ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Revisiting SecularisationSubscribe to Revisiting Secularisation

Referees Consulted in 2014

EPW apologises to the referees who may have been inadvertently left out from the above list. Corrections will be made on the EPW website.

Referees Consulted in 2014

EPW apologises to the referees who may have been inadvertently left out from the list. Corrections will be made on the EPW website.

Reassessing Secularism and Secularisation in South Asia

Secularisation, once a key concept in debates about modernisation and modernity, has received very little academic attention over the last half century. In fact, it is often seen as a subset of or engulfed within secularism, which has been central to academic and political debates about democracy, nationalism and contemporary politics. In this special issue, we focus on both in their mutual interaction. It provides a mix of theoretically informed pieces with detailed, contextualised research adding granularity to the discussions by asking: Can secularisation happen without secularism? Or vice versa? What kinds of secularisation have specific versions of secularism promoted? Have there been reversals in secularisation, or has it been a largely linear process in south Asia?

Secularisation and Partition Emergencies

This article suggests that the disorder which accompanied Partition, and attempts by India and Pakistan to contain and manage it, generated pressures that led to an (admittedly partial) secularisation of bilateral relations between the two countries. By looking at the evolution of the inter-dominion agreement of 1948 and common border policing practices in the western sector, it shows how and why peace was "produced" by Indian and Pakistani elites and officials.

Defining Self and Other

Bangladesh's experience with secularism has been chequered. Beginning with a strong constitutional mandate and political rhetoric, the word "secularism" has been changed, removed and restored, while Islam remains the state religion. Aspirations to the principles of secularism - tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and equal treatment of all religions by the State - have been battled at the level of constitutional amendments and political affiliations. These aspirations also undergird a certain epistemic ground, framed by hermeneutic approaches, which produces particular ways of understanding the self as Muslim and its non-Muslim others. This article examines that epistemic ground, tracing the changes in constructions of the self and the other brought about by the manner in which the Islamic Foundation has approached the Quran, methods for reading it, and the manner in which it has advocated attachment to the Islamic tradition. The article highlights how an increasingly muted understanding of power has led to an ever expansive gap between Muslims and the non-Muslim others they share the nation state of Bangladesh with.

Desecularisation as an Instituted Process

Religious norms have significantly shaped the evolution of political and legal institutions across many Muslim societies. The public visibility of Islam has been analysed through multiple and overlapping lines of scholarly inquiry, which draw attention to the poverty of the "secularisation theory" - the thesis that modernisation leads to a decline of religion in individual minds and social institutions. The case of Pakistan, analysed in this article, is particularly suggestive for highlighting one historical modality of the relationship between religion and politics. Through focusing on concrete instances of exclusion of religious minorities across time, this article proposes the conceptual usefulness of desecularisation as a historically contingent, instituted process for analysing how distinct notions of politics, citizenship and national identity have become embedded in Pakistan. It argues that desecularisation has led to the slow exit of religious minorities from organised political life, an increase in the cultural power of religious parties in dictating the religious content of state policies, and the entrenchment of both politics of expediency and politics of fear in the way state authorities respond to physical and symbolic violence against religious minorities.

Secularising the 'Secular'

The Taj Mahal can also be seen as a religious place of worship, as the local Muslim community is allowed to offer prayers at the mosque situated inside the Taj complex. The monument is also privy to two kinds of publics - a congregation that offers prayers at the mosque, paying no attention to the central building, and a "public", which stays at the central building and seems to follow the given official meanings of the Taj as a world heritage site. Is it possible to look at the Taj merely as a secular historical monument? If yes, how can we respond to the religious meanings embedded in the very architectural composition of the buildings? Are Muslims, as a religious minority, entitled to use spaces such as the mosque in the Taj Mahal to offer congregational prayers? This article explores these questions to understand the practice and politics of "secularism" in postcolonial India.

Reimagining Secularism

It is widely recognised that political secularism, virtually everywhere in the world, is in crisis. It is also acknowledged that to overcome this crisis, secularism needs to be reimagined and reconceptualised. This article takes the first few steps towards doing so. It argues, first, that we need to move away from the standard church-state models of secularism and begin to focus instead on secularism as a response to deep religious diversity. Second, it claims that diversity must be understood as enmeshed in power relations, and therefore the hidden potential of religion-related domination must be explicitly acknowledged. Third, these two moves enable us to view secularism as a response to two forms of institutionalised religious domination, inter- and intra-religious. This way of conceiving secularism rebukes the charge that secularism is intrinsically anti-religious. Secularism is not against religion; it opposes institutionalised religious domination. Finally, the article argues that this conception entails that a secular state shows critical respect to all religious and philosophical world views, possible only when it adopts a policy of principled distance towards all of them.

Languages of Secularity

An intellectual history of ideas regarding secularity in India is a useful way to think through the relationship between secularisation and secularism. This article focuses on the latest period in the development of the idea of secularity in India, from the 1990s onwards, while providing some context from the previous ones. A key argument is that modernity and tradition are not doctrinal positions, but alphabetic "languages", through the elements of which quite dissimilar doctrinal positions can be fashioned.

Secularism and Secularisation

Tracing the trajectory of "secularism" studies, this essay brings out a critique of the evolutionary perspective that pronounced a waning of the "religious" in a predominantly "secular" "modern" world. In the face of global and local realities that negate any strict boundaries between the "secular", "religious" and "political", many western and non-western debates on secularism have creatively re-envisaged the concept and highlighted its variegated meanings. Yet, these have been unable to locate secularism in lived phenomenological realities. This bibliographical essay discusses works that may not be categorised as "secularism" studies and yet offer insights into the interaction between religious, cultural, political and secular aspects of society, while attempting to unentangle the different, but related, processes of "secularism" and "secularisation". It is the secularisation process that needs academic attention to understand the complex interaction between the "secular" and the "religious".
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