Posts Tagged ‘colonialism’

March 16th, 2017

New itineraries in the study of Islam and the state

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For Love of the ProphetFrom Wael Hallaq’s The Impossible State to Shahab Ahmad’s What is Islam?, recent scholarship on Islam and the state has been enriched by studies that seek to interrogate the boundaries of the concept and to push scholars in multiple fields to explore new empirical and analytic possibilities for an old question. Working from quite different theoretical and textual presuppositions, both Hallaq and Ahmad make the argument that we begin with where the Islamic is not: the Islamic is not to be found in the legal and governmental institutions of the modern nation state.

Noah Salomon makes a powerful case for a different starting point, grounded in ethnography: “What are we to make of Hallaq’s impossible state when it in fact becomes a practical possibility?” With admirable transparency, he notes what many of us have encountered in the field: “When I arrived in Sudan, I made the rather unsettling discovery that I could not find the state in the places where I had expected it to be.” Salomon finds the Islamic state not in government buildings, but in the logics and conduct of daily life, “structuring the landscape of discourse and debate on which diverse expressions of contemporary Sudanese life takes place.”

November 1st, 2016

Beyond the Secular State? Secularism, Empire, and Hegemony

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ICLS | Columbia UniversityMonday, November 14, 6:15 to 8:00 p.m.
403 Jerome Greene Hall, Columbia University

Three orders of questions regarding secularism—genealogical, philosophical, and political—will be envisaged during an upcoming public debate at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society (ICLS) at Columbia University. Talal Asad, Mohamed Amer-Meziane, and Etienne Balibar will be speaking on these questions in the conversation titled, “Beyond the Secular State? Secularism, Empire, Hegemony.”

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?

November 26th, 2013

Beyond the Catholic-Protestant divide

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The epigraph of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation comes from an essay that Jacques Maritain wrote for the Review of Politics in 1942 entitled “The End of Machiavellianism.” In it, Maritain evinces some of his own realist, even tragic sensibilities—his hunch that human beings often do not deliver on the grand promises that they make, and that what may have appeared so good long, long ago can bear rotten fruit centuries later. Although tracing the distant and historical causes of contemporary problems can be like trying to identify “in a river’s mouth,” as Maritain writes, “which waters come from which glaciers and which tributaries,” if we are to have any chance of understanding ourselves, the work cannot be avoided. The epigraph offers a glimpse into Gregory’s intentions and his inspiration, and it helps explain why he would read his area of specialization, the Reformation, in darker terms than some of his American colleagues. For Jacques Maritain, the Protestant reformers set in motion the modern, rationalist thinking that severed the ontological bonds between the realness of the world and the intellectual capacities of the knower. For Gregory, the tragedy of the Reformation was not the content of the reformers’ ideas but the unsolved and unsatisfying contestations between Catholics and Protestants.

July 10th, 2012

Colonialism’s religious domain

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Recently I am struck by the ambiguity of the concept of the religious. Reading Linda Heuman’s review of Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution, and then turning to Bellah’s book itself, after having been reading Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies, I feel as I have before how uncertain it is that we who write about religion in history are all writing about the same thing! Bellah’s book is an attempt to factor that uncertainty into the equation, for sure. In one part of Bellah’s overall reconstruction of “axial transitions” (including the birth of monotheism), he considers three case studies, two Native American and one Aboriginal Australian, with scrupulous care. The idea is to get a picture—before the shift to the ecumenical story, when the forces of the axial age change everything—of developmentally prior, not to say primordial, religions, without adopting anything as distortive as a model or a linear theory.

May 8th, 2012

Reading religious freedom in Sri Lanka

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As several contributors to this forum have pointed out, legal provisions regarding religious freedom do not emerge from history fully formed and self-interpreting. At their core, they are iterations of words and texts, (re)produced and (re)authorized by different persons or groups for different purposes. What they mean depends on local facts.

This contribution expands upon this observation by offering a different story about drafting religious rights in a particular place and time. I will show the ways in which religious rights, as rhetoric, serve not as apolitical instruments, but as indicia of political alliances; not as generic, universalizable norms, but as specific formulations of norms suited to particular moments and in service of particular political programs. In this version of the story, religious rights, rather than conclude conflict and harmonize societies, signpost disagreement.

April 26th, 2012

The problem of translation: A view from India

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What is the politics of religious freedom? For the past decade and more, those who would like to see the active promotion of religious freedom at the “core” of foreign policy in the U.S. and now in Canada would have us understand that religious freedom is the foundation of democracy, the basis for political stability and first step to all other freedoms. The mission statement of the Office of International Religious Freedom in the U.S. Department of State links its promotion of religious freedom to human rights and to political “stability” for “all countries.” Referring to the establishment of a new Office of Religious Freedom within his government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in a statement to the United Nations last year, the Canadian UN Ambassador declared, “History has shown us that where religious freedom is strong, democratic freedom is strong.”

March 5th, 2012

Religious freedom, minority rights, and geopolitics

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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.

August 3rd, 2011

The suspicious revolution: An interview with Talal Asad

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Not long after his return from Cairo, where he was doing fieldwork, I spoke with Talal Asad at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, where he is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology. Distinguished indeed: with books like Genealogies of Religion and Formations of the Secular, as well as numerous articles, Asad’s work has been formative for current scholarly conversation about religion and secularity, stressing both global context and the ways in which their interaction has been shaped by local histories, in the West and the Middle East. Most recently, he co-authored (along with Wendy Brown, Saba Mahmood, and Judith Butler) Is Critique Secular? (University of California Press, 2009) and contributed a chapter to the just published SSRC volume Rethinking Secularism (Oxford University Press, 2011).

November 1st, 2010

The many globalizations of Christianity

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Globalization, Chalmers Johnson says, is just a new word for what used to be called imperialism. He is partly correct, but I do think there are some differences. Cultural globalization, at least, is what the world looks like from the point of view of an imperium in decline.

Christianity has been spread around the world for many centuries now. In the sixteenth century, the conquistadores brought Catholic Christianity to South America and the Philippines. In the seventeenth century, Jesuit, Franciscan, and Dominican missionaries brought it to India, Japan, and China. In the nineteenth century, Catholic and Protestant missionaries planted the faith in the colonies established throughout the world during the age of European imperialism. But this dissemination of the Christian faith was not called globalization. It was called “propaganda fidei” or “Christian mission.”

October 25th, 2010

Christianity and its others

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In the nineteenth century the new disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities were ‘emancipated’ from Christian theology. To an important extent these new forms of inquiry were connected to the rise of modern, industrial society and the nation-form. They were secular in nature—that is, they were part of a secularization of the mind and a de-clericalization of science and scholarship. The most important aspect of this transformation was, obviously, the study of religion itself. This is perhaps clearest in the development of a “science of religion,” an attempt to create a scientific study of religion without Christian theological suppositions. Its claim to scientific truth was based mainly on comparative linguistics and evolutionary theory. Religion was no longer left to Christian theologians but was now the province of anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, and “scientists of religion.”

September 23rd, 2010

The future of China’s past: An interview with Mayfair Yang

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Anthropologist Mayfair Yang teaches in the Religious Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has done pioneering work discovering, describing, and reflecting on the fate of traditional culture in post-revolutionary China through numerous articles and edited volumes, two documentary films, and her book Gifts, Favors, and Banquets: the Art of Social Relationships in China. Throughout, she brings the insights of post-colonial theory and gender studies to bear on the living remnants of ancient ways of life. She is currently writing a new book, Re-Enchanting Modernity: Sovereignty, Ritual Economy, and Indigenous Civil Order in Coastal China.

March 3rd, 2010

The ethics of proselytism

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At On Faith this week, “the question” is whether religious groups proselytizing overseas amounts to “religious freedom” or to “coercion.”

February 26th, 2010

Exploring Buddhist violence

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Michael Jerryson discusses his new book Buddhist Warfare, co-edited with Mark Juergensmeyer, at Religion Dispatches, explaining “how the notion of a purely mystical and otherworldly Buddhism—promoted by some of the great interpreters of the tradition—denies its adherents’ humanity.”

February 10th, 2010

Colin Dayan: “‘Civilizing’ Haiti”

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In the Boston Review, Colin Dayan argues that woefully little has changed since the colonial era with respect to Western perceptions of Haiti as a cretin backwater. Moreover, the institutionalized graft that the colonialist ideology underwrites remains in full effect.

February 8th, 2010

Idaho missionaries replay colonial legacy, imperial hubris

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Anthea Butler analyzes the case of Idaho missionaries arrested in Haiti, comparing it to the long history of colonialism and imperial Christianity of which the missionaries appear naively unaware.

February 1st, 2010

“New” pantheism enters the Oscar race

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After claiming two of the big prizes at this year’s Golden Globes (Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director – Motion Picture), James Cameron’s Avatar is on a fast track to Oscar glory, hoping to prove it has more to offer than fancy special effects and groundbreaking digital technology. Heavy-handed and lacking in originality—almost every review compares it to Dances with Wolves in space—the political overtones of the well-worn “outsider goes native in order to protect the aboriginals and regain his own spiritual equanimity” storyline have garnered less debate than its palatable pantheism and environmental spirituality.

January 25th, 2010

God was on everybody’s side: A conversation with Jean Comaroff

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It is my pleasure to inaugurate Rites and Responsibilities, a new dialogue series for The Immanent Frame and the Social Science Research Council, with a conversation with the renowned anthropologist and critical theorist Jean Comaroff of the University of Chicago. Rites and Responsibilities is published in conjunction with the SSRC’s Project on Religion and International Affairs, with the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation. Throughout the series, we will be talking to scholars, religious leaders, and other public figures about the public life of religion in an age of globalization, especially in regard to questions of sovereignty, accountability, and authority.

January 19th, 2010

David Brooks outdoes Pat Robertson

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A number of blogs recently have criticized David Brooks for his response to the earthquake in Haiti. Noting that Haiti’s extreme poverty has turned an unexceptional earthquake into a catastrophe of staggering scale, Brooks accounted for Haiti’s poverty by explaining that “Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences.” While Brooks largely blames Haitians themselves for their poverty, his critics look more to structural and historical inequities. Over at Savage Minds, Kerim Friedman remarks that Brooks’s response is “much more insidious” and altogether worse than Pat Robertson’s much-lampooned suggestion that Haiti made a “pact with the devil.” After all, Friedman notes, people generally take David Brooks seriously.

December 18th, 2009

No view from nowhere

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keaneI’ll start with a comment about my own angle of approach. There is of course no view from nowhere, and it is one task of the commentators to point out the blind spots that any perspective inevitably brings with it. As an anthropologist, my aim was not originally to construct a critique of modernity or of Christianity. The book emerged out of a long series of attempts to grapple with the challenges my research in Sumba presented to certain common sense assumptions about persons, materiality, and language. I came to see those assumptions as characteristic products of the liberal and secular world that produced the habits and disciplines within which many of us live, and thanks to which, in part, the book itself was written.

December 11th, 2009

Colonialism and conflict

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keaneIf the idea of purification is to retain broad currency across the colonial landscape, it may need to be defined differently, more in terms of separating out truth from falsehood, or the divine from the diabolical, than of fixing boundaries between the spiritual and the material. While questions of ontological difference could be salient in Sumba and certain other mission fields, the distinctions drawn between persons and things in acts of purification fail to account for other important distinctions drawn between persons themselves.