Talal Asad

Talal Asad
Talal Asad
Born 1933
Saudi Arabia
Nationality Saudi and American
Fields Anthropology
Academic advisors E. E. Evans-Pritchard
Notable students Saba Mahmood
David Scott
Charles Hirschkind
Part of a series on
of religion
Social and cultural
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Talal Asad (born 1933) is an anthropologist at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Asad has made important theoretical contributions to post-colonialism, Christianity, Islam, and ritual studies and has
recently called for, and initiated, an anthropology of secularism. Using a genealogical method developed by
Friedrich Nietzsche and made prominent by Michel Foucault, Asad "complicates terms of comparison that many
anthropologists, theologians, philosophers, and political scientists receive as the unexamined background of
thinking, judgment, and action as such. By doing so, he creates clearings, opening new possibilities for
communication, connection, and creative invention where opposition or studied indifference prevailed".
His long-term research concerns the transformation of religious law (the shari'ah) in nineteenth- and
twentieth-century Egypt with special reference to arguments about what constitutes secular and progressive reform.
He was born in Saudi Arabia to Austrian Pakistani diplomat, writer and reformer Muhammad Asad, a Jew who
converted to Islam in his mid-20s, and a Saudi Arabian Muslim mother, Munira Hussein Al Shammari (died
Critical thematics
William E. Connolly attempts to summarize Asad's theoretical contributions on secularism as follows:
1. 1. Secularism is not merely the division between public and private realms that allows religious diversity to flourish
in the latter. It can itself be a carrier of harsh exclusions. And it secretes a new definition of "religion" that
conceals some of its most problematic practices from itself.
Talal Asad
2. 2. In creating its characteristic division between secular public space and religious private space, European
secularism sought to shuffle ritual and discipline into the private realm. In doing so, however, it loses touch with
the ways in which embodied practices of conduct help to constitute culture, including European culture.
3. 3. The constitution of modern Europe, as a continent and a secular civilization, makes it incumbent to treat Muslims
in its midst on the one hand as abstract citizens and on the other as a distinctive minority either to be tolerated (the
liberal orientation) or restricted (the national orientation), depending on the politics of the day.
4. 4. European, modern, secular constitutions of Islam, in cumulative effect, converge upon a series of simple contrasts
between themselves and Islamic practices. These terms of contrast falsify the deep grammar of European
secularism and contribute to the culture wars some bearers of these very definitions seek to ameliorate.
Formations of The Secular
Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity is both an original work and a reworking of previous
essays and papers by Asad.
In Formations of The Secular, Asad examines what he views as the curious character
of modern European and American societies and their notion of secularism.
Secularism, often viewed as a neutral or flat space that forbids religious opinion or interference in political questions,
is found to be somewhat curious to Asad. Specifically, Asad's experiences with the response to the 2001 September
11th attacks from the point of view of a Muslim in United States exposed him to €explosions of intolerance• that
seemed to him €entirely compatible with secularism in a highly modern society•.
However, rather than simply
letting such a coincidence pass, Asad continue by stating that such behaviors are "intertwined" with secularism in a
"modern society".
This leads Asad's deployment of the genealogical method in order to understand why a country like the United States
seemingly behaves in such a manner despite the generally understood status status as secular despite the distinctly
religious Manichean tones ‚ €good• and €evil• ‚ often found within the historical record of the United States.
further notes that despite the nominally secular character of The United States, €repressive measures have been
directed at real and imagined secular opponents.•
These events, as well as other questions, lead Asad to what might be termed the thesis of the book:
The secular, I argue, is neither continuous with the religious that supposedly preceded it (that is, it is not
the latest phase of a sacred origin) nor a simple break from it (that is, it is not the opposite, an essence
that excludes the sacred). I take the secular to be a concept that brings together certain behaviors,
knowledges, and sensibilities in modern life.
Building on that notion, Asad is also critical of the more common concept of secularism, which he views as having
no distinct features that demarcate it from other prior forms of secularism found elsewhere in the world. Instead he
favors another approach to viewing modern secularism:
In my view the secular is neither singular in origin nor stable in its historical identity, although it works
through a series of particular oppositions.
With that said, Asad's goal for the book is to understand how a more general pre-secularism mutates into the more
familiar "novel" form of secularism present within Euro-American societies ‚ Asad makes clear his interest in this
specific "novel" variant.
Talal Asad
Select bibliography
€ The Kababish Arabs: Power, Authority, and Consent in a Nomadic Tribe. Praeger Publishers, 1970. ISBN
€ "Market Model, Class Structure, and Consent: A Reconsideration of Swat Political Organization." Man 7(1)
(1972), pp. 74‚ 89.
€ Editor, Anthropology & the Colonial Encounter. Ithaca Press, 1973. ISBN 0-903729-00-8
€ The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam. Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, 1986. ISBN 978-9991289526
€ Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. The Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-8018-4632-3
€ Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8047-4768-7
€ On Suicide Bombing. Columbia University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-231-14152-9
Further reading
Main article: List of important publications in anthropology
[1] http:/ / en. wikipedia. org/ w/ index. php?title=Template:Anthropology_of_religion& action=edit
[2] http:/ / web. gc. cuny.edu/ Anthropology/ fac_asad.html
[3] William E. Connolly in Powers of the Secular Modern: Talal Asad and His Interlocutors, Stanford 2006, 75.
[4] Chaghatai, Muhammad Asad, Vol. 1, p. 339.
[5] Connolly, pp. 75-76. (http:/ / books. google. com/ books?id=2qetHOkVxMgC& printsec=frontcover& dq=Powers+ of+ the+ Secular+
Modern:+ Talal+ Asad+ and+ His+ Interlocutors#PPA75,M1)
[6] Asad, Talal. Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford, Calif: Stanford, 2003, 'Acknowledgements'.
[7] [7] Ibid., 7.
[8] [8] Ibid., 7.
[9] [9] Ibid., 7.
[10] [10] Ibid., 7.
[11] [11] Ibid., 24.
[12] [12] Ibid., 24.
[13] [13] Ibid., 1-2.
External links
€ CUNY Graduate Center Anthropology Faculty Website (http:/ / anthropology. commons. gc. cuny. edu/
talal-asad/ )
€ Interview with Asad (https:/ / www. youtube. com/ watch?v=kfAGnxKfwOg) on YouTube
€ "AsiaSource Interview with Talal Asad" by Nermeen Shaikh (http:/ / www. asiasource. org/ news/
special_reports/ asad. cfm)
Article Sources and Contributors
Article Sources and Contributors
Talal Asad  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?oldid=619667910  Contributors: Abdelrhman 1990, All Hallow's Wraith, AnGabreel, And we drown, Anthrophilos, Avraham,
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