Building Trust, Constituting Allegiance, Imagining Society: An Online Symposium on Global Religion and Secularism

Christopher Trigg's picture
April 7, 2022 to April 9, 2022
Subject Fields: 
Religious Studies and Theology, Islamic History / Studies, East Asian History / Studies, Southeast Asian History / Studies, American History / Studies

The Religion Society and Trust Research Cluster at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, invites you to a free online symposium held from April 8th - 9th Singapore time (April 7th - 8th US time). The symposium will feature keynotes by Profesor Monikia Wohlrab-Sahr (University of Leipizig) and Professor Jennifer Graber (University of Texas-Austin), as well as presentations by scholars based in Singapore. Panels are themed according to region: East Asia, the West, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Multicultural and Transnational.

Please register here: The programme and further details can be found here. Please find a summary of the symposium's theme below.

A standard feature of many secularization narratives is the modern triumph of trust (in experts, critical thinking, and multicultural democracy) over pre-modern allegiances (to political, religious, racial "tribes" and dogmas). This symposium scrutinizes this supposed antagonism, challenging the assumption that contemporary forms of trust in medicine, laboratory science, technological expertise, and democratic decision-making transcend the pre-modern. We pursue these questions through a set of historically and culturally diverse case studies, including the daily laboratory routines of 21st-century creationist scientists; debates over religous tolerance in colonial America; the conceptual entanglements between Asian medicine and religion; the epistemological borders between Islamic and scientific interpretations of Southeast Asian volcanic activity; the movement of medical charms across the boundaries of medieval England and Wales; and the engagement between spiritualism and science in the 19th-century United States.

Over the last decade, many pundits, and even some humanists and social scientists themselves, have offered what might be called a "regression hypothesis," warning that the growth of authoritarianism, political polarization, science denialism, and "alternative" belief systems has threatened to reverse the traditions of rationality, tolerance, and technocratic expertise that define modern secular societies. However, such analyses frequently resort to discredited teleological narratives of progress. These narratives both overlook the structural violence of modern efficiency-oriented technocratic rule while cariacaturing or simply dismissing the sophisticated contributions of religion to pre- and early modern science, medicine, and social organization. In recent years, the long durée accounts provided by such scholars as Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, David Graeber, Ara Norenzayan, Jennifer Graber, and Monika Wohlrab-Sahr have challenged these more historically superficial accounts.

Working in religion, anthropology, the history of science and culture, environmental studies, and literary studies, the scholars contributing to this symposium critically engage the regression hypothesis. In a period of fragmentation (as tribalization) of the modern dream of national and international civil society, what resources do we have as social scientists/humanities scholars to cope with, re-envision, and re-imagine possible futures? How do we re-vision the revisioning of allegiances in a manner sustainable for any possible global future?


Contact Info: 

Justin Clark, Assistant Professor, School of Humanities, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Christopher Trigg, Assistant Professor, School of Humanities, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Contact Email: