In between my research trips to Senegal and the Philippines, I will be staying in Cortona, Italy, for a two-week summer school on religion and democracy with the Institut fur die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM). Ruthie Braunstein, Grace Yukich and I published a post that gives a sense of the sessions thus far. The IWM is hosting a remarkable blend of scholars and students grappling with many of the same questions that drive our SSRC DPDF After Secularization group: religion, democracy, the secular, and modernity. The chance to spend a couple of weeks with scholars like Charles Taylor, Michael Sandel and Dipesh Chakrabarty—and in the Tuscan hills no less—is a little slice of grad student heaven.
While I will give next week some more extended thoughts on relations between IWM discussions and my own research, I would like to discuss in this post two initial reactions that stand out thus far. First, as with our initial DPDF After Secularization meeting in June, the interdisciplinary nature of the IWM discussions makes it clear that this approach is not just a luxury, but a clear necessity in making sense of the complex conjunctions of history, culture and norms that constitute the study of secularism. These conversations may be challenging—as basic theoretical goals and empirical agendas differ in serious ways among the disciplines—but they are without doubt progressive, to use a somewhat loaded term.
Second, the gathering of students from all over the world has revealed interesting geographic variations in secular debates. I hesitate to be too geographically rigid, but our diverse national experiences clearly shape understandings of the secular. Post-Communist Orthodox vitality, Muslim immigration in Western Europe, religious pluralism in South Asia. . . . these are all distinct empirical issues to some extent, although grouped within the categorization of the post-secular. The scope of our theory in the presence of such diversity is, as far as I’m concerned, an open question both here in Cortona and amongst my fellow graduate colleagues participating in the DPDF After Secularization research field.