Secularity and Cultural Memory – Spain and Canada in Comparison

Secularity and Cultural Memory – Spain and Canada in Comparison

Marian Burchardt


During the last decades many Western liberal democracies have experienced increasing religious pluralization. The emerging patterns of religious diversity have mainly resulted from immigration and the ongoing differentiation of post-traditional Christian and non-Christian forms of religious belonging and believing. At the same time, these processes have engendered numerous public controversies in which the claims of 'newcomer’ religious minorities, especially Islam, are challenging inherited institutional arrangements of church-state relations, which often privilege one dominant religious tradition. In this context, the notion of ‘secularity’ has acquired multiple and contested meanings. Thus, ‘secularity’ can be discursively employed to promote specific notions of political liberalism but also to defend a patrimonialized Christian or Judeo-Christian identity. In both instances, ‘secularity’ is often articulated as a specifically Western cultural heritage and thus forms part of constructions of collective memory.

Contributing to the research agenda of the Max Planck Fellow Group (Koenig), this project explores how religious pluralization mobilizes discourses about identity and cultural memory by focusing on constructions of religious and secular pasts in legal contestations in Spain and Canada. The project compares two cases characterized by deep-seated national cleavages, which have experienced a similarly rapid decline of native religiosity, have received increased large-scale numbers of religiously engaged immigrants, and have embarked on successive and diverse processes of human rights-oriented legal reform in regulating religion. The central research question is to understand the dynamics ensuing from the mobilization of cultural memories in collective accounts of the past and to analyze how they prefigure, reinforce, or counteract the legal dynamics around religious and cultural diversity.

Theoretically, the project combines key assumptions of three distinctive fields of scholarship: First, it is based on recent sociological interrogations of the notion of the secular and the idea of "multiple secularities". Second, it suggests that the concept of cultural memory provides fruitful, and largely unexplored, avenues for studying religious-secular controversies. And third, it takes inspiration from socio-legal studies and its assumptions on the intertwinements of identity politics and legal claims-making. Empirically, the project combines archival studies and expert interviews with key actors in legal controversies surrounding the regulation of religion in Spain and Canada.