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12.01.2020 15:47 Alter: 45 days

Religious Experience and the Crisis of Secular Reason

Call for Papers

Theme: Religious Experience and the Crisis of Secular Reason
Type: 2nd Plenary Congress
Institution: Society for Phenomenology of Religious Experience (SOPHERE)
  Department of Philosophy, University of Vienna
Location: Vienna (Austria)
Date: 16.–18.9.2020
Deadline: 30.5.2020

In recent years we have witnessed the loss of hope for neutral,
secular ‘reason’ as the backbone for social and political engagement
and transformation. In the wake of globalization, ‘ideological
secularism’ and its propagation of a disengaged brand of reason
rather has created its own set of discontents and crises. Related
social trends in both Europe and North America demonstrate that
people are increasingly divided and sectarian, pulled into their
respective echo chambers and left unsure how to even talk with those
trapped on ‘the other side.’ The traditional idea of using neutral
‘reason’ to cross this divide clearly has been swept aside by the
power of social criticism. In its attempt at unveiling the bias,
structural oppression, and political correctness that seems to be
part and parcel of our self-righteous conceptions of reason (be it
discursive, communicative or procedural), the domain of reason is no
longer seen as value free. Rather its aspirations have been exposed
to parade as purported neutrality, and hence it is increasingly
viewed as a weapon wielded in ideological warfare, rather than a
means of creating social cohesion.

Introducing religion into these conversations is not usually seen as
the best way to reconcile people from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Many in fact rather blame religion for the erosion, breakdown, and
crisis of secular reason we are witnessing today. However, there is
also reason to think and believe otherwise. Recent advances in the
study of religion have shifted our understanding of religion away
from cognitive beliefs and doctrines and toward more material and
affective engagements. Could such a focus on embodiment, practice,
and experience (rather than reason or mere belief assertion) provide
a model for social and political engagement that also might
contribute to restoring our unfulfilled hopes in secular reason? Or
would such a model rather lead us toward a different, ‘experiential
reason’ irreducible to perspectivism and individualism, or away from
a social or communal reason as the basis of human interaction? And
what role might distinctly religious experience play in helping us
understand and clarify social and epistemological interaction? Or, in
terms of a general proviso, may we really understand the ‘return of
religion’ as the missing catalyst that will help us to overcome the
“disarray of the current crisis” (Husserl) in order to finally
restitute its “primal institution” (Urstiftung)? And, if the last
cohort, “generation Z,” claims to be the least religious generation
in (at least Western) history, what does “return of religion” mean in
the zeitgeist—a quest for personal meaning, a spiritual society, or
an experiential metaphysics?

In light of these more general considerations, this conference
invites phenomenological explorations of the vexed relationships
between reason and the various forms of religious intuition and
experience. Does religious experience invite irrationality, or on the
contrary, does it contribute a missing piece which can heal
contemporary irrationality in all spheres of life? Do the semantics
and pragmatic potentials of religious experience simply testify to an
outdated model of social order that is by definition prone to
violence and intolerance? Or do they rather offer a counterweight to
a modernity disconcertingly spinning out of control? Are there ways
to conceive of religion in light of the apparent crisis of secular
reason beyond the old yet still functional dichotomy of myth and
Enlightenment, given that the latter has itself resulted in a series
of neo-myths that work hard to stigmatize religion as its very other?
What are the relationships between religious experience and
knowledge, and does religion enhance or stifle the possibilities of
arriving at a “fuller consciousness” of our present? Can the failures
of secularized reason in axiomatic, pragmatic, and evaluative spheres
be amended by the restitution of some ‘spiritual intelligence’ whose
loss is often lamented yet also explained away as necessary step in
the coming post-history of humankind? Against the bankruptcy of
value-free, neutral reason, can experiences of transcendence, hope,
compassion, justice, love, unitive experiences, experiences of
ultimacy and unconditionality, and other spiritual and religious
experiences resolve to fractures of a late modernity that has still
not arrived past the last post? And can experience animate religion
per se, e.g., with indigenous forms of spiritual intelligence
bringing Abrahamic religions out of their nascent metaphysical,
cognitive, and ethical cul de sac? Bearing these questions and
ambiguities in mind, this conference seeks to examine both the
promise and peril that engagements with religious experience can bear
upon engaging, clarifying, and supplementing the ‘crisis of secular
reason’. To do so, we invite reference to the whole phenomenological
movement, including post-phenomenology, hermeneutics, and
deconstruction; historical and contemporary research with the
engagement of phenomenology, experienced based comparative studies
like cultural anthropology of experience, qualitatively based
sociology of religion, as well as theological and psychological
perspectives that utilize phenomenological research methods.

Please submit papers of no more than 600 words, formatted for
anonymous review, to before May 30,
2020. You can also enclose a full paper; submissions with ready
papers will be given a priority. Enclose you biographic information
in the body of email. Notifications of acceptance will be emailed by
June 15, 2020.

The format of presentation: 45 minutes including question and answer
period, i.e. a paper of approximately 4000-4500 words.

Selected papers will be considered for publication in special
guest-edited issues of well-known journals in philosophy and religion.

Confirmed keynote speakers:

Michael Barber (Saint Louis University)
Crina Gschwandtner (Fordham University)

Conference Directors:

Jason Alvis

Michael Staudigl

Conference website: