John U. Nef Lecture Series

A poster for the event. All the information for the event is below the poster.


The John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought presents a public lecture and two-session masterclass by Hans Joas, Ernst Troeltsch Professor of Sociology of Religion, Humboldt University of Berlin, on,

The Power of the Sacred

Public Lecture: What Comes After the Secularization Thesis? Religious and Secular Sources of Moral Universalism; Monday, October 16th, 4:30–6:00 p.m.

Masterclass Session #1 Thursday, October 19th, 2023; 4:30 – 6:30 PM

Masterclass Session #2: Monday, October 23rd, 2023; 4:30 – 6:30 PM

All events will be held in Foster 505 

Lecture Abstract: For many decades, the so-called secularization thesis has dominated studies about religion in the humanities and social sciences. This thesis never was a mere statement of facts about religious decline but claimed to offer an explanation for such processes in the sense of a strong causal connection between the modernization of societies and the weakening of religion. In the last twenty years, however, this thesis has lost much of its plausibility. This talk will ask (1) what the reasons for this change of mind are, (2) what a superior explanation could be, (3) how these changes affect our views about the “prehistory” of modern European secularization and (4) what a more fruitful perspective on long-term religious change could be. The talk also serves as an introduction to a master class about my book The Power of the Sacred: An Alternative to the Narrative of Disenchantment (Oxford University Press 2021).  

Professor Joas will lead two 2-hour seminars to develop and discuss in more detail some of the ideas of his book, The Power of the Sacred: An Alternative to the Narrative of Disenchantment.  All are welcome but participants are kindly asked to register here for access to the Canvas site, where relevant readings (as described below) may be found.

Masterclass Session #1, What is Disenchantment? On the Ambiguity of a Weberian Concept, will be devoted to a clarification of the concept of disenchantment. After its introduction by Max Weber, it has become a key term in the self-understanding of modernity. But surprisingly little effort has been spent to specify what its original meaning was and whether the concept can really be defended today, given the present state of knowledge about the history of religion. Chapter 4 of Joas’s Power of the Sacred, particularly pp. 110-153, offers a detailed microscopic reading of Weber’s use of the term and explain why it is deeply ambiguous. Here and in a new interpretation of Weber’s famous Intermediate Reflection in The Power of the Sacred chapter 6 an alternative approach already becomes tangible on the conceptual level.

Masterclass Session #2, The Sacred and Power: Collective Self-Sacralization and Ways of Overcoming It, will focus on the contours of a narrative that is intended to be a substantive alternative to the narrative of disenchantment. These contours can be found in chapter 7 of the book (The Sacred and Power), particularly pp. 250-273. For its appropriate understanding chapter 5 on the Axial Age discourse (pp. 154-194) should also be prepared. The main idea is a theory of the dynamics of ever new sacralizations and the emergence of the idea of transcendence as a way to overcome the constant tendencies toward the self-sacralization of political collectivities. 

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