Rethinking Secularism Symposium
The symposium program appears below, and will soon be linked to audio recordings of the talks. A sequel event to be held at the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University in the Fall of 2014 is now being explored.
February 21, 2014
The University of Arizona
Featuring Presentations and Discussion by Internationally Distinguished Scholars Akeel Bilgrami, Dilip Gaonkar, Colin Jager, and Radha Radhakrishnan
Schedule of Events
Dilip Gaonkar 9:30am
“The Rushdie Apology and the Quest for a Secular Persona”
Moderator: Suresh Raval
In the quarter of century separating the publication two of his books—a novel and a memoir—The Satanic Verses (1988) and Joseph Anton: A Memoir (2013) —Salman Rushdie has been extraordinarily productive as a writer under what might be euphemistically characterized as “trying and unusual circumstances.” In this paper, I examine six texts Rushdie published in first three years of the controversy over his novel which may be regarded as constituting Rushdie's “Apology” or “defense” of himself and his novel. The complicated textual itinerary of Rushdie’s Apology begins with a terse liberal-secular defense and after a series of detours reverts back to it, but in pathos laced heroic mode. What does this itinerary of an avowed cosmopolitan and diasporic “writer under duress” tell us about the perils and possibilities of “persuasion” in the world in which we live?
Radha Radhakrishnan 11am
“Being Secular, Knowing Secular”
Moderator: Matthew Abraham
I will evaluate secularism both as a way of knowing and a way of being in the context of other forms of knowledge that are either religion or faith based. Does secularism envision its own rationale differently than Religion/Faith? Is it possible to become a secular fundamentalist? What is the relationship between the regime of the secular and the sovereignty of the democratic nation state? Using Edward Said's notion of the secular, I will also be looking into the epistemics as well as the politics of what it means to coexist.
Akeel Bilgrami 2pm
“Religion and the Possibilities of Political Radicalism”
Moderator: William Simmons
This paper will explore genealogically and conceptually the extent to which the continuities between religion and secularity can be the basis of a radical vision of politics that falls outside the conceptual framework of the orthodox enlightenment.
Colin Jager 3:30pm
“London's Overthrow: Fundamentalism and Inequality”
Moderator: Karen Seat
This talk turns to the question of fundamentalist reading practices, whose literalism is often thought to encode violence. Through a reading first of Jonathan Martin, who tried to burn down the York Minster in the 1820s, and then of more recent efforts to convert or soften fundamentalist reading by means of allegory or symbol, I argue that fundamentalism has been deeply and complexly interwoven with questions of economic justice. Against the prevailing tendency to think of so-called “strong religion” as indifferent to material concerns, I suggest that it speaks to the needs of ordinary people in ways that are only now, in the age of neoliberalism, becoming recognizable.
The RelSec project is a three year collaborative effort which brings together scholars from around the world in a joint study of how political life is changing worldwide in response to the forces of religion and secularism. The project is supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation and the backing of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes.
With special thanks for support from:
Department of English
Religious Studies Program
Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture
Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry
Department of Gender and Women’s Studies