As editor of The Immanent Frame, Mona Oraby curates thematic forums and forums on new books in the study of secularism, religion, and the public sphere. Forums feature original, invited essays from scholars across the humanities and social sciences, and advance debates that traverse disciplinary boundaries.


What are oaths good for?

From the concluding essay by Mona Oraby to the forum entitled “I swear,” co-curated with Nancy Levene:

As American statesmen and a US Supreme Court Justice in the ’90s were figuring out what to do with their words, music chart-toppers narrated the present in registers of uncompromising faith and temporal excess. The effusively committal and utterly unbelievable. Except that we believed them. Un-break my heart. Say you’ll love me again. The ’90s is a soundtrack of “the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves,” Diane Shane Fruchtman might say, “or . . . the narrativization of experience that gets us through our days.” I’ll be your dream, I’ll be your wish, I’ll be your fantasy.

Where are we now? Adam Stern suggests that “For better or worse . . . the oath seems to have become a punchline, a laughable anachronism, whose persistence and apparent efficacy in the present only belies its substantive vacuity, fundamental frailty, and diminished consequence.” I’m not so sure. If we understand the oath—promise-making, vow-taking—as one moment in a story not bound to the time or place of an initial telling, we might think less about the oath’s failure than the desire it habitually fulfills. This is what Levene means, I think, when she says “the oath is a disaster” and yet promises, oaths “are that great human wager of desire + time = history.” The promise of the promise, the hope of what it will fulfill at that time and over time, tells us about our time—even later.


Modernity’s resonances: New inquiries into the secular

Following a format introduced in the Fall 2018 forum “Science and the soul: New inquiries into Islamic ethics,” this forum features eighteen essays discussing four recent books and the themes and topics emergent from them.

The four books included in this discussion are Credulity by Emily Ogden (University of Chicago Press, 2018), The Resonance of Unseen Things by Susan Lepselter (University of Michigan Press, 2016), The Story of Radio Mind by Pamela Klassen (University of Chicago, 2018), and Magic’s Reason by Graham Jones (University of Chicago Press, 2017). Respondents to the books were asked to reflect on how these works challenge and correct the discursive and philosophical modes of investigation into secularity’s histories and manners of operation.


Rethinking public religion: Word, image, sound

This forum explores three contentions of the “Rethinking Public Religion” project at Columbia University’s Institute for Religion Culture and Public Life.

The first is that we cannot understand public religion without equal attention to the mediums and modes of religious publicity. How, exactly, does public religion take shape? The second contention is that context matters, not only with respect to what "religion" means or does, but also what makes something "public." Does it make sense to speak of "public religion" in the Global North in the same way as we might with respect to the Global South? If so, how? If not, why not? The third contention is that our understanding of religion (and its others) stand to benefit from more frequent pushes beyond a focus on distinct traditions and traditional sites of inquiry. The turn to publics allows one to consider not only these longstanding subjects, but also how we can approach "religion" through any number of mediated encounters that have so far eluded inquiries into religion's publics.