Recent Posts

October 25th, 2016

Religion in nation-building and nation-changing

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiThe articles by Rogers Brubaker, Genevieve Zubrzycki, and Muhacit Bilici are all about the religious and secular self, and the religious and secular other, and about the relationship between the secular and the religious in processes of nation building, national rebranding, or nation repositioning. They are also about how nations and religious communities are constructed transnationally and about how that intersects with nation-building and nation-changing processes.

So how do these three analyses fit together and what do they tell us about religion and nationalism?

They are all about how ghosts or religious traces stay within the secular: How Catholicism stays present in Quebec and Christianity stays present in the Netherlands. But what more can we say about these ghosts? When are they bright and frightening, and when are they barely visible? What difference does it make when they are majority or minority? In Zubryzycki’s case, Jews are desirable and undesirable. For some, they are— along with secularists and communists—not fit for national belonging and, for others, they are a part of history that must be rescued because their perceived cosmopolitanism promotes a civic and secular version of the polity. So what would we gain by theorizing the different registers, valences, or traces of the religious in the secular—their visibility, invisibility, their size, the comfort or discomfort they invoke?

October 20th, 2016

American Muslims between legal citizenship and public exclusion

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiHate crimes against American Muslims have spiked to their highest levels since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. While some of the rise is due to recent terrorist attacks, it is also connected with the heated rhetoric of the presidential race. Recent studies have noted that Muslims surpass atheists as the most unpopular group in the United States.

Muslims who are citizens of the state continue to be seen and treated as aliens of the nation. In the current fraught moment, the constitution of Islam as a legitimate American religion remains a fragile process.

October 13th, 2016

Building secularity via religious revival and the “patrimonialization” of religion

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiWhile crude secularization theories predicting the end of religion have, in response to strong criticism, been refined to be less ideologically driven, more empirically accurate, and theoretically more robust, in recent years, “secularism,” “secularity,” and “the secular” have in effect supplanted secularization altogether. Secularity is a principle in which the religious and secular spheres are distinct. Religion, in a secular society, is one option among many other ideational systems, identities, affiliations, and activities. Secularism, by contrast, is a political project that aims at instituting secularity—at creating a secular society by socially upholding, culturally enforcing, and legally securing the separation of the religious and secular domains. Building on that literature, my recent works on Poland and Québec focus on the process of becoming secular—on the aesthetic, bodily, social, and legal practices of enacting secular identifications and affiliations. In this approach, secularity is never fully achieved but always in process, and often itself infiltrated by religion. My first point, then, is that in places where religion was (or still is) an ethnonational marker, secularism only signifies in relation to specific national(ist) projects, and as such can only be understood by social scientists when triangulated with religion and nationalism.

How does this play out in the cases I’ve worked on?

October 11th, 2016

A new “Christianist” secularism in Europe

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiThroughout much of the world, religion manifestly—and sometimes markedly—informs everyday understandings, cultural representations, and political and legal definitions of nationhood. The paradox I wish to explore, with reference to developments in Northern and Western Europe, is that religion also informs assertively secular understandings and discourses of nationhood—and not simply as their evident target, but as their putative foundation.

The categories “secular” and “religious” have deeply intertwined histories, and the Christian origins of the category “secular” have been amply discussed. My interest here is in the religious dimension of secularism, as a self-conscious, assertive political stance, and secularity, as a characterization of a culture or way of life.

October 4th, 2016

Why do evangelicals vote for Trump?

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiThere are various interpretations of Trumpism on offer. Reading it as fascism explains its appeal to the white nationalists of the “alt-right.” Reading it as populism explains its appeal to a white working class fed up with the “Washington establishment.” And reading it as authoritarianism explains its appeal to voters with authoritarian personalities. These interpretations are not necessarily wrong, but they do not explain Trump’s appeal to evangelicals qua evangelicals.

So, let me propose a different interpretation. On this reading, Trumpism is a secular form of religious nationalism. By “religious nationalism,” I mean a form of nationalism that makes religious identity the litmus test of national belonging. By “a secular form of religious nationalism,” I mean one that strips religious identity of its ethical content and transcendental reference. In Trumpism, religion functions mainly as a marker of ethnicity.

October 4th, 2016

The politics of national identity: Introduction

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiReligion is increasingly recognized as a defining feature of political life and as a constitutive element of individual and collective identities. The question is no longer whether religion matters, but how. The contributors to this discussion—which began as a session at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, co-sponsored by the sections on the Sociology of Religion and Culture—explore this question through the lens of political contestation over national identity.

September 22nd, 2016

Religion, secularism, and Black Lives Matter

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Black Lives Matter In February 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman was initially released on the Stand Your Ground statute in Florida, claiming he had acted in self-defense, and was later acquitted of all charges.

As a call to action in response to this tragedy and the anti-Black racism that permeates society more broadly, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors founded #BlackLivesMatter—a Twitter hashtag against state violence that turned into a larger, in-the-streets movement against the pervasiveness of white supremacy. Black Lives Matter is a movement that declares itself to be “working to (re)build the Black liberation movement.”

But what role does religion play in this movement for Black lives—if any? What are the modern day connections between religion, secularism, and racial justice? Does a justice movement have to be openly religiously affiliated to invoke a sacredness?

August 29th, 2016

The Politics of Islamic Law: An introduction

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My new book, The Politics of Islam LawThe Politics of Islamic Law, presents an approach to the study of religion, comparative politics and law that begins with the contradiction and ambiguity produced by the interplay among sacred texts, institutions of state and society, and actors working with the tools they have at hand. By seeking to understand the development of the category of Islamic law as a “problem-space” for the modern state, the book invites further exploration of how Muslim futures are being framed and discussed, historicizing what David Scott has framed as “the particular questions that seem worth asking and the kinds of answers that seem worth having.” (2004:4) In this exploration the question – ‘whose law?’ – turns out to be as important, if not more important, than the question – ‘which law?’ This generates a new set of questions in the study of the politics of Islamic law: in what domains of Muslim life is Islamic law being raised once again, and by whom? In what domains of Muslim life has Islamic law been made silent? What political compacts and struggles underwrite these claims for presence or absence, and upon what institutional and social foundations do they rely? Over what kind of human subject do they lay claim, and how might this subject speak to the law? To what version of the past do they refer, and to which vision of the future?

August 3rd, 2016

Religion and politics beyond religious freedom

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Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomI would like to thank each of the contributors to this series for their generous engagement with my book, Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion. In this response I address a question that arose in several of the posts: what is the role of the scholar or expert in responding to what comes “after” or lies “beyond” religious freedom? In working on this project I have encountered considerable anxiety concerning what Jeremy Walton refers to as the threat of a “conceptual and political vacuum” arising in the wake of the argument of this book. I am interested in engaging with the concerns that motivate that anxiety. I also want to push back against the insistence that a strong prescriptive stance is required to do the work that I do. There are other paths forward and I’ll discuss a few of them here.

July 22nd, 2016

Rethinking religion in a political scientific wilderness

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Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomBeyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion makes an extremely important and timely contribution to a conversation that the discipline of political science should be but still isn’t really having. The continued lack of serious, analytically sophisticated attention to religion and religious phenomena by scholars of international relations and comparative politics is all the more baffling given the place of religion in political life around the world today. Religious affiliation has become the central category for a geo-political remapping of the world since 9/11. The results have been depressingly vapid analyses that underscore, once again, the ideological force of Samuel Huntington’s self-fulfilling prophecy, and the bankruptcy of dominant approaches in our discipline that continue to treat religion in the most reductionist, identarian, instrumentalist, and frankly, unthinking fashion. In this regard, Shakman Hurd’s book constitutes a truly novel and vital contribution and I cannot recommend this book highly enough to my co-disciplinarians, whether interested in religion or not. I underscore this point, since many scholars who frequent The Immanent Frame are not mainstream political scientists and are thus unaware of the bleak nature of the wilderness into which rare and prophetic voices like Shakman Hurd’s are crying.