Thinking about Secularism
It is easy to think of it simply as requiring the separation of religious from secular institutions in government, but that is not all it is.
What is the connection between “the secular” as an epistemic category and “secularism” as a political doctrine? Can they be objects of anthropological inquiry? What might an anthropology of secularism look like? This book attempts. in a preliminary way, to address these questions. The contemporary salience of religious movements around the globe, and the torrent of commentary on them by scholars and journalists, have made it plain that religion is by no means disappearing in the modern world. The “resurgence of religion” has been welcomed by many as a means of supplying what they sec as a needed moral dimension to secular politics and environmental concerns. It has been regarded by others with alarm as a symptom of growing irrationality and intolerance in everyday life. The question of secularism has emerged as an object of academic argument and of practical dispute. If anything is agreed upon. it is that a straightforward narrative of progress from the religious to the secular is no longer acceptable. But docs it follow that secularism is not universally valid? Secularism as political doctrine arose in modern Euro-America. It is easy to think of it simply as requiring the separation of religious from secular institutions in government, but that is not all it is. Abstractly stated, examples ofthis separation can be found in medieval Christendom and in the Islamic empires-and no doubt elsewhere roo. What is distinctive
about “secularism” is that it presupposes new concepts of “religion,” “ethics,” and “policies,” and new imperatives associated with them. Many people have sensed this novelty and reacted to it in a variety of ways. Thus the opponents of secularism in the Middle East and elsewhere have rejected it as specific to the West, while its advocates have insisted that irs particular origin does not detract from irs contemporary global relevance. The eminent philosopher Charles Taylor is among those who insist that al- though secularism emerged in response to the political problems of West- em Christian society in early modernity-beginning with its devastating wars of religion-it is applicable to non-Christian societies everywhere that have become modern. This elegant and attractive argument by a highly influential social philosopher demands the attention of everyone interested in this question.
Formations of the Secular
Christianity Islam, Modernity
Thinking about Secularism