• When? Tuesday 26 October 2021, 14:00-18:00 
  • Where? University of Antwerp, Stadscampus, Room S.004, Lange Sint-Annastraat 7, 2000 Antwerp

Description and program

This study day concentrates on methodological aspects of the concept of secularization. Focusing on philosophical uses (and misuses) of the concept, two different approaches are explored. Ariën Voogt defends the hermeneutic value of the concept of secularization, seeing it as a practice of interpretation that establishes links between the discursive domains of the secular and the religious, so as to bring to light new layers of meaning. Sjoerd Griffioen holds that secularization is an essentially contested concept, capable of generating a wide variety of narratives on the genesis of the modern age, but also ideally suited to communicate political and ideological views almost imperceptibly. He argues that attention to the ‘ideenpolitische’ use of the concept is key to making sense of the secularization debate.

  • 14:00-14:15 Introduction: methodological questions regarding secularization as a philosophical concept 
  • 14:15-15:15 “Secularization as a Hermeneutic Instrument” (Lecture by Ariën Voogt, PThU Amsterdam/Groningen) 
  • 15:30-16:30 “The Secularization Debate as Ideenpolitik: Towards a Methodological Framework” (Lecture by Sjoerd Griffioen, University of Groningen) 
  • 16:30-16:50 Coffee break 
  • 16:50-18:00 Workshop: reading Carl Schmitt and Karl Löwith through the lenses of hermeneutics and Ideenpolitik

Practical information

Prior reading of two short texts is recommended: the third chapter “Political Theology” of Carl Schmitt, Political Theology. Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Cambridge: MIT, 1985, 36-52) and the article “The Theological Background of the Philosophy of History” by Karl Löwith (Social Research 13, no. 1, 1946, 51-80).

The study day is organized as CST-event, which means that attendees will have to present a valid COVID Safe Ticket (Belgian residents) or European Digital COVID Certificate (non-Belgian residents).

Attendance is free. Please mail to herbert.devriese@uantwerpen.be before Saturday 23 October to confirm your participation.

Course coordinators

Herbert De Vriese, Guido Vanheeswijck and Michiel Meijer (University of Antwerp)

This study day is part of series of lectures and study days devoted to a critical analysis of philosophical discourse on reenchantment. For more information, see course contents of Religion and secularization.


“Secularization as a Hermeneutic Instrument”, Ariën Voogt

In philosophy and cultural interpretation, the concept of secularization is used to connect a manifestly secular phenomenon to a religious one. For example, the modern idea of progress has famously been called a ‘secularization’ of theological history. In the burgeoning field of political theology, political structures are similarly traced back to their supposed theological origins. Secularization, when used as a hermeneutic instrument, thus points to a general hermeneutic practice, in which secular objects are interpreted in relation to the religious domain. How should we understand and conduct this hermeneutic practice? I will argue that hermeneutics of secularization can and should not determine objective religious features or historical origins of secular elements. Rather, it is a practice of interpretation that establishes links between the discursive domains of the secular and the religious, bringing to light new layers of meaning. In conducting hermeneutics of secularization, a good strategy is to trace the historical development of a secular notion and to observe how its meaning is constituted in and through its relation to religious discourse.

“The Secularization Debate as Ideenpolitik: Towards a Methodological Framework”, Sjoerd Griffioen 

Many scholars agree that the understanding of modernity is contingent on an understanding of secularization – however, it is highly likely that there is no single, definitive answer to the question ‘what is secularization?’. The concept of secularization appears in a wide variety of different narratives that profess to tell the story of the genesis of the modern age, many of which are – normatively and descriptively – incompatible. The variety of definitions that can be attributed to the single concept of secularization indicates that it should be seen, to evoke W.B. Gallie, as an ‘essentially contested concept’. Building on Gallie’s theory but also on insights of Richard Rorty and Hermann Lübbe, I will present a methodological framework with which to make (more) sense of the debate on secularization, as it explains the protean and contested nature of debate but also uncovers (often more implicit) areas of agreement or structural similarities. This framework illuminates how concepts are defined within a single narrative in light of the particular political or ideological assumptions of the author, but also how multiple narratives can be related to each other in a meaningful way.