Desiring the secular: Capital, cohesion, and the fantasy of secularization

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Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

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Sociology, Egyptology & Anthropology Department

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Research Article

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Towards the end of the twentieth century, religion re-emerged as a topic of pressing concern in a number of the most self-consciously secularized states of the global north. From disputes over the wearing of headscarves in schools to debates over accommodations for religious practices in the public sphere, religion, particularly the ‘foreign’ religiosity of migrants and other minority religious subjects, appeared on the scene as a phenomenon whose proper place and role in society required both urgent and careful deliberation. This article argues that in order to account for the affective potency produced by the immanence of the figure of the ‘foreign’ religious subject, it is necessary to understand secularization as fantasy. It is within the fantasy of secularization that the secular emerges as an object of desire—as something that, if attained, appears as a solution to the problem of ‘foreign’ religiosity—and figures of inassimilable religiosity assume the role of scapegoats for the failure to resolve these concerns. In this sense, within this fantasy scene, the secular promises to provide ‘us’ with something that we are lacking. However, this promise has been undermined by the apparent persistence of religious difference. As such, as a result of their continued religiosity, ‘they’ appear to be taking something from ‘us’.

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