The Programme for the Study of Religion and Non-Religion, based in the Department of Anthropology, aims to bring together staff and research students from across LSE, and within the wider academic and policy communities, working on issues to do with religion, secularism, and “non-religious” practices, beliefs, and traditions. The main aims of the Programme are to:
• Foster and provide a framework for primary research
• Facilitate academic and public discussions on issues relevant to religion, atheism, secularism, humanism and post-humanism
• Provide a platform for researchers and stakeholders to showcase and communicate their findings to broader academic, public, and public policy audiences
The role of religion in public life and contemporary society has been increasingly highlighted in the past decade. This has been spurred in part by international politics but, equally, recognition that a strong version of secularization theory, in which modernity and the decline of religion are thought to go hand in hand, is more problematic than once thought. Even within the United Kingdom, where church attendance and other such markers of religiosity are low, scholars have shown belief and other markers of enchantment to be malleable, durable, and multifaceted.
In relation to these observations and insights, the longstanding scholarly interest in secularism has changed. These days, studying secularism is not only about tracing the triumph of liberal democracy, or the scientific method; it is about exploring the ways in which “religion” and “the secular” are mutually constitutive terms, and how their deployment has shaped our understandings of ostensibly religious concepts (faith, belief, spirituality), political ideals and social projects (human rights, equality, freedom of speech, environmental activism), and, even, the nature and position of humanity (as expressed in debates over stem cell research and assisted dying, or animal rights and medical testing). Equally, for scholars of religion, it is not possible to treat “religion” as something distinct and bounded, separated out as a private concern or matter of personal belief. In many non-Western contexts, furthermore, religion has never been bracketed out. To talk about religion is to talk about politics, economy, kinship, law.
Discussions within the public square and the academy are now outpacing the conceptual terminology at our disposal. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of a new framework, one that hinges not on the religious/secular divide but, rather, a more comprehensive religious/non-religious one. Atheism and humanism in particular have come to the fore, and the extent to which people identify as “non-religious” or having “no religion” is garnering both academic and public attention.
The Programme for the Study of Religion and Non-Religion is devoted to the exploration of these developments, trajectories, and trends. And while the Programme recognizes the importance of current debates—not least in the UK—it also stresses the fact that debates have histories and cultural specificities. As such, and building on the long-standing strengths of the Anthropology Department, the Programme encourages work on, and discussion of, these matters in cross-cultural and global perspective. “Religion” itself is a term with a history, and it can only be properly understood in this and its “non-religious” invocations with that in mind.
The Programme is supported by a generous grant from the LSE Annual Fund.