Genealogies of the Secular
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A growing international debate has sought to problematize the secular: to demonstrate its imbrication with religion, particularly Christianity; to articulate or advance something called the postsecular, beyond the nihilism of modernity; and to identify where amid this upheaval lie the resources for critique. At stake are the potentialities of our religious inheritances and political futures. The questions of derivation and discontinuity that accompany the genealogical method are pivotal in the contemporary debate that asks how the secular derives from Christianity, whether in its discursive, governmental, colonial, or economic forms. Here, Michel Foucault’s account of the spread of modern arts of government is crucial. For Foucault, modern political forms of governmentality are best understood as emerging not through secularization but rather in-depth Christianization—as the proliferation of technologies of conduct formed in the ecclesiastical pastorate. In what follows, I will outline the key features of Foucault’s contribution to contemporary secularization theory, as well as its legacy in Talal Asad’s genealogy of the colonial dimensions of secular politics and subjectivity, as well as Giorgio Agamben’s recent work on the theological genealogy of economy.
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