Secular Liturgies Network and Forum

Our mission is to enrich societies with secular ethics and reflective practices, informed by the latest research, and expressed in liturgical events that include creative writing, literature, ritual and other art forms.

About

We are a think-tank, publisher, creative hub and events pioneer.

The SLN&F publishes original creative works of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction, incisive journalistic articles including interview-style articles with experts and practitioners in relevant fields, and original research papers, which are shorter and more widely engaging than traditional academic publications.

We are committed to both creative excellence and the highest standards in peer-reviewed research.

The article below will introduce you to our vision, values and goals.

A Vision for the Future

The British Social Attitudes Surveys show that religious affiliation has declined steeply in the UK, and continues to do so. Fifty percent of British people no longer identify with a religious faith, and many who do, are non-practising. The percentage of 18-24 year olds with no religious affiliation is significantly higher, at sixty-four percent. Furthermore, a proportion of those who still identify with a religion will be liberals and progressives. In Europe as a whole, we are certainly moving into a post-religious age, and many other nations are undergoing a similar transition, with the world’s nonreligious now the third largest group of humans, exceeded in numbers only by Christians and Muslims. (See  reports by the National Centre for Social Research and the Pew Research Center, which are freely available online)

While traditional religion is losing ground, other forms of dogma and superstition are on the rise. However, secular ethics and secular reflective practices, which are based on a rational approach to knowledge and which reject dogma and superstition, also have the potential to fill the void. In 2018, I launched the Secular Liturgies Network and Forum, to bring people together from many different secular, humanist and progressive backgrounds, to explore common ground when it comes to developing, and creatively expressing, a secular ethic.

I am particularly keen to develop and experiment with reflective practices, which have the potential to enrich secular life and culture. My focus in this regard, is on secular liturgical creative writings, and carefully choreographed liturgical events. These events include readings of original work, rituals, cultural heritage (ideas, objects and exhibitions), a variety of art forms, and readings from existing literature, philosophy and so forth. They are organised around the following Nine Themes:

  1. Critical Thinking – truth, evidence, research, excellent science, responsibility
  2. Good Life – character, empathy, wisdom, courage, virtue, kindness, compassion
  3. Good Society – social justice, human rights, individual freedom, equality, democracy
  4. Sustainability – our place in nature, green lifestyles, religious naturalism, biophilia
  5. Health and Well-being – reflection, meditation, mindfulness, socialisation
  6. Big Culture – cultural exchange, diversity, comparative philosophy/religion
  7. Community – companionship, relationships, humour, fun, friendship
  8. Life-Cycles – birth and coming of age celebrations, weddings, funerals
  9. Seasons – annual and seasonal events following a secular calendar

Reflective Practices

Much that is good in spirituality and religion, and which can be transferred into a secular context, is to do with rituals that facilitate reflective practice. These rituals include liturgical communal services/gatherings, scheduled/habitual contemplation of one’s actions and of life and the universe (philosophy!), mindfulness meditations, rites of passage, lifecycle and seasonal events, pilgrimages and so forth. Producing creative art works is also a form of reflective practice, since our creations reflect our experience, impressions and understandings of the world.

Prayer can also be seen as form of reflective practice rather than as an actual conversation with a supernatural being. The person who prays has to put into words and a new context (sometimes a public context) their feelings and thoughts about the things they have heard about and experienced. In the process, they reflect on this information and experience in a way that can change their attitudes and behaviours over time. Certain forms of public prayer, such as call and response, can therefore be secular in content and used in nonreligious and inter-faith contexts.

Critical thinking and other reflective practices are the means by which human beings can pursue truth, goodness or virtue. They are the means by which we can more deeply and more regularly experience wonderment, love and self-transcendence. They  enable us to cultivate empathy and compassion for other living beings. Reflective practices demand honesty, freedom, tolerance and equality, values which actually run counter to the religious power structures that have been dominant for so long. They also lead to us rediscover and better appreciate our place in nature, an emphasis, which contrasts with the efforts of traditional religion to set humanity apart from its natural origins and even to set us apart from the needs and pleasures of our own physical bodies.

Defining Secular Liturgies

Secular liturgies are writings, and other liturgical expressions, such as rituals, meditations and art forms, which are read (or take place) at secular private or public gatherings. They explore, celebrate and convey the secular values of compassion, truth, freedom, equality, courage, tolerance and responsibility. They also seek to capture and communicate, in creative ways, the latest information and research that can help us to advance well-being and alleviate suffering. I hope that they will make secular cultures more resilient in difficult times, and inspire us to meet our global challenges.

The Network’s definition of liturgy is very broad. It includes, more obviously, writings and readings, which are morally and/or intellectually instructive. However, it also includes words and activities, which are indirectly helpful to us, for example, by creating spaces for reflection or socialisation, or by defining rituals, which can instil healthy habits, practical wisdom, critical thinking and so forth. A story, a poem, a dance, the process of painting a picture, a journey, a piece of music, a period of silence, and even the shipping forecast- these may all be described as liturgy!

In addition to liturgies written for secular events, I am also keen to explore the possibility of integrating liturgy, and what I call ‘liturgical moments’, into everyday life. Liturgies often define the values, goals and cultural identity of groups, from the tattoos and graffiti of youth subcultures, to the word-art one finds in the homes and workplaces of the aspirational classes. Therefore, we will be exploring how elements of our secular liturgies and events on the Nine Themes may be creatively incorporated into our home, working and leisure environments.

Secular liturgies and liturgical events can help us to live out, both individually and communally, a fidelity to truth and kindness, even when truth and kindness demand that we revise our assumptions or put aside our self-interest. They can facilitate a greater appreciation of the natural world (and of our place within it), and encourage a vigorous engagement with secular ethics. They can also induce experiences of self-transcendence through techniques such as mindfulness, experiences which are not only pleasurable and health-giving in themselves but which can also lead to positive changes in our thinking and behaviour. Liturgical events can help us to cultivate empathy through self-understanding and the sharing of stories. They can build relationships and community through regular socialisation at a meaningful depth.

A Diverse Network

One of the distinctive features of this movement is its diversity. The Network brings together those who would not normally work together, because although they have much in common in terms of shared values and goals, they have very different backgrounds, cultures, heritages and identities.

Related to this, is another distinctive feature, which I am calling our ‘big culture’ approach. By a ‘big culture’ approach, I mean that we seek to sift the golden nuggets of wisdom from the world’s philosophical and religious traditions, in terms of both their thinking and practice, and apply it in the process of creating our secular liturgies and liturgical events. This requires a critical process of determining which parts of our inherited cultures (the literature, the objects, the rituals and traditions) conform to our secular values and goals, and which must be consigned to the past. I am of the view that while the ‘bath water’ needs to go, the ‘baby’ should not be thrown away with it, as the saying goes! Though of course, we need to keep the bath water in a museum somewhere, as a reminder of how far we have come!

Our Secular Liturgies community consists of humanists, atheists, agnostics, free-thinkers, sceptics, the nonreligious, the ‘spiritual but not religious’, Unitarians, British Quakers, liberals from other denominations, and members of progressive religious reform movements, such as Progressive Christianity, Humanistic Judaism, Secular Buddhism and others. Together, not only can we learn so much more about other cultural perspectives but we can also gain a far better perspective on our own cultures.

A Call for Creative Contributions

Join us in this exciting and experimental process of writing secular liturgy and choreographing innovative liturgical events along the Nine Themes.

Send us your secular liturgical extracts, poetry, short stories, personal accounts and other creative nonfiction, short dramatic scripts/extracts, short films, art-works, music and cultural heritage content/objects.

Submit articles relating cutting-edge academic research in areas relevant to the SLN&F.

Share your suggestions for readings, from novels, poetry, works of philosophy and other literature.

Contribute ideas for activities that may be integrated into secular liturgical events e.g.meditations, community feasts, tea ceremonies, dance routines, multimedia, art exhibitions, songs and other musical compositions.

Secular Liturgy: an example

Below is an extract from my own liturgical writing, just to give you an idea of the variety of forms it can take. The following ‘vows’ can be used at coming of age celebrations, or at ceremonies for the re-affirmation of vows, or they could simply be spoken as part of a liturgy for regular communal use.

The Twelve Vows for Life

  1. I shall be faithful to the principles of liberty, equality and sustainability.
  2. I shall take time to rest and contemplate the beauty of the Earth and its inhabitants.
  3. I shall study the brave, noble and kindly acts of my fellow humans, both my peers and my predecessors, and take inspiration from them.
  4. I shall honour my family with gratitude and loving-kindness, and I shall be a comfort to my friends, knowing the richness that brings.
  5. I shall be forgiving and compassionate towards others, since all of us are flawed, fellow-sufferers in a troubled world, dependent upon one another for our survival and flourishing. I shall do so from gratitude, since so many have been generous towards me.
  6. I shall be compassionate towards other animals and the Earth, for they too sustain and enrich my life.
  7. I shall work to bring justice, healing and peace to humanity and the Earth, and I shall refrain from doing harm.
  8. I shall endeavour to pursue noble goals with diligence and care, so that I may make a valuable contribution to the world, and so that I may set a courageous example for others.
  9. I shall speak kindly of others and truthfully of myself.
  10. I shall respect the person and possessions of others, being honest in all my dealings.
  11. I shall always seek the truth, by studying the evidence, listening to others, and taking time to come to my conclusions and judgments. I shall not ignore evidence I do not like, or seek out or invent evidence, which appears to confirm my own assumptions, or which advances my own interests, and which is a deliberate attempt to mislead others.
  12. I shall be content with what I have, rejoicing in the success of others, while working hard to better myself.

Academics and practitioners from across many disciplines are contributing to the movement on the website and blog: https://secularliturgies.wordpress.com/

You can follow our progress and posts on our Facebook Page, and you are welcome to participate in the more informal discussions on our Facebook Forum:

The Page: https://www.facebook.com/secularliturgies/

The Forum: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1961198670570251/

…and our twitter page can be found at at:

@SecularLit

Copyright

To cite an article on this blog/website, you are legally obliged to include the name of the blog the post has been published on, the title of the specific post you’re citing, the date the post was published, the author of the post, the publisher of the blog site (where it is different from the name of the blog site), and the URL or direct link to the post.

An example of how to cite a guest article on this blog/website:

Ray, Roger. “A Common Story with Uncommon Results”, Secular Liturgies Network and Forum, 10th December 2018, https://secularliturgies.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/a-common-story-with-uncommon-results-by-rev-dr-roger-ray/

An example of how to cite other material on this blog/ website:

Somerville-Wong, Anastasia. “Welcome to the Secular Liturgies Network and Forum”, Secular Liturgies Network and Forum, 6th January 2019, https://secularliturgies.wordpress.com/about/

If you are contributing liturgical materials:

Your contributions of original material are protected by the copyright law of the country in which you created them. In the UK, copyright protection is automatic on the point of creation of something tangible such as text, video, audio track etc. Getting permissions can be a hindrance to the dissemination, re-use and re-mix of material, so many creatives now use Creative Commons Licences for their works, which allow for an optimal balance between sharing and ownership.

Do check out the Creative Commons website for more information:

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/

 

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