Transcript of the plenary by Gregor McLellan at the BSA Annual Conference 2018.
Out of the drift towards intractable multiplicity and particularity in politics and thought, two forms of universalistic intellectual ‘revival’ have occurred in recent decades. One is a broadly Marxist critique of capitalist irrationalism and soaring material inequalities, the other involves greater appreciation of the personal and collective powers of religion as levers for radical change. While each strand responds to vital trends and events in the real world, there are obvious reasons making it hard to envisage new forms of solidarity and inclusiveness via a synthesis (or surpassing) of secular materialism and spiritual devoutness. Yet that is the project of postsecularism in contemporary social and cultural theory. Postsecularism, it has to be said, forms a rather misty and boggy terrain, and whether the effort of exploring and marking out that ground is ultimately worthwhile is debatable. That said, sociologists have always connected both their research and their ideological leanings to large matters of philosophical reflection and existential commitment, and today postsecularism and its analogues – expansive secularism, political theology – push to occupy that role. In this lecture I consider some definitions, map out some options, and develop some critical observations.