Matthew Scherer is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. He teaches courses in ancient, modern, and contemporary political theory. He has held appointments as a Research Fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs; as a Patrick Henry Postdoctoral Fellow for the study of early American politics in the departments of History and Political Science at the Johns Hopkins University; and as an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. He received his PhD in Political Science from the Johns Hopkins University, and his BA with majors in Physics and Political Science from Williams College.
Professor Scherer maintains research interests in modern and contemporary political theory; religion and politics; critical theory; secularism; rhetorical and literary theory; early American politics and political thought; constitutionalism; and theories of empire, globalization, and political economy. His research focuses on the intersection of religion and politics with emphases on the politics of modern secularism, and on political theologies. His first book, Beyond Church and State: Democracy, Secularism, and Conversion (Cambridge, 2013), challenges common understandings of secularism as the separation of church and state, and articulates a new theory of secularism as the constant transformation of religious and political life — a process akin to religious conversion. In figuring secularism as a process of conversion, Beyond Church and State suggests new approaches to the deep entanglement of religion and politics in contemporary public life.
Professor Scherer is currently completing a book-length project with the working title Imprecise Words, Special Things, and Secular Fictions.
Endorsements for Beyond Church and State
“A brilliant contribution to the study of secularity, offering a new perspective on what has become a tired debate about political-religious separation. In inviting readers to rethink secularism as a ‘religious’ conversion – as rooted in the past and yet ruptured from it – Matthew Scherer has written a thought-provoking book of great originality. Beyond Church and State is essential reading for anyone who wishes to engage in serious public discussion on the topic.”
– Talal Asad, City University of New York, author of Formations of the Secular (2003)
“This important book insightfully and fruitfully rethinks both political theology and political theory by developing two generative ideas. The first idea is that the figure of ‘conversion’ is best understood not as a movement from one fixed identity to another but as a process of change in the ‘crystalline structure’ of life, a transformation at once personal and collective, internal and worldly, through which entrenched habits, dispositions, and practices are re-opened to reflection and reconstitution. The second idea is that ‘secularism’ is best understood not as a concept naming a clear and solid distinction between ‘religion’ and ‘politics’ but as a figure denoting a process of conversion,whereby people turn away from certainty and toward transformative experimentation in all domains of life, including what is called religious and political. To reconceive both the trope of conversion and the meaning of secularism as a concept, Scherer offers illuminating readings of Augustine Bergson and Cavell, on the one hand, and of Locke and Rawls on the other hand. These readings are original, provocative,and compelling. They yield an incredibly suggestive intervention into contemporary debates. Few scholars approach political theology so creatively.”
– George Shulman, The Gallatin School, New York University
“The past 25 years have witnessed an explosion of studies undermining philosophical and historical analyses that posit fixed distinctions between church and state resulting in a wholly secular “public reason.” Scherer provides exciting and original reasons for this skepticism about secularity. Narratives that recount the new birth of self-standing secular polities–“authorized” narratives of social transformation–hide as much as they reveal. Shot through with stories of sudden rupture between the old and new are “crystalline” structures of conversion–multifaceted layers of values,feelings, and ideas from the past self/society embedded in the new.These elements, Scherer argues, are needed resources to cope with the hidden but deeply felt faults, limits, and injustices of the new secular order. Summing Up: Recommended.”
–E. J. Eisenach, emeritus, University of Tulsa, writing for Choice (American Library Association Copyright 2014)