varieties of secularism :: session five

Series Index

In the fifth session of the conference last weekend, Nilüfer Göle and Courtney Bender offered papers with sharper criticism of Taylor and Taylor’s method than any of the previous presenters. Unfortunately, I did not get very good notes from Bender’s presentation, so I’ve omitted the fragments rather than posting them. [Why am I posting my notes?]

**Nilüfer Göle – SECULAR SPACES OF THE REPUBLIC

“Law” has been banning the access of Islam in public spaces, so giving this presentation in a Law school is a bit odd.

Islam has an odd undesirability and invisibility. Islam is entering the conversation here in the penultimate session, where all three panelists are women. Here come a number of hidden and marginalized groups.

What does it mean for a Muslim to live in secular European spaces.

The immanent frame seems “given” and “natural” we are captive to the “picture” that we have, so it is difficult to see around or outside this frame.

It is more difficult to question the secular from a Muslim perspective.
This is first of all because the two seem radically inimical, contradictory.
Muslim secularity, then, is often a paltry imitation of Western models, cf. Derrida’s “iterations.” Turkey’s secularism is modeled on France’s

What would a non-Western secularism look like?

What Göle wants to do is displace the conversation by looking at secularism from the perspective of a Muslim in Europe, and from Turkey (a secular Muslim nation).

Where Muslims bring their religious identity into public space in Europe they become identified as “Muslim migrants” and are differentiated from “European Natives”

Watch Pope Benedict mention Islam (uproar). Watch R. Williams mention Sharia law (uproar). The religious dialogue of these two important figures becomes “unpure” when they offer comments on Islam and scandal erupts. Islam is an uneasy figure within European identity. Intercultural conversation de-centers traditional identity.

Turkey and France – Two Secular Republics

Thinking about these two can help us move beyond the immigrant/native divide.

Thinking about these two can also help us transcend colonial/post-colonial polemics and helps us think secularity from the inside.

The ban of the headscarf in both countries has been the center of the conversation in both countries.

We can understand French Muslim secularity through understanding the Turkish variety.

1. Secularism as a universal claim
2. Secularism as way of life, result of didactic efforts, “discipline.”
3. Women’s visibility as a marker of secularity in their sexual corporality—women as the markers of embodied secularism. Photographs of unveiled, athletic, corporate women are symbols of secularity. Where are head-scarved women allowed and where are they not? Which spaces are secular? When markedly religious people enter these spaces and act, performative events take place which unsettle the status quo.

Islam can function as a new form of religiosity, for migrants, practicing Islam can be a way to distance oneself from national identities. Sometimes those national identities are sources of embarrassment, where Islam allows people to identify themselves in other ways.

a common word :: who refuses to hear?

Prof. John Stackhouse, writes in explanation of his signature on a recent response to the letter from a group of Muslim clerics and scholars who drafted a statement acknowledging common ground between Christian and Muslim faiths as the basis for (at least) political coexistence. When the letter was initially released, I offered a few comments as to its importance.

The substance of the original letter, as well as the response, is an acknowledgment that wherever Christians and Muslims are bound up in hatred for one another marked by violence, then neither Christians nor Muslims are being faithful to God’s commands: to love Him above all else, and to love our neighbors. Whatever our theological differences, no one is being convinced or converted in the bloodshed.

Apparently, Prof. Stackhouse has met with some criticism for his signature on that letter, and if he has, then other signatories have likely been chastised as well. I haven’t heard any criticism, but I am persuaded that any objection must rest on misunderstanding. I would really like to run into someone who opposes this mutual attempt at understanding, perhaps he or she can clarify things for me. 

The letters are essentially political documents, in the sense that they attempt to structure a relationship in such a way that the parties involved can get along. The theological content of the letters is by no means dishonest about differences between the faiths. Is theological truth being sacrificed to political expediency in this exchange? If this is the objection to this effort, then theological truth and political expedience (in this case, a rather minimal desire for co-existence) are being falsely opposed to one another. There is no theological truth that can be taught with weapons of war. Differences between the faith are not maintained by means of hostility, they are maintained by means of teaching that is faithful. Children of both faiths who learn in a context of violence are taught by fear, which only perpetuates violence. Dialogue on the other hand, does not negate difference but defines it. We all, Christians and Muslims alike, bleed red—no difference there.  

If it is objected that the Muslims who sent the original letter do not represent the “true” Muslim faith, which is rather to be seen in those more radical elements which do want to inflict harm on their neighbors, then I would reply that the objection is irrelevant, or at least it should be to a Christian. The location of “true” Islam with the violent ought to be disputed, but the more relevant point is that disregarding the efforts of these Muslims who are reaching out in a gesture of peace, is a shameful begrudging of hospitality. These are neighbors whom we are called to love. In light of the tensions between historically Muslim and historically Christian nations (whatever they are now) the least we can do is return a gesture of respect and acknowledgment. That humility is only the beginning of the love and service that we owe our Muslim brothers and sisters—even those who may hate us.

No one’s identity is being compromised in these letters. Nothing is being swept under the rug. I can’t conceive of a viable objection to this effort at mutual understanding. Perhaps someone can help me understand.

Oh, Prince of Peace, come quickly.    

a common word :: muslims, christians, and two commands of love

One hundred thirty eight Muslim leaders have sent a letter to the foremost Christian leaders of the world urging peace and reconciliation between the two faiths. Below is a summary of the letter, the longer version can be found here, or at the organization’s website.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

A Common Word between Us and You
(Summary and Abridgement)

Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.

The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity. The following are only a few examples:
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