The Myth of the Secular, Part 3

Early in the post-colonial era, politics in most Muslim countries were framed in secular and nationalist terms. During the last thirty years, the Islamic revival has dramatically changed this picture. Anthropologist Saba Mahmood talks with David Cayley about her book, The Politics of Piety.
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Early in the post-colonial era, politics in most Muslim countries were framed in secular and nationalist terms. During the last thirty years, the Islamic Revival has dramatically changed this picture. Anthropologist Saba Mahmood talks with David Cayley about her book, The Politics of Piety

**This episode originally aired on October 24, 2012


In the decades after the Second World War most Muslim countries were ruled by secular and nationalist ideologies - from Sukarno's Indonesia to Nasser's Egypt to the Shah's Iran.  Then around 1980 there was a sea change.  The Iranian revolution of 1979 is often taken as the watershed.  Islam reasserted itself - and as something more than what the secular West had come to understand as religion -  merely private belief.  It reasserted itself as a way of life - as much political as personal.  This Islamic Revival, as it's sometimes called, directly challenged one of the axioms of modern social thought - that modernizing societies would inevitably grow more secular as they developed, and the significance of religion would fade. Instead religion was growing in power and political influence.  What was going on?  

One of the people who's tried to provide an explanation is anthropologistSaba Mahmood, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.  Her book The Politics of Piety grew out of several years of field work in Egypt where she studied the religious practices of a group of devout Egyptian women and concluded that to really understand these women she would have to rethink much of what she had grown up believing.

Listen to other episodes in the series:

The Myth of the Secular, Part 1
Western social theory once insisted that modernization meant secularization and secularization meant the withering away of religion. But religion hasn't withered away, and this has forced a rethinking of the whole idea of the secular. Producer David Cayley talks to Craig Calhoun, Director of the London School of Economics, and Rajeev Barghava of India's Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 2
The secular is often defined as the absence of religion, but secular society is in many ways a product of religion. In conversation with producer David Cayley British sociologist David Martin explores the many ways in which modern secular society continues to draw on the repertoire of themes and images found in the Bible.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 3
Early in the post-colonial era, politics in most Muslim countries were framed in secular and nationalist terms. During the last thirty years, the Islamic revival has dramatically changed this picture. Anthropologist Saba Mahmood talks with producer David Cayley about her book, The Politics of Piety.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 4
The Fundamentals was a series of books, published by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles between 1910 and 1915, which tried to set the basics of Christianity in stone. Fundamentalism now refers to any back-to-basics movement. Malise Ruthven's Fundamentalism asks what all these movements have in common, in this feature interview with David Cayley.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 5
"All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts." So wrote German legal theorist Carl Schmitt in a book called Political Theology. American legal theorist Paul Kahn has just published Political Theology: Four New Chapters in which he argues that the foundations of the American state remain theological. He explores this theme with producer David Cayley.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 6
In 1990 British theologian John Milbank published a five-hundred-page manifesto called Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. The book argued that theology should stop deferring to social theories that are just second-hand theology and declare itself, once again, the queen of the sciences. The book led, in time, to a movement called "Radical Orthodoxy." Producer David Cayley profiles John Milbank.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 7
Producer David Cayley concludes his series with three thinkers who believe that division of the world into the secular and the religious both oversimplifies and impoverishes political and religious life. Political philosopher William Connolly argues for a richer and more inclusive public sphere; historian of religion Mark Taylor calls for a new philosophy of religion; and Fred Dallmayr presents the case for a deeper and more thorough-going pluralism.

 

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