Season 4, Episode 4

Religion & Secularism

Study of the secular and secularism has always been of interest to thinkers and theorists of religion.  In a moment when the traditional boundaries between religion and the secular continue to be blurred, the time is ripe to return to this category, examine emerging theorists and theorizations, and explore its continued usefulness. The panel will explore its many and varied meanings and how different constructions of the secular help us narrate contemporary phenomena. They will explore the ways that secularism not only help us theorize what some have called the “losing of religion” but also the reconfiguring of traditional and new religious movements. Additionally, this panel will discuss why the current evangelical revival, discourses on Afro-pessimism, and rising political partisanship cannot be read apart from histories of and discourses on the secular. Join us as we explore these and other critical questions at the intersection of secularism, the study of religion, and American culture.

Host: Brian Steensland

Brian Steensland is Professor and Chair of Sociology at Indiana University Indianapolis. Dr. Steensland’s areas of interest include religion, culture, politics, and civic life in contemporary American society. His books include Situating Spirituality: Context, Practice, and Power (Oxford, 2022), co-edited with Jaime Kucinskas and Anna Sun; The New Evangelical Social Engagement (Oxford, 2014), co-edited with Philip Goff; and The Failed Welfare Revolution: America’s Struggle over Guaranteed Income Policy (Princeton, 2008). His articles include “The Measure of American Religion” (Social Forces, 2000) and “Cultural Categories and the American Welfare State” (American Journal of Sociology, 2006).

Brians's full bio

Panelist: Lucia Hulsether

Lucia Hulsether Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Skidmore College. She is an ethnographer and historian of religion committed to a enacting a democratic praxis in her teaching and her research. She works at the intersection of critical race and ethnic studies, feminist and queer theory, and the study of labor and capitalism. Her research is focused on the religious cultures of the Americas. She interprets this topic broadly, to encompass ritual practices and collective forms through which people organize their lives and articulate their values. Her first book, tentatively titled Liberated Market: On the Cultural Politics of Capitalist Humanitarianism, is about transnational “conscious capitalist” initiatives like fair trade, microfinance, and corporate social responsibility. She is also pursuing projects on the intellectual cultures of college policy debate competition and on the gendered history of U.S. civic education programs.

Lucia's full bio

Panelist: Leigh Eric Schmidt

Leigh Eric Schmidt is Edward C. Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Schmidt is the author of Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Harvard, 2000), which won the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in Historical Studies and the John Hope Franklin Prize of the American Studies Association; Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman (Basic, 2010); and Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality (HarperOne, 2005). Dr. Schmidt has appeared on a number of NPR programs and other radio shows to discuss his books, including All Things ConsideredTalk of the NationJohn Batchelor ShowBob Edwards ShowBackStory with the American History GuysTalking HistoryVoice of AmericaReligion MattersOdysseyThe ConnectionOn Point, and The Book Show. He has often commented on current issues in American religion and culture, including for such media outlets as The AtlanticThe New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalChristian Science MonitorWashington PostLondon TimesBoston GlobeDallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Hartford CourantSan Francisco Bay GuardianU. S. News and World ReportNewsweekCharlotte ObserverAtlanta ConstitutionNewark Star-Ledger, San Bernardino Sun, Detroit Free Press, Raleigh News and Observer, Peoria Journal Star, San Diego Union Tribune, and the Religion News Service. He also serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Religion and American Culture, Practical Matters, and Religion & Politics.

Leigh's full bio

Panelist: Joesph Richard Winters II

Joseph Richard Winters II is the Alexander F. Hehmeyer Associate Professor of Religious Studies and African and African American Studies at Duke University. He also holds secondary positions in English and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. His interests lie at the intersection of black religious thought, African-American literature, and critical theory. Overall, his project expands conventional understandings of black religiosity and black piety by drawing on resources from Af-Am literature, philosophy, and critical theory. His research examines how literature, film, and music (especially hip hop) can reconfigure our sense of the sacred and imagination of spirituality. Winters’ first book, Hope Draped in Black: Race, Melancholy, and the Agony of Progress (Duke University Press, June 2016) examines how black literature and aesthetic practices challenge post-racial fantasies and triumphant accounts of freedom. The book shows how authors like WEB Du Bois and Toni Morrison link hope and possibility to melancholy, remembrance, and a recalcitrant sense of the tragic. His second book project (under contract with Duke University Press) is called Disturbing Profanity: Hip Hop, Black Aesthetics, and the Volatile Sacred.


Joseph's full bio

This event took place on January 25th, 2024.

Additional Resources

Check out additional resources for learning, teaching and watching.

Religion & Secularism Teaching Resources

“Religion &”: Center Conversations on the State of Religion and the Current Moment

“Religion &” is a series of monthly conversations between leading academics and thinkers in multiple fields hosted by the Center to continue these critically important interventions.  Every Third Thursday at 3p ET we discuss a topic that looks at the relationship between religion, the pressing issues of our day, and their impact on the fields we study.

Previous episodes of “Religion &” can be viewed on our YouTube channel.

A JOURNAL OF INTERPRETATION: This semiannual publication explores the interplay between religion and other spheres of American culture.

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