Rethinking the secular: Critical Perspectives on Religion, Education, and Culture

Thematic focus

‘Once, there was no “secular”… the secular as a domain had to be instituted or imagined’. With these words, John Milbank’s influential Theology and Social Theory (1990) launched the idea of ‘the secular’ as a complex, unstable, contingent imaginative construction still steeped in religious languages, histories, and debates. Since then, a number of genealogies of secular modernity that trace its paradoxes and challenges back to much older theological debates have been added to the scholarly arsenal. This interdisciplinary working group probes the question of how and why ‘the secular’ was invented historically, as a basis for a critique of how this ideological construction influences contemporary cultural, social, and political debates.

Purpose and activities

The research group builds on already existing national and international networks and starts from three main fields: 

1. Literature and art

2. Religion and philosophy 

3. Religious education. 

Professor Erik Tonning is the coordinator for the whole research group and for the field of literature and art, while Professor Clemens Cavallin has responsibility for the field of religious education. Together they manage the field of religion and philosophy. 

The research group is positive toward cooperation with other research groups at NLA. Our hope is that its work will constitute a resource for a wider conversation at NLA and beyond.  

The research group will organize a series of open online seminars during 2023 on the theme of secularity. For participation email either or 

Medlemmer fra NLA:

Erik Tonning
Paul Clemens Cavallin
Johanna Bokedal
Jan Almäng
Sæbjørg Hageberg Kjeka
Wenche Langeland
Are Bøe Pedersen
Margrethe Løøv

Eksterne medlemmer:

Dr Linden Bicket, Lecturer in Literature and Religion, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh, UK. 

Dr Jamie Callison, Associate Professor in English, University of Agder, Norway. 

Dr Elias Carr, President of the Schools of Saint Mary Manhasset, NY, USA. 

Dr Per Ewert, director for the Clapham Institute, 

Dr Stefan Tørnquist Fisher-Høyrem, Senior Academic Librarian for Religion, Philosophy and History, University of Agder, Norway. 

Olav Hovdelien, Professor in Religious Studies and Ethics, Oslo Metropolitan University, Faculty of Education and International studies, Norway.  

Dr Rebekah Lamb, Lecturer in Theology, Imagination and the Arts, University of Saint Andrews, UK. .

Dr Tamás Nyirkos, senior researcher, Research Institute for Politics and Government, University of Public Service, Budapest, Hungary.  

Dr Joseph Shaw, Tutorial Fellow, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford 

Dr Brian Sudlow, Lecturer in Politics, History and International relations, School of Social Sciences and the Humanities, Aston University, Birmingham, UK. 

Dr Johan Sundeen, Associate Professor in History of Ideas, University of Borås, Sweden. 

Dr Fionnuala O’Neill Tonning, Visiting Fellow, Department of Foreign Languages, University of Bergen, Norway. 


Erik Tonning
Paul Clemens Cavallin