Contending Modernities

Recent research challenges an earlier generation’s expectations that the world is becoming increasingly secular. On the contrary, religion not only endures but thrives at the very heart of modern and modernizing societies. At the same time, secular modes of reasoning and development inform daily life everywhere.

Contending Modernities is a multi-year, interdisciplinary research and education initiative, co-directed by Scott Appleby, Ebrahim Moosa, and Atalia Omer, in partnership with secular and religious institutions and individuals from around the world. The project seeks to generate new knowledge and greater understanding of the ways in which religious and secular forces interact in the modern world and to advance collaboration for the common good. 

In its first phase, Contending Modernities focused on Islam and Roman Catholicism. In addition to their sheer scope and size — encompassing the globe and claiming some 40 percent of the world’s population — these global religions antedated, helped constitute, and have been shaped by the developments associated with modernity. In examining how these two traditions have understood, accommodated, altered, and resisted the radical transformations that have characterized the modern world, the initiative engendered debates and scholarship that innovated across religious and secular tradition on topics as diverse as bioethics and cosmopolitanism.

Building upon and consolidating previous theories and deliberations, the second phase of Contending Modernities broadens the initiative's view to develop a robust engagement with the secular as a discursive tradition that itself does not stand in opposition to the "religious" under the premises of abstracted neutrality. This focus opens up the initiative to a historical and historicist discussion of other religious and spiritual traditions and their intersections with and coevality with modern political formations. This intersection demands a careful consideration of questions of gender, race, and nationalism as critical sites for the study of religion and modernities and for cultivating nuanced accounts of humanistic inquiries into religious-secular encounters.  Firmly grounded in scholarship, the project endeavors in this phase to communicate its findings to new audiences around the world, cognizant of the policy implications of the research as well as the significance the project may hold for individuals and communities navigating the contested and overlapping boundaries of religious and secular experience.