The Religious-Secular Divide: The U.S. Case

20th Social Research Conference March 5-6, 2009


The conference explored the tension between religion and secularity in the United States, which is long-standing, widespread, and increasingly intense. This is evident in contemporary debates over such issues as evolution and intelligent design which challenge the traditional absence of religious discourse from education, in the increasing importance of religious priorities in political decision-making, in governmental reliance on spiritual or faith-based philanthropy, and on the role of faith-based communities in lobbying for legislation or bringing out the vote to elect candidates. Given the increasing number of calls we are hearing for lowering the “wall of separation” erected between church and state by our Constitution, the question at hand is whether we are experiencing a major shift in the role of religion in political decision making and in our lives.These issues were addressed from the perspectives of religious studies, legal studies, political science, sociology, and philosophy. The keynote address will be delivered by Charles Taylor, Professor, Northwestern University. Conference attendees could also register for a guided tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that was created for the conference. The tours of their permanent collection addressed the ways in which art has engaged questions of religion, spirituality, and secularism throughout history. The three tours were all one hour on Saturday, March 7th.


This conference was made possible by generous support from the Russell Sage Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation,  Eugene Lang College, and The New School for Liberal Arts.


To order the related issue of Social Research: An International Quarterly,

The Religious-Secular Divide: The U.S. Case, Vol. 76, No. 4 (Winter 2009)


Thursday, March 5th, 2009


Session I: Origins of the Secular 


Religious Origins:

Noah Feldman, Professor of Law, Harvard University

Political Origins:

George Kateb, Professor Emeritus, Politics, Princeton University

Philosophic Origins:

Richard J. Bernstein, Vera List Professor of Philosophy, The New School for Social Research


Secularism as Ideology:

José Casanova, Professor of Sociology and Senior Fellow; Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University 

Session Moderator: David Plotke, Professor of Political Science, Chair of History, The New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts 

Session II: Religious Selves, Secular Selves

Ritual, Sincerity and the Self 
Adam B. Seligman, Professor of Religion, Research Associate, Institute for Culture, Religion and World Affairs, Boston University


Spirituality in Modern Society: The Spiritual Self

Peter van der Veer, University Professor, Utrecht University

The Human Predicament:

William E. Connolly, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Theory and International Relations, The Johns Hopkins University

The Human Soul, a Unique Biological Adaptation: The Psychological Self 

Daniel C. Dennett, Co-Director, Center for Cognitive Studies and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts University 

Session Moderator: Mark Larrimore, Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts 

Session III: Keynote Address, The Polysemy of the Secular
Charles Taylor, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, McGill University 
Moderated by Benjamin Lee, Senior Vice President for International Affairs, The New School

Friday, March 6th, 2009


Session IV: Religion, Politics, and the Democratic State

The Secular Citadel and the Untended Garden: Past Constitutional/Legal Debates 
John T. Noonan, Jr., United States Senior Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit 


We Are All Religious Now, Again: Constitutional/Legal Debates 
Winnifred Sullivan, Associate Professor of Law and Director, Law and Religion Program, University at Buffalo Law School, SUNY 


Political Debates: Then

James A. Morone, Professor of Political Science and Urban Studies, Brown University

Political Debates: Now

Ann Pellegrini, Associate Professor, Performance Studies and Religious Studies, New York University (in collaboration with Janet Jakobsen, Professor, Director, Barnard Center for Research on Women and Interim, Associate Dean of Faculty Diversity, Barnard College) 

Session Moderator: Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy, Director, University Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, Bristol University 

Session V: Moral Crusades Then and Now: Religious and Secular

The Prophetic Tradition and Civil Rights: a Transracial Challenge to Democracy 
David L. Chappell, Professor of History, University of Oklahoma 


Temperance to the Moral Majority

Susan F. Harding, Professor of Anthropology, University of California at Santa Cruz 

Identity Politics

Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Professor of the History of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University 

Culture Wars

James Davison Hunter, LaBrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture, and Social Theory; University of Virginia 

Session Moderator: Ann Snitow, Associate Professor, Literature and Gender Studies, Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts 

Session VI: Contemporary Debates: The Future of Religion and the Future of Secularism, Panel Discussion

Sheila Davaney, Program Officer, Religion, Society and Culture, Ford Foundation

Michael W. McConnell, Judge, U. S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit; Presidential Professor of Law, S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah

Ann Pellegrini, Associate Professor, Performance Studies and Religious Studies, New York University

Charles Taylor, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Philosophy, McGill University 

Session Moderator: José Casanova, Professor of Sociology and Senior Fellow; Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University


Saturday, March 7th, 2009


Tours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art 
Social Research has collaborated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art to create private tours for conference attendees. The tours will begin with art from Ancient Greece and Rome, step back to the Ancient Near East, and then continue forward through Medieval Art, the Renaissance, and into the 19th century and Modern art. Each work of art will be considered in its respective historical context in order to establish how each work functions in terms of the religious-secular divide. The tours are one hour and cost $10 per person and include admission to the museum. 

The conference was co-directed by José Casanova, Professor of Sociology and Senior Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. The director and founder (1988) of the Social Research conference series is Arien Mack, Alfred and Monette Marrow Professor of Psychology at The New School for Social Research, who has been the editor of Social Research since 1970.

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Please reload

Featured Posts

Webinar: Experiencing and Remembering Cultural Trauma

November 9, 2020

Please reload

Recent Posts
Please reload

OUR Affiliations

WIX UIE logo.png
WIX Esw logo.png
jdp logo_CPSsite.png

© 2016  Copyright, Center for Public Scholarship. CPS is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read about our approach to external linking.

Privacy Policy