Who Put the "Secular" in "Secular State"?

UNCC Author/Contributor (non-UNCC co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Gregory Starrett, Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC )
Web Site: http://library.uncc.edu/

Abstract: In this essay I hope to add an anthropological voice to the conversation about political Islam, one which seeks its context not in relation to some underdefined “non-political” or “traditional” or “pure” Islam, whatever those might look like, but in a rather more general consideration of the nature of religion and politics. . . .[T]he standard Western understanding of genuine religion as a universe of calm personal devotion, universal harmony, and spiritual development is ethnographically exceptional and historically recent, even in Europe. Moreover, it obstructs our understanding of confessional violence in the modern world by leading us to believe that religion, in its essential core, is about individuals rather than groups, and about gentleness rather than force. . . . I hope to show three things: first, that religion is, always and everywhere, an inherently political enterprise. Second, that all political projects have central symbolic and ritual dimensions, and thus cannot automatically be distinguished from religion. . . . And finally, that “political Islam” as a label for oppositional or revolutionary groups blinds us to the more pervasive involvement of religion in the constitution of modern states, both in the Middle East and elsewhere. . . . Despite—or perhaps because of—the important role played by ritual processes in modern political and nationalist projects, during the historical development of the nation-state there has been increasing pressure on religious traditions to assimilate to the Protestant model that belief, rather than ritual practice, is the core of religion. In the nation state, “freedom of religion” is possible only to the extent that religion is held to be an internal, private and personal relationship with the divine rather than a publicly manifested set of social, ritual, or political duties. Keywords:

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 1999
Islam, secularism, politics

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