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Secularism, the State and Muslim Personal Law

Governing Islam: Law, Empire, and Secularism in Modern South Asia by Julia Stephens, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (South Asian Edition), 2019; pp xiv + 220, price not indicated.

Divorcing Traditions: Islamic Marriage Law and the Making of Indian Secularism by Katherine Lemons, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2019; pp x + 232, price not indicated.

Studies on secularism have burgeoned in the recent past. Moving away from understanding it as the principle of separation between state and religion, influential scholarship has proffered a twofold analytical differentiation between political secularism and the secular. Political secularism denotes the modern nation state’s sovereign power to reconfigure religion in particular forms, with religion itself being modelled on Protestant Christianity privileging the concept of belief (Asad 1993, 2003). The secular is a “particular configuration of the human sensorium” (Hirschkind 2011: 633) that produces a secular society and is presupposed by the doctrine of political secularism.

History as an inquiry into the “positivity of events” (Mahmood 2016: 206), for example, has become indispensable for verifying and interpreting religious truths. In fact, it is important to underscore that the contemporary surge in thinking on secularism has its roots in a particular historical and political conjuncture in postcolonial India in the 1990s, often termed the “crisis of secularism” (Needham and Rajan 2007). The threat posed by an aggressive, xenophobic and Islamophobic Hindu nationalism required urgent and detailed reassessment of secularism.

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Updated On : 6th Aug, 2020

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