Ludwig-Uhland-Institut für Empirische Kulturwissenschaft

International Symposium

“Secular Bodies, Affects, and Emotions”

Date February 11-13, 2016
Venue Schloss Hohentübingen (Fürstenzimmer), Universität Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Monique Scheer, Universität Tübingen, Ludwig-Uhland-Institut für Empirische Kulturwissenschaft
Prof. Dr. Birgitte Schepelern Johansen, University of Copenhagen, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies
Prof. Dr. Nadia Fadil, KU Leuven, Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities Research Centre

Supported by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung


With few exceptions, studies of secularity and the secular have not paid much attention to its embodied dimensions and lived practices. Approached either as a form of social and political arrangement, as a particular ideological project or as a way of grasping the changing and diminishing role of religion in modern societies, secularity has most often been examined at the macro-level. While the study of religion has long taken a ‘material’ and ‘emotional’ turn, increasingly being investigated through the lens of practices, embodied experiences and emotional attachments, the same cannot be said for the study of the secular.

In fact, ‘the secular’ itself as an object of study has only been recently discovered. Leading the way are recent studies in the fields of anthropology, sociology, historical and political sciences, which have argued for a critical perspective on our conceptualizations of the secular. They suggest viewing the process of secularization no longer as a gradual “disenchantment” of society, a falling away of religious beliefs and practices, but instead to understand the secular as a grammar, which is accompanied by a distinct set of material and embodied practices. A central characteristic of secular societies resides, so it is suggested, in the consistent and continuous preoccupation with, or problematization of, ‘religion’ (Agrama 2012). It is precisely through this deliberation of what counts as ‘religious’ that ‘the secular’ comes to light (Asad 2003). Developing an anthropology of the secular, therefore means paying as much attention to these moments of non-articulation as it implies identifying and studying institutions and practices that are explicitly identified as secular.

Furthermore, examining the affective contours of social controversies and practices is also helpful for identifying and locating the operations of the secular. What kind of emotional languages and engagements do people deploy towards ‘things’ (ideas, institutions, practices) labeled as secular? Is there a kind of ‘secular affect’ in the sense that Saba Mahmood has argued (2009), which emerges from an embodied attachment to secular ideals such as ‘free speech’? Or, as Charles Hirschkind asks in his reflections on Asad and Connolly (2011): Is there a secular body? Does secularity invite or even entail a specific habitus or ‘feeling rules’, appropriate reactions and displays? Are there specifically secular emotional practices, and are they identified as such by social actors? How are such rules and practices cultivated and challenged? And how can we analytically approach and appropriately theorize emotional and affective dimensions of the secular? And finally, how do we tackle the challenges of the anthropology of the secular, this ‘negative’ category, defined by what it is not? How do we disentangle the habits and styles of secularism, secular humanism, and (liberal) Protestantism (Engelke 2014) to identify a specifically ‘secular’ body?

Contributions to the workshop will be pre-circulated. The participants will present their papers only briefly to give more time to discussants’ responses and the general discussion. Special keynote lecturers have also been invited. A limited number of auditors can be admitted to the workshop, so we ask that you register well in advance of the deadline with elisabeth.sochaspam

Agrama, Hussein Ali (2012) Questioning Secularism: Islam, Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law in Modern Egypt. Chicago: U Chicago Press; Asad, Talal (2003) Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford: Stanford U Press; Engelke, Matthew (2014) Christianity and the Anthropology of Secular Humanism. Current Anthropology 55 (S10):292-301; Hirschkind, Charles (2011) Is There a Secular Body? Cultural Anthropology 26 (4):633-47; Mahmood, Saba (2009) Religious Reason and Secular Affect: An Incommensurable Divide? Critical Inquiry 35 (4):836-62.


Thursday, 11 February 2016

14:00 Welcome Address, Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences
Welcome by the Organizers
Section I: Secular Feelings in Urban Spaces
14.30 Marian Burchardt/Mar Griera: Seeing and Being Seen in Public Space. The Burka Ban and Affective Regimes of Urban Visibility
15.15 Claudia Liebelt: Secular Self-Fashioning Against ‘Islamization’. Aesthetic Body Modification and Beauty Work Among Secular Middle-Class Women in Post-Gezi Istanbul
16.00 Coffee break
16.30 Judith Dehail: (E)Motionless Museum? The Institution Under the Scrutiny of Affects. The Case of the Musical Instrument Museum
17.15 Lionel Obadia: Beyond the Sacred Metaphor. Body, Experience, and ‘Transcendence’ in Modern Soccer
18.00 Short break
18.15 Evening Lecture: Charles Hirschkind, Is There a Secular Body?

Friday, 12 February 2016

Section II: Bodily Practices of Secularist Rituals
9.00 Katie Aston: Formations of the Secular Wedding. Love and Romance in a Secular Age
9.45 Lois Lee: ‘But it Feels Rational!’ Materialist Existential Cultures and the ‘Religious Habitus’
10.30 Coffee break
11.00 Karsten Lichau: Profaning Silent Bodies. Cultivating Secular Gestures and Emotions in the Minute’s Silence
11.45 Carolin Kosuch: Secular Feelings About the Corpse? Examining Cremation in 19th Century Italy and Germany
12:30 Midday Lecture: Matthew Engelke, Expertly Secular. Humanist Ritual Training in England
13.30 Lunch break
Section III: Rituals for the Nation
15:00 Ami Kobayashi: (E)Motion for Nation-Building in Gymnasium in Berlin (1873–1915)
15:45 Gertrud Hüwelmeier: Venerating Ho Chi Minh. Religious Practices in Socialist Vietnam
16.30 Coffee break
17:00 Géraldine Mossière: Women Embodying Secularism. The Affective Construction of Collective Memory in Quebec
17.45 Short break
18.15 Evening Lecture: Rebekka Habermas, Secularism in the Long 19th Century Between the Global and the Local

Saturday, 13 February 2016

9:30 Morning Lecture: Pamela Klassen, Secular Sublime. Thinking with Bodies
10:30 Coffee break
Section IV: Body Politic – Citizenship, State Power, and the Body
11:00 Jennifer A. Selby: Secularizing Muslim French Bodies Through Marriage Legislation
11:45 Stacey Gutkowski: Is There a Secular Phenomenology of War and Conflict? A Case from Israel and Palestine
12.30 Lunch break
13:30 Schirin Amir-Moazami: Producing Loyal Citizens. Citizenship and the Regulation of the ‘Muslim Question’ in Germany
14:15 Ruth Streicher: Unpacking ‘Religion’ in the Southern Thai Conflict. Practices of Body and Affect in Military Counterinsurgency
15.00 Short break
15:15 Final discussion (with coffee)
16:00 End of conference