The Use and Abuse of the Category of the Secular

Attempting a modest intervention in contemporary debates, the speaker argues that neither religious diversity, nor toleration, nor a separation between the religious and the political domains alone represents an adequate definition of secularism. Questioning that Aśoka was a secularist avant-la-lettre, and reinforcing that secularism originated as a Christian theological idea, the speaker suggests that we have inherited two models of secularism-Locke’s “separationist” model and Hobbes’s “universalist” model-and that the latter is generally winning. This refocuses the debate away from freedom of religion and toward the possibility of pluralism, which leads to a comparison of the court decisions in the Sabarimala and Hobby Lobby cases.

Robert A. Yelle is Professor of Religious Studies at Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich. He was educated at Harvard, Berkeley, and Chicago. A former Guggenheim Fellow, Yelle is the author of several books, including most recently Sovereignty and the Sacred: Secularism and the Political Economy of Religion (Chicago, 2019).

Baidik Bhattacharya is Associate Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019
4.30 pm, CSDS Seminar Room
29 Rajpur Road, Delhi