In the newest issue of Theory, Culture & Society, British sociologist Gregor McLennan takes a closer look at the “postsecular turn” in contemporary social theory. He argues that this “turn”—if indeed it amounts to one—finds expression in three broad trends: genealogical critique, neo-vitalism, and postcolonial antihistoricism. He mainly discusses these trends with regard to the work of three scholars, each representing one of the trends: Talal Asad, William Connolly, and Dipesh Chakrabarty (though Rosi Braidotti and Judith Butler are also mentioned, as representatives of neo-vitalism and antihistoricism, respectively). While these theoretical developments go some way in critiquing the problematic linkages between secular epistemology and political arrangements, McLennan argues that they are each riddled with inconsistencies. Rather than staking out an antisecular position, these perspectives remain within secularism, contributing to the “secularization of secularism.”

Abstract: In this article, I engage with three overlapping expressions of the increasingly postsecular cast of social and cultural theory. These currents — guided, respectively, by genealogical critique, neo-vitalist social philosophy and postcolonial anti-historicism — seek to problematize the frame of previous radical theorizing by exposing definite connections between the epistemological and political levels of secular understanding, and by assuming that the nature of those linkages counts heavily against secularism. As well as offering an interpretive overview of these contributions, I suggest that they are traversed by a number of conceptual flaws and inconsistencies. The tensions, I argue, stem from the fact that in spite of appearing to be driven by a strong anti-secular thrust, these positionings remain thoroughly intra-secular in character. This needs to be more emphatically acknowledged if the ‘postsecular turn’ is to be productive.

Read the full essay here (sub. required).