After Secular Law

After Secular Law

After Secular Law

After Secular Law


Many today place great hope in law as a vehicle for the transformation of society and accept that law is autonomous, universal, and above all, secular. Yet recent scholarship has called into question the simplistic narrative of a separation between law and religion and blurred the boundaries between these two categories, enabling new accounts of their relation that do not necessarily either collapse them together or return law to a religious foundation.

This work gives special attention to the secularism of law, exploring how law became secular, the phenomenology of the legal secular, and the challenges that lingering religious formations and other aspects of globalization pose for modern law's self-understanding. Bringing together scholars with a variety of perspectives and orientations, it provides a deeper understanding of the interconnections between law and religion and the unexpected histories and anthropologies of legal secularism in a globalizing modernity.



Losing Faith in the Secular

An easy assumption in much academic writing for a century or more has been that a key feature of the modern era and social order, whether this is understood to have begun in the twelfth, sixteenth, or eighteenth century, is the progressive immanence of our concerns and our references. The separation of the state and of its various institutions, including law, from religion, and with this the religious neutrality of the state (and the political neutering of religion), has been conceived as not only central to the emergence of this new order, but also necessary for its preservation and for the achievement of the justice that it is supposed to guarantee. Given the prevalence of this assumption, it is perhaps surprising how quickly “secular,” “secularism,” and “secularization” have recently come to be seen as highly unstable terms in academic discourse. Whether it is their etymological and discursive origins, their present definition, or their inseparability from dubious projects of modernity and “the West,” these categories have been called into question by an ever-expanding number of books, articles, and conferences.

There is a significant urgency, even a sense of panic, to much of the new discussion about the secular, as if getting control of the words might alone hold back history and provide a foundation for the reconstitution of political order. This urgency has been exacerbated by several developments, including especially the rise of religious movements, both in the United States and abroad, that have challenged long-settled assumptions and contributed to what now appears to be an existential crisis for secular liberalism.

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