Religious Difference in a Secular Age

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: A Minority Report challenges this assessment by showing how modern secular governance has exacerbated religious tensions and inequalities rather than reduced them. Here, Saba Mahmood, building on the case of two religious minorities in Egypt (Orthodox Coptic Christians and Bahá’ís), analyzes the structure and rationality of political secularism, its global and historically specific dimensions. Drawing on history, anthropology, and political theory, Religious Difference in A Secular Age provides a genealogical exploration of how the problem of religious difference has been managed in the Middle East, from the Ottoman period to the present, in the process reflecting on what this history can teach us about the global plight of religious minorities today. Mahmood does not aim to pin religious tensions solely on secularism; rather her inquiry seeks to “understand its paradoxical operations so as to mitigate its discriminatory effects.”

In this series, scholars from a variety of disciplines respond to Mahmood’s work, as they engage with and further extend the book’s arguments on the relationship between religion and state.