The Role of Religion in Post-Secularism: a Partial Arab Perspective

The Role of Religion in Post-Secularism: a Partial Arab Perspective

A Paper by Father Boulos Marwan Wehbe, Professor of Religion and Cultural and Social Studies, Notre Dame University, Archpriest, Orthodox Archdiocese of Beirut, presented at Ninth Rhodes Forum Session, October 2011

Religions certainly can contribute to fostering social harmony and peace, locally and globally, but only if they strive to extract from within themselves values which help to focus and promote the dignity of man, and the call for them is to stress on the common grounds which bind them and to work together and with all the sectors and trends to highlight this dignity.

Ingolf U. Dalferth, of Claremont Graduate University, School of Religion, in contradiction with the popular belief which says that “a post-secular society is often defined as one with a renewed interest in the spiritual life,” asserts that “post-secular societies are neither religious nor secular, they do not prescribe or privilege a religion, but neither do they actively and intentionally refrain from doing so. They are neither for nor against religion(s) but rather take no stand on this matter because it is irrelevant for their self-understanding and without import for the way in which they define themselves. For them, religion has ceased to be something to which a society or a state has to relate in embracing, rejecting, prescribing, negating, or allowing it. People may or may not be religious, but states and societies are not, and hence there is no need for them to be secular anymore.” (http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/content/78/2/317.abstract)

Jürgen Habermas in “Notes on a Post-Secular Society” asserts that in terms of sociological indicators, the religious behavior and convictions of the local populations have by no means changed to such an extent as to justify labeling these societies "post-secular" (http://www.signandsight.com/features/1714.html)

“The idea that modernity leads to a lessening religious belief is being abandoned by theorists in America and Europe. Figures like Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling argue that increasingly religion seeks to impinge on science, and now the first systematic study of European cultural groups predicts that fundamentalists of all religions are out-breeding moderates and atheists, and will eclipse them quite soon,” according to a podcast from BBC Thinking Allowed broadcast on Monday 10th April 2010.

Nevertheless, global changes and the visible conflicts that flare up in connection with religious issues give us reason to doubt whether the relevance of religion has waned. What we are witnessing today asserts a double-perspective, or 2 non-mutually exclusive ones. The first is that religion is still very much present in the world, even in the West, and that, as Andre Malraux had prophesized, the 21st century will either be a religious century or it will not, contrary to those in his days embracing a view of modernity which almost excludes religion. The second perspective or flip of the coin is that religion is a force that is learning to coexist and function with other forces of society.

I give the example of what has been coined “The Arab Spring,” i.e, what happened and is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Bahrain and many other parts of the Arab World. Many believed, or were led to believe, that the alternative to the toppled regimes will be the taking over of Islamists, but this has not taken place. Civic or civil society rose with all its diversity and collaborated in all its diversity. I am not making a political statement but rather an observation about the fabric of society and the dynamics that interplay within it. Religion remains very much an integral part of the culture of our societies and motivates thinking and behavior to a large extent. But the forces of globalization and the opening up of the means of communication have awakened and sharpened a longing for freedom and expression, which is necessitating a new direction in the making regarding what is to come, which we cannot fully recognize with crystal clarity yet. Religion did not and will not wane, but it is carving its place amid changes on the socio-political and socio-economic levels.

But if this what is happening in the Arab World, what is happening in the West give is also embracing religion albeit in a different way than in the West, where modernity was preached as the herald of the rapid waning down of religion. And despite the fact that Richard Dawkins gave a title to his book “The God Delusion” and that Stephen Hawking said that God was not needed to explain the creation of the universe, the very fact that they, along many others, are investigating this proves that Religion is still very much at the heart of the human psyche and outreach, even though new forms or religiosity are developing in the West along the growing number of converts to the Eastern religions, Islam included. A statement or action of a lunatic, whether calling for burning the Quran or prophesying the day of doom make headlines faster than anything else.

Religions are at the very heart of Post-secularism today but not necessarily in the same direction, depending on the context within which it is operating. This double-perspective I have mentioned is moving on, alongside all the other forces of society, and I do believe that it will remain to do so for an unforeseeable future. Religions certainly can contribute to fostering social harmony and peace, locally and globally, but only if they strive to extract from within themselves values which help to focus and promote the dignity of man, and the call for them is to stress on the common grounds which bind them and to work together and with all the sectors and trends to highlight this dignity.

The Role of Religion in Post-Secularism: a Partial Arab Perspective

A Paper by Father Boulos Marwan Wehbe, Professor of Religion and Cultural and Social Studies, Notre Dame University, Archpriest, Orthodox Archdiocese of Beirut, presented at Ninth Rhodes Forum Session, October 2011

Religions certainly can contribute to fostering social harmony and peace, locally and globally, but only if they strive to extract from within themselves values which help to focus and promote the dignity of man, and the call for them is to stress on the common grounds which bind them and to work together and with all the sectors and trends to highlight this dignity

Keywords: post-secularism, religion, modernity, global changes, civil society

Ingolf U. Dalferth, of Claremont Graduate University, School of Religion, in contradiction with the popular belief which says that “a post-secular society is often defined as one with a renewed interest in the spiritual life,” asserts that “post-secular societies are neither religious nor secular, they do not prescribe or privilege a religion, but neither do they actively and intentionally refrain from doing so. They are neither for nor against religion(s) but rather take no stand on this matter because it is irrelevant for their self-understanding and without import for the way in which they define themselves. For them, religion has ceased to be something to which a society or a state has to relate in embracing, rejecting, prescribing, negating, or allowing it. People may or may not be religious, but states and societies are not, and hence there is no need for them to be secular anymore.” (http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/content/78/2/317.abstract)

Jürgen Habermas in “Notes on a Post-Secular Society” asserts that in terms of sociological indicators, the religious behavior and convictions of the local populations have by no means changed to such an extent as to justify labeling these societies "post-secular" (http://www.signandsight.com/features/1714.html)

“The idea that modernity leads to a lessening religious belief is being abandoned by theorists in America and Europe. Figures like Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling argue that increasingly religion seeks to impinge on science, and now the first systematic study of European cultural groups predicts that fundamentalists of all religions are out-breeding moderates and atheists, and will eclipse them quite soon,” according to a podcast from BBC Thinking Allowed broadcast on Monday 10th April 2010.

Nevertheless, global changes and the visible conflicts that flare up in connection with religious issues give us reason to doubt whether the relevance of religion has waned. What we are witnessing today asserts a double-perspective, or 2 non-mutually exclusive ones. The first is that religion is still very much present in the world, even in the West, and that, as Andre Malraux had prophesized, the 21st century will either be a religious century or it will not, contrary to those in his days embracing a view of modernity which almost excludes religion. The second perspective or flip of the coin is that religion is a force that is learning to coexist and function with other forces of society.

I give the example of what has been coined “The Arab Spring,” i.e, what happened and is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Bahrain and many other parts of the Arab World. Many believed, or were led to believe, that the alternative to the toppled regimes will be the taking over of Islamists, but this has not taken place. Civic or civil society rose with all its diversity and collaborated in all its diversity. I am not making a political statement but rather an observation about the fabric of society and the dynamics that interplay within it. Religion remains very much an integral part of the culture of our societies and motivates thinking and behavior to a large extent. But the forces of globalization and the opening up of the means of communication have awakened and sharpened a longing for freedom and expression, which is necessitating a new direction in the making regarding what is to come, which we cannot fully recognize with crystal clarity yet. Religion did not and will not wane, but it is carving its place amid changes on the socio-political and socio-economic levels.

But if this what is happening in the Arab World, what is happening in the West give is also embracing religion albeit in a different way than in the West, where modernity was preached as the herald of the rapid waning down of religion. And despite the fact that Richard Dawkins gave a title to his book “The God Delusion” and that Stephen Hawking said that God was not needed to explain the creation of the universe, the very fact that they, along many others, are investigating this proves that Religion is still very much at the heart of the human psyche and outreach, even though new forms or religiosity are developing in the West along the growing number of converts to the Eastern religions, Islam included. A statement or action of a lunatic, whether calling for burning the Quran or prophesying the day of doom make headlines faster than anything else.

Religions are at the very heart of Post-secularism today but not necessarily in the same direction, depending on the context within which it is operating. This double-perspective I have mentioned is moving on, alongside all the other forces of society, and I do believe that it will remain to do so for an unforeseeable future. Religions certainly can contribute to fostering social harmony and peace, locally and globally, but only if they strive to extract from within themselves values which help to focus and promote the dignity of man, and the call for them is to stress on the common grounds which bind them and to work together and with all the sectors and trends to highlight this dignity.