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An investigation of the role of religion in the formation of secular-national public spheres in the Middle East and South Asia
Over the past two decades secular polities across the globe have witnessed an increasing turn to religion-based political movements, such as the rise of political Islam and Hindu nationalism, which have been fueling new and alternative notions of nationhood and national ideologies. The rise of such movements has initiated widespread debates over the meaning, efficacy, and normative worth of secularism. Visualizing Secularism and Religion examines the constitutive role of religion in the formation of secular-national public spheres in the Middle East and South Asia, arguing that in order to establish secularism as the dominant national ideology of countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, and India, the discourses, practices, and institutions of secular nation-building include rather than exclude religion as a presence within the public sphere. The contributors examine three fields—urban space and architecture, media, and public rituals such as parades, processions, and commemorative festivals—with a view to exploring how the relation between secularism, religion, and nationalism is displayed and performed. This approach demands a reconceptualization of secularism as an array of contextually specific practices, ideologies, subjectivities, and "performances" rather than as simply an abstract legal bundle of rights and policies.
"This is an exciting volume that succeeds in going beyond abstract theories of secularism to an analysis of concrete practices of performance and visualization. It also makes an important contribution to our understanding of secularism by transcending the boundaries of area studies in comparing these four societies. It is a must read for political scientists, anthropologists, sociologists, students of religion, and students of media."
—Peter van der Veer, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen
"This innovative volume advances our understanding of secularism in two ways: it pushes us to understand that the modern secular has to have a distinct 'look' and public representation—in images, monuments, dress, comportment. These secular aesthetic regimes are not bland copies of generic Western forms but have been set against the historically distinct ways religious community and symbols were made visible in public space. Secondly, the editors break the deep habit of discussing the secular as a generic modern Western formation. Instead, it brings together scholars from many disciplines who compare and contrast visual and performative permutations of how secularism has been made visible in Turkey, India, Egypt, and Lebanon—places where the secular for more than a century has been at the heart of the political vernacular."
—Thomas Blom Hansen, Stanford University
Cover Credit: Cover photo by Kerem Yucel