Discourses of Religion and the Non-Religious/Secular in Islamic Contexts: Call for Expressions of Interest

CALL FOR EXPRESSIONS OF INTEREST

Proposed New Network:

Discourses of Religion and the Non-Religious/Secular in Islamic Contexts

Please send expressions of interest to Dr Alex Henley (alex.henley@theology.ox.ac.uk).

A critical school has emerged in the Study of Religion that identifies the category of ‘religion’ as a modern concept inseparable from its post-Enlightenment twin, ‘the secular’ (Asad 1993; Fitzgerald 2000). Pioneering work has been done on the invention of ‘religion’ in various colonial contexts (Chidester 1996; King 1999; Masuzawa 2005; Josephson 2012; Horii 2018), but few sustained studies have been undertaken for Islam. An early study by WC Smith (1964) identified a modern shift in Muslim discourse around ‘Islam’ as a category, but nevertheless argued it to be a special case. Certainly we see classical formulas such as ‘din wa dunya’ that seem to suggest an existing, perhaps even original, distinction between religion and non-religion. Whether or not ‘religion’ has been invented wholesale in Islam as in Hinduism, Buddhism, etc, a study of such discourse among Muslim intellectuals by Tayob (2009) has highlighted significant innovation in the modern period.

A new academic network based at the University of Oxford will provide a forum for discussion of these questions: To what extent, if any, is ‘religion’ a useful category of analysis in Islamic Studies? Was there an Islam ‘before religion’ (Nongbri 2013)? In what changing or varied ways do we see ‘religion’ as a bounded category of practice articulated, operationalised and institutionalised by or for Muslims in recent centuries? What distinctive characteristics and functions (e.g. rights, freedoms, authority, privatisation) does ‘religion’ have as a reified subject in Islamic discourse, that distinguish it from ‘non-religious’ or ‘secular’ domains? Does a ‘religion-secular’ dichotomy operate also in contexts where ideological secularism is rejected as un-Islamic? What role have colonial and post-colonial modernity or states played in Muslim (re)formulations of ‘religion’ and its others? Do such trends in Islamic contexts compare to the invention of ‘religion’ in other colonial contexts, or should we see Islam as exceptional in some way? What new methodologies may shed light on these dynamics? What implications may the critical study of ‘religion’ have for the way Islam is taught in schools and universities?

Please let us know if you would be interested in this network by emailing Alex Henley (alex.henley@theology.ox.ac.uk). Participation is invited from scholars interested in these kinds of questions in any period or regional context. As we are trying to gage the level and type of interest, we would also welcome any suggestions on its direction, specific themes for workshops, collaborations with other organisations, etc.

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