The Sociology and Anthropology of Secularism: From Genealogy/Power to the Multiple Manifestations of the Secular
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Inspired by the seminal work of Talal Asad, important studies, both within and outside anthropology, have pointed to secularism as a modern ideology resting on a distinction between “secular” and “religious” domains whose genealogy can be traced back to specific developments within early modern European history. Instead, emerging new sociological scholarship suggests investigating “multiple secularities,” namely the many ways in which the boundary between these secular and religious spheres has been marked in non-European settings. After exploring these two scholarly approaches to secularism, the chapter relies on a few studies in historical sociology to single out the emergence of a separated “secular” sphere within bureaucratic culture in the Ottoman Empire beginning in the sixteenth century. It will be argued that although the “religious” and the “secular” were certainly intertwined within the Empire, a distinction between the two existed largely before European expansion in the MENA region. In this way, the chapter questions the common view that sees secularization as being mainly a Western import and points to the Ottoman state’s administrative and economic machine as a fruitful domain for exploring the secular/religion distinction in Muslim-majority contexts.
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