Report: Seminar “Secularization, Religion, State”, 6th session

18 June, 2009 HANEDA Masashi, WATANABE Shoko, Secularization, Religion, State

On June 15, 2009, we held the sixth session of the seminar “Secularization, Religion, State”.

In this session we discussed Kojiro NAKAMURA’s work Islam and Modernity [Isulamu to kindai] (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1997). The presenters were Ms. Tomomi HIYAMA, graduate student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Ms. Shoko WATANABE, graduate student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Ms. WATANABE also read HIYAMA’s report due to her unforeseen absence.

NAKAMURA begins his book with a criticism of various discourses regarding the phenomena of “Islamic Revival” after the 1970’s. These discourses assume a “defensive” attitude toward Islam, regarding it as an exception among the other religions of the world. Instead, NAKAMURA intends to analyze the history of Islamic thought from a broader perspective.

For this purpose, he adopts a typological approach, categorizing modern Islamic thought into four types: Traditionalism, Modernism, Fundamentalism and Neo-Modernism. The Impact of the West in the 18-19th centuries was a turning point which created a divide between Traditionalism and the other schools.

In the first chapter, NAKAMURA argues that the “Rejectionist” Traditionalism, which refuses any innovative attempt, had a firm will to revive the “Ethos of Primitive Islam”. Thus, he summarizes the history of Islamic thought as a repetitive conflict between innovation and revival. One example of such reactionary reform is the Wahhab movement in the 18th century.

On the other hand, the Modernist school, represented by Salafi movement scholars such as al-Afgani, Abduh, and Rida, attempts to read in primitive Islam equivalents to modern Western values (Chapter 2). The Salafi movement was followed by two opposite tendencies. One is Fundamentalism (analyzed in Chapter 3), the counter-movement against Western Modern thought. The other is linked to Secularism and radical Nationalism, and limits Islam to the private sphere only, thereby introducing the principle of the separation of church and state.

Neo-Modernism was a movement which derived a lot from the Modernist school, but developed more sophisticated and systematic methodologies in order to interpret the Holy Book and the Sharia (Islamic law), introducing methods of modern Western science (Chapter 4).

During the discussion, a question was presented regarding the advantages and limits of the author’s approach; namely a typology which enables a comparison between Islam and other religions in the modern period, but itself stays inside the scope of the modern science of religion, presuming a priori that “Islam” is separated from “the other religions”. Also, several participants pointed out that throughout NAKAMURA’s discussion the contents of “Traditionalism” was unclear, and that what is described as “Islamic (pre-modern) Tradition” in the first chapter might just be a product of the scholars of later generations.

Another participant noted that, in spite of the relatively limited scope of the book, which covers some regions and not others, and tends to be rather descriptive, the author succeeds in presenting a bird’s-eye view on contemporary Islamic thought, placing the impact of the West at the center of his description.

Reported by Shoko WATANABE

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