Rethinking Secularism is the title of a striking new collection of essays, edited by Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen that is rich with shrewd, and often detailed and intricate, discussions of the way the political and the social, the public and the personal, are threaded with, and frequently created out of, the interpretive, the symbolic, and the imaginary. It is also a book with whose central claim I could not be in fuller agreement: the religious and the secular do not designate different ends of a historical timeline, much less a simple binary, so much as different inflections of a process beginning, at least in the West, with the slow disintegration of Latin Christendom in the Late Middle Ages, and that we have come to recognize as the longue durée of the modern.
Posts Tagged ‘Rethinking secularism’
We live in a world in which ideas, institutions, artistic styles, and formulas for production and living circulate among societies and civilizations that are very different in their historical roots and traditional forms. Parliamentary democracy spread outward from England, among other countries, to India; likewise, the practice of nonviolent civil disobedience spread from its origins in the struggle for Indian independence to many other places, including the United States with Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, Manila in 1983, and the Velvet and Orange Revolutions of our time.
But these ideas and forms of practice don’t just change place as solid blocks; they are modified, reinterpreted, given new meanings, in each transfer. This can lead to tremendous confusion when we try to follow these shifts and understand them. One such confusion comes from taking a word itself too seriously; the name may be the same, but the reality will often be different.
This is evident in the case of the word “secular.”
Rethinking Secularism helps to reframe discussions of religion in the social sciences by drawing attention to the central issue of how ”the secular” is constituted and understood. It provides valuable insight into how new understandings of secularism and religion shape analytic perspectives in the social sciences, politics, and international affairs.
With the ascent of Marine Le Pen to the head of the National Front and her growing popularity in the polls, France joins the surge of nationalist parties that is sweeping over all of Europe. We must understand the new dynamics that underlie this relapse toward a continent-wide far-right movement: in its latest change of face, the far-right misappropriates the legacy of 1968 at the same time that it targets Islam under the guise of defending national values, just as its leaders claim to embody the value of personal liberty all the while asserting their belonging to the “land” of popular imagination, thus forging a new rhetorical repertoire and introducing it into European political culture.
On April 11th, the hotly debated “burqa ban” went into effect in France.
Reflecting on the consequences of the recent events in Egypt for the theory of religion, Carl Raschke writes that the insurrection “probably will cut significantly into the commercial relevance of today’s generations of Islamic and religous [sic.] studies scholars.” In the face of a major political movement in the Middle East that is—as Slavoj Žižek insists—based upon appeals to universal, secular values, the category of religion, Raschke’s reasoning goes, will no longer have much explanatory power. . . . Here, I want to briefly hint at how Talal Asad’s thought can help us make sense of religion in the context of the revolution in Egypt.
The term ‘secular’ and its conceptual affiliates are doing a lot of work in misrepresenting the uprising in Egypt. ‘Secular’ politics has been taken to mean ‘good’ politics (limited democratization, stability, and support for the peace treaty with Israel), and ‘Islamic’ politics is being translated as ‘bad’ politics (the myriad dangers allegedly posed by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies). Accounts of the current situation in Egypt are handicapped by an inability to read politics in Egypt and Muslim-majority societies outside of this overly simplistic and politically distorting lens.
The fall 2010 issue of The Hedgehog Review addresses the question, “Does religious pluralism require secularism?” Several contributions are freely accessible online: Rajeev Bhargava’s essay on secular states, Charles Taylor’s on the meaning(s) of secularism, and Craig Calhoun’s on a non-subtractive understanding of secularism.