The Myth of the Secular, Part 1

A detail from the cover of

A detail from the cover of "Rethinking Secularism" edited by Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan Vanantwerpen


All this week, a new series by David Cayley called The Myth of the Secular

Western social theory once insisted that modernization meant secularization and secularization meant the withering away of religion. But religion hasn't withered away, and this has forced a rethinking of the whole idea of the secular. IDEAS producer David Cayley talks to Craig Calhoun, Director of the London School of Economics, and Rajeev Barghava of India's Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

In modern Western societies a powerful ideology divided the world into two opposed domains, the religious and the secular.   Religion was private; the secular was public and political.   As societies modernized, they would become more secular, and religion would gradually lose its remaining public significance.  Until quite recently this was the story told in Western social thought.   But it no longer seems to fit. Religion, far from fading, has grown ever stronger.  And modernization has developed along different lines in different societies

The Myth of the Secular
is a 7-part series presented by David Cayley.  Theologians, anthropologists, sociologists and political philosophers talk about why the old map of the religious and the secular no longer fits the territory.  And about how it might be redrawn. 

Rethinking Secularism, edited by Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan Vanantwerpen, is published by Oxford University Press, 2011.

Listen to other episodes in the series:

The Myth of the Secular, Part 2
The secular is often defined as the absence of religion, but secular society is in many ways a product of religion. In conversation with IDEAS producer David Cayley British sociologist David Martin explores the many ways in which modern secular society continues to draw on the repertoire of themes and images found in the Bible.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 3
Early in the post-colonial era, politics in most Muslim countries were framed in secular and nationalist terms. During the last thirty years, the Islamic revival has dramatically changed this picture. Anthropologist Saba Mahmood talks with IDEAS producer David Cayley about her book, The Politics of Piety.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 4
The Fundamentals was a series of books, published by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles between 1910 and 1915, which tried to set the basics of Christianity in stone. Fundamentalism now refers to any back-to-basics movement. Malise Ruthven's Fundamentalism asks what all these movements have in common, in this feature interview with David Cayley.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 5
"All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts." So wrote German legal theorist Carl Schmitt in a book called Political Theology. American legal theorist Paul Kahn has just published Political Theology: Four New Chapters in which he argues that the foundations of the American state remain theological. He explores this theme with IDEAS producer David Cayley.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 6
In 1990 British theologian John Milbank published a five-hundred-page manifesto called Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. The book argued that theology should stop deferring to social theories that are just second-hand theology and declare itself, once again, the queen of the sciences. The book led, in time, to a movement called "Radical Orthodoxy." IDEAS producer David Cayley profiles John Milbank.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 7
IDEAS producer David Cayley concludes his series with three thinkers who believe that division of the world into the secular and the religious both oversimplifies and impoverishes political and religious life. Political philosopher William Connolly argues for a richer and more inclusive public sphere; historian of religion Mark Taylor calls for a new philosophy of religion; and Fred Dallmayr presents the case for a deeper and more thorough-going pluralism.

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