Powers of the Secular Modern: Talal Asad and His Interlocutors

Powers of the Secular Modern: Talal Asad and His Interlocutors

Powers of the Secular Modern: Talal Asad and His Interlocutors

Powers of the Secular Modern: Talal Asad and His Interlocutors

Synopsis

For more than three decades, Talal Asad has been engaged in a distinctive critical exploration of the conceptual assumptions that govern the West's knowledges- especially its disciplinary and disciplining knowledges- of the non-Western world. The essays that make up this volume treat diverse aspects of this remarkable body of work. Among them: the relationship between colonial power and academic knowledge; the historical shifts giving shape to the complexly interrelated categories of the secular and the religious, and the significance of these shifts in the emergence of modern Europe; and aspects of human embodiment, including some of the various ways that pain, emotion, embodied aptitude, and the senses connect with and structure cultural practices. While the specific themes and arguments addressed by the individual contributors range widely, the essays cohere in a shared orientation of both critical engagement and productive extension. Note that this is not a festschrift, nor a celebratory farewell, but a series of engagements with a thinker whose work is in full spate and deserves to be far better known and understood.

Excerpt

David Scott and Charles Hirschkind

For more than three decades, Talal Asad has been engaged in a distinctive critical exploration of the conceptual assumptions that govern the West’s knowledges—especially its disciplinary and disciplining knowledges—of the non-Western world. the investigations that comprise this by no means concluded intellectual project have of course been varied in the objects and topics taken up for inquiry, but they have all been characterized, we suggest, by a profoundly questioning attitude, an attitude of skepticism. Asad’s skepticism—articulated largely (though not exclusively) in relation to anthropological claims—has been directed toward systematically throwing doubt on Enlightenment reason’s pretensions to the truth about the reasons of non-European traditions. This is not to make out Asad to be a mere subverter of the desire for positive knowledge. Rather his impulse is guided, we think, by the Wittgensteinian dictum that whether a proposition turns out to be true or false depends on what is made to count as its determinants or criteria; it will depend on the language-game in which it is employed. and language-games, for Asad, are historical and political and therefore ideological matters potentially warranting deconstructive as well as reconstructive investigation.

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