Paper short abstract:
As pairs of concepts, diffusion and evolution, and learning and invention, are closely related. ‘Diffusion’ betters our apprehension not only of migration and diaspora but also of pedagogy and institutionalism. The paper examines diffusion as part of the teaching and practising of secular openness in a civil society.
Paper long abstract:
There is something cosmopolitan about diffusion. Ironically, in its first, nineteenth-century appearance the concept was written into a role which opposed the psychic unity of humankind. Creativity, social change and development --‘progress’ in the teleological framing of the time-- was either regarded as a matter of independent invention and evolution in many different places, thus evincing a universal human capacity for an equivalent creativeness; or else social change was the result of exogenous influences reaching different parts of the world from one or more cultural centres. Globalism now makes the distinction moot: it is the psychic unity of humankind which enables cultural traits and social practices to be exported, taken up, interpreted and transformed in any place, every place.
We are adjured to recognise the advantages of again deploying diffusion as an analytical concept. It might add to our apprehension of migration, transnationalism and diaspora. In this paper diffusion is treated as a value as well as a practice: diffusion as a version of openness. It can signal a human, intellectual and emotional capacity to engage with radical otherness --that which is alien in origin or provenance-- and a social and political willingness to do so. Diffusion is one way in which such variety enters a social space. Evolution, revolution, is another. Again, the dichotomy does not hold. The contrasting shapes of diffusion and evolution remain good to think with, however: drift as against thrust.
The argument of the paper builds in a kind of diffusionist style. I have recourse to important lectures from the past from which I borrow ideas, and between which I trace themes, in plotting my own course. Religion, morale, pedagogy, morality and Europe are the major landmarks connected together in formulating a position on the possible or necessary relationships between orthodoxy and societal vitality; between education and innovation; between morality and a free space which exists beyond social structure. The paper ends with a discussion concerning secular values: the viability of codifying irony as a moral practice and of promoting respect for societal processes whose truths are procedural rather than substantive.
Diffusion, religion and secularism