A recent Pew Research Center poll explored correlations between political party identification and beliefs about the origins of species in the U.S. The poll found that self-identified Republicans are the most likely to reject evolutionary accounts of human origins–whether Darwinian or theistic–with 48 percent asserting that humans “existed in their present form since the beginning of time,” a view shared by only 27 percent of Democrats.
More interesting still, however, is the Pew Center’s analysis comparing the 2013 poll with the results for the same question asked in 2009. This comparison shows that the number of Republicans who reject evolutionary accounts has increased by 9 points (from 39 percent), and the number of Republicans who accept evolutionary accounts has decreased by 11 points (from 54 percent to 43 percent) over the last four years. During the same period, acceptance of evolutionary accounts increased by 3 points among Democrats and decreased by 2 points among Independents.
Let’s take this data at face value. What changes during the 4 years between 2009 and 2013 that could generate a massive swing among Republicans away from acceptance of evolutionary accounts of human origins–while during the same period we see only drift within other demographics? I would argue that the shift reflects the Republican retrenchment that is taking place during the presidency of Barack Obama. During this period, American conservatives did not simply stand against Obama’s policy proposals: they also underlined their dissatisfaction with the direction of the country’s politics by consolidating certain identity markers that indicated their separateness from what they perceive as the enemy–a liberal, secularist political syndicate. Affirming their opposition to evolutionary accounts (even theistic evolution) is a way of deploying an epistemic regime as an element in an identity program motivated by defiance and rage.
This illustrates two features of what I would call postsecularism. First, knowledge and science are not neutral, but are charged with affect, connected to identitarian programs, and easily absorbed into political regimes. Where secularism understands science as an outgrowth of a neutral exercise of rationality, the postsecular lens sees all forms of knowledge and rationality as embedded within fields of power and desire–though this need not be reduced to a simple scientific anti-realism.
Second, where the secularization hypothesis proposes that religion will steadily recede from the public sphere, postsecularism predicts a more complex trajectory, in which what gets called religion alternately enters and exits the public sphere in response to different historical circumstances and configurations of power.