1st Edition

Owning the Secular Religious Symbols, Culture Wars, Western Fragility

By Matt Sheedy Copyright 2022
    124 Pages
    by Routledge

    124 Pages
    by Routledge

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    Owning the Secular examines three case studies dealing with religious symbols and cultural identity, including two public controversies over the veil in Canada – at the federal level and in the province of Québec – and an ex-Muslim podcaster rethinking her atheist identity in the era of Donald Trump and the alt-right.

    Drawing on theories of discourse analysis and ideology critique, this study calls attention to an evolution in how secularism, nationalism, and multiculturalism in Euro-Western states are debated and understood as competing groups contest and rearrange the meaning of these terms. This is especially true in the digital age as online cultures have transformed how information is spread, how we imagine our communities, build alliances, and produce shared meaning.

    From recent attempts to prohibit religious symbols in public, to Trump’s so-called Muslim bans, to growing disenchantment with the promises of digital media, this study turns the lens how nation-states, organizations, and individuals attempt to "own" the secular to manage cultural differences, shore up group identity, and stake a claim to some version of Western values amidst the growing uncertainties of neoliberal capitalism.

    Introduction  1. The secular and the culture wars  2. The secular and the veil  3. Are ex-Muslims atheists?  Conclusion


    Matt Sheedy is Visiting Assistant Professor in North American Studies at the University of Bonn, Germany.

    "In this intellectual étude, Sheedy takes us to the very heart of secularism’s – and by extension, the West’s – fragility. Discourses of values, he deftly shows, are neither ontological nor natural, but often political slogans awaiting convenient manipulation when needed. The result is a timely, well-informed, and nuanced analysis that deserves wide attention."

    Aaron W. Hughes, University of Rochester, USA

    "While scholars of religion once saw their objects of study as unique and set apart, those acquiring the tools of social theory find that their research has far wider application, helping us to understand how groups and identities work. Matt Sheedy represents this second camp, offering a timely analysis of how our secular world functions: its beneficiaries and its challenges, as well as its possibilities. Owning the Secular nicely exemplifies why those who don’t usually read scholars of religion would be well served to change that habit, for religion is never really about religion but, instead, about how we organize ourselves, how we authorize our worlds, and how we marshal the forces to contest the worlds of others."

    Russell T. McCutcheon, University of Alabama, USA

    "Owning the Secular is a superb study of the theory, culture, and politics of all facets of secularity in the twenty-first century. It's particularly valuable for the way it links the political and intellectual coordinates of the secular to its most dynamic contemporary ecosystem: the whirlpool of 24-hour news media, podcasts, clips, pop-up protests, and social media posts. Matt Sheedy has creatively arranged a broad range of sources into a convincing argument about the digital secular."

    Donovan Schaefer, University of Pennsylvania, USA

    "In this book, Matt Sheedy rightly draws attention to the fact that nation-building in the 21st century often entails the use of a wide variety of rhetorical distinctions that are used to draw lines between who belongs and who does not – distinctions between religious and nonreligious, Muslim and non-Muslim, civilized and uncivilized, feminist and anti-women, east and west, citizen and foreigner, and many more. Sheedy demonstrates with great clarity how these rhetorical tools can be shuffled, rearranged, and articulated onto just about any xenophobic political agenda; Owning the Secular is an excellent guide to how these flexible signifiers are presently being put to use across the world, who benefits and who does not, and why we ought to pay attention to their effects."

    Craig Martin, St. Thomas Aquinas College, USA.

    "Since it is now common to speak of "culture wars" dividing and sometimes even paralysing liberal democracies, what we really need is a sober analyst to illuminate the tensions that actually animate the conflict. Sheedy’s concise introduction to the way "the secular" is imagined lays bare many of the social, political, and psychological forces that inspire often zealous proponents on all sides of contemporary debates."

    Paul Bramadat, University of Victoria, Canada.

    "In Owning the Secular, Matt Sheedy makes a succinct and original intervention into secular studies scholarship. Situating timely North Atlantic debates on Islam and Muslims in the midst of new media, online cultures, and their polemics, Sheedy deftly marshals the theoretical literature to show how the ambiguity of the secular renders it an especially apt tool of persuasion. This book’s readable case study approach will engage a wide range of readers, and will be especially useful in undergraduate teaching. I will be teaching from it."

    Jennifer A. Selby, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.

    "Owning the Secular contributes significantly to secular studies scholarship. It analyzes an interesting set of examples that shed light on the various ways that the concept of secular is deployed by a variety of different groups."

    Liz Wilson, Reading Religion