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Organization, Regulations, and Courses 2018-19

MALS 287 Religion & Politics in a Post-Secular World: Rethinking Secularization

Narratives about the emergence of European modernity often link the rise of the modern nation state and the triumph of Enlightenment rationality with the decline of religion in a process of secularization. With an increasing separation of religion and politics, the story goes, religion is relegated to the private sphere while a civic politics occupies the public sphere. A globalized world characterized by networks of communication and cultural exchange might appear, then, as the epitome of a cosmopolitan capitalism and its secular ethos.
In the last two decades, however, this narrative of secularization has been called into question in the midst of a “return of religion” in a “post-secular society.” Scholarship on political theology, meanwhile, has shown how modern politics and its concept of sovereign power adopt and appropriate religious forms of thought in their secular institutions. Instead of secularization as the decline of religion, critics are rethinking secularization in terms of a hidden afterlife of religion in a secular modernity that is unable to cast aside its theological roots.
The course will examine how the return of religion and political theology are transforming politics in a globalized and post-national European modernity. In what ways might religion undergird the call for a “radical Enlightenment” that exceeds national boundaries? How might a post-secular society entertain a dialogue of religion and the secular through mutual translation? How might religion provide a basis not only for the theory of sovereign power but for forms of resistance in which the public sphere is contested?
We will tackle these questions through readings of classical texts (Luther, Hobbes, Spinoza, Kant, Schmitt) alongside the work of twentieth-century and contemporary German, French, and Anglo-American critics (de Vries, Casanova, Hardt and Negri, Arendt, Lefort, Foucault, Said, Löwith, Blumenberg, Habermas, Taylor, Asad).


Michael McGillen