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About the BOOK:

Opening with the provocative query “what might an anthropology of the secular look like?” this book explores the concepts, practices, and political formations of secularism, with emphasis on the major historical shifts that have shaped secular sensibilities and attitudes in the modern West and the Middle East. Talal Asad proceeds to dismantle commonly held assumptions about the secular and the terrain it allegedly covers. He argues that while anthropologists have oriented themselves to the study of the “strangeness of the non-European world” and to what are seen as non-rational dimensions of social life (things like myth, taboo, and religion),the modern and the secular have not been adequately examined. The conclusion is that the secular cannot be viewed as a successor to religion, or be seen as on the side of the rational. It is a category with a multi-layered history, related to major premises of modernity, democracy, and the concept of human rights. This book will appeal to anthropologists, historians, religious studies scholars, as well as scholars working on modernity.

Review

"A dark but brilliantly original work, Formations of the Secular is one of the most important books on religion and the modern in recent years." (H-Net Reviews)

"This wonderfully illuminating book should be read alongside the author’s Genealogies of Religion . . ." (Religion)

"Formations of the Secular is also a difficult if stunningly eloquent book, a response both elusive and forthright to the many shelves of ‘books on terrorism’ which this country’s trade publishers are rushing into print." (Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature)

"…one of the most interesting scholars of religious writing today." (Christian Scholar’s Review)

"…Asad’s brilliant study remains a defining piece of intellectual and scholarly contribution for all of those interested in exploring the religious and the secular in the modern era." (The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences)

About the AUTHOR

Talal Asad, born 1932, is an American[citation needed] cultural anthropologist at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Asad has made important theoretical contributions to postcolonialism, Christianity, Islam, and ritual studies and has recently called for, and initiated, an anthropology of secularism. Using a genealogical method developed by Friedrich Nietzsche and made prominent by Michel Foucault, Asad "complicates terms of comparison that many anthropologists, theologians, philosophers, and political scientists receive as the unexamined background of thinking, judgment, and action as such. By doing so, he creates clearings, opening new possibilities for communication, connection, and creative invention where opposition or studied indifference prevailed".

His long-term research concerns the transformation of religious law (the shari’ah) in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Egypt with special reference to arguments about what constitutes secular and progressive reform.

Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Cultural Memory in the Present) 

Author: Talal Asad

Pages: 280 

Publisher: Stanford University Press

Language: English