Secularism, Sexuality, and Religious Liberty: A Postcolonial Genealogy

Prof. Saba Mahmood, Social Cultural Anthropology

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The relegation of religion and the family to the private sphere is widely regarded as a key feature of modern secular societies. While postcolonial states of South Asia and the Middle East are heir to this arrangement, they are also distinct in that they retain religious laws for the regulation of family affairs. As a result, both minority and majority religious communities of postcolonial polities continue to exert a fair degree of legal autonomy over family affairs based on their religious traditions. This paper tries to rethink the classical debate around “family law” and “minority rights” by parsing out the contradictions that attend the public-private distinction institutionalized by the modern state, particularly the complex ways in which sexuality, gender, and religious liberty have come to be intertwined under conditions of postcolonial secularism.

11/17/10 CRG Forum: Postcolonial and Liberal Discourses of the Family in Secular Polities

"Secularism, Sexuality, and Religious Liberty: A Postcolonial Genealogy ," Prof. Saba Mahmood, Social Cultural Anthropology

The relegation of religion and the family to the private sphere is widely regarded as a key feature of modern secular societies. While postcolonial states of South Asia and the Middle East are heir to this arrangement, they are also distinct in that they retain religious laws for the regulation of family affairs. As a result, both minority and majority religious communities of postcolonial polities continue to exert a fair degree of legal autonomy over family affairs based on their religious traditions. This paper tries to rethink the classical debate around “family law” and “minority rights” by parsing out the contradictions that attend the public-private distinction institutionalized by the modern state, particularly the complex ways in which sexuality, gender, and religious liberty have come to be intertwined under conditions of postcolonial secularism.