Postsecular or Postcritique? New Approaches to Reading Religion

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Postsecular or Postcritique? New Approaches to Reading Religion

Cultural studies is undergoing a watershed moment. Critique, long the dominant aim and posture in much of the humanities, has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. Rita Felski, Bruno Latour, Sharon Marcus, Stephen Best, and Eve Sedgwick, for example, have poked at the assumptions behind critical theory’s reflexive concern with unmasking ideologies, with illuminating our supposedly false consciousness, and for penetrating beyond the surface of the text to an unsullied real meaning. Adopting Paul Ricoeur’s influential turn for the attitude left in the wake of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, Felski argues that the “hermeneutics of suspicion” tends to flatten agencies and objects, confident in explanatory models that boil down all social life into a handful of similar, symptomatic readings. By contrast, “postcritical” reading emphasizes curiosity over interrogation; it approaches cultural objects hoping for understanding, not clouded by paranoia; it affirms that, for lay and scholarly readers alike, engagement with texts enchants the world rather than demystifies it. Yet for some twenty years now, a similar shift has been underway in postsecular studies. Scholars in that field have argued that the secularization thesis is woefully inadequate in accounting for the complexity of beliefs and practices that persist even to this day. Modernity is not synonymous with the loss of faith, they contend, but rather marks a careful re-negotiation of religion’s role in collective life. Rebuffing critical theory’s reflexive suspicion, postsecular work has consequently pioneered new methods of attending to the religious, generating rich, critically sophisticated readings of texts in ways that seem to anticipate the late “postcritical turn.” Unsurprisingly, a recent forum wondered about the extent to which these two theoretical vocabularies overlap, and proposed that future work would need to articulate their similarities and differences.
    Our working group intends to discuss key texts bridging these fields (works proposed include those by Felski, Latour, literary scholar Lori Branch, and the sociologist of religion, Danièle Hervieu-Léger), share work-in-progress (with special focus on that by graduate students), and host at least two visiting speakers invested in these issues. Though we remain rooted in literary interests, our questions are interdisciplinary and generously ecumenical: what does it mean to engage in postcritical (not uncritical) thinking on religion? Is that synonymous with a postsecular approach? Is postcritique secular, for that matter—and if so, in what sense?

Alex Eric Hernandez, FAS English   

Faculty, University of Toronto
Randy Boyagoda, FAS English
Paul Stevens, FAS English
Steven Tardif, SMC Christianity & Culture program
Barton Scott, FAS Study of Religion
Graduate Students, University of Toronto
Kimberly Rodda, English
Amy Coté, English
Lindsay Mason English