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ISEK - Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies The Diversity of Nonreligion


Projektbild Niederlande

Ph.D. Research Project: Cora Schuh, M.A.

Nonreligion as the other to religion, something fundamentally shaped by its opposition towards a specific notion and institutionalization of religion is central to our project. Nonreligion in a highly religious country, within which a church or religious leaders can determine the scope of the religious field, will be different from nonreligion in a secular majority society, where fault lines with religion are less obvious. The emergence of a “New Atheism”, public campaigns of skeptic or rationalists organizations have stirred interest in avowed nonreligious groups or movements. Explicitly non- or antireligious movements though, are but one type of carrier groups of the secular, which can and has fed on diverse traditions, narratives and values.

Particular for the Dutch situation, is that until the 1960s and 70s the secular was organized as distinct worldviews within a confessional logic. In the second half of 20th century secularization and liberalization led to the emergence of a secular majority. Still religion to some extent constitutes a fault line in society – with a somewhat religious-secular-dichotomy in politics, as well as old and new religious minorities. For about a decade now the place of religion has become a matter of public political contestations, especially but not exclusively with regards to the place of Islam. In line with a pluralistic tradition, the Netherlands had long fostered an approach towards integration now rejected as multiculturalism. Rising populism has placed a critique on Islam and multiculturalism on the agenda, but a concern for religion and progressive values is much broader shared, and fused with a concern for national identity, social cohesion, active citizenship and public morals. Debates on integration have seen articulations of diverse and competing secular visions as well as different ways to tackle and manage religion. Fault lines are manifold and changing.

Often, nonreligion is construed as identical with 19th century ideological movements and the more or less vibrant forms they take in present times. The relation between this tradition of nonreligion and other carrier groups of the secular is itself a matter of changing positioning and seems conceptually not completely clear. The project aims to see, in what way the category of nonreligion can be applied fruitfully for analyzing position taking within secular discourse.