In long-standing theories about secularization it is generally held that the social and public significance of religion has declined in most Western countries. Religion is conceived as privatized, individualized and de-institutionalized. But has religion truly become a privatized phenomenon? Increasingly, it is argued in academia that the separation between state and church in Western countries is less stable than assumed: state policy is often biased towards particular religious traditions while even the French installment of laicité may be understood as a civic religion (e.g., Casanova). In general, we are witnessing a re-emergence of religion in the public domain. Religion has a new position in the public sphere, struggling for recognition alongside other groups. Empirical studies demonstrate the sustaining influence of religion on voting in ‘secular’ countries, an open attitude towards religious-spiritual beliefs and practices in business organizations and the production and consumption of religious symbols and images in popular culture. The role of media is pivotal here: it has made new forms of power emerge, but also simultaneously opened the way for activist practices aimed at visibility. So on the one hand, television, radio and newspapers socially construct the public-political discourse on Muslims, the alleged dangers of Islam and religious-ethical issues concerning circumcision, vaccinations, abortion and ritual slaughter. On the other hand, in the struggle for recognition and visibility, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hinduists, new religious movements, and spiritual groups, appropriate the internet and (social) media as public platforms to debate the role of religion, to strengthen social cohesion and to reach out to the general public.
This return of religion in the public domain is also a socially, politically, legally and morally contested issue. In a ‘post-secular’ society, Jurgen Habermas argued, religious groups, organizations and individuals should be included within the public sphere in the civic debate about the problems of modernity, i.e., individualism, excessive consumption and the loss of moral values. Claims like these – made in academia, politics or culture – activate secular groups like the ‘new atheists’ to revitalize ‘rationalist’ values of the Enlightenment and take on a fundamentalist position on the subject. Social conflicts are increasingly religious conflicts (e.g., Calhoun). Theoretically, developments such as these invoke substantial doubt about modern distinctions between the public and the private, the secular and religious and the profane and the sacred. They invite research on the (historical) formation of such categories – in the social sciences and modern cultures alike – and its relation to social conflict and cultural power (e.g., Assad).
Against this background, the ESA Research Network Sociology of Religion calls for papers on ‘Religion in the Public Domain’ for the mid-term conference in Belfast. Particularly papers are welcomed that discuss the following topics:
- Studies focusing on the modern separation of state and church, the formation of the religious and the secular and the public and the private domain in European countries and beyond.
- Studies discussing the social significance of religion and its re-emergence in the institutional and public domain, i.e., the role of Islamic, Christian or spiritual beliefs, practices and experiences in politics, voting, banking, business life etc.
- Studies focusing on the role of religious-spiritual narratives in popular culture, i.e., their meanings, commercial and commodified manifestations in books, music, film, computer games, advertising, marketing and branding.
- Studies discussing the role of the media, i.e., the way religion is framed at television, radio and in newspapers, and the appropriation and use of (social) media by religious individuals, groups and organization.
- Studies focusing on social conflicts between secular and religious groups and public debates about Islam, i.e., about integration, religious fundamentalism, terrorism, women’s rights, headscarves, abortion etc.
- Studies focusing on the public value of the sociology of religion, including studies on religion and politics, religion and the welfare state, religion and human security in ‘failed’ states, and the significance of the study of religion to policy makers and grassroots activists.
These topics are rough guidelines; papers dealing with Religion inthe Public Domain beyond other than these outlined above are also very welcome. Furthermore we invite PhD and post-doc candidates to contribute to a poster session, including work in progress; the best poster will get a small, but nice prize.
Confirmed keynote speakers:
Prof Linda Woodhead, Lancaster University, on ‘How Public Religion has changed now that ‘Church and State’ isn’t the Only Game in Town’ Prof John Brewer, Queen’s University Belfast, on ‘The Public Value of the Sociology of Religion.’ Dr Erin Wilson, University of Groningen, on ‘Global Justice in a Postsecular Public Domain: Challenges and Possibilities’
Dates & Deadlines in 2014
- March 14 Submission of abstracts and online registration starts (Please email your abstracts, both in the text of the email and as a Word attachment, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Abstracts can be submitted both for papers and the postgraduate posters and should not exceed 250 words.)
- April 18 Submission of abstracts ends
- May 9 Acceptance of abstracts
- June 30 Early-bird registration ends
- September 3 – 5 Conference
The fee structure is as follows:
Late (after 30 June)
Conference website: http://belfast2014.esareligion.org/
ESA RN 34 communications officer
University of Warsaw, Poland