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The Anthropology of Secularity beyond Secularism

Ashley B. Lebner

This article begins by exploring why secular studies may be stagnating in anthropology. Contrary to recent arguments, I maintain that rather than widening the definition of secularism to address this, we should shift our focus, if only slightly. While secularism remains a worthy object, foregrounding it risks tying the field to issues of governance. I therefore suggest avoiding language that privileges it. Moreover, in returning to Talal Asad's 'secular', it becomes evident that care should be taken with the notion of 'secularism' to begin with, even if he did not emphasize this analytically. Conceiving of secularism as a transcendent political power, as Asad does, is not only a critique of a secularist narrative, but also a secularist truism itself that can potentially cloud ethnography if applied too readily. A way forward lies in carefully attending to secular concepts, as Asad suggests, and in exploring a version of secularity inspired by the work of Charles Taylor.

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Chasing the Secular

Methodological Reflections on How to Make the Secular Tangible

Birgitte Schepelern Johansen

How can we think about the secular in ways that encourage empirical investigations of its specific, localized, material, and embodied expressions? Locating the secular in particular things, bodies, practices, and situations invites the scholar to

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An Anthropology of Nonreligion?

Mascha Schulz and Stefan Binder

-understanding as well as its own entanglement with secularization narratives. As Fabio Vicini suggests, “anthropologists have long excluded the secular from their analysis much like sociological explorations have tended to neglect the resilience of religion in

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The Non-Secular Pilgrimage

Walking and Looking in Ken Cockburn and Alec Finlay’s The Road North

Alice Tarbuck and Simone Kotva

In 1970, Wendell Berry described nature poetry as a ‘secular pilgrimage’. 1 While recognising the laic nature of much environmental wayfaring, the contemporary Scottish nature poet Alec Finlay (b. 1966) importantly observes that this

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Jewish Secular-Believer Women in Israel

A Complex and Ambivalent Identity

Hagar Lahav

A Facebook friend posted a message informing me that you are looking for secular-believer women for research purposes. I said to myself: “That’s me, exactly.” Then I asked myself how my friend knew that I am a secular-believer. After all, I never

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God's Voice in a Secular Society

A Muslim Perspective

Taniya Hussain

political. My identity has always been shaped by politics. Firstly, I was born in Pakistan, a country that has a secular constitution but was established for Muslims. Secondly, my childhood and teenage years in the 1970s and 1980s were absorbed by the

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God's Voice in a Secular Society

A Christian Perspective

Trevor Wedman

that God would only call in one direction, that of the Church, the advice was revolutionary. The Secular Society Depending on the context, the term secularism can denote one of two rather conflicting ideas. The first is that the Church or any

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Secular Routes and Theological Drifts in Modern Anthropology

Khaled Furani

intellect. It typically treads routes marked by rationality, science, logic, and reason under the bold skies of secular norms that have designated the ways in which anthropology could, should, or must proceed and have warned of byways that should be avoided

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The Other Secular Modern

An Empirical Critique of Asad

Steve Bruce

Talal Asad explains the marginalization of religion in liberal democracies by invoking the modern state's desire to control. This paper argues that, in the Anglophone world, self-conscious secularism played little or no part in the secularization of public life. The expansion of the secular sphere was primarily an unintended consequence of actions by religious impositionists. Far from leading the promotion of the secular, the state had to be pressed by the demands of religious minorities to reduce the powers of established religion. The state provision of secular social services was usually a reaction to the inability of competing religious organizations to continue their provision. As this review of church–state relations in the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand shows, the reduction in the social power of religion owed more to the failure of Christians to agree than to a deliberately secularizing state.

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Re(casting) the Secular

Religion and Education in Kerala, India

Ritty Lukose

The anthropology of caste in India has conventionally rendered caste as a category of traditional religion, something that has been challenged by a historical anthropology of caste and its transformations under colonialism. Given this deconstruction of caste as tradition, how are we to approach its highly charged and contested presence within contemporary democratic politics in India? Examining the everyday institutional workings of secularism and democratic citizenship through the key institution of education, the article situates caste in relationship to secular modernity. In an analysis of the cultural politics of caste, religion, and secularism in a low-caste college in Kerala, India, that caters to the Ezhava caste community, the article argues for an understanding of caste as a fault line for the contested negotiations of tradition and modernity, the private and the public, the religious and the secular that mark contemporary cultural politics in India.