In a recent piece in The New York Times’ column The Stone, philosophers Jay L. Garfield and Bryan W. Van Norden lament the blindness of contemporary philosophy departments towards cultures outside the West. Since such departments promulgate a specifically Euro-American philosophy, they should either identify themselves accordingly or expand to include non-Western materials in their curricula. The argument raises a long-standing but still urgent question in the humanities and social sciences. What is it to expand canons of study when the principles of those canons are themselves specific? This is not, to be sure, how Garfield and Norden see it. The canon of philosophy is rather precisely non-specific and can—indeed must—be expanded without further consideration. That academic philosophy does not do so is not principled but simply prejudicial.
Posts Tagged ‘modernity’
In seeking to make sense of modernity in the classical tradition of sociology as a field, the body of Robert Bellah’s work spans the social sciences and comparative cultural inquiry to embrace the global diversity and coherence of religion as the key to culture across civilizations and epochs within the framework of human evolution. Formally trained as a student of tribal cultures, East Asian civilization, and Islam, Bellah engages the West, and America in particular, as problematic cases that can only be understood in the broadest comparative perspective on human cultural development. This global perspective informs Bellah’s conceptions of religion and human evolution as they have deepened and grown over a half century.
When I set out to examine the lifestyle changes of employees working night shifts in India’s call centers, I was surprised to discover how outsourcing highlights some of the important tensions between new modes of secularity and new religious modernities emerging around the world.
For most of the second half of the twentieth century development was assumed to be consonant with modernity and its attendant practices: secularism, reason, and science. However, it is increasingly apparent that the secularity of development should no longer be taken for granted. This is visible not only in recent initiatives for “faith-based development,” but also in movements that seek to develop faith by emphasizing religious ethics conducive to economic rationality.
On January 28-29, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia will host a conference on “Secularism in the Late Modern Age: Between New Atheisms and Religious Fundamentalisms.” Speakers include: Manuela Achilles, Rajeev Bhargava, José Casanova, Jocelyn Cesari, Daniel Doneson, Silvio Ferrari, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Slavica Jakelić, Adam Lipszyc, Ekaterina Makarova, Neeti Nair, Christopher Nichols , Abdulaziz Sachedina, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Kevin Shultz, William Schweiker, George Thomas, Carl Trindle, Stephen White, and Wesley Wildman.
Contending Modernities, a research initiative of the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, has launched a new blog, featuring essays by Margot Badran, Daniel Madigan, S.J., Vincent Rogeau, and Scott Appleby, as well as video and information on the project’s upcoming launch events in New York City.
Is there a secular body? Or, in somewhat different terms, is there a particular configuration of the human sensorium—of sensibilities, affects, embodied dispositions—specific to secular subjects, and thus constitutive of what we mean by “secular society”? What intrigues me about this question is that, despite its apparent simplicity, the path toward an answer seems not at all clear. For example, are the scholarly sensibilities and the modes of affective attunement that find expression here elements of a secular habitus? What would be indicated by calling such expressive habits “secular”?
Jane Bennett’s sympathetic yet critical commentary on my essay “What is Enchantment?” (published in the volume Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age) describes the notion of disenchantment that I present as primarily addressing the theological displacements that emerged with the rise of the new science. Her own work, she says, offers a quite different focus, one of a mood or affect that “circulates between human bodies and the animal, vegetable, and mineral forces they encounter.”
I don’t doubt that this interesting focus is quite different from mine, though I think it would be wrong to represent my view as being focused on the theological. In my analysis, the theological had only a central genealogical role to play in the process of “disenchantment.”
Each contributor [to Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age] delivers a reading of Taylor’s work, helping to evaluate its significance, critical flaws, and lingering questions. They are companion pieces, then, and work best with a knowledge of the book. Their strength as a whole lies in the seriousness with which they address Taylor’s grand narrative and the sprightliness with which they point puzzled readers to related topics and avenues. Does Taylor’s book deserve such scrupulous attention? I am inclined to weight this question from the opposite side. Some of the essays in Varieties are so thought-provoking that I feel grateful to Taylor for having occasioned them, even if his own book is rather more exasperating than, as some of his readers would have it, major or magisterial.
I wondered how long it would take DPDF participants to undo what I thought I had carefully assembled in my opening post on “Secularism, secularization, and why the difference matters.” Not very long at all, it seems. And so, I will try a response here to Justin Reynolds and Alex Hernandez, both of whom have questioned what I actually mean by saying that “secularization” is a conceptual improvement over “secularism.”
In their posts, Vincent Pecora and Jonathan Sheehan suggest imagining secularization as an open-ended, ongoing project. Neither doubts that something described as “secular” is worth seeking. Given that a major goal of this DPDF program is to ask what might come “after secularization,” I find this a little curious—especially because it’s not clear why Pecora and Sheehan think that the term “secularization” is worth reclaiming or conceptually fine-tuning in the first place. What is particularly “secular” about the principles—openness to contingency, falsifiability, treating humans as ends and not means—that Pecora and Sheehan embrace? Do we believe that such principles are alien to religious or theological traditions? If so, why?
I’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.
The topic I want to pester Professor Keane about is belief. Christian Moderns uses the missionary encounter on the Indonesian island of Sumba to illuminate the contradictions inherent in the modernist project of “purification,” which separates out the materiality of words and objects from their symbolic meaning, and the social entanglements of human subjects from their transcendent souls. Where does belief fit in this picture? On the one hand, the book is all about belief: talk of belief is a key target of Professor Keane’s analysis. But belief is missing from the book’s toolkit of analytic terms. Professor Keane builds his argument using vocabulary drawn from contemporary linguistic anthropology. His treatment of belief is akin to his treatment of fetishism: he keeps his distance.
I argue that the moral narrative of modernity is a projection onto chronological time of a view of human moral and pragmatic self-transformation. This narrative, and the concrete projects it entails, runs into certain ubiquitous problems that arise from the material dimensions of human sociality and subjectivity. Protestantism was, historically, one major source of practices and concepts that express and try to control these problems. It was also a force for their circulation well beyond the Protestant, or even the religious, sphere as such.
Charles Taylor’s framework for understanding the advent of a “secular age” in the North Atlantic world offers a useful first draft for understanding the place of religion in Asian modernity. As I have shown in my previous two posts, modern Asian countries have secular states, but, despite efforts of some states to destroy all religion, they still have religious societies. In this post, I will discuss how new cultural conditions of belief give religion a different valence than it had in pre-modern times. Taylor’s framework, however, is only a first draft. […]