Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech

Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech

Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech

Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech

Synopsis

This volume interrogates settled ways of thinking about the seemingly interminable conflict between religious and secular values in our world today. What are the assumptions and resources internal to secular conceptions of critique that help or hinder our understanding of one of the most pressing conflicts of our times? Taking as their point of departure the question of whether critique belongs exclusively to forms of liberal democracy that define themselves in opposition to religion, these authors consider the case of the “Danish cartoon controversy” of 2005. They offer accounts of reading, understanding, and critique for offering a way to rethink conventional oppositions between free speech and religious belief, judgment and violence, reason and prejudice, rationality and embodied life. The book, first published in 2009, has been updated for the present edition with a new Preface by the authors.

Excerpt

Wendy Brown Judith Butler Saba Mahmood

SINCE THE INITIAL PUBLICATION of this volume, some of our readers have asked why we did not provide a more direct answer to the question “Is critique secular?” The title was meant to question whether a secular worldview is altogether different from a religious one, such that each has a distinct epistemology irreconcilable with the other. Further, the title was meant to challenge the presumption that critique is necessarily secular and, conversely, that secularism is by definition the condition of critique and self-criticism, distinguished from religious orthodoxy, which is regularly considered to be dogmatic. This book tries to grasp the nature of these two assumptions and to ponder their implications for the operation of secularism—its productions as well as its exclusions.

The assumption that critique is secular implies that secularism enables an active critique of an object or way of thinking as well as creating the very atmosphere in which intellectual positions are opened to criticism. It also depends upon a discursive casting of both terms—critique and secularism—as a priori and universal, uninflected by particular histories and cultures. Secularism, appearing as the opposite of religion, is understood to be structured by reason and objectivity rather than belief and attachment. And critique . . .

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