What is Subsecular Arts?



Let’s start with the ”what?”. In 2001, in the wake of 9/11, German philosopher and sociologist Jürgen Habermas  expressed that we are living in a postsecular world society. The term postsecular had been around for some time (made its first occurence in the 60ies and diversified in the 90ies) but now widespread discussion ensued. What it means to live in a postsecular time has been the talk of the town now for almost two decades and we seem to get nowhere closer to anything but an utter deterioration of conceptual clarity.

I am two things: An artist (in the sense of the Swedish word konstnär och German kunstler) first, and an academic second. I am currently employed as a doctoral candidate at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. I have surveyed the research on the postsecular thoroughly, and my increasingly firmer stance is that the postsecular, more than anything, is a prescriptive term; one that says how we ought to live. More importantly, it’s about how to structure our (political) allegiances.  When things turn politic, then whatever creed we live by or whatever should be subdued by a commitment to expressing political visions in secular terms, devoid of spiritual meanings.

Enter The Subsecular. I choose (or invented actually) the term in order to point out two things:

First, that beneath the surface of prescriptive edicts lives and stirs something. We may be told by Habermas, or the press declaring that people with religious ties are to be looked upon with suspicion, that we ought to strip politics – life in the public sphere even – of metaphysical connotations, and of any deep spiritual commitments. My question is simple: Why? For those of us who lead some kind of spiritual life, or feeling that being alive is infused and enhanced by some kind of spirituality (be it expressed in organised religion, individual practices or a deep appreciation of art), it is baffling that politics (how to envision and stake out a road forward to a better society/world) would be best served by excluding some of the things we truly care about, the things that truly move us.

Secondly, it is evident that these enriching impulses and commitments stir beneath the surface. We may ”call” society secular in any respect we choose, but it’s more than anything an illusion. Society isn’t secular. But whilst the postsecularism is the talk about ‘the new visibility of religion’, ‘return of religion’ or ‘return of God’ and try to structure commitments to such visibilities, The Subsecular expresses the power-relation between the spiritual being forced into submission to the dominant secular. But, as anyone involved in BDSM nows, it’s really the sub who dictates the framework for what may take place in the scene. This is a reminder, that what stirs under the (to some beautiful) veneer of the secular, are powerful spiritual yearnings and commitments that can flourish. But for this to happen, activism needs to happen on the part of us, the Subs. My belief is that my two jobs coincide in one mission. It’s the task of both the artist and the philosopher to think the world differently; to believe in, to work for, to reinterpret and propel into being a new world. SubsecularArts is my attempt to do just that. To share my reinterpretations and visions of the world, in the shape of new thoughts, new practices and new music.


/Jonatan Bäckelie

curator of SubsecularArts

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