The Secular Sacred: Emotions of Belonging and the Perils of Nation and Religion in Western Europe
Date: 10 and 11 November 2016
Venue: The Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam
The past decades have witnessed a spectacular rise of both nationalist and religious sentiments across Europe. Indeed, feelings of home, emotional appeals to community and even the ‘people’ (Volk) are entwined with and fueled by the increasing presence of religion in European public spheres, long considered to have been thoroughly secularized. New nationalists and increasingly the continent’s political and cultural elites frame the presence of religion as a threat to the ‘secular’ character of the nation. At the same time, religious ‘roots’, including what is now indicated as ‘Judeo-Christian’ roots, are mobilized as cultural identities. The nation’s secularism has turned sacred, as it were. In this volatile context, both ‘religion’ and ‘secularism’ have become emotionally charged.
The symposium brings together scholars working on issues of nationalism and religion to develop a postsecular approach investigating in tandem the continued and changing presences of religion and nationalism in Europe.
The categories of religion and secularism are categories of practice. They are not fixed, but constantly changing in often highly contested political and social arena’s. Indeed, both categories are frequently mobilized in political projects. For instance, over the past decades nationalists in the Netherlands have framed groups of Dutch citizens with a migrant background (the so-called allochtones) as ‘religious’ and hence ‘backward’, pitting them against a ‘secularized’ and ‘progressive’ but also ‘Judeo-Christian’ Dutch majority. At the same time, forms of religion – Christian, Islamic, and other forms – have continued to gain ground while becoming entangled with identity politics. Not seeking to define the secular or the religious, the symposium will focus on the boundary work through which both categories are being defined, contested, and re-made in social and political practice.
These shifting qualities of secularism and religion call for a praxeological approach, paying particular attention to the involvement of the body, the emotions and the senses or, more specifically, to ‘embodied practices’, ‘sensational forms’ and sense perception (aisthesis). Such an approach sheds light not only on how the nation and the sacred are mediated, but also on how they deeply take root in people, becoming all the more persuasive. At the same time, taking the established notions of habitus or bodily memory as a point of departure may provide us with a more detailed understanding of how practices may both reproduce and (temporarily) subvert the structures of power. How do such insights help us to understand the complexities involved in how a nation’s or a religion’s imaginaries resonate and may reinforce each other?
Invited speakers are: Jan-Willem Duyvendak, Irene Götz (Munich), Deborah Kapchan (New York), Birgit Meyer, Alex van Stipriaan and Jojada Verrips. Speakers from the Meertens Institute include Markus Balkenhol, Sophie Elpers, Ernst van den Hemel, Peter-Jan Margry, Herman Roodenburg, and Irene Stengs.