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The Politics of Postsecular Religion

The Politics of Postsecular Religion: Mourning Secular Futures

Ananda Abeysekara
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    The Politics of Postsecular Religion
    Book Description:

    Ananda Abeysekara contends that democracy, along with its cherished secular norms, is founded on the idea of a promise deferred to the future. Rooted in democracy's messianic promise is the belief that religious-political identity-such as Buddhist, Hindu, Sinhalese, Christian, Muslim, or Tamil-can be critiqued, neutralized, improved, and changed, even while remaining inseparable from the genocide of the past. This facile belief, he argues, is precisely what distracts us from challenging the violence inherent in postcolonial political sovereignty. At the same time, we cannot simply dismiss the democratic concept, since it permeates so deeply through our modernist, capitalist, and humanist selves.

    In The Politics of Postsecular Religion, Abeysekara invites us to reconsider our ethical-political legacies, to look at them not as problems, but as aporias, in the Derridean sense-that is, as contradictions or impasses incapable of resolution. Disciplinary theorizing in religion and politics, he argues, is unable to identify the aporias of our postcolonial modernity. The aporetic legacies, which are like specters that cannot be wished away, demand a new kind of thinking. It is this thinking that Abeysekara calls mourning and un-inheriting. Un-inheriting is a way of meditating on history that both avoids the simple binary of remembering and forgetting and provides an original perspective on heritage, memory, and time.

    Abeysekara situates aporias in the settings and cultures of the United States, France, England, Sri Lanka, India, and Tibet. In presenting concrete examples of religion in public life, he questions the task of refashioning the aporetic premises of liberalism and secularism. Through close readings of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida, Butler, and Agamben, as well as Foucault, Asad, Chakrabarty, Balibar, and Zizek, he offers readers a way to think about the futures of postsecular politics that is both dynamic and creative.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51267-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion, Anthropology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. 1 Thinking the Un-improvable, Thinking the Un-inheritable
    (pp. 1-33)

    In a number of his later works Jacques Derrida claimed that “democracy is a promise.” By definition, a promise is something that is deferred. That which is deferred is not present or available. Nor is it simply absent. (Indeed, the deferred is irreducible to the binary of presence/absence). Understood this way, to live in a democracy, to be a citizen, to believe in democratic principles—freedom of choice, freedom of the press, human rights, justice, law, among others—is to live in a state of deferral. To believe in the deferred promise is to believe in the future. That is...

  5. 2 Aporias of Secularism
    (pp. 34-83)

    Nietzsche tells us in his The Gay Science that one day, early in the bright morning, a madman arrived in a market with a lantern and jumped into the people’s midst and pierced them with his eyes. “‘Whither is God?’ he cried; ‘I will tell you, we have killed him—you and I. . . . God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” Following this pronouncement, the madman poses a series of rhetorical questions about the event—from how it became possible for God to be killed to what might be invented to replace Him. He...

  6. 3 Postcolonial Community or Democratic Responsibility? A Problem of Inheritance
    (pp. 84-127)

    To account for oneself is to count oneself. One cannot really account for oneself, give an account of oneself, be accountable, responsible, answerable without (always running the risk of) counting oneself, distinguishing oneself, differentiating oneself, among others or as opposed to others (and their cultures, races, religion, ethnic groups, or castes). That which one can account for can be counted. Hence accountability, in my view, is better written as (ac)countability. Thus, if (ac)countability is about counting oneself, then it is about fashioning a memory of oneself. One cannot count oneself without remembering oneself. In that sense, (ac)countability is tied to...

  7. 4 Toward Mourning Political Sovereignty: A Politics “Between a No-Longer and a Not-Yet”?
    (pp. 128-165)

    Part of the phrase that forms the subtitle of this chapter—“Between a No-Longer and a Not-Yet”—comes from one of Hannah Arendt’s classics, On Revolution. Commenting on how the American Revolution, influenced by particular kinds of legendary narratives, marked a break in historical time, Arendt writes: “The revolution—at least it must have appeared to these men—was precisely the legendary hiatus between end and beginning, between a no-longer and a not-yet.”¹ She goes on to elaborate:

    And these times of transition from bondage to freedom must have appealed to their imagination very strongly, because the legends [like the...

  8. 5 Im-passable Limits of Fugitive Politics: Identity for and Against Itself
    (pp. 166-193)

    My purpose in this chapter is twofold: to offer a proposal for thinking anew the relation between religion and public sphere and to suggest that in so doing we may begin to conceptualize the questions of otherness and difference in a way irreducible to history, state, and law. I say begin because the agonistic moment of a demand for identity to be for and against itself that I want to locate in this chapter still remains at the aporetic limits of the postcolonial politics that continues to sustain and enforce distinctions like minority and majority, Tamils and Sinhalese as numerically,...

  9. 6 Active Forgetting of History, the “Im-possibility” of Justice
    (pp. 194-226)

    Can we in the same sentence, in the same breath if you wish, think “nonjuridical” justice and its possibility? Is there such a thing as “nonjuridical” justice at all? Can the juridical really ever be nonjuridical? Or, more simply put, can justice be anything other than justice? Can justice ever be separated from the juridical, from the aporia of law? If this sounds like an im-possibility (as Derrida writes the term), I want to suggest that thinking (about) that im-possibility may help us gain a new purchase on not only the concept of justice but also the concept of history,...

  10. 7 Politics of “Postsecular” Ethics, Futures of Anti-genealogy: Community Without Community?
    (pp. 227-278)

    Ayubowan!” This is a particular kind of greeting that has its uses in particular sociocultural domains of differently textured lives of Sinhalese communities, both within and beyond the shores of the island of Sri Lanka. But it is not just any particular greeting. Its particularity, I suspect, assumes a certain generality today. Put differently, the specifically Sinhalese, if not entirely Buddhist, discourse of welcome and hospitality has come to occupy an authorized “national” status in postcolonial Sri Lanka. The status of the greeting resulted not from the frequency or ubiquity of its use. Rather, I think, it acquired such status...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 279-310)
  12. Index
    (pp. 311-324)