Post-Secularism and its Precedents: Religious Counterdiscourses to Modernity

Course Description: 

The current upsurge of "postsecular" approaches to the study of history, society, and politics is of vital interest for Religious Studies, which unexpectedly finds itself in the position of a key discipline for the understanding of our cultural world. The early years of the twenty-first century corroborated the observation that religion has advanced from the backwater to the center and that the Social Sciences need to revise analytical and conceptual theoretical approaches of secularization and disenchantment (at least the more deterministic formulations thereof) and in a major theoretical effort uncouple the modern and the secular. The historiographic consequences of this proposed task are patent.
This PhD seminar will discuss critically how the postsecular concept, launched in 2001 by Jürgen Habermas in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, expanded rapidly, how it is marking academic and politicocultural debates, and how it relates to antecedent conception arising both from sociological revisions of modernity and secularization, and older, romantic anti-modernist ideas arising at the time of the French Revolution.
The concept of the postsecular appears as (1) the description of a social reality, (2) a historical narrative, (3) an epistemological model, and (4) a political norm. Our seminar will treat these interconnected aspects one by one, and will therefore inevitably adopt an interdisciplinary perspective.
While postsecular authors have endeavored to provide the Social Sciences with a more adequate conception of the cultural force expressed in the religious traditions, they often confuse descriptive and normative reasoning, references to power and to knowledge. Religions are commonly seen as facts that must be accepted as they are, while secularisms, often crudely conceived, are seen as norms that must be overruled and amended. With its peculiar thematic focus and its disciplinary origins in the modern turn towards secular disenchantment, Religious Studies can decisively contribute to a critical appraisal of what regards itself as the postsecular condition.

Learning Outcomes: 

The “postsecular turn” is to be understood critically as a slogan that students will be encouraged to unpack. Students will distinguish between its analytical potential and its various social functions: reaction to a changing social reality, historical self-reflection, creation of identitarian conceptions and norms, establishment of new alliances between groups and ideological traditions.
Students will be shown ways to include and entangle sociological, philosophical, and political approaches in the research on religion and secularism.
Students will be directed to historicize the postsecular argument of the 21th century by placing it inside the discourse against secular modernity formulated by religious as well as irreligious thinkers.
Students will learn to confront Western thought about religion systematically with parallel discourses from non-European, and especially Islamic religious environments.


50% for two discussion papers relating to themes from the lectures and applying them to a research
subject of the student’s choice
25% for one class preparation and discussion leadership in cooperation with the instructors
25% for regular class work and participation


Doctoral students of the departments of History, Philosophy, Political Science and Sociology will be accepted without further requirements; doctoral students from other CEU departments and all MA students will be accepted on a case-by-case basis with the permission of the instructors, who will take into account their research specialization, qualification, and the recommendation of their supervisor.