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(Post)secular: Imagining faith in contemporary cultures

An international, interdisciplinary conference

University of Warwick and Coventry Cathedral, 8-10 June 2017 

Conceived and hosted by Dr Silke Horstkotte and Dr James Hodkinson

Modern Western societies tend to think of themselves as secular in their establishment, and to view religion as a matter for the private sphere. At the same time, matters of faith continue to pervade our daily lives and to shape our world-view. The term "post-secular" is often used to indicate a renewed interest in religion as a social, political and cultural force, acknowledging the need for political and social engagement with religious as well as non-faith based groups and voices. Yet in many ways, the term remains unclear, and its usage inconsistent. "Post-secular" can refer to the return of religion not on a social scale, but as a discursive aspect of modernity; or it can indicate a deconstructive critique of the secular, as well as of its opposite, religion, or an ambivalent discourse about secularity and religion in literature and the arts. But have we ever fully been secular? Is post-secularism a coherent intellectual-cultural movement, or yet another fleeting epochal descriptor? And has religion really “returned”, or have the media simply become more attuned to religion because of its prevalence as an identity marker?

The conference event (Post)secular engages these question through a series of encounters between scholarly discussion and artistic intervention. Combining Keynote lectures by John Milbank, Heather Walton, Aaron Rosen, and Uwe Steinmetz with conference panels on postsecular fiction, visual practices, sites and spaces, and sonic interventions, a film screening and discussion with Somali-born Irish director Hanan Dirya, a pop-up exhibition and artist's talk in Coventry Cathedral with British Library artist-in-residence Michael Takeo Magruder, and a Jazz Evening Prayer with Uwe Steinmetz, (Post)secular takes up Charles Taylor’s argument that secularity entails not only the secularization of public spaces and the decline of belief and practice, but also a new set of conditions under which both belief and unbelief occur. By bracketing the (post), we aim to sidestep the unproductive periodization paradigm, opening up to the breadth and variety of cultural forms through which ideas about faith are articulated (and indeed shaped) in the present.

The conference will take place in Scarman House, University of Warwick, and at Coventry Cathedral; it has recieved funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 programme of research and innovation, the Humanities Research Centre, and the School of Modern Languages and Cultures.

To register for the conference as a guest, please get in touch with the organizers by email: /


Thursday 8 June

10:00-10:30 Introduction: James Hodkinson and Silke Horstkotte

10:30-12:00 Panel A: Thinking the (post)secular (Chair: Linda Shortt)

Christiane Alpers (KU Eichstätt-Ingolstadt): Post-secular according to whom? Pluralising contemporary contextualisations from the perspective of Christian theology

Kevin Kennedy (Paris III): Divine Inexistence and the Eternal Return: Meillassoux, Nietzsche and the Problem of Eschatology

Marie Chabbert (Oxford): The Unexpected Advent of a Religious Utopia in Contemporary France: Thinking (Post)Secularism, Laïcité and French Youth Islamist Radicalisation

13:00-14:00 Keynote 1 John Milbank (University of Nottingham): The End of Religious Freedom and the Return of Religious Influence (Chair: Silke Horstkotte)

14:30-16:00 Panel B: The substance of the secular (Chair: James Hodkinson)

Alex Holznienkemper (Baylor University): Articulating the Afactual

Kailum Ijaz (Independent scholar / Ohio State University): Articulation, Authenticity, and the Development of Tradition in Thomas Merton: A Taylorian Account of Merton's Engagement with Secularism

Matthew Wickman (Brigham Young University): Why the Humanities Need a Theory (or Theories) of Spiritual Experience

16:30-17:30 Panel C: Contemporary cultures (Chair: Douglas Morrey)

Clive Marsh (Leicester): Refreshing cultural theology in (post)secular times: The expanding significance of popular culture

Nadine Söll (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin): Fandom and fanaticism as (pseudo-)religious experiences in the arts

20:00-21:00 Film screening and discussion: Hanan Dirya, Diving Within (2015) (Chair: James Hodkinson)

Friday 9 June

9:00-10:30 Panel D: (Post)secular fictions (Chair: James Hodkinson)

Dan Muhlestein (Brigham Young University) and Makayla Steiner (University of Iowa): From Elimination to a Broken Hallelujah: Rethinking Stevens’ Strategies for Establishing a Modernist Secular Imagination in light of Fredric Jameson’s Theory of Metacommentary

Britta Kölle (Oldenburg): Postsecular Thought in Contemporary Fiction: Synchronized Belief/Disbelief in Myla Goldberg’s Bee Season

Erin Tremblay Ponnou-Delaffon (Illinois State University): Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s postsecular apologetics

11:00-12:00 Panel E: Sites and spaces (Chair: Silke Horstkotte)

Sebastian Zeidler (Yale): Secularity at Vence

Lilia Sokolova (Cologne): Towards a Post-Secular Symbol: Transformation of the Visual Language in German Churches, 1987-2017

13:00-14:30 Panel F: Transgressions (Chair: Douglas Morrey)

Guy Austin (Newcastle): Voices of Islam: the sonic representation of the Muslim faith in contemporary Algerian film

Eser Selen (Kadir Has University, Istanbul): The Work of Sacrifice: Gender Performativity, Modernity and Islam in Contemporary Performance in Turkey

Darja Filippova (Princeton): Translating Sacrilege: Discrepancies between secular and orthodox ways of seeing religious offence in the work of Russian political performance art

An afternoon of arts in Coventry Cathedral

15:00-18:00 Pop-up exhibition: New Jerusalem (Michael Takeo Magruder)

16:00-17:00 Artist talk ‘Making a Virtual Pilgrimage’: Carolyn Rosen in conversation with Michael Takeo Magruder, Artist in Residence at the British Library

17:15-18:00 Jazz Evening Prayer with Uwe Steinmetz

20:00-21:00 Keynote 2 Uwe Steinmetz (Berlin / Liturgiewissenschaftliches Institut der VELKD, Leipzig): Contemporary Jazz in Sacred Spaces (Chair: Silke Horstkotte)

Saturday 10 June

9:00-10:00 Keynote 3 Heather Walton (University of Glasgow): Uncertain practice: Imagining faith through writing (Chair: Silke Horstkotte)

10:30-12:00 Panel G: Textual-historical intersections (Chair: Maria Roca Lizarazu)

Rim Feriani (University of Westminster): Rethinking Faith in The Satanic Verses

Mahmoud Abdel-Hamid Mahmoud Ahmed (Modern Sciences and Arts University, Cairo): The immanent prophet: Muslim cultural memory and Muhammad’s life narratives. Secular versus sacred poetics

Joseph Twist (NUI Galway / University of Limerick): Islam and the Enlightenment Today: Post-Secularism and Post-Atheism in Contemporary German Literature

13:00-15:00 Panel H: Post-secularism in contemporary France: Michel Houellebecq’s Soumission (Chair: Silke Horstkotte)

David Lees (University of Warwick): Writing (in) the crisis: the political and social contexts of Houellebecq’s Soumission

Louis Betty (U of Wisconsin Whitewater): F*%& Autonomy: Houellebecq, Submission, and the disappointment of history

Douglas Morrey (University of Warwick): The banality of monstrosity: On Houellebecq’s Soumission

Fraser McQueen (Stirling): (Post)secularism and islamophobia: Reading Michel Houellebecq through Emmanuel Todd


With generous assistance from: