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Author’s Name, “Title of Essay,” Religion and Secularism, Edited by Patrick Murray and Ronald A. Simkins, Journal of Religion & Society Supplement 17 (2018), Pages of the essay [URL of this page].
This essay explores Bernard Williams’s portrayal of his, Alasdair MacIntyre’s, and Charles Taylor’s views on how to move in relationship to religion in our modern world: backward in it (MacIntyre), forward in it (Taylor), and out of it (Williams). I contend that this portrayal is not entirely accurate in each case, though there is some truth in it, and that looking at each author’s view on the relationship of religion to modernity is instructive for those of us who wish to keep religious faith alive in our modern, secular age. I begin with Williams, and then discuss MacIntyre and Taylor in turn. I seek to show how MacIntyre and Taylor can help us to overcome the challenge to religious faith that Williams presents and how both offer important guidance for the life of faith in our modern, secular age.
Does it matter whether the world – or a portion of the world – secularizes? That is the question this paper addresses. The answer depends in part on what secularization means. The paper begins by summarizing the different meanings attached to the notion of secularization and focusing on the presence of religion in the public sphere and in the hearts of individuals. The paper goes on to challenge the views of the new atheists, who tend to align religion with fundamentalism. From there it proceeds to examine how religion engenders a sense of moral purpose that can show up in the public sphere as pursuit of justice. Without some metaphysical grounding for social justice, the paper argues, there is a danger of a macro-moral disconnect that leaves morality resident solely in the private sphere.
This essay argues that a critical synthesis of Charles Taylor, Talal Asad, and Jeffrey Alexander can be used to construct a concept of “secular performances.” Via Taylor it is argued that performing secularity means displaying-in-action fragile, non-naïve interpretations of persons, objects, communities, and patterns of action. Via Asad it is argued that secular performances are received in the senses before they are reflexively chosen in the mind. That is, secular performances are staged by actors and displayed before audiences both of which are already-capacitated by secular disciplines. And via Alexander it is argued that secular performances take place within a differentiated context of action. These are performances, then, that aim to re-fuse the elements of social action that have become de-fused within complex societies. The essay closes by noting the paradoxical limits that secular performances have for achieving re-fusion and, thereby, motivating meaningful communicative action.
This paper explores Hume’s attempt to provide a secular account of ethics that does not depend upon any particular answer to larger metaphysical questions. I show that Hume is motivated to provide such an ethic, in part, in order to reduce the harms he thought to accompany religious morality. I argue, however, that Hume’s moral philosophy cannot have the independence from metaphysics that it purports to have and that there are also certain dangers for flourishing that attend his version of secular ethics, which must be taken into account if we are to seek to avoid them.
Modern society encompasses a cluster of features. One feature is skepticism directed at truth generally and at religion in particular. From skepticism comes the marginalization of religious practice and belief. Moderns generally look to science, not religion, as the source of truth. Is the eclipse of religion inevitable in advanced societies? Is secularism an undeniable historical reality? This article uses the philosophies of Spinoza and Hegel to challenge skepticism about truth and identify the ways that religion belongs to any society, even the most advanced. I outline differences in their approach to religion, notably Spinoza’s view that for thinkers, always a minority population, philosophy replaces religion as a path to God and virtue. Spinoza and Hegel do not repudiate history. Both affirm features of modernity, such as religious liberty. But progress does not depend on a skeptical mindset. The present article identifies the defective factoring mindset that fosters skepticism. Skepticism is shaped by dogmatic prejudice; modernity is reality. A diverse and tolerant society need not be a skeptical one. Skepticism blocks our ability to understand the modern world, including religion.
The lesson of historical materialism is that, to meet changing human needs, there must be a social provisioning process. “Secular society” does not describe a provisioning process. “Capitalist society” names a coherent, self-maintaining and self-reproducing provisioning process. Secular society is dependent upon a set of social principles and purposes that can organize a self-sustaining society; it is a shadow of capital. Secularism traces certain features of a capitalist society even if it leaves others in the dark, so there is reason to call a capitalist society a secular society. Historical materialism widens Charles Taylor’s focus in A Secular Age on “the conditions of belief” to the social form and purpose of the material conditions of belief and unbelief.
The context of rapid secularization provides a particular challenge for contemporary Catholic mission in and to Western cultures. This article considers how wise discernment and compassion toward persons living in a secular age may provide a starting point for Catholic mission today. It also explores how the Church might renew its own self-understanding in a way that allows it to reveal the beauty of Christ to the world. Looking to the work of Catholic philosophers and theologians such as Charles Taylor and Hans Urs von Balthasar, the author proposes some ways in which the Church’s conceptions of church and world might be refigured for fruitful mission to Western cultures in the 21st century.
This essay examines secularization in the twenty-first-century U.S. and its relationship to Catholic theological anthropology, through the lens of capital as well as the related issues of growth and consumption. It proceeds from the assumption that there are evident tensions between Catholic conceptions of the common good and contemporary capitalist economics, as articulated by Pope Francis and others. By analyzing macro-economic theories of growth as articulated by Thomas Piketty and Robert Gordon, it becomes clear that the high levels of growth in twentieth-century Western economies were anomalous both with respect to previous history and to recent realities. The second section examines time in dialogue with social theorist Douglas Rushkoff as well as Robert Putnam’s work on social capital, examining how this dynamic relates to the aforementioned issue of growth as well as trends of secularization. The third section deals with Frank Trentmann’s work on consumption, tying it into the previous section as well as Pope Francis’s critique of consumerism. The essay concludes that the circumstances it explores ought to force a reconsideration of classical secularization theories that have assumed secularization as an effect of prosperity; today’s secularization ought to be read against the backdrops of economic desperation and lowered social capital. Theological anthropology, as a result, needs to shift its attention away from homo economicus toward the lives of contemporary people who still must view capital and its implications as central to their lives but with much less hope that economic desires and accomplishments might fulfill them.
Religious non-affiliation has increased considerably in the U.S. over the last few decades. The contemporary generation of emerging adults is the first to have a sizable proportion raised with no religious affiliation. This article uses nationally representative, longitudinal survey data to examine how both non-affiliation in adolescence and switching to non-affiliation in emerging adulthood influence political interest, behaviors, orientation, and partisanship. The results show the following: 1) that unaffiliated emerging adults are less politically active than the religiously affiliated; 2) that the unaffiliated are relatively liberal and unlikely to be Republican; 3) that the unaffiliated are more likely than the religiously affiliated to exhibit signs of political apathy; and 4) that there is little difference in political outcomes between those who switch to no affiliation and those who were unaffiliated in adolescence. The implications of these findings for the civic and political health of the nation is discussed.
By substantive percentages, Jews by religion are the most secular of American religious groups. This is amply demonstrated through the presentation and analysis of relevant poll data. At the same time, significant questions remain unaddressed: How do we determine the number and identity of American Jews? What are American Jews describing when they self-identify as secular and/or designate others as religious? Is it possible to be both a secularist/humanist and a Jew by religion? If so, are the universal and particularistic elements compatible that characterize each? How much of Jewish ritual and practice do secular Jews practice? How do they reconcile their understanding of such activities with a humanistic vision? These are questions that this paper addresses, making use of data provided both by adherents of secular Judaism and those who study them.
Over twelve years have passed since the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed, an event which brought Denmark into the global spotlight and triggered protests around the world. Almost seven years ago, another Scandinavian nation was drawn into crisis when Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 fellow Norwegians in what he believed to be an effort to resist the “Islamic colonisation of Europe.” This article argues that both events revealed particular conceptions of what it means to be fully human in a modern secular democracy, and according to this framework, Muslims do not meet these criteria. To examine this claim, the article first considers the perception of Muslims and immigrants as a threat to the secular social imaginaries of these societies, and then analyzes the nature of the “moral injury” experienced by Muslims and the corresponding unintelligibility of those injuries in these contexts.