Book Announcement: "Literary Secularism"

A few readers may have noticed that I added a link on the side bar to "my book, Literary Secularism" a few days ago. It's true -- my book is out, albeit only in England, and only in hardcover.

"Literary Secularism" was originally my dissertation, though I rewrote the whole thing beginning in earnest in the spring of 2004. I added some new material (chapters on secularism in Indian feminism, V.S. Naipaul, and the crisis of secularism in the post 9/11 world). And I tried to make the writing more generally readable and less densely theoretical on the whole (it's still a bit dense at some points).

I also completely rethought my thesis: earlier, I had conceived of something called "post-secularism," which I was thinking of as a historical phenomenon in parallel with "postmodernism" and "post-colonialism." But I found a lot of resistance to that term -- which sounds like it's suggesting that secularism is dead -- and I eventually dropped it. As I read philosophers and theorists like Charles Taylor, Talal Asad, and Jose Casanova, I realized two things: 1) I actually deeply believe that "secularism" as a political principle can be applied universally in the modern era of nation-states, and 2) there's something particularly literary about the way in which modern novelists deal with secularism and secularization in their works. The novel itself, in other words, is a unique mode of arguing for secularity. The latter theme, I felt, hadn't really been addressed by critics outside of a Eurocentric perspective -- so that is what I tried to do.

Now, there are many, many qualifications that could be introduced with reference to the first point (secularism as a universal concept, if not a universal practice). There are, for one thing, different secularisms -- India's is different from Great Britain's, just as the British system remains significantly different from the American one. Secularism need not mean strict "separation of church and state," but it does require some measure of institutional (procedural) separation between government from religion, as well as clear protections for religious minorities, women, dissenters, and atheists.

This is not really the time to work through all of the definitional issues on secularism. I do deal with some of the terminological questions in my first chapter, but in fact much of the material on political theory ended up getting stripped from the final version of the book.

In support of "Literary Secularism," I will be doing a series of blog posts in the spring, introducing fresh material not in the book, which will open out some of those issues. You'll find them here, as well as on the new "Literary Secularism" blog I've created especially for this purpose.

In the meanwhile, if you are an academic, I would be much obliged if you could ask your college or university library to order "Literary Secularism" from Cambridge Scholars Press.