The resurrection of religion
Moving beyond secularism, or losing faith in politics?
Saturday 27 October, 3.30pm until 5.00pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery Keynote Controversies

Until recently, it was widely assumed in the West that the whole world was becoming ever more secular, and that religion would fade away or become a purely private matter as people embraced the rational, scientific worldview associated with liberal democracy and the market. But religion has not only resolutely failed to disappear: in recent years it appears to have made a comeback, sweeping the developing world and increasingly sparking controversy in the West. Debates rage about veils, religious hatred, creationism and so on. Religious extremism, and more generally ‘faith-based politics’ are seen as a threat to secular liberalism. Meanwhile, religious communities often feel under siege, with their values not recognised or respected by wider society.

Some argue that the very tenets of Western secular liberalism, from human rights to freedom of conscience, are rooted in religious traditions – whether Protestant, Judeo-Christian or more general. The philosopher Max Horkheimer argued that there could be no ‘unconditional meaning’ or value without God. Against this, the atheist writer Sam Harris argues that anything of value to be had from religion can be had more honestly without it. Does arguing ‘from belief’ invalidate one’s opinions in a secular society, or can religious ideals transcend particular faith traditions? Is religious belief archaic and delusional, and so incompatible with liberal democracy? Or is atheism just another fundamentalism?

The chief critics of religion today are not revolutionaries and reformers, but scientists and other rationalists, seemingly bewildered by people’s willingness to believe without evidence. Whereas progressive critics once argued that religion breeds passivity, detractors now worry that it inspires a little too much political activism and fosters conflict. Does this signal a loss of faith in secular politics? Have recent developments shown that religion is an unchangeable part of human nature and also reflect something missing from secular society? Is the defining conflict of our times indeed between the religious and the non-religious, or does this obscure more important questions?


Ruth Gledhill
religion correspondent, The Times; journalism tutor, City University
Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, What's Happened to the University?, Power of Reading: from Socrates to Twitter, On Tolerance and Authority: a sociological history
Dr Austen Ivereigh
Catholic commentator; joint co-ordinator, Catholic Voices
Dolan Cummings
associate fellow, Institute of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)

 Produced by

Alex Hochuli communications consultant, researcher and blogger based in São Paulo
Dolan Cummings associate fellow, Institute of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)

The resurrection of religion: Moving beyond secularism or losing faith in politics?, François Houtart interviewed by Alex Hochuli

The quest for certainty and the question of autonomy, Stratos Ramoglou

 Recommended readings

Breeding for God
With global demographic trends favouring religion, the process of secularisation is far from inevitable
Eric Kaufmann, Prospect, November 2006

A Non-Religious Look at Key Religious Stories
Watch Claire Fox present a non-religious look at the year's key religious stories with guests.
Claire Fox News, 18 Doughty Street TV, 20 December 2006

Believers are away with the fairies
As the religious voice grows ever more vocal, so their secular critics have become increasingly strident
A C Grayling, Daily Telegraph, 25 March 2007

Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching
As professional atheists go, Richard Dawkins is one of the best. And worst
Terry Eagleton, London Review of Books, 18 October 2006

The Problem with Secularism
Relying on the truth of subjective assertion, religious fanaticism is the mirror image of liberal humanism
Phillip Blond and Adrian Pabst, International Herald Tribune, 20 December 2006

How the West Really Lost God
Secularisation depends just as much on the erosion of the family as the withering of belief
Mary Eberstadt, Policy Review, June/July 2006,

Islam and the West in a Transmodern World
Islam need not be the ideology of aggressive traditionalists in their war with secular modernisers
Ziauddin Sardar, Islam Online, 17 August 2004

Myths of Meaning
In their dismissal of religion as myth, militant atheists all too easily succumb to one of their own
John Gray, New Statesman, 19 March 2006

recommended by spiked

Baiting the devout
Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, 31 May 2007

The curious rise of anti-religious hysteria
Frank Furedi, 22 January 2006

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