In Owning the Secular: Religious Symbols, Culture Wars, Western Fragility (Routledge, 2021), Matt Sheedy, Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Bonn, Germany, examines three case studies dealing with religious symbols and cultural identity. Drawing on theories of discourse analysis and ideology critique, this study calls attention to an evolution in how secularism, nationalism, and multiculturalism in Europe and North America are debated and understood as competing groups contest and rearrange the meaning of these terms. This is especially true in the digital age as online cultures have transformed how information is spread, how we imagine our communities, build alliances, and produce shared meaning.
From recent attempts to prohibit religious symbols in public, to Trump’s so-called Muslim bans, to growing disenchantment with the promises of digital media, Owning the Secular turns the lens how nation-states, organizations, and individuals attempt to "own" the secular to manage cultural differences, shore up group identity, and stake a claim to some version of Western values amidst the growing uncertainties of neoliberal capitalism. In our conversation we discussed the secular, secularization, and secularism, the role of social media in contemporary cultural wars, anxieties about veiling practices in secular societies, the use of law in governing religion, the New Atheist movement, ex-Muslims, and how media shapes public understandings of Muslims.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at [email protected]
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