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REL 311
Islam and the Critical Study of Secularism Spring 2021
Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
Cross-listed ANTH 311 / REL 311

Class Details

Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, successive Islamist movements have sought to transform Muslim states along religious lines. In Euro-American discourses on political Islam, such blatant disregard for the separation of religion and state is often seen as a tragic failure of secularization. Islam, in other words, is understood as a religion out of place in the modern world. While the global resurgence of religion in the face of much scientific and material progress has tempered scholarly enthusiasm for the secularization thesis, contemporary Islamic religiosity is increasingly viewed as an aberration from the regular course of history. Moreover, as scholars rewrite the script of secularization by unearthing modern secularism’s European-Christian heritage, they unwittingly bolster a narrative of civilizational difference between Islam and the secular West. Our understanding of Islam is thus inextricably tied to its oppositional framing as the other of secularism. In this course, we will critically assess Euro-centric representations of Islam as created through canonical and critical discourses on secularism. Rather than assuming a natural opposition between Islam and secularism, we will examine the various modalities of power, institutional formations, habits of thinking, normative presuppositions, and cultural and visceral sensibilities that configure their agonistic relationship. This examination amounts to deconstructing the very category of the secular in its cognitive and sensory dimensions. To accomplish this task, we will rely on the work of Talal Asad and his interlocutors in Religious Studies, Anthropology, Continental Philosophy, Postcolonial Studies, and Comparative Literature. The course content is divided into 2 modules. Module A: “Theorizations” will examine Euro-centric theories of secularism and problematize their portrayals of Islam as an intrinsically asecular religion. In Module B: “Secularism Beyond Europe,” we will read postcolonial critiques of secularization and examine its alternative trajectories in non-European contexts. Crucially, we will shift from a conventional emphasis on the state by comparing Islamic and secular disciplines of subject formation. By the end of the course, students will be able to appreciate how secular legal, political, and cultural institutions have re-defined religion in the modern world. Further, they will be able to discern the ways in which contemporary Islamic movements are both responses to and manifestations of a global secular condition.
The Class: Format: seminar; This course will be conducted online in its entirety and will rely on a combination of synchronous and asynchronous modes of learning. The synchronous component will consist of weekly class meetings via Zoom. A discussion leader will be assigned once a week to present on the week's readings and lead class discussion. The asynchronous component will consist of weekly reading responses (500 words each), 2 essays (1,000 words each), and a final paper (2,500 words)
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 5583
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Weekly Reading Responses (500 words each): 30%; 2 Essays (1,000 words each): 20%; Attendance and Class Participation: 10%; Term Paper (10 double-spaced pages/2,500 words): 40%. Note: Out of the 13 weekly reading responses, you can choose to skip a maximum of 3
Prerequisites: None.
Enrollment Preferences: Juniors and seniors.
Distributions: Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
ANTH 311 Division II REL 311 Division II
DPE Notes: This course will sensitize students to the intractable difficulties of securing religious freedom, diversity, and tolerance under secular law. Students will gain a nuanced historical understanding of the role of Islam as a political force in postcolonial Muslim societies and its implications for religious minorities. Notably, they will understand how religiously motivated forms of violence and oppression are often deeply imbricated with secular power and institutions.

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