More than Neutral

Life over the last few weeks has been filled with lots of reading of articles on the issue of secularism, particularly in the Turkish context, but also in general. Now some people might find this rather dry. Sometimes it admittedly is, but overall I actually enjoy it. Which is good since I have plenty more reading and writing to do on the topic over the next few months.

Today I read an article that I found referenced on The Immanent Frame, which is a blog/site that is a collaboration of a number of individuals who are thinking on issues of secularism, which is really concerned with religion in public life.

This comes from an article by Craig Calhoun published in The Hedgehog Review and he makes a really important observation that secularism is not necessarily something neutral or an absence, merely what is left once you subtract religion. It adds something. Whether you consider it an ideology or a worldview or a constitionual approach or whatever you would like to label it.

So why does this matter? It matters because if it is simply an absence then there is not really anything to talk about. But if it is more than neutral then it is something that needs to be discussed and considered and understood. It is an issue and it is worth considering because it is prevalent in a number of areas, in western society I think we almost assume it and forget that it is there until we come into contact with someone who has not accepted it. This is where issues of controversy arise.

So the point of this post? Realize that your particular worldview, be it secular or otherwise, may not be the universal worldview, not everyone adopts the same approach. So it is necessary to ask some of the foundational questions to understand why the stances we may adopt towards issues vary so widely.

Cultured Relationship Building

Yesterday I heard a really interesting illustration about the differences in the way that cultures invest in a relationship.

The speaker works with a number of different cultures and has observed differences in the way they handle relationships. He works with a number of East Africans and they value sharing space. So even if you are busy, they may just come and sit in your office for 20-30 minutes, you might not really say all that much but you’ve shared space and that is important for them in building the relationship. He also works with Turks and other Middle Easterners and they value conversation.  They will come and want to have a cup of tea and talk. You don’t necessarily need to “do” anything just spend time talking together. He also works with Westerners, Europeans and Americans, and when they come to see him it is always with an agenda. They want to do something, and have something to show for the time together.

When I took time to stop and think about it – I fully resonate with this. I feel awkward just going and sitting with someone and not doing something together. It does not seem meaningful to me and I find myself wanting to find someway to occupy myself and so pull out a gadget or find some other way to fill the time. Even just talking – if it doesn’t have a purpose – loses its enjoyment before too long. I want to deal with the issue or decide something and then move on.

This is not to say that the Western view is completely wrong. There is certainly great value in efficiency and minimizing “wasted time” in certain contexts. Yet, there are also other contexts where the ability to be still and just do nothing is of great value both for personal and relational growth.

Monday 2.13.12

Lin-Sanity – A long-shot player (who was actually pretty good in college!) gets an opportunity, makes the most of it and becomes an overnight social media phenomenon being credited with leading his team to wins. No, not another Tim Tebow story. This is Jeremy Lin who is playing for the New York Knicks. The Harvard graduate is the first Chinese American NBA player. Another great part of the story is the character and faith that he possesses. Here is an interview he did while still in college.

Turkey’s Test – This post raises some serious questions about Turkey and its role in relation to the violence that is being carried out in Syria. While certainly it would be foolish for anyone to try to paint this as a simple scenario it is one where action needs to be taken. The most compelling statement from this post was this:

Power stems not just from size, strategic location, a strong economy, able diplomacy, and military capacity. It also requires the will to act – the understanding that true leadership means the courage to take and implement even decisions that are deeply unpopular in some quarters.

Changing Education Paradigms – This animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin award.
For more information on Sir Ken’s work visit:


So I apologize for having missed posting the last few days. I’ve been enjoying the semester break with family and have been exploring some great new places around the country. It has been a blast thus far but haven’t been able to spend too much time around the computer. I hope to return to the regularly scheduled blog routine next week.

Here is one of my favorite pics from this last week. Will share some more pics next week!

Re-Thinking Secularism Abstract

So one of the ways in which I’m hoping to profit from blogging this year is through sharing some of the work I’m doing other places and generating feedback and helping to develop ideas. In my articles that I plan to post on Thursday’s (or Friday’s!) I will often be drawing from reading and writing I’m doing for grad school. Today I sent in the last of my projects for the fall semester. So I am now officially done! I’m looking forward to a few weeks off. It was mildly anti-climactic though because I’m going to be continuing some of the same topics next semester as I work on my master’s thesis.

Below is the abstract for a paper that will form the basis for my thesis. Thoughts? Questions? Ideas?

Re-Thinking Secularism: Religion in Public Life in Turkey


What does it mean to be a secular state? Is there a universal understanding of the place religion should occupy in a democratic state? This paper considers the conceptions of secularism and the particular brand of secularism that Turkey has embraced throughout its history. It is argued that a variety of factors make it untenable for the state to continue in a path of strict secularism through the  control of religion but secularism should be reconceptualized in a way that assures the freedom of religion from the state and the state from religion. A theoretical model is proposed that is better suited to the current realities of the Turkish experience and identifies some of the unique issues of concern. As Turkey continues to develop a robust and stable democracy and desires to remain a leader in the implementation of democracy in the Muslim majority world it must continue to make progress in the place of religion and public life.