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Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam Paperback – August 1, 1993


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Editorial Reviews

Review

This eloquent, lucid, and complex work is the product of remarkable intelligence and erudition; it is a profound contribution to the understanding of the cultural hegemony of the West.

(Ralph M. Coury Religious Studies Review)

All articles are extremely well written, exhibit impressive scholarship, and are thoughtful and are thoughtful and stimulating. Asad's criticisms are neither judgmental nor self-righteous but are generally driven by the will to understand.

(James R. Wood Contemporary Sociology)

About the Author

Talal Asad is a professor of anthropology at the Johns Hopkins University.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (August 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801846323
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801846328
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #590,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
I have to say I was a bit flabbergasted reading this book at first. I'm a firm secularist with a general suspicion towards spiritual/political conflation of any kind. For better or for worse. Yet as an anthropology student who studies religion, I was keen to see how Talal Asad challenged that dichotomy. And my entire perspective was blown apart, rightly I should say. In this brilliant collection of essays (as well as his other work), Talal Asad turns the study of religion on its head by proposing not an analysis of the religious phenomenon in western society but of secularism itself. The roots of secularism as an idea, its conceits and its intellectual limitations in a society challenged by its inability to accept and incorporate the Other. By tying secularism to its Protestant roots where religion was separated as a phenomenon from other aspects of life, Talal Asad illustrates the provincial and exclusionary character of Enlightenment claims to establish a free irreligious social space, generalizing its own specificity and vilifying those that don't conform to its image of a rational liberal citizen. Asad illustrates the implications of this political logic towards the very end in two brilliant polemics on Salman Rushdie and The Satanic Verses affair. While I counted myself a strong supporter of Rushdie's right to free expression and of the literary merits of The Satanic Verses against an obscurantist fanatical crowd who were overreacting to a work that was meant to identify with their plight as immigrants, Asad's essays turned my assumptions on their head by showing those same exclusionary practices of western liberal secularism targeted an entire minority for expressing objections that wouldn't be considered so unreasonable if expressed by other groups deemed respectable by secular society. Not to mention re-enforcing British elitist stereotypes of British Muslims as an unassimilable other that can never belong.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although I only read the Intro and 1st Chapter of this book, I can tell you that Asad was one of the first Postmodern Deconstructionist Scholars of Religion who argues that the concept 'religion' as we know it today was created in Europe around the time of the Enlightenment and that ancient and medieval people had a much different idea of what religion was than what the modern understanding of it is today. Asad argues that there was no division between the private secular and the religious public as we have in the modern world today, but that every aspect of medieval life was permeated by various religious ideas, rituals, groups, journeys, careers, etc, mostly of the Roman Catholic variety. This was the status quo in Europe till the time of the Protestant Reformation, the subsequent Wars of Religion, and John Locke's influential political philosophy which grew out the turbulence of the British royal struggles between Protestantism and Christianity.

So although we have a vague and general idea of religion in the modern era, Asad argues for a more particular study of religion that subdivides it into smaller categories. He writes:

'In the Middle Ages, such [religious] discourses ranged over an enormous domain, defining and creating religion: rejecting 'pagan' practices or accepting them; authenticating particular miracles and relics (the two confirmed each other); authorizing shrines; compiling saints' lives, both as a model of and as a model for the Truth; requiring the regular telling of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds to a priestly confessor and giving absolution to a penitent; regularizing popular social movements into Rule-following Orders (for example, the Fransciscans), or denouncing them for heresy or for verging on the heretical (for example, the Beguines).
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6 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Faraz Rabbani on April 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
Talal Asad is one of the remarkable minds of our times. This work is one of the most insightful works on how to understand religion in the modern world...
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8 of 26 people found the following review helpful By shoayb adamm on March 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
A fascinating book, in which the author argues that "religion" as a historical and political category was created in Europe, an interesting book.
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Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam
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