Secularism and “post-secularism” studies have been big over the last few years (just click on the “Secularism” tag below for a small sampling), and it looks like they will continue to attract scholarly attention in 2013. Here’s an interesting looking entry in the field, Beyond Church and State: Religion, Politics, and Democracy (Cambridge University Press 2013), by Matthew Scherer (Union College, New York). The publisher’s description follows.
Secularism is often imagined in Thomas Jefferson’s words as “a wall of separation between Church & State.” Religion, Politics, and Democracy moves past that standard picture to argue that secularism is a process that reshapes both religion and politics. Borrowing a term from religious traditions, the book goes further to argue that this process should be understood as a process of conversion. Matthew Scherer studies Saint Augustine, John Locke, John Rawls, Henri Bergson, and Stanley Cavell to present a more accurate picture of what secularism is, what it does, and how it can be reimagined to be more conducive to genuine democracy.
A fight is developing between First Things blogger Matthew Cantirino and Georgetown Professor Jacques Berlinerblau over a description of Berlinerblau’s new class on secularism. Last Friday, the Washington Post profiled Berlinerblau’s class, which the Post described as an engaging, fair, but perhaps tendentious freshman seminar that had as its central theme the need for separating religion and public life. The Post used the class as an example of the burgeoning field of Secular Studies in American universities, a development some liken to the creation of Women’s Studies departments a couple of generations ago. Yesterday, Cantirino discussed the Post article, including its suggestion that courses like Berlinerblau’s might be an occasion for “academic indoctrination” (Cantirino’s words). This morning, on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website, Berlinerblau demanded an apology. I’ll let Cantirino respond for himself, but maybe Berlinerblau should demand an apology from the Post reporter, since the article Cantirino was discussing says that over the course of the semester Berlinerblau had “managed to change the minds of most of his students,” including at least one who came into the class suspicious of secularism. That’s not indicative of indoctrination, of course, but it does suggest that Berlinerblau was trying to convince students of a particular point of view, and that seems to be the sense in which Cantirino was using the phrase. Read the exchange for yourself.