Conference on "Religion in the Public Sphere" in Aarhgus May 2008


International Conference at the Faculty of Theology, University of Aarhus May 14 - 16 2008.
See program of conference  here.

The conference in the press:
Kristeligt Dagblad 15/05/08: "Habermas:  Vi skal tolerere det vi afviser"
Blog by M. S. Mogensen: "Religion i det offentlige rum"

Professor Jürgen Habermas, "A "post-secular" society - what does that mean?
The thesis about modernization and secularization is based upon:

  • Procgress in science and technology
  • Differentiation of social substems
  • Greater welfare in post-industrial societies.

Religion, however,

did not disappear, but we saw an resurgence of religion:

  • Advance of conservative religious groups
  • Fundamentalism
  • Political unleashing of potential for violence in religion

religion_in_public_sphere_p.gifPost-secular societies are societies which have undergone structural secularization, but where religions still play a significant role. The public consciousness of "post-secular societies" is influenced by:

  • global conflict hinging on religious strife
  • Growing influnce of religion in national public spheres
  • Immigration - visible and vibrant religious immigrant communities

We are moving from an uneasy modus vivendi to a balance between shared citizenship and cultural difference. Tolerance is not only a question of legislation but of practice in everyday life.

We witness a "Kulturkampf" between radical multiculturalism and militant secularism: Defence of cultural identities versus inclusion of minorities in existing political framework.

What we need in a "post-secular society" are complementary leaning processes betwen religious and secular mentalities. Learning processes both on the religious and the secular side. "Secular citizens are expected not to exclude a fortiori that they may discover even in religious utterances semantic contents and overt personal intuitions that can be translated and introduced into a secular discourse".

See an article in German on the same topic: "Die Dialektik der Säkularisierung".


Grace Davie, ”New Patterns of Religion in Europe”
In her lecture Grace Davie emphasized that to understand the religious scene in Europe in the 21. century we have to remember the legacies of the of the past, in particular the role of the historic churches in shaping European cultures. Europe was formed as an amalgam of Judeo-Christian monotheism, Greek rationalism and Roman organization. The enduring power of the Christian heritage is seen in the way we still order time and space in Europe.

In spite of the ongoing secularization churches have not lost their significance as markers of religious identity. Davie here focused on her concept of vicarious religion, by which she means “the notion of religion performed by an active minority but on behalf of a much larger number, who (implicitly at least) not only understand, but, quite clearly, approve of what the minority is doing.” Among other things this involves that churches offer space for debate regarding particular and often controversial topics that are difficult to address elsewhere in society. The concept of vicarious religion helps us to understand how religious institutions matter even to those who are not “participating” in them in the conventional sense of the term. Vicarious religion, however, is not found in the US.
Davie furthermore observed that the nature of churchgoing is changing in modern Europe – from a culture of obligation or duty to a culture of consumption or choice. This development is compatible with the concept of vicarious religion. “The churches need to be there in order that I may attend them if I so chose.” Davie found that two type of churches are thriving in terms of churchgoers,i.e., conservative evangelical churches and cathedrals or city-center churches. The common feature of the two is the experiential or “feel-good” factor whether this be expressed in charismatic worship or in the tranquillity of cathedral evensong. The point is that wee feel something, we experience the sacred, the set apart. The purely cerebral is less appealing.
The final factor in the complicated mosaic of religion in Europe in the 21st century is the new arrivals, the growing number of immigrants in almost all European societies. One of the major effects of this for the religious life in Europe is the growing presence of other faith communities in general and of the Muslim population in particular. Their presence is challenging some deeply held European assumptions, in particular the notion that faith is a private matter and should, therefore, be proscribed from public life. This has reopened the debate of religion in the public sphere.
In conclusion Davie noted that the religious situation in Europe will remain distinctive (if not exceptional) given the legacies of the past, but it will now remain static. How the situation will change is difficult to predict. Davie, however, thinks that vicarious religion will endure at least until the mdi-century, but not for much longer. She knows that the presence of Isdlam is a crucal factor that we ignore at our peril. Not only does it offer an additional choice, but it has become a catalyst of a much more profound change in the religious landscape of Europe. Finally, she concludes that the importance of religion in the private as well as public sphere will not decrease but rather increase. This tendency is encouraged by the ver more obvious presence of religion in the modern world order. In this respect, the world is more likely to influence the religious life of Europe than the other way round.
Photos from conference
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