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Formations of the Secular

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The role of religion has become increasingly under scrutiny following the resurgence of Christian conservativism, political Islam Hindu insurgency as well as other publically acknowledged religions.  Previously political and social theories dominated the world as the world healed from the scars of the Second World War. The world was more interested in achieving social development more than before while on the other hand religious customs experienced a decline. A few theorists cling to the traditional theories and political and religious opinions. It is these opinions that have been fundamentally responsible for the shift against. Despite the agreement among scholars for the need of a new ideology, they luck unanimity on what the new ideology should be. Talal Assad has been one of the scholars who have tirelessly tried to bring together a foundation for the development of a new religious ideology.

The role Assad has played is more notable role despite being an anthropologist-a field not very much associated with religion. Most anthropologists are least concerned with the question of modernity although anthropology theory has a great bearing to the post modernity debates. Furthermore a good number of anthropologists have ne interest in secularizations. According to Assad (2003) most books on the anthropology of religion seem to ignore this issue. Conversely, other areas of study seem to share the same dilemma as far as secularism is concerned, wondering whether it is unique to the West of applies to the whole world. The idea of secularism disused by Assad seems not to expressly attend to this issues, but rather position secularism and religion in the middle of a purposeful incomplete theory of modernity anthropology. Assad further present past essay that tend to tackle the issues indirectly through what can be considered an epistemic reflection on secularism. Certain his approach is a Foucaudian method. He actually takes a different opinion from his colleagues who seem to perceive Foucauldian methodologies as field work. According to Assad (2003) the method makes comparison or comparative analysis and is not interested in the source of what is s being compared but what articulates them. Assad starts his analysis with macro sociology and epistemology which he strongly believes underlies the moderns systems of knowledge and society. He is concerned with nation sate, general concatenations of capitalism, and new concepts regarding politics, religion and ethics. The eight chapter book begins with a keen exploration into the social history of the West. He then tackles the issue of what the appearance of the anthropology of secularism might look like. In the subsequent three chapters, address the idea of the secular in a manner that is less apparent talking about issues such cruelty and torture, pain and agency, and the assumption of what the term “human” stands for in  human tights or rather the assumption underlying the term. All this essays are linked together in the Western context by the secularization of the idea of the mind and the body as well as the relationship between people and the idea of humanity. Clear, Assad is more interested in the information provided by contemporary culture rather than local social players. In regard to non Western entities he speaks of the Western domination the new world system that is globalised. Modernity is seen as process engineered by those in power often base on continually evolving principles.  There are a lot of events taking place in the world currently with groups of different opinions actively championing for the accommodation of their ideas in the society as political and social landscapes keep on changing.  However, Assad is keen to not that every development take place worldwide whether in ideology or activities conducted by different group is determined, supported or suppressed by the West. However, as more awareness spreads around the world local agents are becoming as vibrant as the Western agents. Assad however seems almost not ready to admit this factor. The genealogical method that he embraces makes him lean towards the actor-weak and culture-strong perspective of democratic politics and culture.

The three last chapters of Assad’s book are sociologically comprehensive and provide a conclusive account of his normative stand on the aspect of pluralism and politics. In Europe Muslims are a religious minority and Assad exploring the impacts of mainstream attitudes of the Europeans towards the Muslims. The chapter on “Secularism, Nation-State, Religion” has a convincing argument concerning the manner in which the modern public sphere in the West has always been an allowance for social segregation. Religion is in some way privatized or lacking in public demands. He further brilliantly disuses the Reconfiguration of law and ethics in Egypt the colonial rule in his last chapter and how the reconfiguration that had great ramifications in the Muslim world. Separation of the state and religion which is the order of secularization of the government requires a totally distinct kind of ethics than that pursued by shari’a law. The pre-colonial Muslim world had the Shari’a transformed into norms legal developed to uphold a centralized state. The Shari’a courts were some of the states organs meant to uphold its stability and administer the law in Muslim countries. Assad dismisses the notion that the resentment of the Shari’a law yet applying its provision in the running of the country represents an aspiration for Westernization. Some scholars believe that separation of the state from religion holding the integrity of Islamic ideals against the activities of corrupt rulers and monopolies created by statists. As such Assad tends to conflate the demarcation of secular with secularism to be a political doctrine and an epistemic entity. Secularism should be accompanies with differentiation of responsibilities, disciplines and understanding in the society.  These are not entirely new feature since they were foreseeable during the post-prophetic periods of Islam. Muslim civilization has also experienced repeated tension between interpretation of faith with the intent of controlling social life and requiring the existence of secular and religious aspect within the society.

The Assad’s formula in handling the issue of religion and secularism least concerns itself with those in authority. The elite can easily challenge separation because it can easily serve as a threat to their continued leadership. Some minority group can also appeal for external assistance. Certainly the book is an important book as far as religion and state are concerned in our modern society.

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