32.1 | Religion and Secularism

Tensions between religion and secularism underlie many ongoing issues in today’s society. They divide not only the West and the East, or the global North and the global South, but also the urban and the rural, the young and the old. Yet the oppositions do not seem to be absolute: atheist churches have been established and secular leftists are taking over the anti-vaccination movement from orthodox Christians. The question therefore arises to what extent we are now living in what Jürgen Habermas has called a “postsecular” society. Habermas argues that, although “people’s religious ties have steadily or rather quite dramatically lapsed” in Western societies over the course of the twentieth century, this development does not seem to be approaching completion. Instead, he finds that religion has regained prominence in the public debate and current Western society could as such be called postsecular. According to Habermas, the precarious relations between faith and reason call for a new, peaceful dialogue between religious and secular members of society. To what extent is modernism’s secular programme indeed unsuccessful, as Habermas argues, and to what extent might discussions such as those surrounding The Handmaid’s Tale become part of this new dialogue between religion and secularism? Literary studies, itself born out of the study of religious texts, provides new insights into these questions, as many recent literary publications reflect on the issues at stake here.

In this issue of FRAME, we have invited scholars to consider the various ways in which literature over the past decades has reflected on the tensions and connections between religion and secularism. What is the place of holy books in a time in which paper books seem to be losing prevalence? How do the ethical problems surrounding technological developments represented in works of science fiction such as Octavia Butler’s Earthseed novels relate to religious concerns about these issues? How do recent representations of Christianity in literature compare to recent representations of Islam in literature? What can explain the recent popularity of books about myths from ancient polytheistic religions, such as Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology (2017) and Stephen Fry’s Mythos (2018)?

Main Articles

Magdalena Maczyńska | From Religious Nostalgia to Eco-Postsecularism: Scriptures for Climate-Changed Futures in Fictions by Richard Jefferies, Will Self, and Octavia Butler
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Christopher Douglas | What Is Christian Postmodernism?
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Manav Ratti | ‘The God of the Imagination’: Postcolonial Postsecularism and Salman Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet
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Jerrold Cuperus | Narrating Dutch Christianity: Secularism, Heritage, and Identity in Museum Catharijneconvent
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Tom Huisjes and Eline Reinhoud | The Parthenon of Books: Censorship through Blasphemy Laws
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