Rechtskulturen Workshop
Sat 28 Apr 2012 | 09:00–19:00

Secularisation: History, Meaning, and Scope

Convener: Mark Somos (Rechtskulturen Fellow 2011-2012)

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Juristische Fakultät, Room 213, Unter den Linden 9, 10099 Berlin

The question behind this Symposium presented itself readily: when, how, why, and to what extent did religious justifications fade out from mainstream legal, political, and scientific arguments in the West? That they largely did is a fact, historical and stubborn. Not only the causes and mechanisms of this highly significant change are unclear, even its label is contested.

The term ‘secularisation’ has a bad press today. There are good and bad reasons for this. They range from a healthy suspicion of sweeping generalisations and of ideology-driven models of progress to increasing overspecialisation and thickening walls between the disciplines, including legal history, political science, anthropology, and sociology.

This Symposium aims to consider the revival, meaning, significance, limits, and future usage of ‘secularisation.’ Do recent uses have anything in common, or contribute to a future common sense? Can the term become inter- and multi-disciplinary without self-deconstruction or renewed over-simplifications? That is, has secularisation one cogent history, or is it at best a collection of micro-histories? Can it help to explain the success of early modern colonialism? How about the reprioritisation of natural over divine law, and the new options to replace Christian with alternative metaphysics, or with civic and commercial morality? Can and should the emerging usage of the term be guided toward current concerns, from the autonomy of the religious experience to the viability of the disenchanted political? Or has secularism, the norm and end-point of secularisation as a process, now become so closely associated with rationalism and modernity that it cannot be contested without appearing retrograde?

Or are such questions mis-posed, because the historical range of the current revival is limited to the Reformation and the Enlightenment? Are Bentham, Burke, and other critics of post-Kantian moral philosophy relevant here too, and has political theology returned in the nineteenth century under protean guises of nationalism, cosmopolitanism, a culturally partisan human rights discourse, metaphysically founded national exceptionalisms and self-positionings of “friends of man” states like Britain, the US, France and Prussia, or the shift in international law from the sufficiency of self-declared sovereignty to a status bestowed by a self-appointed club of ‘civilised’ states? Were secularised norms spread around the world by early modern imperialists, or was the process critically uneven in both depth and breadth? Can any conceivable history of secularisation contribute to understanding the modern state’s and international community’s inability to prevent and resolve conflicts that have a religious dimension, from home-grown terrorism, through the regular failure of territorial nation-states, majority rule, international arbitration and other techniques of post-conflict state-building, to the integration of Muslim immigrants in the West?

These questions, and others that rephrase them into a different vocabulary, are what brings together scholars from law, history, philosophy, and political science.


Secularisation: History, Meaning, and Scope

09:00 – 09:15 Welcome and Introduction


Günther Lottes
Professor und Lehrstuhl für Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit. Universität Potsdam, Germany

Henk Nellen

C. Louise Thijssen-Schoute Professor in the History of Ideas in the Early Modern Period. School of History, Culture and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Yvonne Sherwood
Professor of Bible, Religion and Culture. School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow, UK

Jan Waszink
Assistant Professor in Early Modern History. School of History, Culture and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Thomas Ahnert
Senior Lecturer. School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, UK

Moderator: James Livesey

10:45 – 11:00 Refreshments


Alexander Schmidt
Juniorprofessur für Intellectual History. Forschungszentrum Laboratorium Aufklärung, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Germany

Ioannis Evrigenis
Associate Professor. Department of Political Science, Secondary Appointment in Classics. Tufts University, USA

Andreas Kalyvas
Associate Professor of Politics. The New School for Social Research, NYC, USA. Visiting Research Professor, University of Barcelona, Spain

Paul Cliteur
Professor of Jurisprudence. Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of the Law, Leiden University, The Netherlands

Moderator: Tarik Kochi

12:30 – 14:00 Lunch


Laurens Winkel
Professor, Chair of Legal History, Faculty of Law. Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Samantha Besson
Professor of Public International Law and European Law. Université de Fribourg, Switzerland. Fellow, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Germany

Antony Anghie
Samuel D. Thurman Professor of Law. S.J. Quinney School of Law, University of Utah, USA

Tarik Kochi
Senior Lecturer in Law and International Security. Sussex Law School and Centre for Social and Political Thought, UK

Moderator: Hans Blom

15:30 – 15:45 Refreshments


Lea Campos Boralevi
Professor of the History of Political Thought. Dipartimento di Studi Storici e Geografici, University of Florence, Italy

James Livesey
Professor of History, Head of Department. University of Sussex, UK

Paschalis Kitromilides
Professor of Political Science. Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Athens, Greece

Hans Blom
Professor, Kulturgeschichte der europäischen Aufklärung. Universität Potsdam, Germany

Moderator: Ioannis Evrigenis

17:15 – 17:30 Refreshments


Moderator: Mark Somos
Rechtskulturen Research Fellow. Forum Transregionale Studien, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and Humboldt-Universität, Juristische Fakultät, Germany

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