In an essay entitled “Secular Criticism,” the noted literary critic Edward Said wrote that “Criticism…is always situated, it is skeptical, secular, reflectively open to its own failings.” To this I would merely add three questions: First, what work does the notion “secular” do here? Does it refer to an authority or a sensibility? Second, since criticism employs judgment, since it seeks conviction – of oneself and of others – to what extent does it therefore seek to overcome skepticism? Finally, if secular criticism regards itself as confronting the powerful forces of repression, finds itself open to all “failings,” can we say that secular criticism aspires to be heroic? [...]Read the rest of Historical notes on the idea of secular criticism.
Talal Asad is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His publications include On Suicide Bombing (Columbia University Press, 2007), Formations of the Secular (Stanford University Press, 2003), Genealogies of Religion (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), and a number of influential articles, including “On Re-reading a Modern Classic: W.C. Smith's The Meaning and End of Religion,” in History of Religions (2001). Asad is a contributor to the SSRC volume Rethinking Secularism (Oxford University Press, 2011).
Posts by Talal Asad:
What are the stakes in wanting a fixed definition of religion, whether in terms of “a sense of fullness,” as Taylor suggests, or of “transcendence,” or of “something beyond what has yet been achieved, or will ever be achieved”? What is at stake here? Why are we so concerned to establish a category that encompasses a number of very different kinds of experience, experiences that for some religious people don’t belong together at all? [...]Read the rest of Secularism, hegemony, and fullness.