The Politics of Secularism

Principal Investigators

Prof. Dr. Rupa Viswanath

Professor of Indian Religions Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS)

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Waldweg 26, 37073 Göttingen, Germany

+49 (0)551 39 12740

+49 (0)551 39 14215



Rupa Viswanath is Professor of Indian Religions at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen. She previously taught in the South Asia Studies Department at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was assistant professor and Director of Graduate Studies, and she is a lifelong Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge. Her research addresses secularism, social exclusion, minorities and processes of minoritisation, the political economy of caste, and democracy and political struggle in South Asia. Her manuscript, The Pariah Problem: Religion, Caste and Welfare in Modern India is under preparation at Columbia University Press. She has received fellowships from the Social Science Research Council, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Mellon Foundation, and the American Association of University Women. She is currently Chair of the Steering Committee for the Hinduism Group of the American Academy of Religion.

Dr. Dan Smyer Yü (2013-2014)



Dan Smyer Yu was a CETREN researcher during his position as the Research Group Leader at the Department of Religious Diversity, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. He is an anthropologist specializing in the studies of religious revitalizations, charismatic communities, commercialization of religious spirituality, and the relationship between eco-religious practices and place-making in contemporary China. He received his Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of California at Davis. Prior to his joining Max Planck, he was a New Millennium Scholar and the Associate Director of the Ethnic Minority Study Center of China at Minzu University of China. He also taught and held research positions at the University of California, Davis, Graduate Theological Union, San Francisco Theological Seminary, and Sacramento City College, and the Center for the Pacific Rim of University of San Francisco.

His research interests include religion and ethnic nationalism; religiosity of state ideology; religious conversion; religion and ecology; sacred landscapes; pilgrimage studies; religion and mental health; religion and peacebuilding; visual anthropology; and religious use of digital media. He recently completed his second monograph concerning the intersections of religion, nation, and nationalism in the context of modern Sino-Tibetan interactions. It addresses how land, place-making, nostalgia, modernity, imagination, and representation are entwined in both rural and urban settings of contemporary China.

In addition to his research writing, Dr. Smyer Yu has also made an ethnographic film titled Embrace, which documents Amdo Tibetans’ narratives concerning folk religious practices and their ecological significances. It is nominated for award at the Beijing International Film Festival in 2011. Currently he is making a new documentary film about Buddhism and science dialogue.

Prof. Dr. Axel Schneider

Director, Centre for Modern East Asian Studies (CeMEAS)

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Centre for Modern East Asian Studies, Heinrich-Düker-Weg 14, 37073 Göttingen, Germany

+49 (0)551 39 27033

+49 (0)551 39 27048



Axel Schneider is Director of Centre for Modern East Asian Studies (CeMEAS) at the University of Göttingen. His research and publications have focused on the history of historical thinking and writing in 19th and 20th century China investigating how the traditionally central field of historiography has developed and changed under the impact of the historical experience of imperialism and in exchange with Western philosophical and historiographical influences. His research has analyzed how aspects of modern nation-building, identity politics and academic history have interacted with philosophical and religious concerns. Publishing in English and Chinese and editor of several series shaping the field of research in comparative historiography and historical writing, his most recent work continues and expands this line of inquiry into the field of modern Chinese critiques of Western modernity. Currently he is writing a monograph on Chinese critiques of progressivism and modern concepts of time motivated by ethical and religious considerations.

Prof. Dr. Matthias Koenig

Professor of Sociology

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Institute for Sociology, Platz der Göttinger Sieben 3,  37073 Göttingen, Germany

+49 (0)551 39 7232

+49 (0)551 39 7692



Matthias Koenig is Professor of Sociology at the University of Göttingen and Max Planck Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. His research focuses on international human rights law and the governance of religious diversity in global-comparative perspective. He is co-editor of "Democracy and Human Rights in Multicultural Societies" (Ashgate 2007, with Paul de Guchteneire), "International Migration and the Governance of Religious Diversity" (McGill/Queen’s University Press 2009, with Paul Bramadat) and author of numerous articles in international journals such as Ethnic and Racial Studies, International Migration Review, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, and International Sociology. While his regional research focus is on Europe, he has long-standing interests in the study of transregional processes of policy and norm diffusion.

Postdoctoral Researcher (2013-2015)

Dr. Neena Mahadev (2013-2015)

CETREN Postdoctoral Researcher in the project “The Politics of Secularism and the Emergence of New Religiosities”

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen



BA Sociology/Anthropology, concentration in South Asian Studies, Carleton College, USA

MA Social Sciences, University of Chicago, USA
MA and PhD, Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University, USA


Neena Mahadev’s expertise lies within the subfields of the anthropology of religion and political anthropology. She is also influenced by the fields of comparative religion and theology. Her ethnographic work accounts for inter-religious rivalry and conflict, but does so with an eye towards empirically examining the conditions of possibility for religious pluralism in contexts of where there is a prevalence of exclusionary identitarian attachments to religion. Her research probes the way that religious subjectivities and aspects of religious politics are shaped by the material and ideological entailments of theology (drawing on concepts of economic theology and political theology) particular to distinct religious traditions. Moreover, Neena’s work explores the religious newness that is engendered within a field of mutual religious influences; particularly, she examine how liturgy and soteriological aspirations shift under the influence of rival forms of religiosity, as well as under the constraints of a state that privileges particular religious forms.

The current book project builds upon her dissertation (2013) which is entitled, “Buddhist Nationalism, Christian Evangelism, and the Rearticulations of Conflict and Belonging in Postwar Sri Lanka.” Based on two years of field research in Sri Lanka, Neena examined expressions of religious conviction, identity politics of religion among Theravāda Buddhist and the Sri Lankan Christian (especially Roman Catholic and Pentecostal) communities. The work systematically examined the mutual skepticism that Buddhists and Christians expressed towards one another in the context of disputes over religious conversion, particularly from the mid-1990s until present. It also examines the politically expedient and the theologically orthodox lines along which alliances between Buddhists and certain denominational segments of Christianities were forged, especially under the revised demands of ethno-religious nationalism in Sri Lanka’s post-war era.

Neena’s new research project within CETREN will undertake a study of religious and ethnic “bridge-burning and boundary crossing,” in Sri Lanka and also Singapore, through an examination of itinerant religiosities within and between these different socio-political milieus. She plans to study the the trans-regional religious links between the two countries, especially in terms of the traffic of Buddhist, Christian and Hindu influences between South, Southeast and also East Asia.

Postdoctoral Researcher (2013-2015)

Dr. Jeremy F. Walton (2013-2015)

CETREN Postdoctoral Researcher in the project “The Politics of Secularism and the Emergence of New Religiosities"

Center for Advanced Study of Southeast Europe, University of Rijeka



Jeremy F. Walton joined the CETREN Transnational Research Network at Georg August University of Göttingen as a research fellow in the pilot program, “The Politics of Secularism and the Emergence of New Religiosities”, in autumn 2013. During the 2012-2013 academic year, he was a Jamal Daniel Levant Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS). Prior to this, he was an Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow in New York University’s Religious Studies Program (2009-2012). He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago (2009), and is currently in the process of revising his book manuscript, Pieties of Pluralism: Mediations of Islam, Civil Society and Secularism in Turkey. A comprehensive essay summarizing much of this research was published in the February 2013 volume of American Ethnologist, under the title ““Confessional Pluralism and the Civil Society Effect: Liberal Mediations of Islam and Secularism in Contemporary Turkey.” Dr. Walton co-edited, with John Kelly, Beatrice Jauregui, and Sean T. Mitchell, the collection Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency, and has book chapters in Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency, Orienting Istanbul: Cultural Capital of Europe? and The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies. His teaching and research broadly interrogate the myriad relationships among Islamic practice, the politics of contemporary secularism, and global regimes of power and publicity. Dr. Walton conducted fieldwork for his dissertation in Istanbul and Ankara from 2005 to 2007. Under the auspices of CETREN, his new research project, tentatively titled “Secular Geographies of Nation and Religion on the Margins of the New Europe: Mosque Communities and Civil Society in Turkey and Croatia,” will plumb how transregional discourses of belonging and identity affect pious actors, practices, and communities in distinct yet related political contexts.


T: +49 551 39 21286
F: +49 551 39 21284


Georg-Universität-Universität Göttingen
Heinrich-Düker-Weg 14
37073 Göttingen