Religion, the Secular, and the Politics of Sexual Difference

Religion, the Secular, and the Politics of Sexual Difference

Linell E. Cady
Tracy Fessenden
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/cady16248
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  • Book Info
    Religion, the Secular, and the Politics of Sexual Difference
    Book Description:

    Global struggles over women's roles, rights, and dress increasingly cast the secular and the religious in tense if not violent opposition. When advocates for equality speak in terms of rights and modern progress, or reactionaries ground their authority in religious and scriptural appeals, both tend to presume women's emancipation is ineluctably tied to secularization. Religion, the Secular, and the Politics of Sexual Difference upsets this certainty by drawing on diverse voices and traditions in studies that historicize, question, and test the implicit links between secularism and expanded freedoms for women. Rather than position secularism as the answer to conflicts over gender and sexuality, this volume shows both religion and the secular collaborate in creating the conditions that generate them.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53604-2
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. VII-XII)
  4. PART 1 Gendering the Divide
    • 1 GENDERING THE DIVIDE: RELIGION, THE SECULAR, AND THE POLITICS OF SEXUAL DIFFERENCE
      (pp. 3-24)
      LINELL E. CADY and TRACY FESSENDEN

      Wherever religion is seen to shape or constrain the meanings of human flourishing in the twenty-first century, gender and sexuality occupy charged terrain. This is so across the globe and in forums as diverse as fashion, diplomacy, education, immigration policy, marriage law, military strategy, health care reform, and humanitarian aid. Increasingly, women and sexuality take center stage in invocations of the secular, which promises—or threatens—to liberate both from religion’s tenacious hold.

      The conventional wisdom that secularization, sexual freedom, and women’s emancipation run always on parallel tracks belongs to no one party, region, religion, or sect. As we write...

    • 2 SECULARISM AND GENDER EQUALITY
      (pp. 25-46)
      JOAN WALLACH SCOTT

      These days, secularism comes up frequently in discussions of Muslims, whose religion, it is said, holds on to values and ways of being at odds with modernity. In contemporary debates about Muslims—whether they can be integrated into the societies of Europe, whether their culture is fundamentally at odds with “ours,” whether their values are compatible with political democracy—secularism is usually the unquestioned standard of judgment. It is taken to be an idea, either timeless or evolving, that signifies a universal project of human emancipation specifically including women.¹ Whether the reference is to Iranian theocracy, the punitive behavior of...

    • Response Essays
      • 3 SEXUALITY AND SECULARISM
        (pp. 47-58)
        SABA MAHMOOD

        Over the last ten years, secularism has increasingly emerged as an object of study and analysis, its foundational truth claims rethought by scholars writing under the rubric of what is now called secular studies. The term itself has been denaturalized and parsed out to think critically about secularism as a life-form in light of its epistemological, ethical, cultural, and juridical entailments. This scholarship has fundamentally problematized the nominalist understanding of secularism—as a negative constraint on the public exercise of religion—to open up an inquiry into experiences, subjectivities, modes of governance, and ethical commitments that comprise “the secular” across...

      • 4 MUST IT BE EITHER SECULAR OR RELIGIOUS? REFLECTIONS ON THE CONTEMPORARY JOURNEYS OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS ACTIVISTS IN EGYPT
        (pp. 59-68)
        AZZA KARAM

        In 1998 I concluded a study of Islamist movements in Egypt, exploring their record on human rights and, more specifically, women’s rights—what I initially considered their “soft underbelly.”¹ At the beginning of my study a decade earlier I had thought of myself as a liberal intellectual and human rights activist with a very strong commitment to a strict separation of religion and religious discourse from political platforms and decision making. By the end of my research—and consistent engagement with human rights’ issues in the Arab region as well as in Western Europe in the past decade—I have...

      • 5 RELIGION AND WOMEN’S POLITICAL MOBILIZATION
        (pp. 69-76)
        ANN BRAUDE

        “Religion and sex,” Joan Scott observes, “are intertwined categories because, in the process of secularization in the West, women (the embodiment of sex) were usually associated with religion and religious belief.” Many scholars of religion will agree and will welcome the opportunity afforded by Scott’s essay, “Secularism and Gender Equality,” to revisit and expand their sense of the enmeshment of these two categories. Linkages of religion with sex and gender, of course, long antedate the modern period. Sexual differentiation and reproduction are among the basic human problems addressed by creation stories as well as by religious texts and practices—a...

  5. PART 2 Gender and the Privatization of Religion
    • 6 SECULAR LIBERALISM, ROMAN CATHOLICISM, AND SOCIAL HIERARCHIES: UNDERSTANDING MULTIPLE PATHS
      (pp. 79-102)
      GENE BURNS

      Joan wallach Scott is correct that secularism can itself become a cultural perspective, one that can incorporate essentialist views of women’s subordination and relegation to the private sphere. While a variety of perspectives might call themselves secularist, it is not uncommon that they include a gendered nationalism in which the construction of national identity is predicated upon romanticizing motherhood, all the better to justify the quite prosaic gender hierarchy implied. In more contemporary contexts, secularism can, for instance, be part of a militant universalism that manifestly claims to be interested in individual freedom when its main effect may be to...

    • 7 GENDERING THE SECULAR AND RELIGIOUS IN MODERN EGYPT: WOMAN, FAMILY, AND NATION
      (pp. 103-120)
      MARGOT BADRAN

      How have “the secular” and “the religious” been constituted in Egypt, how have they constructed each other, and what role has gender played? How have the religious and the secular constructed “woman,” family, and nation? How have women as feminists constructed themselves, family, and nation?

      As a historian I explore these questions looking at late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Egypt in the context of modernizing and colonial rule when secularizing processes were underway shaping a modern state and society, and the concurrent refiguring of religion and its domain were being refigured.¹ I see this as a pivotal moment in two...

    • 8 WOMEN, RELIGION, AND POLITICS IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
      (pp. 121-136)
      ZILKA SPAHIĆ-ŠILJAK

      The status of women under first a socialist and later a democratic regime in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a former Yugoslav republic, offers an illuminating test case for considering the impact and limitations of different secularist formations on the advancement of gender equality. The era of the socialist secular state (roughly 1945 to 1990) saw increased opportunities for women in the work force and political life, reflecting the state’s official commitment to gender equality. During the same period, private life nevertheless remained deeply shaped by traditional gender roles embedded within patriarchal religious traditions and customary practices. In the postsocialist era,...

  6. PART 3 Gender, Sexuality, and the Body Politic
    • 9 BODIES-POLITICS: CHRISTIAN SECULARISM AND THE GENDERING OF U.S. POLICY
      (pp. 139-174)
      JANET R. JAKOBSEN and ANN PELLEGRINI

      Wherever one looks to find arguments about religion and secularism, one seems to find gender: whether conflicts over the wearing of headscarves in France or arguments over sharia law in Canada or debates over the need to save “Afghan women” from the Taliban through U.S. military intervention. Nonetheless, all of this gendering goes unnoticed in much of the literature on both religion and secularism. It is hardly the centerpiece of the now voluminous academic literature on secularism and, when noticed, is rarely taken up as a topic, but merely regarded as an example. We thus welcome this opportunity to contribute...

    • 10 CRIMES OF MORAL TURPITUDE: QUESTIONS AT THE BORDERS OF RELIGION, THE SECULAR, AND THE U.S. NATION-STATE
      (pp. 175-194)
      MOLLY K. McGARRY

      Joan wallach scott offers starting points for theorizing a genealogy of secularism and begins, significantly, with the law.¹ While there is no shortage of sites for this critical inquiry, the separation of church and state in liberal constitutional democracies seems to produce and protect the legal as a vaunted secular space. However, as many contributors also show, it is precisely in the legal adjudication between “the religious” and “the secular” that we find issues of gender and sexuality continually on trial. From controversies surrounding veiling to same-sex marriage, sexual subjects seem to create particular problems for secularism’s analytics.

      Within that...

    • 11 ON FRENCH RELIGIONS AND THEIR RENEWED EMBODIMENTS
      (pp. 195-208)
      NACIRA GUÉNIF-SOUILAMAS

      This chapter focuses on France as a paradigmatic example of the Western trend of holistic secularization, translated idiomatically aslaïcité. In it I unfold some current religious expressions of belief and belonging in France, civil and secular, by paying close attention to their gendered, ethnic, and racial language as these are mediated in body language, individual voices, official statements, and political debates. Taken together, I argue, these articulations map the various modes and tones of a biopolitics of “Frenchness,” aimed at protecting sameness within the French republic. Recent sexual and gendered inflections of national identity in France, I contend, endeavor...

  7. PART 4 Bridging the Divide
    • 12 RESCUED BY LAW? GENDER AND THE GLOBAL POLITICS OF SECULARISM
      (pp. 211-228)
      ELIZABETH SHAKMAN HURD

      This volume brings together the critique of secularism with the study of gender and sexuality. It explores alternatives to the emancipatory narrative that has characterized most discussions of secularity in relation to gender and sexual difference. Taken together, the essays collected here suggest that genealogies of secularism that explicitly attend to questions of gender and sexual difference have a different story to tell. Secularism cannot be uniformly associated with women’s emancipation, but produces and manages these forms of difference in particular ways. As Janet Jakobsen observes, “although modern secularism is often presented as the answer to the problem of gender...

    • 13 THE BRAHMIN WIDOW AND FEMALE RELIGIOUS AGENCY: ANTICASTE CRITIQUE IN TWO MODERN INDIAN TEXTS
      (pp. 229-262)
      RAJESWARI SUNDER RAJAN

      Postcolonial feminist writing on the subject of gender and religion has, until quite recently, been focused almost entirely on drawing attention to and deploring the ways in which traditional religious doctrines and patriarchal religious communities have regulated or oppressed women, while making the case for secular liberal laws that would counteract such oppression. This has especially been the case in India, where the dominant feminist position could be broadly characterized as left-liberal and, consequently, secular-reformist in orientation.¹ The hopes pinned on secularism’s emancipatory potential in the decolonizing nations of the South stand in marked contrast to Joan Scott’s trenchant criticism...

    • 14 ISSUES WITH AUTHORITY: FEMINIST COMMITMENTS IN A LATE SECULAR AGE
      (pp. 263-284)
      DAVID KYUMAN KIM

      In considering contemporary questions about gender, secularism, and democracy, it is timely to ask: What standing does “authority”—as in claims to authority, claims to being authoritative, and so on—have for contemporary feminism, feminist theory, and the discourse on gender and sexuality? And what impact do considerations of the secular and secularism have on feminist critiques of authority? Given the widely held principle that feminism is not simply a claim for equality at the expense of difference, and vice versa, what does it mean to live a life of democratic and feminist integrity that begins to rethink authority? Furthermore,...

  8. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 285-308)
  9. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 309-312)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 313-326)