A New U.S. Collaboration for the RelSec Project

September 12, 2013

With the move of the “Religion, Secularism, and Political Belonging” (RelSec) project’s lead Principal Investigator, Lee Medovoi, from Portland State University to the University of Arizona in August 2013, the administrative center of this international collaboration also moved from Portland to Tuscon.  Two CHCI member centers at the University of Arizona joined the project: the Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture in the College of Humanities and the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry.  Together with the Portland Center for Public Humanities, they form the joint U.S. pillar of RelSec’s international collaborative structure.  RelSec is one of CHCI's collaborative projects generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

University of Arizona

At the University of Arizona, a new interdisciplinary RelSec research team of thirteen members draws from ten humanities and social science departments. They will join their partner team at Portland State in exploring “Currencies of the Religious and the Secular.”  The U.A. team will meet twice each semester to host its programs, discuss the members’ research projects, and build outreach plans with the other center teams.  The Arizona team is also planning a symposium in Spring 2014 that will examine the persistence of the sacred within the secular modern.

Portland State University

The Portland Center for Public Humanities organized a research team of twelve scholars drawn from the faculty at Portland State University, Reed College, Lewis & Clark College, and other local institutions.  The team has met several times to refine its research agenda, which it calls “Currencies of the Religious and the Secular.” This title reflects two focal points for its investigations.  First, the team will explore the porous borders and energetic flows between religious and secular domains, inquiring into their mutual interdependencies.  It will also pay particular attention to the market, exploring the religious elements associated with the circulation of secular value.  A workshop will take place this fall as an opening event.  In June 2013, the research team met to discuss readings by Robert Orsi and Jürgen Habermas as preparation for the project-wide RelSec inaugural event on October 25 (see below).  This group will meet again in September to discuss the remaining two foundational readings for the RelSec project, by Martin Buber and Benjamin Schwartz.

Inaugural Event in October

In the first half of 2013, the Portland Center for Public Humanities coordinated and planned RelSec’s project-wide launch events for October 25-26, 2013, which are now being relocated to Tucson.  Ten scholars from the five research teams will converge on Tucson to engage in the opening weekend of the program.  (In addition to the U.S. team, these include researchers from CHCI-member humanities centers at the University of Utrecht, the University of Tel Aviv, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.)  The launch will begin with a public presentation, an Inaugural Conversation between Professors Janet Jakobsen (Barnard College) and Mayfair Yang (University of California, Santa Barbara), which will use foundational readings as a point of departure for an open discussion of the common research agenda.  On the next day, an intensive workshop will be held during which representatives of each team will present the rationale for that team’s research plan and choice of foundational texts. Professors Jakobsen and Yang will assist in developing the shared keywords and research questions that the teams will then bring back to their respective institutions, and that will form the basis for ongoing translocal dialogues while the teams engage in their parallel projects.

This is the first in a series of posts about the RelSec project.  We will post more news soon about project activities in Tel Aviv, Utrecht, and Hong Kong.