- Paperback: 280 pages
- Publisher: Stanford University Press (31 Mar 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0804747687
- ISBN-13: 978-0804747684
- Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 15 x 22.8 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 242,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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His leading contribution is in the area of how secular discourse is perceived from the periphery of the modernization process-a periphery that `doesn't fit' into the metanarrative of Amero-European modernity since the Enlightenment. Thus, the conluding essay on the transformation of law and social ethic in colonial Egypt is alone worth the price of admission. His treatments of human rights, agency and pain, cruelty and torture, and Muslims in Europe best demonstrate the feasibility of employing anthropology as a disciplinary lens through which to scrutinize modernity and its `essential' components [esp. secularism].
Asad crosses the barrier of viewing the secular simply as the mere `separation between church and state' and enters into territory where questions can be posited such as `what created the historical moment which made possible the thought of secularism?' As such, he rolls back the shiny veneer of modernity to unravel the threads of it inner fabric. Thus, he facilitates the process whereby we can shed facile questions like: "when will Muslim societies secularize?"-moving on to questions that inquire into the historical processes that formed the secular/human subject of normative modernity in Europe. Localizing European/Western experience in such a way, a more lucid account of the advent modern society, state, religion, etc. in its non-European manifestations becomes increasingly attainable.
Though rhetorically convincing, there are parts of the book that remain tendentious at best. In particular, this goes for his arguments for secularism origins lying in the modern cleavage between private morality and public law. Systematic delineation of the two spheres is actually quite old whether one refers to the Christian or Islamic tradition-just to mention a few examples, one could take the ETYMOLOGIES of Isidore of Seville or the various Muslim jurists extrapolations of the principle of "al-amr bi'l-ma'ruf wa-l-nahy `an al-munkar" (i.e., commanding the good and forbidding the wrong). Hopefully, fuller elucidation will more fully distinguish these pre-modern conceptualizations from their distinctly modern (and secular?) configurations.