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Rethinking Secularism Hardcover – Aug 26 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (Aug. 26 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019979667X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199796670
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 15.9 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 544 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #46,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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By Notlimey on Sept. 26 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This compilation of articles on the current state of thinking about secularism presents a wide swathe of views within the community of sociologists, political scientists and experts in international relations. As only one historian is included, the overall impact of this book is of theory without enough grounding in deep context. The chief use is to note the general agreement among theorists that there are multiple modernities and therefore multiple secularists. The traditional view of secularism is seen as a predominately western phenomenon growing out of the religious history of western Europe. For me, the most interesting studies were those on the nature of religion and therefore secularism in the Chinese context. This is in summary, a 'must read' book for those scholars and others who grapple with the altering religious landscape in the world over the past 500 years. I will re-read the sections I have high lighted.
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Amazon.com: 2 reviews
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Misses the mark April 22 2013
By Matthew Smith - Published on Amazon.com
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 This book is an intellectual argument against an extreme position that religion is outdated and anachronistic.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. He goes to some length describing the "killing machine" of secular societies but he completely fails to notice the fact that dissension can and is freely voiced in secular societies against his "killing machine" whereas in places that saw such violent reaction against the free speech of the cartoons has no freedom to dissent publicly or the dissenter understands they are taking enormous risks to do so. Mr. Asad seems to forget protests before the Iraq war, or the secular individuals who went to Iraq to serve as human shield. His attempt to equate violence emanating from "secular" governments like the U.S. with the societies they govern is just false.

The essays on Asia and how some of these countries are dealing with the transition to modernity and how they approach religion and secularism was somewhat interesting the problem is they approach their subject arguing against the idea of a pure secularism that removes religion. I know there are those people out there arguing for removing religion from public sphere completely but if you are not one of those people then these essays will fall a little flat. I expect that every society will approach modernity in a fashion that is unique to its own needs and interests, so it doesn't surprise me that India's approach differs from China's, France's or the U.S.'s. For me this seems like common sense so the discussion seems redundant.

Rajeev Bhargava's essay Rehabilitating Secularism is another essay I felt was redundant. He discusses the different forms of secularism that exist and the different approaches that each one entails. The problem is that all societies are fluid and ever changing so the idea that there is a single approach or some formula that can be applied seems ridiculous on its face. Other than the individual who believes there is a one size fits all solution this essay seems like it is preaching to the choir.

Of course some essays discuss "secular" violence such as WWI and WWII as well as Stalin and the millions who have died due to violence that was void of religious motivation. The problem once again is that unless you are a Richard Dawkin's type of atheist who wants to blame much of what ails societies on religion as apposed to someone like myself who sees human beings as inherently violent and needing very little to motivate or justify violence then once again the essays read like preaching to the choir.

Several of the essays I enjoyed but many simply fell flat because I don't take extreme views of religion or secularism. I believe religion has its place and each society has to work through discovering what is the perfect balance between religion and secularism. Secularism is certainly no panacea, but I didn't think it was before I bought and read this book, and after reading it not much has changed for me. I guess that is biggest criticism of all. If you believe religion has no place in modern society then read this book to challenge yourself, but other than that I see little reason to engage this work. It's not a discussion about secularism but more of an argument against extreme secularism.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Religion & Secularism: often opposing, yet intertwined, twins Sept. 30 2012
By Joseph M. Hennessey - Published on Amazon.com
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. She showed how most of the supposedly neutral terms used by and to describe secularism are actually pre-believed, the conceptual deck is stacked, the ideological table is tilted, toward the left. She, along with Coleridge, calls for a "suspension of disbelief," the irreligious dropping their weapons as it always insists the religious do. Her only gaffe is the content of footnote 9, which contains a diatribe against Pope Benedict XVI, that he is reasserting the spiritual supremacy of the Vatican. First of all, this is an improper use of the word "Vatican," which is a place within the city of Rome. She must mean the spiritual supremacy of the Holy See, or the Catholic magisterium, both of which live in Vatican City, Rome. More importantly, Benedict, who along with his predecessor John Paul II, are more cultured and well read than any two consecutive world leaders since at least Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, is not trying to reassert Catholicism's supremacy, except perhaps for Catholics. Does BenXVI think that Catholic Christianity is the embodiment of the truth of Jesus Christ? Of course, and he should be fired if he did not. Through his voracious thinking and writing, the pope knows the contents of other Christian denominations' teachings and other world religions than virtually anyone. He applauds those which he thinks support Catholicism, and he has the audacity to point out those which he thinks are not salvific for humans, on earth or for eternal salvation.

This is similar to the academic blood slur on p. 234 by R. Scott Appleby, where he states that fundamentalists are "modern [cultural] warriors," which can be stipulated for the sake of argument, but that "they are happy to select and retrieve organizational features from modern ideological movements that they admire, (e.g.,) fascism. . ." You know you are intellectually bankrupt when you reach for the Hitler comparison. How unprofessional.

The book's final essay, by Talal Asad, "Freedom of Speech and Religious Limitations," is clever, but ultimately not cogent. The main point of this essay is to justify Muslim anger, boycotts, and even downplay the evil of violence, over the admittedly deplorable cartoons of Muhammed in a Danish newspaper. A major theme is that blasphemy means 2 different things in the secular west and Muslim countries, which is pretty obvious. But Asad wonders why the secular countries forbid certain forms of otherwise free speech, as by copyright, which upholds commerce, but does not enforce Muslims right to not be offended by ugly speech in Denmark. The reason is simple: the last time I checked, the writ of Sharia does not go to Denmark, western Europe, nor the USA. These formerly Christian countries do not enforce blasphemy against the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus either,for the good reason that they are secular nations, not Christian. Places where Sharia is the law of the land are more than welcome to enforce those laws there. I am offended by those cartoons, as I am by so-called art which desecrates Christ or the Virgin Mary, i try to elect candidates who would not give federal tax money to those alleged artists, i might even conspire to boycott those corporations which sponsor the nausea, but i would not slit anyone's throat or fly a plain into the gallery containing the art. Asad consistently fails to make a distinction between violence against soldiers, which is allowed by all parties to a war, from intentional violence against innocent victims, like the folks in the twin towers on 9/11/01, or the slitting of throats of journalists, from the regrettable but purposedly unintended killing of the innocent in Iraq and Afghanistan by secularist soldiers--world of difference.

However, over all this was a stimulating, refreshing, and well written book.

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