Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Cultural Memory in the Present) Hardcover – February 3, 2003

3 customer reviews

See all 4 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from
"Please retry"
"Please retry"

The Peace That Almost Was
Mark Tooley presents a narrative history of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference, the bipartisan, last-ditch effort to prevent the Civil War. Learn more

Editorial Reviews


“A dark but brilliantly original work, Formations of the Secular is one of the most important books on religion and the modern in recent years.”—H-Net Reviews

Formations of the Secular is also a difficult if stunningly eloquent book, a response both elusive and forthright to the many shelves of ‘books on terrorism’ which this country’s trade publishers are rushing into print.”—Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature

“This wonderfully illuminating book should be read alongside the author’s Genealogies of Religion . . .”—Religion

"...Asad's brilliant study remains a defining piece of intellectual and scholarly contribution for all of those interested in exploring the religious and the secular in the modern era."—The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences

" of the most interesting scholars of religious writing today."—Christian Scholar's Review

From the Inside Flap

Opening with the provocative query “what might an anthropology of the secular look like?” this book explores the concepts, practices, and political formations of secularism, with emphasis on the major historical shifts that have shaped secular sensibilities and attitudes in the modern West and the Middle East.
Talal Asad proceeds to dismantle commonly held assumptions about the secular and the terrain it allegedly covers. He argues that while anthropologists have oriented themselves to the study of the “strangeness of the non-European world” and to what are seen as non-rational dimensions of social life (things like myth, taboo, and religion),the modern and the secular have not been adequately examined.
The conclusion is that the secular cannot be viewed as a successor to religion, or be seen as on the side of the rational. It is a category with a multi-layered history, related to major premises of modernity, democracy, and the concept of human rights. This book will appeal to anthropologists, historians, religious studies scholars, as well as scholars working on modernity.

Best Books of the Month
Best Books of the Month
Want to know our Editors' picks for the best books of the month? Browse Best Books of the Month, featuring our favorite new books in more than a dozen categories.

Product Details

  • Series: Cultural Memory in the Present
  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (February 3, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804747679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804747677
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,871,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

Customer Reviews

5 star
4 star
3 star
2 star
1 star
See all 3 customer reviews
Share your thoughts with other customers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Tron Honto on May 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
Asad, an anthropologist, is one the most interesting minds working on the concept of secularity vis à vis modernity and its tendentious universality. The entire work is loosely an examination of the secular as an epistemè and secularism as a political doctrine respectively as well as the interrelation between the two. Asking what an anthropology of secularism might look like, he avoids being bold and shuns an attempt to actually construct one. It's a concept that he's flirted with before in GENEALOGIES OF RELIGION, but any attempt to construct a magisterial theory are absent. As a work overall, the end result is a disjointed collection of previously published articles inter-mixed with new ones; however, it is worthy mentioning that even the previously published articles that reappear in this work we significantly revised from the original-at least the ones I was familiar with. Nevertheless, this doesn't detract from the collective value of the book. All the ideas he puts forward are cogent, probing, and provocative.
His leading contribution is in the area of how secular discourse is perceived from the periphery of the modernization process-a periphery that `doesn't fit' into the metanarrative of Amero-European modernity since the Enlightenment. Thus, the conluding essay on the transformation of law and social ethic in colonial Egypt is alone worth the price of admission. His treatments of human rights, agency and pain, cruelty and torture, and Muslims in Europe best demonstrate the feasibility of employing anthropology as a disciplinary lens through which to scrutinize modernity and its `essential' components [esp. secularism].
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Format: Paperback
There is more here than an Anthropology of the Secular and mostly because a full appreciation of the concept can never arise from a direct response to the question "what is the secular?". And so Asad continues throughout to offer examples and elements of alterations in human thought which may have opened up a new space, creating suitable conditions and allowing 'the secular' to mark its territory and flourish. Asad makes clear that he does not equate or associate individual intentions (in the writings analyzed) with wider structural developments, the method preferred in standard historical accounts. In his chapter on the secular transformation of Egypt for example, it is made clear how reformers unwittingly muddle two sets of grammars (classical Islamic and modern secular) and thereby construct an ambiguous third set of concepts with significantly 'secular' significations.

That is ultimately the essence of this study. An attempt to trace transformations in the grammar of our language (the genealogy of concepts) And as such there is hardly one single discovery that this book can impress upon us. As readers, we can not be passive receivers but rather engage with Asad's suggestions and appreciate that this multi-faceted concept known to us as the 'secular' takes on different forms in different places as it homogenizes distinct temporalities into one singular history. Our desire for a simple linear solution, a direct "anthropology of the 'secular'" in the vein of so many "anthropologies of 'religion'" is itself an entailment of a secular mindset.

Although 'Human Rights', 'agency' and 'pain' may seem like distractions for someone focusing on secularism, they are evidence of the presence of 'modernity' and the 'secular' in our world.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
0 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Julio Paulo Tavares Zabatiero on February 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
A complete reavaluation of modernity. A study of the myth of reason and the reason of the myth, also a new view of pain and agency.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again