November 27, 2013

On October 25-26, Lee Medovoi and Peter Foley of the University of Arizona in Tucson hosted the first international working discussion of the RelSec project, organized around foundational readings chosen by the project partners. The event began with a public conversation with Janet Jakobsen of Barnard College and Mayfair Yang of the University of California at Santa Barbara, which was well attended by the University of Arizona faculty and students as well as members of the public; video of these guest speakers’ prepared responses to the readings, and the Q&A session that followed, will be available soon from the University of Arizona.

The “Religion, Secularism, and Political Belonging” project is one of two experimental CHCI collaborations funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. (Read more about the grant and RelSec here and here.)

The public event was followed by a full day of discussion among the project collaborators, who had flown in from Utrecht University, Tel Aviv University, Portland State University, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. CHCI members from the University of Navarra in Spain also joined the discussion, in addition to several scholars on the UofA faculty. A summary of the main discussion threads and an opportunity to participate in the continuation of the conversation can be found on the newly launched RelSec project website at  The event summary is publicly posted here.  (Note that access to some of the discussion on the website is restricted to project researchers.) Photographs of the event are posted on the FaceBook page of University of Arizona’s Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture.

The four foundational readings that sparked the intensive discussion are:

  • Martin Buber, Kingship of God
  • Jurgen Habermas, “Notes on Post-Secular Society” in Secularism’s Crisis of Faith 
  • Robert A. Orsi, “Snakes Alive,” in Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them
  • Benjamin Schwartz, In Search of Wealth and Power: Yen Fu and the West

The attendees discussed keywords and questions that would inform the local multi-institutional collaborations that each partner center has formed. They plan to continue to communicate about their work both online and, as occasion allows, in person, with a culminating event planned for the summer of 2015 in Tel Aviv.