Report: Seminar “Secularization, Religion, State” Session 8

12 July, 2008 HANEDA Masashi, Secularization, Religion, State

On July 7th, we held the eighth session of the seminar “Secularization, Religion, and State.”

This is the last session of the first semester. In our first plan, the last day was kept as a reserve. After all, we decided to discuss the work of Talal Asad, the anthropologist, whose importance we realized as the seminar proceeded. We took up his work Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Japanese translation), which is a companion volume to the previously discussed work, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. Presenters in the session were Tsukuru Kojima, Masako Chiba, and Masayuki Ueno (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo; the order of presentations).

What is the relation between “the secular” as an epistemic category and “secularism” as a political doctrine? Can they be the objects of an anthropological inquiry? What does an anthropology of secularism look like, if there is any? Asad said that this book attempts, in a preliminary way, to address these questions. This work has seven chapters, and the chapters can be grouped as three wider parts. To grasp the secular, Asad first explored it in chapters 1, 2, and 3. Then he moved to aspects of secularism in chapters 4, 5, and 6. In the final chapter, he shed light on aspects of secularization, focusing on colonial Egypt.

Considering the objectives of the seminar, the presenters rearranged the composition of the book. They divided it into three parts as follows: chapter 1 regarding an anthropology of secularism; chapters 2, 3, and 4 elucidating the European contexts of the notion “secular”; chapters 5, 6, and 7 mainly considering Islam. Summarizing each part, the presenters clarified its main points.

After that, we had a discussion. First, some pointed out that Asad's argument has a problem in that he ascribed all phenomena in modern times to secularism. For this reason, we discussed Asad's intention. As a result of the discussion, we reaffirmed Asad’s methodology in which he skillfully deconstructed prima facie self-evident discourses and revealed their Westernness and Modernity as Asad did in his previous work. Based on that, Prof. Haneda posed a question: how should we study in such a situation that revealing and breaking up “modernities” various notions and disciplines have? To this question, some argued that we need some foundation and should rely on it even if it is a Western production, and thus effective only for limited spheres. Others contended that we can overcome Westernness by relativizing existing systems. Furthermore, the following opinion was presented that we need to realize the contexts of the existing disciplines before trying to overcome these, and by doing so, we can solve the problem.

The discussion led us to grope a possibility of how “the secular” would be considered by us who do not have a Western basis. After all, is the present Japanese society secularized? It seems that in the process of modernization Japan did not experience Western “imposition” as did other countries. Does this not have “a trick”? In revealing the above points, we realized what we should do for the next semester. Studies we examined in this seminar were almost about Europe and Islam. Thus we need to consider Asian cases; for examples, Japan and China in which religious revivals prosper, and Thailand which succeeded in modernization although it is a Buddhist country. When we talked about the plan of the next semester, this session was over. We shall try to solve the problems in the next semester.

(Reported by Yoichi ISAHAYA)

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