Akeel Bilgrami’s “Secularism: It’s Content and Context” is both fascinating and wide-ranging… Whether or not one agrees with the notion of an internally cohesive concept of secularism—and whether or not one agrees that this concept is more limited than we have come to think it is—one might still ask if secularism should assert itself through a lexical ordering like the one envisioned by Bilgrami. Will a prioritization of political ideals seem fair to members of a secular society, and, perhaps more importantly, does it capture the challenges that face the kind of democracies we currently characterize as governed by secularism?
Posts Tagged ‘Danish cartoon affair’
Saba Mahmood is an anthropologist who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, and whose work raises challenging questions about the relationship between religion and secularism, ethics and politics, agency and freedom. Her book Politics of Piety, a study of a grassroots women’s piety movement in Cairo, questions the analytical and political claims of feminism as well as the secular liberal assumptions on the basis of which such movements are often judged. In the volume Is Critique Secular? she joins Talal Asad, Judith Butler, and Wendy Brown in rethinking the Danish cartoon controversy as a conflict between blasphemy and free speech, between secular and religious world views. Now, Mahmood is working on a comparative project about the right to religious liberty and minority-majority relations in the Middle East. We spoke over breakfast in New York City.
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).
In The New Republic, Isaac Chotiner reviews Stefan Collini’s latest book, which asks what it means to give offense and to feel offended. It also explores how “offensive” speech ought to be dealt with in the public sphere—a recurring issue whenever liberals criticize, or try to figure out how to respond to criticism of, religious beliefs and practices.