Secularism and Religion-Making

By Ardic, Nurullah | Insight Turkey, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Secularism and Religion-Making


Ardic, Nurullah, Insight Turkey


Secularism and Religion-Making

Edited by Markus Dressler and Arvind-Pal Mandair

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, 288 pages, ISBN 9780199782925.

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RECENT scholarship in the sociology of religion has produced fresh perspectives on the understanding of religion and its inter-relationships with society. Largely influenced by post-structuralist social theory, these new perspectives call for a reevaluation of existing theoretical and methodological approaches as well as empirical analyses, as reflected in the oft-used terms to describe their projects, including "rethinking," "imagining" religion and its "invention" and "manufacturing" a la "invention of tradition". The term "religion-making" is one such concept that questions the traditional ways of studying religion (and its constitutive other, secularism). It refers to the reification by political and intellectual actors (with different motivations) of a religion (its beliefs and practices/rituals) based on certain taken-for-granted (binary) concepts, such as the religious/secular divide, within the discursive field of world religions. The collection of articles edited by Markus Dressler and Arvind-Pal Mandair brings together eleven theoretically-informed and empirically-focused studies on religion-making in different socio-historical contexts. It fits nicely, and contributes to, the above-mentioned recent trends in the sociology of religion and secularism.

A strong trend within this scholarship is a critique of the "secular critique" of the Enlightenment-inspired secularization theory, which also implies a critical re-evaluation of the (secularist) notion of a clear-cut distinction between the religious and the secular. This is also a common theme among the articles brought together in this edited volume: each study questions from a post-structuralist angle (but focusing on a different aspect of) the assumption of the 'boundedness' of "religion" and "secularism" and their opposition to one another. The theoretical aim of the volume, according to the editors, is to problematize this dichotomous assumption and demonstrate instead the codependency of "secular" and "religious" discourses. Its empirical aim is to "examine the consequences of the colonial and postcolonial adoption of Western-style objectifications of religion and ... the secular, by non-Western elites" (p. 3), but it also contains cases of Western actors. Moreover, the editors' lengthy Introduction contains a useful discussion on the philosophical foundations (from Kant to Heidegger, from Hume to Hegel) and current manifestations (in Taylor, Habermas etc.) of the epistemological hegemony of the religious/secular dichotomy and of the "universalization" of the concept of religion out of Western Christianity.

The analyses contained in the volume address the processes of religion-making at three different levels. First, "religion-making from above" refers to the discursive strategy of reifying religion(s) from powerful positions rendering them an instrument of governmentality. This is often undertaken by nation-states in their efforts to reframe existing religious traditions in a docile manner. As the editors note, this strategy is also applied by individual political actors, intellectuals and NGOs, as exemplified by the famous American think-tank RAND Corporation's call for "rebuilding Islam" in a manner that would not constitute a threat to American interests worldwide. The same advice was reiterated in 2004 by Daniel Pipes, a member of the Zionist lobby in the US who was close to the Bush administration, who argued that the ultimate goal of "the war on terror" was "religion-building," implying the neocon elites' desire to "civilize Islam" (p. 22). These examples show not only the fact that the notion of religion-making from above is extremely relevant to current global geopolitics but also a paradigmatic symptom of the secular-liberal hegemony over religion in Western imagination: all religious traditions are encouraged and/or forced to "fit in" the existing socio-political structures in the form of "protestantization" -i. …

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