published in Transit 27 (2004) in German