chapter  12
13 Pages

Matters of life and death

ByANNA STRHAN

In his 1909 essay ‘Bridge and Door’, the sociologist Georg Simmel describes the human being ‘as the connecting creature who must always separate and cannot connect without separating … And the human being is likewise the bordering creature who has no border’ (1994, 174). We are beings who make sense of the world through our capacity to connect and to separate things, and Simmel argues that this guides all human activity, shaping our physical, symbolic, emotional and imagined spaces and leaving material marks in the world around us. Exploring the nature of modes of connection and separation is perhaps particularly pertinent to understanding the relations between ‘atheism’ and ‘religion’, or between ‘non-religion’ and ‘religion’, as it is indexed in the very act of naming these as fields of exploration. In my writing ‘non-religion’, for example, what modes of uniting and disuniting shape my instinct to hyphenate the word (or not)? As the prefix ‘non-’ carves out a space of separation from religion, it also draws attention to the doubled nature of lines of division: ‘the separation of objects, people or places is always shadowed by the idea – the “fantasy” or the danger – of their connection’ (Tonkiss 2005, 31). Drawing out a deeper understanding of the (simultaneous) practices of connection and separation between religious and non-religious cultures can enable us to develop more nuanced understandings of the everyday realities of members of these groups, which move beyond common assumptions that their interrelations are necessarily antagonistic, and instead open up common grounds of human experience, as well as the lived experience of modes of difference.