Exploring postsecular anthropology from the perspective of anthropologists with a faith commitment

Sharon Merz (SIL International)
Johannes Merz (SIL International)
Room 2
Start time:
16 April, 2015 at 9:15
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel explores how anthropologists with a faith commitment contribute to postsecular anthropology. Even though they are sometimes marginalised, they are well positioned as they negotiate the demands and expectations of the different field situations and institutions they engage with.

Long abstract:

Can and should a "distinction between sacred and secular" (Marshall 2009: 3) be made? How are anthropologists engaging with the postsecular turn (Habermas 2008; McLennan 2010)? We propose that anthropologists with an explicit faith commitment are well positioned to contribute to postsecular anthropology, while recognising that having a faith commitment creates specific challenges. The secular and the religious can no longer be treated as mutually exclusive categories. Rather, they directly depend on each other, with the secular being differentiated from the religious by degrees (Bangstad 2009; Hirschkind 2011). As anthropologists with a faith commitment, we seem ideally positioned to explore the symbiotic relationship between the secular and religious, as we are often confronted with its challenges in our own lives and work. These challenges result from the tensions and oppositions created by the shifting boundaries that we encounter when relating to different field situations and institutional bodies, whether these be academic, religious or developmental in nature. For example, it is not uncommon for secular academics to question our methodological and academic credibility, while non-anthropologists from religious institutions may be suspicious of our academic research methodology and reluctant to accept our findings. Such tensions, however, help reinforce "our ethnographic eye" as we reflect on our position and strive to exploit and account for our subjectivity in the discipline. In this panel we invite papers that explore these issues from a practical, applied and theoretical perspective.