Report: Seminar “Secularization, Religion, State” Session 1

9 May, 2009 HANEDA Masashi, Secularization, Religion, State

The Seminar “Secularization, Religion, and State” held on 26th January, 2009 was the first session of this academic year.

This year, students are divided into three groups: “Middle East,” “Europe,” and “Japan”. Each group takes turn in choosing the weekly reading. For the first session, the Middle East group chose the book The Way to Grasp Islam by TONAGA Yasushi and the article “An Essay about the Islamic World and Secularization” by OTSUKA Kazuo.

First, MITSUNARI Ayumi (doctoral student, the University of Tokyo) reported on The Way to Grasp Islam. The book concludes that, through the colonization process, Islamic countries switched from Islamic law to modern law. With regard to this view, Mr. MITSUNARI raised the question whether or not we should seamlessly comprehend “Islammic law” and “modern law” under the same concept of “law.” One participant presented the opinion that a similar problem is that the author writes that the book aims to understand Islam as a religion but also argues that Islam is not only a religion. Mr HANEDA pointed that there is some ambiguity here, because the author thinks Islam cannot be accounted for from a modern perspective and by modern terms, and yet that he tries to do just that. In addition to this discussion, another student indicated that, like the book, the discourse that emphasizes Umma as a community probably appeared in the modern age, and that in present days the actual circumstances regarding Umma are very diverse in different places.

In the second half of the class, ABE Naofumi (PD, UTCP) reported on “An Essay about the Islamic World and the Secularization”. This article describes and criticizes secularization theory based on the case of Islam, not of the West. During the discussion, one student pointed that this article does not clearly distinguish “secularism” and “secularization”. As a related point, we showed that in Arabic and Persian there is no word equivalent to “secularization.” Furthermore, although in French one can distinguish between “sécularisation” and “laïcisation,” Japanese uses one vague word, “sezoku-ka”, for all arguments related to the phenomena of secularization, which is a big problem. Besides, the article seems limited to indicating the limits of secularization theory that is oriented towards the West, through the example of the Sunnnah in the Middle East, especially the Arabian Peninsula. Mr HANEDA pointed out that it is important to diachronically analyze the term “secular” in Japanese and the equivalent phenomena in Japan, since we have to discuss these in Japanese.

Reported by UCHIDA Chikara

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