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Differentiating Nonreligion

Panel Chair: Johannes Quack | Friday, August 28, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

There is an apparent growth of research on people who explicitly or implicitly distance(d) themselves in diverse ways from specific religious traditions and ways of life or from religion as such. These studies of “nonreligion” or “nonreligiosity” complement research on secularism and secularity. In our panel, we differentiate specific modes of nonreligion by approaching nonreligious phenomena relationally, i.e. we propose focusing on their various (often co-constitutive) relations towards respective local religious fields in order to contextualize historical transformations and ongoing changes in these religious fields as well as struggles of religious and nonreligious actors about issues of secularism. By interrelating individual biographical factors and the wider socio-cultural, religious, and political contexts shaping distinct understandings and expressions of nonreligiosity, we move ahead of obvious contrasts such as the opposition between indifference to religion on the one hand and various forms of atheism on the other. Focusing on methodologies and concepts of representations and interpretations of such different types / kinds / modes of nonreligion, our panel aims to bring together scholars engaging empirically and theoretically with these questions.

Simeon Wallis

Nonreligion amongst Young People of ‘No Religion’

If nonreligion is ‘anything which is primarily defined by a relationship of difference to religion’ (Lee 2012:131), then researchers must ask critical questions about both the diversity of possible relationships of difference to religion and the diversity of understandings of ‘religion’ that are discernible within the local fields that shape specific research sites. This paper discusses findings from a research project that asked these questions through qualitative interviews with 14- and 15-year-olds in England who report having ‘no religion’. It identifies how ‘religion’ is constructed within the conceptual field of secondary-school religious education (RE), and draws links between this educational context and participants’ own constructions of ‘religion’ as ‘belief’. It then presents findings about the wider lives of these participants, examining the nature of their relationship to their understandings of religion, thereby drawing implications about the concepts employed by researchers in this new field of study.

Thomas Mittmann

Forms of “nonreligiosity” in West Germany since the 1960s

My paper discusses the relation between the Christian Churches and “nonreligiosity” in West Germany since the 1960s. For both denominations this time was the starting point for growing competition from alternative providers not only of religious sense but also of nonreligious world view. After World War II the Christian Churches had been used to be one of the most important cultural institutions for the society, and now they had to struggle with organizations such as the German Freethinker Association (Deutscher Freidenker-Verband, 1951), the Humanistic Union (Humanistische Union, 1961) or the League of Non-Religious (Bund der Konfessionslosen 1972). My personal research interest in this subject is focused on how nonreligiosity formed itself institutional and discursive relationally to the religious field. I will do that by taking a closer look at the positions of the above mentioned and later established organizations in the conflicts about issues of secularism such as the separation of State and Church, the debate about church tax, the discussion about the religious education in State schools, the publicly funded training of theologians at state universities and the state financed Military Chaplaincy, the abortion debate and the conflict about regulating euthanasia.

Susanne Schenk

‘Don’t make it so religious’ – An analysis of how secular humanism is negotiated in Sweden

‘Modes of nonreligion’ differ in their rationalities of nonreligion itself or simply point to distinct strategies of how to promote nonreligious ideals and values. Analysing such different modes, it is not only important to compare seemingly homogenous forms of nonreligion of distinct groups, but also to research the pluralism of such modes within one organization as well as diverging understandings of nonreligion on the individual level. Based on my research about secular humanists in Sweden, my paper discusses the relationship between diverse rationalities and manifestations of nonreligion, how they are negotiated, how compromises are established or conflict lines solidified. This analysis helps to understand the interdependency between competing modes of humanism and generational shifts of nonreligious activism as well as their entanglement with the on-going societal change.

Alexander Blechschmidt

Different “modes of nonreligion”? Analyzing the local diversity of organized nonreligion in the Philippines

How can the concept of different “modes of nonreligion” help to describe and understand the local diversity of nonreligious groups and their socio-political activism in different cultural contexts, and thereby contribute to what Cannell called “a genuine comparative anthropology of secularisms” (2010)? In my paper I focus on two of such nonreligious groups in the Philippines – besides East-Timor the only Christian-dominated country in the region of Southeast Asia – and look at the differences and similarities between them as well as their internal dynamics and changes over time regarding their overall profile and agenda. By analyzing these recently established forms of organized nonreligion, their agency and forms of engagement in struggles over issues of “secularism” in relation to the local-specific religious field and its transformations (cf. Quack 2014), I will illustrate such a complementary potential of differentiating nonreligion to shed new light on the dynamic ensemble of religion, politics and modernity.


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