June 19, 2006
— Martin E. Marty
"Religiosecular": I've been trying to patent what in one article long ago I called a "neologistic barbarism" to cover the reality that the world, "our" world, is all the time growing manifestly both more religious and more secular (using all kinds of definitions of both those terms). The response to my invented term is underwhelming. I checked two search engines and found about twenty-five uses, but, alas, over twenty of them were in my own writings. A Dutch scholar, a scholar of Judaism, and a graph maker at Brown are the only other "users," and they seem to have fashioned the term independently of my missionary work.
Enough fooling around; let me explain. Many years ago I wrote a book illustrating a thesis of Paul Ricoeur, that the modern world is developing under a twofold sign of increasing rationality and increasing absurdity. I didn't equate rationality with secularity and absurdity with religion, but only worked on the "twofold sign" concept. Twofold-ness is ubiquitous. Explosive growth of Islam and of Christianity in most parts of the world and the passion for "spirituality" in Europe and America are evidences of increasing interest in religiousness. Yet secularity, viewing the world without reference to a transcendent order, or arranging life as if there is nothing transcendent, also grows apace. And I fuse the words because the realities they name are so mixed. Look at market-driven conservative religion in America and you will find adaptation to the secular style. Look at the "ultimate concern" evident in team sports and you will find adaptation to the religious style.
Some religionists bemoan that the world, especially that of elites, is anti-religious and militantly secular, as some of it has been throughout modern times. Some secularists regularly publish anxiety-driven articles, asking, Can secularity and secularism survive in the face of the waves of religiosity and spirituality? Time for a sighted document. From the heart of the "secular" academy, the Chronicle of Higher Education (June 9) occasionally features religion explicitly throughout an issue not bannered as "the religion issue." For example:
C. John Sommerville, a front-rank scholar from the University of Florida, excerpts from his book The Decline of the Secular University in his article, "The Exhaustion of Secularism." W. Robert Connor, president of the Teagle Foundation, next says it's "The Right Time and Place for Big Questions," subtitling his piece with this question: "Can students' interest in and engagement with religion and spiritual matters, and the questions associated with them, invigorate their liberal education?" Paging past three other articles, we find Case Western Reserve University's Timothy K. Beal, in his "Romancing the 'Code'," reporting on his students' passion for The Da Vinci Code and total ignorance of the Bible. Sub-head: "I was surprised to learn that more students had read The Da Vinci Code than had read the New Testament itself." And two letters to the editor weighed in on both sides of Jewish/Islamic splits in Israel/Palestine.
In the face of all this, one can also see that "the" university is also still organized "secularly," and that its leadership sounds "secular." I think these are signs of twofold-ness, as in "religiosecular," but I'll gladly yield to someone who can find a less clumsy, less barbaric, word to cover them. Any takers?
To browse the table of contents for the June 9 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, and for information about subscriptions, please visit: http://chronicle.com/chronicle/v52/5240guide.htm.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.