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Rethinking Secularism 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199796687
ISBN-10: 0199796688
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Editorial Reviews


"This volume marks the conclusion of a massive four-year academic research project devoted to the analysis of the realities represented by the terms 'secular,' 'secularism,' and 'secularization.'...This conversation, I believe, remains one of the main tasks confronting those who write on secularism today."--Anglican Theological Review

"Rethinking Secularism is not only a fascinating book for students and scholars, but also for everyone who wants to broaden one's horizons...volumes such as Rethinking Secularism may move us closer to a better understanding of our globalized world."--Religion

About the Author

Craig Calhoun is President of the Social Science Research Council, University Professor of the Social Sciences at New York University, and Founding Director of NYU's Institute for Public Knowledge. Mark Juergensmeyer is Director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, Professor of Sociology, and Affiliate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Jonathan VanAntwerpen is Program Officer & Research Fellow at the Social Science Research Council.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (August 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199796688
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199796687
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.9 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #536,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Matthew Smith on April 22, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have a difficult time judging this book to harshly because it wasn't written for me. This book is an intellectual argument against an extreme position that religion is outdated and anachronistic. The idea that religion no longer has a place in modern society, and that science can provide human beings with everything they need. This book argues that secularism is not a one size fits all ideology that can be imported and exported to all societies and they will magically become a modern state. That god and all he/she brings with it must be destroyed for man to move forward.

While I agree with the authors that secularism has many forms and that science alone cannot provide people with everything they need, the problem is that this book isn't written for someone like myself who believes in a middle path between religion ruling over us and religion being pushed completely out of our lives, so this book ends up as an extreme argument against an extreme argument. This book ends up as nothing but an academic exercise between scholars who really aren't talking to people like myself. This is something that irritates me about academia. This back and forth between the ivory towers of academia that has no real practical application.

Talal Asad's contribution is a perfect example of this. He discusses the violence that occurred after the publishing of the Danish cartoons. He goes to great lengths to try to justify and equate this supposed religious violence with secular violence. He discusses the enchantment of secular governments and violence, and their need to glorify violence and death for the nation. The problem is that his discussion of the need to romanticise violence doesn't equate to the violence that came after the publication of the cartoons.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Rethinking Secularism consists in 13 essays (plus an introduction), doing exactly what the title says, rethinking secularism. Almost every one of the essays points out that the concepts of religion and secularism arose virtually simultaneously, the one, (heavy-handed Christian)religion calling forth its antithesis, secularism, and heavy-handed secularism calling forth its opponent, ascendent, renewed, traditional religion. The also were conceived in the same cultural bed, western Europe and the United States; very few non North Atlantic civilizations have a similar dualism, though many do now since being colonized, either militarily or by the media and technology, by the west. Most of the authors point to the 'positive neutrality' of the government of India as a model to be imitated.

It is a truism to say that not all the essays in a collective work have the same value, so i will concentrate on a few. Oddly, i was most disappointed by the article "Western Secularity" by Charles Taylor, whose works i generally enjoy. On p. 43, he uses the word "enchantment," yes, a commonplace in the literature, to comment on the world bereft of religion, but does not recognize that this is a sly, pejorative way of introducing the secularist idea that religions are just fantasy, enchantment, as realistic as the 7 year old girl playing Cinderella. Throughout his essay, Taylor repeatedly uses the word "we," as in we in this secular world, but who is we? Is it Taylor and a friend? Is it everyone in the world? Is it the secularist true believers? I and billions of others don't belong to this we.

My favorite essay was that of Elizabeth Shakman Hurd.
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Format: Paperback
Rethinking secularism results in some surprising suggestions. We discover that there are many secularisms. Secularism comes out very much like a religion. Secularism is not just a ‘nothing’, an absence of religion. Secularism as we know it has content, and a long history.
The Peace of Westphalia resulted in religion in Western Europe being brought under the control of ‘secular’ princes. From there, religion came increasingly under attack in the enlightenment. Some people of West European stock came to think that they would rather do without religion. ‘You can’t do without it’, a number of our authors in this text exclaim. They say this in the light of a global resurgence of religion. We have had a development-of-secularization thesis. Now we are dismantling the same thesis, the reader is told (270). Secularism is not cutting the mustard.
Secularism is a product of the Western church. The term ‘secular’ originally referred to those servants of the church who worked in the community rather than those bound to more isolated monastic orders. The very category religion as it is known today is in a sense an invention of secularism. Religion can be defined as being that which secularism is not. In the sense we could say, that that if there is no secularism, there can be no religion. The relationship between secularism and religion is far from ‘natural’. It is a relationship that has been constructed, and continues to be constructed, and it is constructed very differently in different parts of the world.
Because secularism varies from place to place, there are actually many secularisms, or types of secularism. There being many secularisms, makes it hard to know just what ‘secularism’ refers to. Asian uses of the term secular are quite different from European ones.
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