Conventional wisdom has it that religious liberty is a universally valid principle, enshrined in national constitutions and international charters and treaties, whose proper implementation continues to be thwarted by intransigent forces in society such as illiberal governments, religious fundamentalists, and traditional norms. Insomuch as the Middle East, and the Muslim world in general, are supposed to be afflicted with the ills of fundamentalism and illiberal governments, then the salvific promise of religious liberty looms large. In this brief post I would like to question this way of thinking through a consideration of the career of religious liberty in the modern Middle East.Read the rest of Religious freedom, minority rights, and geopolitics.
Saba Mahmood is associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject, which received the 2005 Victoria Schuck award from the American Association of Political Science. Most recently she is the co-author of Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech (2009), published by the University of California Press. Her work has appeared in a variety of journals including Critical Inquiry, Cultural Anthropology, Boston Review, Social Research, American Ethnologist, Public Culture, and Cultural Studies. Mahmood is the recipient of the Carnegie Corporation’s scholar of Islam award (2007), and the Frederick Burkhardt fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (2009-10). She is also a Co-PI on a three-year project, funded by the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs, that focuses on a comparative study of the right to religious liberty in western and non-western political contexts. Her broader work centers on issues of secularism, religion, gender, and postcoloniality in the Middle East.
Posts by Saba Mahmood:
Calls for the embrace (or for that matter rejection) of secularism are premised on a putative opposition between secular and religious worldviews wherein each is defined as a necessary and stable essence that is superior to the other. It is argued that there is an essential kernel to secularism that must be preserved and defended from religious extremism and backwardness. For some this is secularism’s scientific rationality, for others it is secularism’s incipient objectivity, and for yet others it is secularism’s strict separation between state and religion. The idea that the “good” elements in secularism can be distinguished from its “bad” sides, the latter discarded and the former refined, only serves to further reinforce the blackmail that one is either for or against secularism.Read the rest of Secular imperatives?.