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Secularisation: History, Meaning, and Scope

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. This workshop is going to deal with these issues.


Sat., Apr. 28, 2012
09:00am - 8:00pm


Unter den Linden 9, Altes Palais
Figure: Rechtskulturen

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.

Rechtskulturen integrates, as a network of interdisciplinary research on law, systematic and area-specific approaches. The program explores the foundations and contexts of law in a plural world where competitive and complementary multiplicities of legal and normative orders are part of social reality.


09:00 – 09:15 Welcome and Introduction

09:15 – 10:45 Secularisation and historiography

Günther Lottes, Henk Nellen, Yvonne Sherwood, Jan Waszink, Thomas Ahnert
Moderator: James Livesey

10:45 – 11:00 Refreshments

11:00 – 12:30 Secularisation and the state

Alexander Schmidt, Ioannis Evrigenis, Andreas Kalyvas, Paul Cliteur
Moderator: Tarik Kochi

12:30 – 14:00 Lunch

14:00 – 15:30 Secularisation, colonialism and the law of nations

Laurens Winkel, Samantha Besson, Antony Anghie, Tarik Kochi
Moderator: Hans Blom

15:30 – 15:45 Refreshments

15:45 – 17:15 Secularisation and method

Lea Campos Boralevi, James Livesey, Paschalis Kitromilides, Hans Blom
Moderator: Ioannis Evrigenis

17:15 – 17:30 Refreshments

17:30 – 19:00 Secularisation: a research agenda

Detailed information

Further information

Director: Mark Somos

Zur Website der Veranstaltung

Phone: +49 30 89001-254
Fax: +49 30 89001-100


Unter den Linden 9, 10099 Berlin