Utopia in a Post-secular Society: at the Cross-sections of Literature and Philosophy(Panel)
Genco Guralp (Johns Hopkins University)
Cecilia Benaglia (Johns Hopkins University)
Several historical events of the 20th century formed the basis of a renewal of attention to the utopian tradition. May 68, for instance, was a stimulus for French thinkers such Roland Barthes, Louis Marin, or Paul Ricoeur, inciting them to reflect on the utopian heritage and its actualizations. The horrors of WWII, on the other end, marked the beginning of a series of artistic descriptions of future societies characterised by dystopia. Despite their great variety, an element that most of these reflections and works on utopia share is their secular nature. Religion seems to lose its centrality, or to disappear entirely from the modern thinking on utopia, even though it was central to the functioning and preservation of the society in the canonical texts (e.g., Plato’s Republic or More’s Utopia).
The post-secular turn we are witnessing in recent theory (Habermas, Taylor, Asad, Mahmood) may provide a critical venue for a re-thinking of utopia, through a questioning of secular modernisms, and the role of religion in contemporary societies and politics: How does the place of the utopian tradition change in the context of the “return of the religion” in a post-secular society? In this panel we invite papers that reflect on the relationship between utopia and religion, as it is worked out in 20th-century literature and philosophy. What can be today the function of religion in a utopian community today? Is Western secular culture able to conceive of the return of religion exclusively in dystopian terms, as Michel Houellebecq does in his recent novel Submission? The thinking of the post-secular takes place in the breakdown of the multiculturalist program in the Western tradition, as Asad’s critical reading of Taylor attests, and the recent European immigration crisis exemplifies. How can utopian thinking face the challenges that the post-secular and post-colonial world presents?
An element that seems to characterize the 20th-century reflection on utopia is its secular nature. Through a re-thinking of the place and roles of religion in society, the post-secular turn we are witnessing in recent theory (Habermas, Taylor, Asad, Mahmood) may provide a critical point of departure for questioning this specific aspect of utopian tradition. In this panel, we invite papers that reflect on the relationship between utopia and religion, as it is worked out in 20th-century literature and philosophy: How does the place of the utopian tradition change in the context of the “return of the religion” in a post-secular society?