Workshop Material Secularities

10 May, 2023

Workshop at the Centre for Advanced Studies „Multiple Secularities – Beyond the West, Beyond
Modernities“, Leipzig University, 21-23 June 2023

• Magnus Echtler, CASHSS Multiple Secularities, Leipzig University
• Birgit Meyer, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Utrecht University
• Nur Yasemin Ural, CASHSS Multiple Secularities, Leipzig University

In the last decades, questions of the material, affective and corporeal aspects of religion have gained a central place within cultural theory. While the “material turn” generated numerous studies and established sub-fields within anthropology, sociology, and the study of religion, there are still few scholars who explore secularity from a materialist and affective perspective. With an interdisciplinary approach, this workshop, tentatively titled “material secularities”, attempts to examine a range of value-laden (and often contested) material-corporeal expressions of secularity, such as the questions of hand-shaking in everyday interactions; halal/kosher food or crosses in public institutions; the one-love-bandage in sports events; national ceremonies; architectural forms of war memorials, etc.
With the “multiple secularities” approach developed at Leipzig University, we take secularities to refer to the various forms in which the social differentiation and conceptual distinction between religious and other realms are politically and culturally arranged. This approach multiplies the regime of “the secular” as usually understood by Asad, while distinguishing it from secularism, the normative and political endeavour to limit the influence of religion. Taking a fresh look at the secular from a material angle, we would like to engage with recent debates on ontology, relationality, and non-human actors that consider things, discourses, and symbols as relevant elements of affective, sensual and aesthetic experiences/expressions.

Hence, our workshop proposes to examine secularity/the secular/secularism as scholarly as well as political categories always in relation to their co-constituent, namely the religious. The relation itself varies, from strict opposition or the ideal of complete separation, over interdependencies as the dialectics of din and dunia, or ōbō and buppō (this-worldly and other-worldly spheres within the Islamicate and Japanese traditions), to incorporation in the form of the culturalization of religion as custom or heritage. Consequently, our foci vary. One of our areas of interest is the investigation of how the boundary work between religious and other social spheres materializes in different parts of the world. Yet, we also wish to draw attention to the possibilities of studying materialized forms of secularity in their own right.

In an extended conversation with the theoretical assumptions of the “Multiple Secularities” project (Wohlrab-Sahr and Kleine 2021), we would like to highlight the methodological and conceptual implications of a material approach to secularity. Secularity is not an abstraction that hovers above everyday life as a mere ideology, but “matters” as it inscribes itself in spaces, bodies and material culture. While taking the perspective of multiple secularities, we would like to bring in a material, affective and spatial dimension to the extensively studied conceptual and discursive distinctions in textual sources. Hence, our workshop addresses questions like: What are concrete
material and corporeal shapes of the secular? What is secular aesthetics, how is secularism experienced sensually inand-beyond consciousness? How does secularity affect ordinary and less ordinary life through law, practice, and discourse? What are the material forms and sensibilities of the secular sacred? How does materiality contribute to the accumulation of authority within secular politics? Finally, how does our attention to secular aesthetics, materiality, and affectivity challenge scholarly secular academic analysis of secularity?

We envision this workshop, which will run over three days, as a constructive conversation based on concrete case materials. Invitees are asked to send us a title and an abstract (200 words) and a short biography by 15 May, and to prepare a 30-minute presentation.