University of Rochester

Conference Examines Effects of Religion's Public Profile in the World

April 12, 2007

Until about 30 years ago, secularization—the separation of religion from the public spheres of political, economic, and scientific activities—was considered a foregone conclusion of modernization. Instead, religion has increasingly played a role in the United States and around the world in debates over issues in these fields.

A conference at the University of Rochester next week will explore how Catholicism, evangelical Protestantism, Islam, and Hinduism have crossed the boundaries between religion and the social and hard sciences. Titled "Religious Transgressions of Modernity," the conference will be held on Friday, April 20, and features scholars from a range of disciplines who will discuss the "desecularization" of the world over the past three decades. The conference is free and open to the public.

The program begins at 10 a.m. with a lecture by Meera Nanda, a fellow in religion and science at the John Templeton Foundation, on "Esotericism as Science in Neo-Hinduism: The Case of Vedantic Creationism," on how Hindu forms of knowledge overlap or conflict with those of western science. At 1 p.m., Jose Casanova, chair and professor of sociology at the New School for Social Research, will discuss "Anti-Catholic Nativism and Contemporary Islamophobia: A Comparison." The afternoon program also includes an address at 3 p.m. by Robert Hefner, professor of anthropology at Boston University, on "Jihadist Violence and Democratic Transition in Indonesia." These talks will be held in the Hawkins-Carlson Room in Rush Rhees Library on the University's River Campus.

The conference's keynote address will be delivered by Juan Cole, professor of modern Middle East and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, at 7:30 p.m. that evening in the Interfaith Chapel on the River Campus. Cole, who will speak on "Islamic Politics and the American Impact in the Middle East," has written extensively about modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf, and South Asia. He is the author of several books, including Sacred Space and Holy War, which examines the Shiite branch of Islam in Iraq, Iran, and the Persian Gulf. His current research also focuses on the concept of "jihad" in radical Islam as practiced by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other groups.

"Religious Transgressions of Modernity" is part of The Humanities Project, an initiative at the University of Rochester emphasizing the influence and contributions of the humanities to academic and civic life. For more information, contact (585) 275-8614.