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Conference: Critical Potentials of Secularist Practice

27 - 29 May 2019 
Leipzig University, Strohsack, room 5.55

Joint conference of the Institute for the Study of Religions of Leipzig University and the Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies "Multiple Secularities - Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities". Convenors are Katharina Neef and Horst Junginger. The conference is supported by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft).

In recent years, secularist activism has been generating considerable interest in terms of historical research. Whereas freethought organizations, their protagonists, and their discussions were intensively investigated, there is up to now scarce discussion on concrete attempts to melt secular positions into a certain lifestyle. Therefore, this international conference focusses on the practical level: What did these secularists actually do? What meant living a secular(ist) life? Furthermore, we evaluate the narratives that were used to legitimize these practices. A central point of reference will be their relation to religion, be it in a positive, affirmative way, be it negatively rejective.

The conference will trace these constellations in an international and comparative framework, thereby making apparent differences and similarities of the secularist approaches in the run of the late 19th and 20th century. Our aim is to cast light on the development and critical potentials of the religious and cultural setting that moulded the normality of modern secular lifestyles.

The conference is open to a limited number of listeners. If you are interested, please contact Katharina Neef via email.

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Monday, 27 May 2019

13.00 – 13.15

Christoph Kleine (Leipzig): Welcome and Opening   

13.15 – 13.45

Katharina Neef (Leipzig/Chemnitz): Critical Potentials of Secularist Practice. Introduction

Section 1: Imagining Community – Creating Community 

Chair: Stefan Arvidsson (Vaxjö)

14.00 – 15.30

Dirk Schuster (Potsdam): On the Scientification of Atheism in the GDR


Anja Kirsch (Basel): 19th-century versions of the perfect society: Pietist and Owenite communitarian experiments in New Harmony

15.30 – 16.00

Coffee Break

16.00 – 17.30

Anton Jansson (Göteborg): “The purpose of man”: freethought and life reform in Sweden around 1900


Johannes Gleixner (Prag): Standardizing secular practices without creating secularism: New Czechoslovakia and its religious policies 1918-1921

17.30 – 18.00


18.00 – 19.30

Horst Junginger (Leipzig): The study and critique of religion

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Section 2: Secularist Practices

Chair: Uta Karstein (Leipzig)

9.00 – 10.30

Daniel Laqua (Newcastle): The Invention of a Musical Tradition among Freethinkers’ Organizations


Thomas Schmidt-Lux (Leipzig): A Modern Architecture to Praise Seularity

10.30 – 11.00

Coffee Break

Section 3: Rites de passage: Performing biographical stages in the secularist milieu

Chair: Bernadett Bigalke (Leipzig)

11.00 – 12.30

Antoine Mandret-Degeilh (Toulouse/Paris): The Positivist Settings of Civil Baptisms in France 

Jenny Vorpahl (Potsdam): Giving Nice Wedding Traditions a New Meaning. Civil Marriage in the GDR

12.30 – 14.00

Lunch Break

14.00 – 16.00

Carolin Kosuch (Rom/Göttingen): Cremation. Burning Corpses, a Lasting Protest Against Christian Culture


Héléna Tóth (Bamberg): Secular Burial Ceremonies


Christoph de Spiegeleer (Brussels): Challenging the Societal Death System. The Development of a Secularist Funerary Culture in Nineteenth-Century Belgium

16.00 – 16.30

Coffee Break

16.30 – 17.30


Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Section 4: Education and Socialization

Chair: Sabrina Weiß (Leipzig)

9.00 – 11.00

Christophe Verbruggen (Gent): Secularity and Religion in the Transnational. Discourse of the Social Reformers 


Stefan Schröder (Bayreuth): Humanism as school subject and humanist private schools in Germany


Katharina Neef: Religious School Education and Secularist Agency to Separate Church and School

11.00 – 11.30

Coffee Break

11.30 – 12.30

Closing Discussion



Poster of the "XVI. Internationaler Freidenker-Kongress. München, 31. Aug. - 4. Sep. 1912", illustrated by E. Kuhlmann.