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2013-14 Symposia

All Graduate Students, Postdocs
and Faculty Welcome

Improper Intimacies and
the Cunning of Secular Power

Mayanthi L. Fernando
University of California, Santa Cruz

October 22, 2013
2:00 - 4:00pm
Salomon Hall 203

A copy of the flyer.

Birth Control: Is it Moral?
Margaret Sanger and
Changing Views of Contraception

Marie Griffith
Washington University

October 8, 2013
4:00 - 6:00pm
Wilson Hall 101

A copy of the reading,
with introductory commentary by Marie Griffith.

A copy of the flyer.

Religion and Internationalism Project Background

For the past several decades, and most evidently since 2001, public and academic debate has been increasingly preoccupied by a putative “return of religion.” A domain of human experience once thought to have been subordinated by “secularization,” religion is now often proclaimed to pose the single greatest challenge to the construction of a liberal international legal and political order – and perhaps slightly less often, as the greatest hope for the preservation and improvement of that order.  Fierce debates on the proper role of religion have moved to the very center of public discussion in countries around the globe.  In the academy, inquiries into the contingent and contested meanings of the key terms in this debate – such as “religion,” “secularization,” and “the international” – have occupied scholars in disciplines ranging from sociology, political science, and international relations to law, religious studies, philosophy, and literature.  High-profile controversies have brought these issues into focus around the world, particularly in those areas in which the boundaries both between religion and secularity and between European and non-European cultures have been the subject of intense contestation – of which the debates about the legal, political, and cultural identity of countries like Turkey, India, and France provide some of the clearest and most urgent examples. 

To address these issues, we embarked in 2010 on a long-term research project, including colloquia open to faculty and graduate students, periodic public lectures, and, ultimately, a series of conferences.  The colloquia have begun building the broad scholarly network required to address this global and interdisciplinary topic. The colloquia bring together faculty and graduate students from a variety of disciplines, as well as invited speakers from outside Brown.   

Our investigations are guided by the axiom that none of the key terms in this debate – “religion,” “secularization,” and “the international” –  refers to an ahistorical or uncontroversial essence, but rather, has each been continually subject to theoretical and practical contestation and reconfiguration.   Our inquiries are also informed by the hypothesis that the genealogies of these three terms lie at the deepest levels of the construction of the modern West – as well as the modern construction of much of the rest of the world through the processes of colonialism, anti-colonialism, and, more recently, “globalization.” We are concerned not simply with the endurance, return or end of religion on the international scene, but rather with the role of religion and secularization in the modern construction of international society, and vice versa. 

In the course of our explorations, we will examine not only the contingency and contestability of the three terms that form the title of our project, but also the very meaning of modernity as it has been articulated across a wide range of disciplines.  We will, therefore, be inclined to refuse the conundrum of whether religion is a problem or a resource for a modern world order, favoring instead the articulation of alternative notions of what such an order might entail and how the construction of these alternative orders are deeply associated with divergent constructions of our three key terms.  The distinctiveness of our approach to these inquiries stems in part from the disciplinary range we bring to this project.  Our inquiries into alternative constructions of the religious/secular/international order range from rethinking legal structures to reconstructing theologies to reimagining cultural and political orders.


Nathaniel Berman
Cogut Center for the Humanities

Nukhet A. Sandal
Watson Institute

Thomas A. Lewis
Religious Studies

Bhrigupati Singh
Watson Institute