Transnational Perspectives on Post-Secular Italy: Arts, Media and Religion

International Research Seminar
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In defiance of the prophesies of twentieth-century theorists and thinkers, religion has not been displaced by secularisation. Rather, it has become one of the most visible and complex fault lines of the 21st century. The co-presence of religious and secular discourses, as well as an increasingly multi-religious public sphere, have become a significant part of contemporary culture in the age of migration.

In this international research seminar, we explore the interactions between secularization and the post-secular in the public sphere from the disciplines of sociology, history, philosophy, and the arts. In doing so, we will use a transnational lens to challenge the Eurocentric model of “national distinctions which follow geographic, historical and linguistic boundaries […] modelled on 19th and early 20th century maps of the world” (Burdett and Polezzi 2020). More specifically, we will focus on Italy not as an imagined homogeneous nation but as a conglomerate of cultures: the seat of a global religion with over a billion followers worldwide; the peninsula at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, positioned in geographic proximity to the Islamic world. Finally, Italy’s long history of imperialism contributes to its place as a locus of religious mobility and mixing that belies the common narrative that Italy is a mono-religious nation. This seminar will extend the transnational to models outside Europe to challenge the Western-based post-secular thesis. With examples from Italian cinema and literature, it will ask how these cultural productions mobilise the religious/secular tensions, and what they can tell us about post-secular Italy in light of religion in global society.

The research seminar will be in English.

The following scholars have confirmed their participation: Prof. Pierpaolo Antonello (Cambridge University); Prof. Florian Mussgnug (University College London); Dr. Pooyan Tamimi Arab (Utrecht University); Dr. Marco Zonch (University of Warsaw).



28 April, starting at 10.30 CET

The format proposed is aimed at creating expert dialogues around each couple of papers. For this purpose, a short version of the paper will be made available one week before.


10.30-11.10   Welcome. Introduction and discussion statement by the organisers

11.10-11.55   Keynote lecture by Pooyan Tamimi Arab (Utrecht University): Secularization and religious transformation in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Survey challenges and sociological implications

11.55-12.30   Respondent Enzo Pace (Università di Padova, online). Discussion


14.00-15.15    Session 1: Religion, ethics, and literature

14.00-14.25   Pier Paolo Antonello (University of Cambridge): “We have never been secular”: Roberto Calasso, modernity, and the metamorphoses of sacrifice

14.25-14.50   Marco Zonch (University of Warsaw): Scritture postsecolari – Postsecular writings

14.50-15.00    Respondent Florian Mussgnug (University College London)

15.00-15.15    Discussion


15.15-15.30    Coffee break


15.30-16.45   Session 2: Christianity and Islam: Cinema, performance and cultural practices

15.30-15.50   Clodagh Brook (Trinity College Dublin): Italian Post-secular Contemporary Cinema: Religious Residues or Cement?

15.50-16.10   Monica Jansen (Utrecht University) & Maria Bonaria Urban (KNIR): Postsecular Italy according to Sorrentino: The Young Pope in dialogue with The New Pope

16.10-16.25   Respondent Pierpaolo Antonello (University of Cambridge)

16.25-16.45   Discussion


16.45-17.00   Coffee break


17.00-18.00   Conclusions and research meeting (this research meeting is reserved for speakers only and streaming via Zoom is not foreseen)


19.00  Public event (only live presence at KNIR, no Zoom session): Q&A with the director Phaim Bhuiyan of Bangla (Fandango, 2019, 87 min.)




This research seminar has been organized with the kind support of:


Utrecht University Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICON) – Aspasia Funds 2019

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The Society for Italian Studies (SIS)

Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome

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Photo credits “Street art – Torpignattara”: