Field Notes article

Review – Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report

Full review can be found at the Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Saba Mahmood’s Religious Difference in a Secular Age examines how the institution of the modern secular liberal nation-state has impacted and transformed the regulation of religious difference in Egypt. Unlike the mythology of the modern liberal nation-state as a framework that enables the resolution of conflict based on religious identification, the discourse of state secularity undergirds and at times even intensifies interreligious conflict. Mahmood’s thesis likewise rejects the tired Orientalist lens that attributes the plights of minorities in the Middle East to Islamic values and principles as supposedly inhibiting the development of full-blown secularism. Instead, Mahmood’s book redirects attention to the very paradoxes and logic inherent in the institution of the modern secular liberal state (an analysis of the “nation”—the authorizing narratives of identity—is bracketed in favor of a focus on the “state”). Hence, Religious Difference in a Secular Age constitutes the most recent installment in the growing subfield of “secularism studies.” Yet, at the same time, the book also demonstrates the limits of these studies.

Click here to read the full review at the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (paywall may apply)

Atalia Omer
Atalia Omer, Associate Professor of Religion, Conflict and Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame is also the Co-Director of Contending Modernities. She earned her Ph.D. from the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University. Her research has focused primarily on a systematic study of religion, violence, and the practices of peace, the dynamics of ethno-national conflicts, political and social theory, the theoretical study of religion and society, and the theoretical study of the interrelation between religion, nationalism, and questions of justice, peace, and conflict.
 
Her recent book Days of Awe: Reimagining Jewishness in Solidarity with Palestinians  (University of Chicago Press, 2019) examines American Jewish ethical and political transformations as part of their Palestine solidarity activism. The book examines Jews politically inspired by social justice campaigns and how these experiences are generative of innovations within Jewish tradition, including its re-conceptualization as prophetic, multiracial, and intersectional. Her first book, When Peace is Not Enough: How the Israeli Peace Camp thinks about Religion, Nationalism, and Justice  (University of Chicago Press, 2013) highlights how hybrid identities may provide creative resources for peacebuilding, especially in ethno-religious national conflicts where political agendas are informed by particularistic and often purist conceptions of identity. She is also co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding (2015). Omer also received in 2017 an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship to pursue research for a book tentatively titled  Global Religion, Peacebuilding and the Perils of Development: Beyond Neoliberalism and Orientalism

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