Professor Bryan S. Turner Lecture: The End of Public Religion in America

30 July 2013

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The End of Public Religions in America: Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party politics, Same-sex marriage, homosexuality, abortion, Shari'a and the growth of no religion

American exceptionalism has typically included the notion that secularization might apply to northern Europe but was not a valid description of religion in the United States. Most accounts of religion in America start with Alex de Tocqueville in the 1840s and conclude with Robert Bell on civil religion. Furthermore, in 1994 Jose Casanova published his influential book on Public Religions in the Modern World to argue against a naïve view of secularization, and to draw attention to the Moral Majority, Solidarity, the Iranian Revolution and Latin American liberal theology. In the last decade the sociology of religion has celebrated the presence of religion in the public domain. The secularization thesis is dead and buried - or at least almost. This lecture looks at what is arguably the failure of the Moral Majority agenda to capture American politics, which is a thesis illustrated by looking at the slow and complex, but significant, acceptance in mainstream politics of homosexuality in the military, in the Body Scouts, and public life. We can also point to the spread of legislation in support of same-sex marriage, and the modest success of creationism. After Obama's second electoral victory, it appears the Republican party is abandoning the Tea Party and embracing Democratic strategies. The lecture reports on some research undertaken in New York on Occupy Wall Street, which had only limited religious support. People who declare 'no religion' has grown to around 20%; 'spirituality' rather than 'religion' has also grown. Is America becoming like northern European societies in terms of secularization? Possibly - but this lecture concludes, because it is timely, with a retrospective reflection on Reagan and Thatcher to consider the different location of political conservatism and conservative politics in the two societies.

About the speaker
Professor Bryan S. Turner is the Presidential Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Committee on Religion at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and concurrently the Director of the Centre on Religion and Society at the University of Western Sydney. He was the Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge (1998-2005) and was awarded a doctor of letters from the University in 2009. More recently the Alona Evans Distinguished Visiting Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College (2009-2010). His publications in the sociology of religion include Weber and Islam (1974), Religion and Social Theory (1983) (with Kamaludeen and Pereira), Muslims in Singapore (2010), Religion and Modern Society (2011), and The Religious and the Political (2013). He is the founding editor of three sociology journals: Citizenship Studies, Journal of Classical Sociology (with John O'Neill), and Body & Society (with Mike Featherstone). He serves on various editorial boards: Journal of Sociology, The Sociological Review, British Journal of Sociology, Society, Ethnicities, and Contemporary Islam. He is currently editing the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Theory. His current research projects are on Shari'a in the USA and Australia, Occupy Wall Street, assimilation of Muslims in the West, and the same-sex marriage debate in New Zealand and Australia.

This public lecture is co-hosted by the Law & Society Research Network (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney) and the Institute of Criminology,Sydney Law School.

Time: 6-8pm (registration and refreshments from 5:30pm)

Location: Law Foyer, Level 2, New Law School Building (F10), Eastern Ave University of Sydney

Cost: Free, however registration is essential

Contact: PLaCE Coordinator

Phone: 02 9351 0323

Email: 26152e5c1d000817223508034a34594e1e5453152276065a