Posts Tagged ‘structure and agency’

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.

May 16th, 2011

Oprah the Omnipotent

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Lofton tells me she shares with Jonathan Z. Smith the view that difference is the beginning of any good conversation. I am going to take her up on that notion and dwell here on a point of disagreement rather than those points, about the wild commingling of religion and consumption, upon which we agree. . . . I agree with Lofton that there is all too much about Oprah’s world and her devotees to make one wonder—at least from a certain highbrow academic standpoint—about “the intensity of their shallowness.” Call me an unreconstructed humanist, an overly hopeful liberal, but I doubt that banality is the sum of the matter, even for Oprah’s most frivolous (or lighthearted) fans.

September 6th, 2010

Understanding disenchantment

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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.”

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.

November 20th, 2008

Secularism and press freedom

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Secularism plays a crucial role in a certain moral narrative of modernity. This narrative tells a story of the liberation that is supposed to have emerged as people came to realize that the agency they had imputed to false gods, or to gods altogether, in fact belonged to them. [...]