Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment

Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment
    Book Description:

    In a rigorous exploration of how secularism and identity emerged as conflicting concepts in the modern world, Akeel Bilgrami elaborates a notion of secular enchantment with a view to finding in secular modernity a locus of meaning and value, while addressing squarely the anxiety that all such notions are exercises in nostalgia.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-41964-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    • ONE Secularism: Its Content and Context
      (pp. 3-57)

      I begin with three fundamental features of the idea of “secularism.” I will want to make something of them at different stages of the passage of my argument in this essay for the conclusion—among others—that the relevance of secularism is contextual in very specific ways.

      If secularism has its relevance only in context, then it is natural and right to think that it will appear in different forms and guises in different contexts. But I write down these opening features of secularism at the outset because they seem to me to be invariant among the contextually different forms...

    • TWO Secularism, Multiculturalism, and the Very Concept of Law
      (pp. 58-74)

      Unlike secularization, which is a large and general cultural and intellectual process of the declining hold of religious belief and practice, secularism, as I have expounded it in the previous essay, is a very specific doctrine about the polity that gained its particular point and purpose in the aftermath of European nation-building after the Westphalian peace. As such, it is intricately caught up with a nation’s laws. But given the uneven development of secularization and an abiding religiosity in many parts of the world even where secularismas a political doctrine has been embraced, a question that has vexed liberal...

    • THREE Liberalism and the Academy
      (pp. 75-98)

      Though there is much radical—and often unpleasant—disagreement on the fundamental questions around academic freedom, these disagreements tend to be between people who seldom find themselves speaking to each other on topics such as this or even, in general, speaking to the same audience. On this subject, as in so much else in the political arena these days, one finds oneself speaking only to those with whom one is measurably agreed, at least on thefundamentalissues. As proponents of academic freedom, we all recognize who the opponents of academic freedom are but we seldom find ourselves conversing with...

    • FOUR Gandhi, the Philosopher
      (pp. 101-121)

      I was once asked by a literary magazine to write a review essay on Nehru. Some weeks later, the editor asked me if I would throw in Gandhi as well. As it happened I never wrote the piece, but I remember thinking that it was like being asked while climbing the Western Ghats whether I would take a detour and climb Mount Everest as well. I am not now trying to scale any great peak or to give a defining interpretation to Gandhi. It’s generally foolhardy to write about Gandhi, not only because you are never certain you’ve got him...

    • FIVE Gandhi (and Marx)
      (pp. 122-174)

      There are many reasons to write on Gandhi and on Marx, not least because they are both being aggressively—and with the most brazenly ideological motives—discarded as irrelevant to our time.¹ But why write about them together, as a conjunction?

      One reason to thematically conjoin the philosophies of two thinkers is to seek a synthesis of their ideas. I think it would be foolhardy of me to try to present such a synthesis of Gandhi and Marx. It is not that I doubt that it is a worthy ambition. But I do doubt that I have, indeed I am...

    • SIX The Political Possibilities of the Long Romantic Period
      (pp. 175-214)

      The assertion of a long period of any movement or tradition is an act of interpretative resistance. What does it resist? Dichotomies, of course, such as, say, Romantic and Classical, and the tidy periodizations they generate. This much is obvious. But beyond the obvious, when it comes to Romanticism, the assertion of a longer than standardly periodized span is not merely anactof resistance of this familiar kind—it is, in one sense, an attempt todescribea form of resistance.

      If Harold Bloom had his way, the long Romantic period would begin with the Gnostics and it would...

    • SEVEN What Is a Muslim? Fundamental Commitment and Cultural Identity
      (pp. 217-240)

      In recent years, the concept of identity has had its corset removed and hangs loosely and precariously in the domain of culture and politics. This is largely a result of a gradual realization in theoretical work in these subjects that local contexts of study determine our individuation of cultural phenomena quite variously, and that it is much too tidy and distorting to demand, or proceed as if there were, stricter criteria for their identification. The point cannot be dismissed as some arcane, post-modern development in the theory of culture. It accurately captures the experience of individuals and communities. I recall...

    • EIGHT Notes toward the Definition of Identity
      (pp. 241-259)

      This essay’s somewhat encyclopedic analytic mode was prompted by constant dismissals on the part of philosophers of the possibility of a rigorous treatment of the notion of identity in the study of politics. Some have even denied that it even needs to be studied because each person possesses multiple identities, which contextualize the notion to such an extent that it lacks the stability needed to carry the weight it is given in the idea of “identity” politics. I had satisfied myself when I wrote the previous essay, “What Is a Muslim?,” that there is no reason to be bullied out...

    • NINE After the Fatwah: Twenty Years of Controversy
      (pp. 260-276)

      Philip Roth once said about the literature of Eastern and Western Europe that in totalitarian regimes, “Everything matters, so nothing goes,” while in modern liberal democracies in the West, “Nothing matters, so anything goes.”¹ That, if it is true, cannot, of course, be literally or perfectly true; but even as an approximation, it registers a familiar distinction often reflected in discussions of liberal democracy and its various “Others.” The distinction is particularly worth exploring in the context of a novel likeThe Satanic Verseswrittenfroma world which has routinely come to be perceived by its critics as falling...

    • TEN Occidentalism, the Very Idea: An Essay on the Enlightenment, Enchantment, and the Mentality of Democracy
      (pp. 279-327)

      It wouldn’t be too lofty to describe the extensive debate in many related disciplines over the last few decades about the inherited ideas and ideologies of the “Enlightenment” as our intellectual efforts at self-understanding—in particular, our efforts to come to a more or less precise grip on the sense in which we belong to a period, properly describable as our “modernity.”

      These ongoing efforts on our part, however, gain a specific interest when they surface in the context of a new form of cold war that has religious rather than communist ideals as its target. Since religion, at least...

    • ELEVEN The Freedom of Beginnings
      (pp. 328-338)

      In a distinction derived from Vico—but developed along very distinctive lines of his own—between the concept of “Origins” and the concept of “Beginnings,”¹ Edward Said raises a whole range of fundamental issues: about the nature of writing, and indeed more generally about the nature of human freedom.

      Vico had spoken of how the very notion of a chosen people, by the privilege it endowed them with, protected them from the acts of imagination and intellect by which they might probe their own origins. These acts, which since his time came to be described in terms of “genealogy” but...

    • TWELVE Edward Said: An Intellectual and Personal Tribute
      (pp. 339-346)

      There are a very few intellectuals—Bertrand Russell, E. P. Thompson, and Noam Chomsky come to mind in the English-speaking world—whose writings and whose lives provide a kind of pole that thousands of people look toward so as to feel that they are not wholly lost or marginal for possessing instincts for justice and humanity, and for thinking that some small steps might be taken toward their achievement. Edward Said was, without a doubt, such a man. The daze and despair so many of us here at Columbia feel, now that we have taken in that he has gone,...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 347-384)
  9. Sources
    (pp. 385-386)
  10. Author Index
    (pp. 387-390)
  11. Subject Index
    (pp. 391-397)