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Religious Difference in a Secular Age

A Minority Report

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


The plight of religious minorities in the Middle East is often attributed to the failure of secularism to take root in the region. Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges this assessment by examining four cornerstones of secularism—political and civil equality, minority rights, religious freedom, and the legal separation of private and public domains.

Drawing on her extensive fieldwork in Egypt with Coptic Orthodox Christians and Bahais—religious minorities in a predominantly Muslim country—Saba Mahmood shows how modern secular governance has exacerbated religious tensions and inequalities rather than reduced them. Tracing the historical career of secular legal concepts in the colonial and postcolonial Middle East, she explores how contradictions at the very heart of political secularism have aggravated and amplified existing forms of Islamic hierarchy, bringing minority relations in Egypt to a new historical impasse. Through a close examination of Egyptian court cases and constitutional debates about minority rights, conflicts around family law, and controversies over freedom of expression, Mahmood invites us to reflect on the entwined histories of secularism in the Middle East and Europe.

A provocative work of scholarship, Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges us to rethink the promise and limits of the secular ideal of religious equality.

From Publishers Weekly

Oct 19, 2015 – Mahmood (Politics of Piety) explores secularism by considering the situation of religious minorities in Egypt. For Mahmood, secularism contains an intense irony, in that the supposed inability of the state to dictate religion leaves few avenues for minorities to redress grievances. Looking at the situation of Coptic Christians and Bahais, she persuasively argues that religious conflict in Egypt is not a result of too little secularization but a clear consequence of secularity. Perhaps the strongest chapter covers family law, where she shows how secularism's relegating religion to the private sphere intensifies religion's control over the other key elements of private life especially gender and sexuality. Her work contains enough history of Egyptian politics to show how secularism is both an imposed norm of European colonialism and a development internal to Islam. In crisp prose, Mahmood convincingly shows that secularism's promise for equal protection under the law for all religious believers has deeply shaped the modern world, despite the ways in which secularism itself thwarts this hope. This book challenges Western perceptions of the Middle East while deeply questioning the ability of secularism to live up to its promises.
Religious Difference in a Secular Age
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  • $17.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: Nov 03, 2015
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Seller: Princeton University Press
  • Print Length: 248 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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