RelSec Update: Utrecht University

October 4, 2013

In its role as one of the project partners in CHCI’s Mellon-funded Religion, Secularism, and Political Belonging (RelSec) project, the Centre for Humanities at Utrecht University has during the first half of 2013 held several planning meetings and chosen topics for special investigation.

The Utrecht team will focus on the themes of citizenship, modes of belonging, religion, secularism and social equality. The project is guided by the following principal questions: what is the ongoing relevance of religion as a constitutive feature of political belonging across the globe?  How do we explain the role of religion in political attachments (nationalism, conservatism, socialism, neoliberalism, but also European integration) that we think of primarily as grounded in the secular? How do secular values and considerations often shape both individual and collective religious affiliations and practices? Topics for special investigation will include: citizenship and nationalism, the role of local communities in globalized religious currents (the ‘glocal’), the status of (religious) minorities and immigrants, the role of sovereignty in a globalized context, state regulation of religion, EU-integration and skepticism, gender, feminism, the influence of (mass-)media on the role of religion and the materiality of religion.

The research team members will participate in the “Political Belonging” seminar series in Autumn 2013 organized by the Centre, as well as contribute to the online platform to be hosted by the University of Arizona to facilitate interaction with the different participating centers across the globe. Also the team will convene every six weeks for a colloquium on political belonging, discussing a text written by one of the researchers.

Currently, in preparation for the project’s inaugural event in Arizona in October, two research team members are writing a text in which they outline their relation to the selected pivotal text for Utrecht, Habermas' “Notes on a Post-Secular Society.”

In collaboration with the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, the first of a regular series of seminars hosted by the Centre took place during Spring 2013, with an investigation of neo-conservatism, religion, and political belonging, specifically the rise of nationalism in Western European countries and the appeal to 'Judeo-Christian roots' in contemporary political debates in the Netherlands. Specific topics for the continuation of the series in the Fall have also been chosen.

In addition, the Centre will host public lectures and intensive seminars with pivotal scholars in the field of postsecularism. In the spring, Prof. Saba Mahmood visited the Centre for a public lecture and an intensive research seminar; this session was a convincing example of interaction between high-level international scholarship and the Centre for the Humanities. The next lecture-workshop is planned October 17-18, with Simon Critchley of The New School, New York.

Finally, as the field of religion and secularism and political belonging is very much a hot topic in Dutch society now, the Centre will also organize, on an irregular basis, a public debate, in collaboration with a non-University venue, that will allow scholarly work and currents in society to interact in a way accessible to a broad audience. The Centre is preparing an event on November 27, 2013 entitled “Gimme that old time religion: Religion, Nationalism, and Dutch Identity,” in which speakers from academia, journalists, representatives of religious groups, and politicians will participate.