Reading for Affect: The Religious-Secular Divide

— Christian von Scheve, Anna-Lea Berg, Robert Walter-Jochum, Yasemin Ural

Debates about the status and recognition of religious minorities in contemporary Western societies frequently evoke the notion of „religious feelings“, although it is hardly ever clear what these feelings are and who actually experiences them. Focusing on public discourse in Germany, it appears that these debates are commonly centered on (immigrant) Muslims and their religious practices as well as on the status and reach of secular institutions, in particular the freedom of expression and the protection from blasphemy. We offer two interpretations of these debates that capitalize on concepts of affect and emotion and on the secular and the religious as two intertwined public spheres. First, feelings and emotions as discursive categories are predominantly attributed to collective religious subjects being (unduly) affected. In contrast, the secular subject is portrayed as rational, deliberate, and affectively neutral. These ascriptions not only become critical hallmarks of subjectivation but also constitute secular and religious collectivities along the antagonisms of native-immigrant and rational-emotional. Second, and closely related, the language of this discourse bears itself a range of affective qualities, in particular relationality and materiality, for which we use the German term Sprachkörperlichkeit that refers to the very corporeality of language. Using this concept as a methodological approach, we show how these debates render the religious and the secular, the rational and the emotional, us and them in antagonizing affective registers.