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Religion and Internationalism Project Symposia

November 29, 2012
"Is Comparative Religion a Colonial Project?"

Tomoko Masuzawa
History and Comparative Literature
University of Michigan


Michael Puett
East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Harvard University
4:00 - 6:00pm
Watson Institute
Kim Koo Library

In the past generation, a variety of postcolonial critics have emphasized the colonial genealogy of the universalizing impulse – a mode of domination that may persist implicitly in many of the categories of “comparative” religion, as well as in the very idea of secular modernity. In this light, we ask – is the very idea of comparative religion necessarily a colonial project? We conceive of colonialism not only as a historical event in the past, but as a mode of implicit or explicit epistemic violence that may continue well into the present. Bearing in mind these genealogies of violence, is it even possible to conceive of concepts that may enable comparisons within, or between, different religions and secularities, in ways that are not wholly mediated by Eurocentric notions of the “universal”?

Pre-discussion reading #1
Pre-discussion reading #2
Pre-discussion reading #3

April 17
"Who's Afraid of Religious Passion?"

Speakers are Amy Hollywood
Harvard Divinity School


Michael Warner
English and American Studies
Yale University

A number of scholars in recent years have critiqued and attempted to unsettle the conventional association of religion with unreason and secularity with reason, which remains so widespread in popular and academic discourse. There are several different ways in which such associations have been recast. One way has been to explore the ways in which transgressive and ecstatic experience, formerly associated with “religion,” has been valorized by a range of “secular” creative forms. This way, with a longstanding genealogy in European romanticism, is associated with the historical avant-garde and has been elaborately theorized by key post-structuralist thinkers. More recently, the idea of “sensible ecstasy” (Amy Hollywood) has highlighted the multiple meanings of the “sensible,” the gender dimension of which has further subtended the received dichotomies, as well as the appeal of mysticism in a post-dogmatic age. A very different way has focused on the power/knowledge, even power-mad dimension of secular “reason,” and highlighted the sober, ethical subjectivity-constituting dimension of religious practice. A title like “Religious Reason and Secular Affect” (Saba Mahmood) indicates the direction in which this line of thinking moves – particularly its re-shuffling of familiar associations inherited from the Enlightenment and Reformation.  Finally, radically reframing the traditional opposition,  Michael Warner has sought to sharpen the “the agony of the choice between orgasm and religion,” while foregrounding the way that “ecstatic religions can legitimate self-transgression.”  Despite many overlapping intents of these different stances – above all, the focus on the constitutive dimension of gender and sexuality – they valorize quite different paths to resisting modern constructions of both “secularity” and “religion.”  These differences are not only academic-theoretical. Rather, they deeply affect the evaluation of many of today’s key political/cultural/social/class struggles around the globe.  In short: how might we engage the interplay of reason and affect in today’s secularizing-and-anti-secularizing world?

Reading #1

Reading #2

(rescheduled from March 2012)

February 4
"'Religious Radicalisms' and Modernity: Allies or Enemies?"

Hent deVries
Humanities Center and Department of Philosophy
Johns Hopkins University


Nathaniel Berman
Cogut Center for the Humanities

Once upon a time, there was a widely embraced narrative that portrayed modernity, secularization, and the privatization of religion as intrinsically linked and as extending their twin sway in an inevitable and salutary historical trajectory.  Every element of this narrative, often associated both with intra-European processes initiated by the Reformation and the Enlightenment and with the modalities of colonial domination, has come under challenge from a large variety of perspectives in the past several decades.  Despite these critiques, however, some of its basic tenets, especially the link between secularity and progress, continually resurface in both academic debate and public responses to world events.  In this symposium, participants will critically examine one of the key foundation-stones of this narrative, and ask whether “religious radicalisms,” in all their fantasmatic diversity, have ever simply been the adversary of “modernity,” or whether the latter has always been constituted in dialectical relationship to the “religious Other.”

Recommended readings:

Reading #1

Reading #2

A copy of the flyer.

(rescheduled from postponement in the fall semester)