Secularism and Secularisation Untying the Knots
Humeira Iqtidar

Much has been written about secularism and secularisation, yet the precise modalities of their relationship have received little attention. The vague but generally accepted assumption seems to be that secularisation in Europe led to secularism, and secularism in non-western societies will lead to secularisation. Often the two terms are used synonymously. It seems particularly imperative, both for academic and political reasons, to think through the implications of these two terms and their relation. Does secularism inevitably lead to secularisation? Can secularisation happen without secularism? How precisely are secularism as state policy and secularisation as a societal process, related?


or the last two decades but particularly since the war of terror began, the conflation of Islamism with terrorism, and secularism with democracy, has precluded any clearheaded discussion about secularism, democracy and Islamism in Pakistan. Prominent liberal activists such as Pervez Hoodbhoy and Ayesha Siddiqa, who in other contexts have done valuable work, have remained mired in an earlier history, refusing to acknowledge the differences within the range of Muslim fundamentalists and changes within Islamism, as well as in its context. All Islamists are not militants and all militants are not Islamists. Policy and political responses need to be calibrated to the actual problems posed by the different kinds of groups. Damagingly, these liberal activists have supported a military dictatorship that proclaimed “Enlightened Moderation” as its raison d’etre, just as an earlier one claimed Islamisation as its own, and they have championed sustained bombing and drone attacks in one of the poorest regions of Pakistan purportedly to save democracy and secularism from the generic genie of Islamism. There have been few moves by these liberals to understand the range of motives and strategies employed by the different groups or the differences between militants and others.

Drone Attacks to Save Secularism and Democracy?

Humeira Iqtidar (humeira.iqtidar@kcl.ac.uk) teaches politics at King’s College, London, United Kingdom.

Drone attacks in northern Pakistan have been reported since 2004. Previously denied by both the Pakistan and the United States (US) governments, they now feature as a key part of Obama’s “AfPak” strategy. In December 2009 the Washington Post revealed that the notorious private security company, Blackwater, is also loading and carrying out drone attacks for the Central Intelligence Agency in the Waziristan region of Pakistan. In a particularly embarrassing move for the Pakistan interior minister, Rehman Malik, who had vehemently denied Blackwater operations in Pakistan, US defence secretary Robert Gates, on a visit to Pakistan in 2010, admitted to its activities as a subcontractor to the US army and State department.1 From an average of one every month in 2005 to one every four days in 2010, these drone attacks have killed approximately 800 people in the year 2009-10 alone.2 Of these, according to a very conservative American estimate, only about 50% are claimed to be militants. Others, such as the Investigative Bureau of Journalists have claimed the number of civilian deaths to be even higher. The lack of ground based follow-up means that there is no way of knowing for certain whether those claimed as militants can really be counted as such. At least 175 of the 800 killed in the year were children.3
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and to conflate all kinds of political mobilisations that use religious language with terrorism is to comply with an imperial logic that leads to war on the poorest. related? My own path into these questions was through an ethnographic study of two Islamist parties in Pakistan. to start with. more often than not the two terms have been used synonymously. Here. I propose engaging with other meanings of secularisation that have been ignored in our attempts at quantifying the changes in religious thought and practice. with a few notable exceptions (Martin 2005 [1978]) conflated diagnosis with prescription. As a first step in thinking through the relationship between secularism and secularisation. This view of an inherent sympathy within Christianity refutes history. Until this time. has remained largely unexamined and mostly buried under the rubric of grand projects of colonialism.5 Much has been written in scholarly circles about secularism and secularisation in the last two decades. how precisely are secularism as state policy and secularisation as a societal process.6 Although in terms of academic disciplines and their tribal boundaries. In parallel with the notion of universal application. The questions I raise in this article do not come packaged with ready answers. such an innocuous and seemingly simple statement of separation hides a complex interplay of historical trajectories and political realities revealed as vastly variegated interpretations and manifestations of this project. but there are important political and theoretical considerations tied to them. Nevertheless. to assume that secularism will always lead to secularisation is to misread history. and in considerable contradiction with it. and changes within each one of these over the decades. the process. To brand those who suggest research and analysis-based debate as “Islamists” or “Taliban” may be an easy political strategy for discrediting opposing points of view. Does the adoption of a state policy of secularism inevitably lead to secularisation at a societal level? Can secularisation happen without secularism? Is it possible that secularism could. Yet. let me just note that Islamists are those that are situated within the larger umbrella category of Muslim fundamentalists or Islamic revivalists.SPECIAL ARTICLE The lack of any nuanced analysis about the differences and intense competition between organic Islamist organisations such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). but it does not make for the deepening of democratic culture. between Islam and secularism – a relationship that seems particularly fraught with tensions. the precise modalities of the relationship between secularism and secularisation have not received any concerted attention. Conversations about secularisation have. In politics. and who focus on taking over the state to transform society. The secularism that emerged in the predominantly Christian west was a matter of bitter conflict and struggle over many centuries between different segments of the society and “not just an intellectual exercise rooted in Christian theology and practice” (Keddie 1997: 35-37). it is critical that we recognise that to divorce secularism from democracy is to deal it a deathblow. in specific contexts. I want Economic & Political Weekly EPW to focus on the theoretical and historical considerations that alert us to the gap in our understanding of the relationship between secularism and secularisation. For now. the militants such as Lashkar-e-Jhangavi and the traditionalists who do not wish to engage directly with the state. while the enthusiasm of these activists who end up defending the “War on Terror” may be laudable. Secularism continues to have immensely positive normative associations intertwined with a continued assumption of universal application. I draw heavily upon Talal Asad’s seminal work in realigning our understanding of the “secular” 51 september 1. the Jamaate-Islami and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (Iqtidar 2011a) to understand the long-term impact of Islamism. Scholars and activists from across the political spectrum can agree that something profound has happened to religious belief and practice in contemporary life but we have been hard-pressed to define exactly what that might be. actively undermine secularisation? Is it possible that the very groups that oppose secularism may be facilitating a kind of secularisation? In short. and secularisation. They can be distinguished from the pietists such as the Tablighi Jamaat.4 Policy responses must be calibrated according to the actual potential of the different groups and not by assuming “undeterred madness” among an undifferentiated religiously motivated mass. The changes do not seem to fit neatly into the categories we had used previously but they also do not spill out so conclusively that the previous categories seem totally redundant. 2012 vol xlviI no 35 . foreign and state-funded entities such the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JD). is the idea that Christianity is somehow particularly sympathetic to secularism. Any Religion Will Do… The relationship between secularism. revolved around the public/private and the more/less religion distinction. Towards the end of this article I will bring in some insights from that research. secularism is a doctrine that ostensibly calls for a separation of the church and the state. their paradigmatic dominance within the broader social sciences remained uncontested until the 1980s. polemical contrasts are made with the relationship between other religious traditions and secularism and with particular emphasis in recent years. It seems particularly imperative at this time that we disentangle the two. However. Yet. modernisation and now the “War on Terror”. Thus. Indeed. theories of secularisation have been housed primarily in the field of sociology. but mostly for political purposes: to think through the implications of political stances and arrangements. the policy and ideology. is compounded by an information blackout by the Pakistan government about the identities of suicide bombers in urban centres of Pakistan and the operations of private security companies such as Blackwater. description with projection. militant formations such as the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan and opportunistic political parties such as the Jamiyat Ulema Pakistan. Perhaps one way to move forward is by looking at how existing categories can be better understood and utilised at their most capacious. This becomes particularly problematic in studying societies that are markedly different from the contexts in which these concepts took initial shape. in recent decades especially. these theories had. not for arcane academic debates.

regarding secularisation in other parts of the world was explained with reference to the “backward” level of those societies. As Long As It Is Secularised… modalities of secularisation have been linked to levels of development. Some proposed that Europe is the exception while others suggested the US is outside the norm (Davie 2002). the “other world” (heaven). of followers. yet non-European. adapt. unchanged until secularised. is a key step in our understanding of how that religion might be secularised in different places and times. the exceptions did not do much damage to claims of universal applicability implicit in secularisation theory. Moreover. most critically. not only because its constituent elements and relationships are historically specific but because that definition is itself the historical product of discursive processes” (1993:29). secularisation theorists made projections and assumptions about processes of secularisation in different parts of the world. individual rights. The popularly held narrative of secularisation runs broadly along the following lines: Once the universal Catholic Church was challenged. Critics contend that with very little empirical evidence beyond western Europe. contemporary debates about secularisation assume a static. The best hope for a peaceful and just world under these new circumstances was institutions of a public life in which the final meaning of life. 1993) Asad has gone beyond the criticism of Eurocentric notions of secularisation and secularism raised by many others who claim that the idea of a separation of church and state does not make ready sense in societies where there was no equivalent of the Catholic Church’s control of state functions. religion consists not just of particular ideas. what is critical to our study of Islam and other non-western religious interactions is also the definition of religion that we employ in this endeavour. The secularisation of public life is thus crucial to private freedom. Modern social theory took secularisation as a largely inevitable process and this inevitability was linked to its relationship with the cognate concepts of modernisation and development. and in the modern present secularism has produced enlightened and tolerant religion. In fact. Asad (2003: 193) points out: The interesting thing about this view is that although religion is regarded as alien to the secular. hierarchical clergy with institutionalised control of the state in most religious traditions. Ferguson 1994) has also opened up the theoretical space for questioning established notions regarding secularisation. differences in the 52 In this narrative secularisation becomes not just necessary for private freedom and democracy but also as a largely september 1. In contrast to Asad’s suggestion. as the continued interference of the state in religious affairs in third world countries was seen as a signifier of “Third World exceptionalism” (Chatterjee 1998: 345). the latter is also seen to have generated religion. there has been no one clerical figure vested with the kind of power and authority that the Pope exercised over domains now assumed within the modern state. practised through the centuries. context of America. In this and his previous work (Genealogies of Religion. For decades. A critical re-evaluation of developmental models and modernisation theory (Crush 1995. pluralistic democracy. the field of secularisation is littered with exceptionalisms. ideas and attitudes in relation to the traditions within that particular religion. repeat. attitudes and practices but also. Some of the first academic criticisms emanated from the “western” and developed. the state cannot help but impinge upon the formation of subjectivities. Because the sovereign’s support of the right way to eternal life was said to hang in the balance. these conflicts were often horribly destructive and intractable. and that this relationship is an ongoing. Asad’s unique contribution is to suggest that our concept of the secular cannot operate outside our understanding of the idea of religion. and the divine source of morality were pulled out of the public realm and deposited into private life. alter. Paradoxically. the proper route to life after death. and the third sacredspiritual time of salvation. Unlike the Catholic Church that inherited an empire in Europe. rigid definition of religion. Asad’s argument is that. Escobar 1995. there is no structured. In historical analysis secularisation as a concept refers to the actual process whereby “a dualist system within this world and the sacramental structures of mediation between this world and the other world progressively broke down” taking with it the medieval three way classification of “this world” (earth). a unified public authority grounded in a common faith was drawn into a series of sectarian conflicts and wars. etc. In the wide variety of Islams. and dispersed by various Protestant sects. Historians of progress relate that in the pre-modern past secular life created superstitious and oppressive religion. “instantiate. While commenting on the standard model of secularisation that I look into more detail later. dialectical one (2003: 193-200). norms and standards that influence the practice of religion in the private sphere. emphasis added). In its attempts at regulating religious influence in the public sphere. To discover how these followers. public reason and the primacy of state. or vice versa. Thus the insistence on a sharp separation between the religious and secular goes with the paradoxical claim that the latter continually produces the former (emphasis added). Hinduisms. secularisation was and continues to be seen not just as a product of development and modernisation but also as a facilitator of the same. represented by the church’s calendar (Casanova 1994: 15). “there cannot be a universal definition of religion. or lack thereof.SPECIAL ARTICLE along with the “religious” as analytic categories. Until the last decades of the 20th century evidence. For too long. 2012 vol xlviI no 35 EPW Economic & Political Weekly . How we define secular is bound inextricably with how we define religion and vice versa. argue over and diversify” (2003: 194) these practices. Buddhisms. The dichotomy between steady church attendance in the US during a period of rapidly falling attendance in Europe in the post-war years has led to contradictory conclusions. Secularism is not a separation between religion and the state but a continuous management of the first by the second. Asad moves beyond these valid criticisms to point out that it is not just that our notions regarding secularisation derive essentially from a European experience that was thus universalised in colonial and postcolonial policies regarding secularism. The key to its success is the separation of church and state and general acceptance of a conception of public reason (or some surrogate) through which to reach public agreement on non-religious issues (Connolly 1999: 19. continuing the stagiest view embodied in development and modernisation theories.

constitute an undermining of their functions (p 188). His account also incorporates an understanding of the dynamic nature of the public sphere. cause of moral decline? (3) What effect has secularisation had upon English Christianity?” However. to the private sphere. from the historical process of secularisation in Europe. as the illogical and the superstitious. but rather that our notions of “rationalcritical” debate. anchored precisely in this notion of the public sphere as the space for rational discussion and decisions. judgment and discourse” (Connolly 1999: 19) remain hidden in large part due to the fact that the precise relationship between secularism. creative expression and critical thinking that was closely associated with the Inquisitions. the project. or the. or generalised as an ideal typical model. Several competing trends were glossed over and 53 september 1. many 19th century writers attributed to it a uniformity and depth of character it lacked on the ground. In a retrospective reading of historical developments to date. The relegation of religion. were in fact believing men who often attempted to harmonise their findings with their faith. as sites of power which need discursive legitimation. such as Galileo’s fate after placing rationality above church dogma. particularly with reference to religion. The fact that secularism in Pakistan. This attitude towards its inevitability echoed down the years so that Alasdair MacIntyre (1964: 7) was able to structure his 1964 essays around three core questions: “(1) Why has secularisation not progressed any further than it has done. The suppression of freedom of thought. to any number of historical situations (Habermas 1989: XVII). It is critical to disentangle the political project of secularism and its life trajectories. particularly in the third world.8 My aim here is not to suggest that religion is inherently rational. or at least separable. non-public. but even more strongly in social imagination. …And As Long As It Remains Private? Central to our understanding of both secularism and secularisation is the notion of separate. MacIntyre’s third question reasserts the specificity of religious tradition and social and political context that has been lost in the universalising ambitions of secularism. secularism evolved in the 18th and 19th centuries. it does expose the fallacy of assuming an undeterred relationship between secularism. the process. but that secularism in the non-western societies will lead to secularisation. although often implicitly. values and political culture of many of the “secular” western states. She (1992: 84) points out that all struggles against oppression in the modern world [including those based on gender and sexuality] begin by redefining what had previously been considered ‘private’. remain understudied and a matter of implicit understanding. and non-political issues as matters of public concern. It is precisely the assumptions about the nature of Economic & Political Weekly EPW critical-rational debate that are seen to be under threat from the resurgence of religion in the public sphere. especially among the working class? (2) Whether religious decline is a. at another stage. However. Contemporary debates about the public sphere remain largely indebted to Habermas’ pioneering work. More critically. and from the theories of secularisation that relied heavily. To be fair to Habermas.7 What is interesting for my purposes here is to note that the prevailing understanding of the Habermasian public sphere does not analytically unpack the “critical rational” nature of the debate. The history of a particular type of secularisation in Europe has meant that religion has been removed from the domain of rational discussion. particularly Muslim ones. Erving Goffman’s (1972) perceptive analysis of the “interaction ritual” or the performance carried out in the so-called private sphere of our homes. as Seyla Benhabib (1992) has suggested. the wars of religion and the particular relationship between society and the Catholic Church in European countries have conditioned this understanding. he realises that his conceptualisation of public sphere cannot be abstracted from the unique developmental history of that “civil society” originating in the European high Middle Ages. In more recent work. and among friends and family. delineations. Secularisation is seen primarily as the privatisation of religious belief and practice. Carole Pateman’s (1988) work brought to the fore the patriarchal assumptions embedded in a Habermasian “critical-rational” public sphere. a claim to “dialogic neutrality” in rational-critical public debate has blinded us to the actual mechanics of power relations in politics. and he recognises that the substantive elements that constitute “public” institutions at one point in history may. has been imposed often by dictatorial regimes and in contradiction to democracy does the project no favours. the relatively uncomplicated understanding of the Habermasian public sphere remains a dominant one in academic debates. secularisation and private freedom. on a reified reading of this particular historical experience. and in many other countries. also raised questions about the very public nature of the private sphere. 2012 vol xlviI no 35 . Secularism Beyond the State As an ideology and an explicit policy. Moreover. such an aversion to interrogating the mechanics of the public sphere negates the continued importance of religious imagery. The vague but generally accepted assumption seems to be that secularisation in Europe led to secularism. and secularisation. this idea of inevitability was again in some contradiction with the policy imperatives of imposing secularism. nor can it be transferred. including Galileo. The religious registers of “persuasion. Habermas has also tried to incorporate the continued and defiant presence of religion in the public sphere (Habermas 2002). assumes a public sphere innocent of inequalities in power. At the same time.SPECIAL ARTICLE inevitable process. However. tend to draw attention away from the fact that many of the scientists – representatives of rational thinking – during the Enlightenment era. Empirical and theoretical criticisms of Habermas’ formulation have succeeded in raising some profound questions about a ready and easy demarcation of the private and the public. as issues of justice. public and private spheres. historically conditioned. have tended to proceed along relatively strict. Readily available cultural material in the form of stories.

ethical element which the terms infidel. 2012 vol xlviI no 35 EPW Economic & Political Weekly . It is broadly conceived of as a separation of state and religion and left largely at that. allowing the state to take over many functions that were previously performed by the church including education. Akeel Bilgrami (1998: 395) has called this elasticity “Archimedean secularism” in the Indian context. This went. This was a gradual process with many reversals and contradictory thrusts 54 in the different parts of Europe (Katznelson and StedmanJones 2010). just as secularisation may be supported by the very elements that oppose the ideology of secularism (Iqtidar 2011a). the forms that this separation may take in particular has seen huge variations almost all involving a very active shaping of religion to fit the state’s view of it. This is widely understood to mean that september 1. Linked to. the increasing sovereignty of states sanctioned by the treaty of Westphalia of 1648 and its control over the property and role of the church led to a fundamental redefinition of religion and its limits under the modern state. 2003. Secularism then. the British middle and upper classes rediscovered religion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the imperial project solidified using. similarly secularism as a political project has tended to avoid engagement with substantive issues. at least in part. following Asad. secularism has been very loosely conceptualised. An alternative reading of secularism would need to recognise that secularism manifests itself in concrete power relations and modes of governance tied to the emergence of the modern state and capitalism (Asad 1993. Kaviraj 2010). secularism led to the release of ecclesiastical property into private hands and market circulation. Bilgrami suggests that secularism was an imposition in India but not in the sense of a modern intrusion into a traditional society but because of the assumption that “secularism stood outside the substantive arena of political commitments” (Bilgrami 1998: 394). Bilgrami’s fundamental point regarding the possibility of greater democratic and substantive engagement is attractive. Thus. utilising the same canonical texts and dependence upon the same authors. while the case for separation remains murky. need. For instance. In this sense the very looseness of the concept allows it great elasticity. Nevertheless. recognising the historical variation and conceptual gap between secularism and secularisation alerts us to the possibility that the two may at times move in opposing directions. Notwithstanding the continued promise of the state as the locus of social transformation. Yet. Just as Archimedes claimed that he could lift the world on a bar if he could find the right leverage point outside of the earth. with a series of intellectual and political ruptures that supported a new version of religious practice. can be fruitfully reconceptualised. Secularists consider free thinking as a double protest – as a protest against speculative error and in favour of specific moral truth. He wrote (1896: 3). The tendency. in defining their terms. He proposes reformulating secularism through a more broadbased engagement about substantive aspects of secularism within the state structures of a relatively democratic state. The emphasis on a qualitative change is a relatively under-appreciated aspect of secularisation theory and I propose that we recalibrate given its explanatory potential. but as expressing a certain positive. Taylor 1989) as has been assumed in secularisation theory. but not exhausted by. How this management of religious thought and practice creates new opportunities for religious groups as well as profound changes in the fabric of religiosity requires close attention to context. Critically. for modern states to reduce citizens to manageable. sceptic do not express. The ruptures were never as complete (Schmitt 1922. All this is not to denounce secularism. George J Holyoake widely credited with coining the term “secularism” used it in his 1854 lecture “Principles of Secularism” to express a positive and ethical element precisely to distinguish the secularist from the infidel and the atheist. and Marshal Hodgson (1974) is right to suggest that in terms of a relatively continuous philosophical dialogue. if at all. but as the management of religious thought and practice by the state. much recent research has highlighted the limitations to democratic engagement inherent in the modern state’s structure. albeit not by active design. Secularisation has been understood primarily as an increase or decrease in religiosity in the public sphere but contemporary developments suggest a change in the texture and fabric of religious thought and practice rather than a clear-cut change in numbers. simplified categories and to regulate intimate and previously private aspects of life suggests that it may be wise to locate our hopes for change at a site broader than the state (Scott 1998. healthcare. Certain types of state management of religion may actively stymie the secularisation process. hand in hand. but to understand better which aspects of it are we to defend and how. indeed. The term ‘secularism’ has not been chosen as a concealment or disguise or as an apology for free inquiry. In Europe. not as a one-time separation of religion and state. it would be pertinent to caution against excessive optimism resting on the imperatives within the state structures towards such an engagement. atheist. Imagining Another Kind of Secularisation This contextualised reading of changes in religious thought and practice has to proceed along with a shift in emphasis away from quantity to quality. for a concept with wide currency. McLeod 2000). and the provision of meaning to collective life substituting the idea of the nation for the religious congregation (Chadwick 1975. the notion of secularisation as the privatisation of religion. the west is more traditional than the Muslim world.SPECIAL ARTICLE differences in not just the intensity but also the quality of religiosity across classes were underplayed (Thompson 2010). Some of the early secularists were much more careful than others today. the key change that did take place was that the state took charge of oversight and management of religious thought and practice through setting up the institutional framework within which it would operate. Yet curiously. religious imagery (Van der Veer et al 1999). is the idea of secularisation as disenchantment and rationalisation. In this he negates the views put forward by Nandy (1998) and Madan (1998). Salvatore 2005).

SPECIAL ARTICLE not only would the sphere of religion’s influence be limited by its relegation to the private sphere but the sense of enchantment would disappear with it. unanimous discourse of authority (Hallaq 2001. This is a useful start but I would argue that rationalisation is best understood as an attempt to view religion as a logical. Messick and Powers. 1996. is an important aspect of the objectification of religion in which religion is transformed into a more historically situated. I understand this objectification to include the subjection of religious practices and beliefs to the structures of a homogenising logic insofar as an attempt is made at easing out contradictions. inadvertently. I would suggest that this rationalisation manifests itself in an attempt to homogenise religious practice eradicating folk and local practices but in the process. It is “the process by which basic questions come to the fore in the Economic & Political Weekly EPW consciousness of large numbers of believers: ‘What is my religion?’ ‘Why is it important to my life?’ and ‘How do my beliefs guide my conduct’” (p 38). there is an increased awareness of. also making it a matter of conscious. Hamid Dabashi (1989) has suggested that from the very early years of Muslim history competing notions of authority – what it is and who may exercise it – as well as arrangements of religious and political authority. consistent. at the height of the US-sponsored wave of state Islamisation in countries such as Pakistan. cohesive whole erasing out the contradictions that may have been part of religious thought and practice previously. Rather than complete obliteration. Given the multiple ways of being a good Muslim that are offered to the masses. we can recognise that the modern period has seen a significant change in the pace and scale of fragmentation of both political and religious authority. Islam should come to serve the immediate and myopic objectives of party politics. but that it is not exactly the same thing as disenchantment. Masud. The autonomous functioning of the political and social arenas wins out. its refusal to take the true functioning of politics in society into consideration causes it instead to follow the unwritten rules of the traditional exercise of power and social segmentation. Turner and Volpi 2007. Religious practice is no longer a matter of following norms unthinkingly. In a rather schematic approach to the formation of authority within Islam. Zaman 2002). Secularisation as Objectification It seems that the values of transcendence take a different form. that of changes brought about by Islamism. The Islamists with their insistence on a reduced role for the ulema and for individualised responsibility to follow the scripture are both a product of this fractured authority and contributors to its further splintering. individual choices. what religion means and how it should impact everyday practice. The role of new media. and the rise of ethnicity and nationalism in Muslim politics. This notion of fragmentation of Islamic authority needs to be nuanced by the recognition that there may never have been a seamless. Some of the same scholars have also alerted us to the changes in the content of Islamic authority in terms of the issues and subjects that are considered within the purview of authoritative rulings. and it seems that a more accurate reading of the phenomenon that Roy is talking about would acknowledge that there is a clearer recognition of the limitations of religious parties in politics in a country like Pakistan rather than a complete emptying out of transcendence from within religion. My research shows that members of Islamist groups are constantly making comparisons with other Islamist groups and related ways of being.9 But what precisely are the implications of this fragmentation? The ready equation of this fragmentation in authority with a decrease in belief may be satisfying in its simplicity. That over the last two centuries there have been significant changes in the structures of Islamic religious authority is increasingly gaining recognition within academic literature (Eickelman and Piscatori. a term I borrow from Eickelman and Piscatori (1996). new legal regimes and global communication have all been highlighted as leading to a fragmentation of Islamic authority (Mandaville 2001. plays a role. since it is now identified with the new power. 2012 vol xlviI no 35 . Yet. Eickelman 1992. This loss of legitimacy in the political sphere. Weber’s notion of the rationalisation of religion is one that is often subsumed within the privatisation debate. 1996. fragmentation of religious authority. that Islam was being exploited for political objectives. Anderson and Eickelman 2003. This I contend. it does not seem to me that this loss of legitimacy proceeds in a linear fashion to the emptying out of the religious sphere “of its value as a place of transcendence”. particularly when compared to the period immediately preceding it. but does not really hold up in the light of historical and contemporary experience. but only after the religious sphere has been emptied out of its value as a place of transcendence. Even as we acknowledge the heterogeneity of notions and practices of authority in Islamic history over the last 14 centuries. but more critically to a conscious engagement with the many aspects of religious praxis. 2007. critically analysed set of values and practices. Muslim scholars like Fazlur Rehman warned some decades ago. Rehman (1982: 40) pointed out The slogan ‘in Islam religion and politics are inseparable’ is employed to dupe the common man into accepting that. and debate about. Despite the fact that its particular 55 september 1. The Failure of Political Islam (1994: 199): Islamism is actually an agent of secularization of Muslim societies because it brings the religious space into the political arena: although it claims to do so for the benefits of the former. Weiss 1991). they are subjected to a certain “objectification”. came about. behaviours and praxis. To take a concrete example. a source of public debate about what the place of Islam is to be in contemporary life. given the Islamists’ interest in political structures. international migration. Eickelman and Piscatori are particularly sensitive to the interplay of various long-term trends including the impact of mass education. Salvatore 2007). I agree. refute and protest. mass literacy. whether they are to be separated out or not. The warning has been heeded to some extent. Then. Transcendence is not erased but consciously sought through a modelling of subjectivities. instead of politics or the state serving the long-range objectives of Islam. I do not propose that this secularisation proceeds only along the lines alluded to by Roy very briefly at the end of his book.

it was not so necessary to stress personal devotion. 2012 vol xlviI no 35 EPW Economic & Political Weekly . Weber’s work while sharing the assumption of some change in religious belief and practice. or Muslim. He then goes on to elaborate that. [T]he moral conduct of the average man was thus deprived of its planless and unsystematic character and subjected to a consistent method for conduct as a whole. Weber’s influential work on The Protestant Ethics and the The Spirit of Capitalism (1950 [1904]) emerged in a context where intellectuals were grappling with a relatively rapid pace of change in everyday life (Aron 1968). the view of the preceding centuries as more religious – certainly not without empirical evidence at least at the structural level if not at the individual level – emerged as a framework within which progress was measured. contains a sophisticated appraisal of the long-term implications of changes in and through religious belief. Indeed the sentences quoted above are preceded by his observation that [T]he rationalisation of the world. the notion and reality of the “state” that the Islamists contend with is very different from the one that the early Protestant reformers had to deal with. even as the local trajectories strain to shape the global context. atonement. there is no clear mapping of the south Asian. The increase in religiosity is linked closely in his narrative with the rationalisation of belief. and about simoniacal priests.SPECIAL ARTICLE blend of political and religious authority was uniquely its own. It is not a reiteration of a stagiest view that Muslims are going through the reformation that Christians in Europe experienced many centuries ago. There was no place for the very human Catholic cycle of sin. we cannot be sure of the extent of religiosity among individual members of European Christiandom prior to the 18th and 19th centuries. What comes out of a particular set of actions may be very different from what the actors themselves expected. We have sufficient information about widespread corruption in the papal court. repentance. about rampant hedonism in the monastries. release. In this context he highlights first. given his concern for keeping centre stage the human motivations and agency. But even within Europe whether or not the fragmentation resulted in a less believing populace remains open to question. When the church controlled various aspects of human life. It was a relationship they were determined to put behind them. at least initially. It is a similar but not the same process. or Latin American experience onto the history of the European one and yet. went hand in hand with their break from the authority of the Catholic Church (1950: 117). The secularisation facilitated by the Pakistani Islamist is not the same as that supported by the German Protestant. not only does the European experience inform and thus shape experiences elsewhere but there are certain features common to economic and political structures shared by the disparate populations of the world today. the subtle distinctions among Protestants and then emphasises the increase in religious surveillance and personal piety that 56 The Protestant reformers. If the religious virtuosi led such lives. Gauchet 1997. we can be quite certain that writers and scholars of the later period were convinced that religious authority was inextricably linked to dogma and irrationality (Owen Chadwick 1975. which could be adjusted by temporal punishments or the Churches’ means of grace. followed by renewed sin. Thus. Nor was there any balance of merit for a life as a whole. In The Protestant Ethics Weber is concerned to emphasise that the narrative that he presents is not the only explanation but one plausible and possible one for the emergence of capitalism. However. while keeping the differences in mind. precisely because the official Christian structure of society guaranteed that everybody was leading Christian lives. not only because we have not necessarily measured closely what happened after Englightenment. Contemporary capitalism weaves together divergent local historical trajectories within a global context. there is no reason to believe that the ordinary Christian led more virtuous lives. Weber is indeed one of the key influences september 1. the European experience has nevertheless framed contemporary discourse in all parts of the world about the relationship between authority and belief. were asking for more religion not less. A key difference that needs to be kept in mind is the vastly different notions of the “public” and the place of religion in it. Weber’s reading of the Protestant challenge to Catholicism and of the rise of capitalism has never been without contestation both on empirical and theoretical grounds. Paradoxically. Aron 1968. At the same time. Weber also derails the link between agency and outcome. has to go hand in hand with an acknowledgement and clear understanding of the similarities in experiences of modernity around the globe. but also because we may be incorrect in what we presume happened before it. Secularisation As a Qualitative Change Despite several reversals and geographical variations. Thompson 2010). Here. on “Provincialising Europe”. In that sense it remains a tentative exploration into the changes within belief and their relationship with economic and political structures. but a life of good works combined into a unified system. I do not want to underestimate the similarities. less/more religion. On the one hand. and will certainly not lead to the same kind of subjectivities and norms. my primary purpose in underscoring Weber’s influential work is to point out a strand of secularisation theory that has remained subsumed within debates about private/public. The Protestant reformers were not clamouring. albeit a different kind of religion. My purpose here is not to read into this the lateness of Muslim societies when compared to the European context. for greater state control unlike the Islamists. the Catholics had not carried nearly so far as the Puritans (and before them the Jews) had done (Weber 1950: 117). Indeed. Indeed.……. the secularisers in standard narratives of secularisation. [T]he God of Calvinism demanded of his believers not single good works. Jose Casanova (1994: 16) alerts us to the difference between personal devotion and structural religiosity: Even when historians are able to determine with relative certainty the proportion of priests and religious people within society. there was less emphasis on individual belief. Our focus on difference. this statistic tells us little about their actual religiosity.

in their organisation (unlike the pietist such as Tablighi Jamaat) and in the categories and political structures that they engage with (unlike the ulema groups). as the state is being dislodged from its position as the “master noun” of politics by the idea of the “market”. This has led to a range of responses from the different Islamists. the process of raising these and other questions about the definitions of public and private in the political arena. net/drones Economic & Political Weekly EPW these in detail in my book Secularising Islamists? Jamaat-eIslami and Jamaat-ud-Dawa in Urban Pakistan. http://tribune. The 1960s also saw the Islamists adopting new strategies and engaging with new constituencies.com/2011/ 10/14/grim-milestone-as-300th-cia-drone-strikehits-pakistan/ 4 For Blackwater in Pakistan. the suggestion is not that the Islamists are wittingly supporting secularisation. claiming it to be a parochial. from privatised observance to reduced religious belief. But the immediate political value of these questions lies in recognising that Pakistanis do not have to fall into the trap of choosing between the individualised terrorism of the suicide bomber and the state terrorism of drone attacks. Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. From communists to liberal nationalists. Yet. In drawing attention to this less developed strand of secularisation theory.SPECIAL ARTICLE in the sociology of religion and theories of secularisation. They are modernist in the structure of their thought. it is not that “they” are also ultimately like “us”. we see some corresponding shifts taking place in the strategies pursued by the Islamist groups (Iqtidar 2011b). At the end of the cold war. The Islamists are vehement in their public insistence on dislodging the idea of secularism as universal. In raising the possibility that Islamists may be inadvertently facilitating secularisation in the predominantly Muslim context of Pakistan. particularly through their student wing. Humeira Iqtidar. has emerged as a “militancy consultant” beyond south Asia while Jamaat-e-Islami is increasingly turning towards domestic political projects. the fierce competition amongst Islamists to provide a definitive answer and the emphasis in Islamist thought on homogenisation. from disenchantment to a state of Feuerbachian return to full possession of humanity was one that packaged quite a few assumptions and missed several steps in the logic. including labour unions and women’s groups. From the 1960s through the 1980s the Islamists were beneficiaries of Pakistani and American state patronage. state projects and social dynamics. http://counterterrorism. as those among Islamic revivalists who focus on taking over the state to transform society. the wide range of options discussed for transforming society all envisioned a route through the control of the state.newamerica. In recent years. Hurd 2008). Indeed the Jamaat-e-Islami was organised on the Leninist model of a cadre-based vanguard party. its quantity.pk/story/238528/kneejerk-secularism-wont-solve-our-problems/ 6 A nascent stream of scholarship within political science and international relations is beginning to recognise the importance of historical context in shaping secularism as it is practised in different parts of the world (Kuru 2007.truth-out. 7 October 2011. the focus on public/private divide. Chicago. The militarisation of Islamism began during the 1960s and reached a peak during the 1980s when new kinds of Islamists were funded into existence to fight America’s war in Afghanistan. organisational strategies and demographic constituencies. We can reject both. The birth of Islamists. using his work. and the interest in measuring the changes in quantity of belief was such that many of the dots that Weber hesitated to connect. and its quality. but are not militants in the same mould. The jump from rationalised religious belief to no belief. The imagined polity and citizen of this Islamist secularisation are likely to be extremely different from the products of secularisation in other contexts. paper presented at DePaul University.com. as a response to the rising strength of left mobilisations in Pakistan (Iqtidar 2010a.com.pk/story/230632/rationalising-jihadi-discourse/ and a response to the first at http://tribune. b). 2 See the New America Foundation report. Secularising Islamists? Hindu nationalist groups and Islamist ones like the Jamaat-eIslami share much – their origins in colonial secularism. “Conspiracy Theory as Social Imaginary: The Case of Blackwater in Pakistan”. “The Year of the Drone” for the maximum and minimum numbers culled from reliable media sources. structures of authority. a shift in American policy that was neither foreseen nor desired by the Islamists placed them in some contradiction with American and Pakistani state agenda. Local strongmen and smalltime operators were funded to form groups like the Jamaatud-Dawa. conscious and critical questioning of the role of religion – an objectification. perhaps too hastily joined to form a theory of secularisation. but here I want to note that secularisation is not an unadulterated good nor the sole preserve of progressive politics. nor premodern. 3 http://www.thebureauinvestigates. fascists to socialists. I discuss Notes 1 See http://www. Islamism’s challenge to social science theorising is no less significant for its obliqueness. a secularisation – in predominantly Muslim polities. linked closely to the JD. or that they can be seen as liberals or progressives. between denouncing the religiously political as unmitigated evil and the secular as always imperial. European experience – with some justification. erasing internal contradictions and an individual relationship with religious texts has led to a deep. The larger implication of this research lies in recognising the current limits of political theory in appreciating the difference that must arise from localised historical trajectories and in attempting to theorise about them in ways that would allow these differences to be acknowledged. The attempt is not apologetic in its intention either. were. Older groups like the JI used violence.org/defense-secretaryrobert-gates-confirms-blackwater-pakistan56307 for an overview of the controversy. my purpose is to begin to disentangle these complicated knots of assumptions regarding the relationship between belief. The Islamists are not primarily militant. is not a particularly unique phenomenon when we place it within the context of the late 19th and early 20th centuries – a period when the “State” was the dominant political idea. Yet. 5 For a flavour of some of the debates raised by research-based analysis of Islamism see vol xlviI no 35 september 1. To say all of this is to attempt on the one hand to demolish the uniqueness of Islamism’s origins and on the other to emphasise the distinctiveness of its current context. 2012 57 .

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