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Genealogies of Religion

Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam

Talal Asad

Publication Year: 1993

In Geneologies of Religion, Talal Asad explores how religion as a historical category emerged in the West and has come to be applied as a universal concept. The idea that religion has undergone a radical change since the Christian Reformation—from totalitarian and socially repressive to private and relatively benign—is a familiar part of the story of secularization. It is often invokved to explain and justify the liberal politics and world view of modernity. And it leads to the view that "politicized religions" threaten both reason and liberty. Asad's essays explore and question all these assumptions. He argues that "religion" is a construction of European modernity, a construction that authorizes—for Westerners and non-Westerners alike—particular forms of "history making."

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. v

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pp. 1-24

The essays brought together in this volume deal with historical topics that vary in time and place, ranging from the rites of medieval European monks to the sermons of contemporary Arab theologians. What links them all together is the assumption that Western history has had an overriding importance...


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1 The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category

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pp. 27-54

In much nineteenth-century evolutionary thought, religion was considered to be an early human condition from which modern law, science, and politics emerged and became detached.1 In this century most anthropologists have abandoned Victorian evolutionary ideas, and many have challenged the rationalist...

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2 Toward a Genealogy of the Concept of Ritual

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pp. 55-80

Every ethnographer will probably recognize a ritual when he or she sees one, because ritual is (is it not?) symbolic activity as opposed to the instrumental behavior of everyday life. There may be some uncertainty and disagreement over matters of explanation, but not in identifying the phenomenon...


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3 Pain and Truth in Medieval Christian Ritual

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pp. 83-124

Most social anthropologists analyzing religion have tended to look either for symbolic meanings or for social functions, or (occasionally) for both together. Here, however, I am concerned neither with symbolic meanings nor with social functions but with the ways in which particular rituals in the...

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4 On Discipline and Humility in Medieval Christian Monasticism

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pp. 125-168

Rather than attempt an account in terms of the familiar duality of ideology and social structure, I want to examine disciplinary practices, including the multiple ways in which religious discourses regulate, inform, and construct religious selves. Such an approach seems to me to require an examination...


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5 The Concept of Cultural Translation in British Social Anthropology

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pp. 171-199

All anthropologists are familiar with E. B. Tylor's famous definition of culture: "Culture or Civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society." It would be interesting to trace how and when this notion...

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6 The Limits of Religious Criticism in the Middle East: Notes on Islamic Public Argument

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pp. 200-236

Non-Westerners who seek to understand their local histories must also inquire into Europe's past, because it is through the latter that universal history has been constructed. That history defines the former as merely "local"—that is, as histories with limits. The contemporary history of political Islam has been defined in just this way. The European Enlightenment...


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7 Multiculturalism and British Identity in the Wake of the Rushdie Affair

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pp. 239-268

It is common knowledge that the Rushdie affair precipitated a sense of political crisis in Britain. Large numbers of Muslims publicly expressed their anger and distress at the publication of The Satanic Verses, demonstrated in London, petitioned Penguin Books to withdraw the book, and then the government to ban it. The government rejected the call for banning and...

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8 Ethnography, Literature, and Politics: Some Readings and Uses of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses

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pp. 269-306

It is commonly accepted within anthropology that the discipline emerged as part of the Enlightenment project of writing a so-called universal history, yet not all anthropologists would agree that that inscription presupposes a Western perspective on non-European peoples. Such disagreement draws its force...


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pp. 307-324

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pp. 325-326

All the essays except Chapter 6 have previously been published. A shorter version of that chapter was presented at a conference entitled "Political Cultures of Criticism," held in November 1991 at the South Asian Institute of Heidelberg University. Chapter 1 is a revised version of an article that appeared in Man in...


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p. 327

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780801895937
E-ISBN-10: 0801895936
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801846328
Print-ISBN-10: 0801846323

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 1993

OCLC Number: 623917118
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Genealogies of Religion

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Religion.
  • Christian civilization.
  • Islamic civilization.
  • Rushdie, Salman.
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