Britta Kölle


Secularity, it has been debated for some time, is in crisis. In the light of the events testifying to a global ‘resurgence of religion’ during the last decades, claims of a reduction of religious influence to private life stand discredited. The unfolding academic debate of post-secularism focuses on the potential of geopolitical conflict and the challenges post-secular societies face in terms of tolerance and integration as well as marginalization and participation of religious and spiritual groups (cf. eg. Habermas, Casanova). A new, post-secular awareness reopens complex issues of the seemingly mutually exclusive binaries of the religious and the secular, the rational and the spiritual, the extremist and the inclusive.
This specific and controversial discourse serves as a backdrop to the literary analysis I propose. Novels of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries often follow an implied secularization narrative and tend to ‘culturalize’ religion. In contrast, works of fiction deemed to be post-secular (cf. McClure), approach spirituality beyond the secularization paradigm and explore the sphere emerging in the in-between of the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ in multilayered dimensions. Thematically, they depict a ‘search for spirituality’ that, rather than clinging to the binary of secularism versus religiosity, struggles and ‘reaches’ for an alternative to the dilemma of either identifying with traditional forms of religiosity or abstaining from an innately human need to believe. On a textual level, I find the authors ‘reaching’ for ways to express this dilemma without resorting to well-trodden discourses. An in-depth literary analysis of these issues – also in comparison with ‘classic’ secularization narratives – connects to participatory questions on an individual actor’s level as well as the cultural agency of spiritual minorities: In the proposed dissertation I would like to investigate which conclusions can be drawn from a private and individual search for spirituality as depicted in post-secular fiction for spirituality’s overall part in shaping social actors and their relationships, as well as which relevance forms of expression, specifically symbols, have on forming a mutual understanding of the ‘spiritual’ and thus facilitate the possibility of participation of the same.

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