All of my projects relate to 'secularization,' which is to say, the reconfigurations of religion distinctive to modernity.
My first project related to Carl Schmitt's famous claim, "All the concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts." I pursued a particular case: a striking homology between Malebranche's argument regarding the Church's representation of God's general will and Sieyès' argument regarding the National Assembly's representation of France's general will. “France,” in Sieyès’ argument, is doing the work of “God,” in Malebranche’s, but because France and God are different sorts of things, Sieyès’ argument has a number of logical idiosyncrasies that prove its derivation from Malebranche’s. The particular case allowed me to locate (contra the vehement critique of Hans Blumenberg) a register in which Schmitt's claim was coherent: theology is implicated in the historical sedimentation of ‘rationality,' such that the arguments with which we are familiar shape our sense of what constitutes a plausible argument, and this latter sense conditions the arguments that we offer. (This argument is spelled out in my essay "General Will Before Rousseau".)
My book manuscript takes up the secularization project at the root of French sociology: the attempt to articulate a secular model of moral motivation. Over some twenty-five years, in the face of the decline of the Catholic Church in France, Durkheim and his nephew Mauss groped their way to two different solutions to this problem.
Interestingly, Mauss' divergence from Durkheim is articulated in the form of a critique that Durkheim had not adequately shaken free of religion. This sets up a recurring pattern in French sociology: each generation overturns the previous generation as having insufficiently 'purged' theology. Thus in his Introduction to the Works of Marcel Mauss, Lévi-Strauss criticizes Mauss as beholden to Maori theology, and Bourdieu in turn suggests that Lévi-Strauss' "structure" amounts to a pseudo-theological construct. This sets up a new project exploring the idea that we can regard secularization as (in part) a structuring of knowledge, encoded in the very structures of disciplinarity.
Yet a third project, funded by two different grants, takes up the interrelation of religion and economics in 'secularization.' Departing from Mauss' analysis of gift economies, the project considers the construction of a boundary between things and persons in colonial New Guinea. Recent work has attributed this boundary construction to a "Protestant anxiety about materiality," but Mauss' analysis would have us read it as a legal precondition for capitalism. By comparing the archives of Protestant and Catholic missions in the New Guinea highlands, the project will attempt to disentangle (at least at one site) "secularization" from the rise of capitalism.
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My teaching relating to secularization includes "Religion and its Critics," an introduction to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critiques of religion and religious responses to them. Engaging the classic sociological literature on religion and economics, my course "Christianity, Capitalism, Empire" considers the collusion of religion and capitalism in 'secularization.' In development I have a course entitled "Religion and Pop Culture," prompting students to identify the features of religion in the cultural world in which they are immersed.