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Secularism in the Arab World: Contexts, Ideas and Consequences

Book Presentation

Tuesday 18 February 2020, by siawi3


Secularism in the Arab World
Contexts, Ideas and Consequences

by Aziz al-Azmeh

Translated by David Bond

Published by Edinburgh University Press

In Translation Modern Muslim Thinkers

This item is not yet published. It is available for pre-orders and will ship on 01 March 2020.

Hardcover 448 Pages
5.50 x 8.50 inches
ISBN: 9781474447461

The book:
Traces the concrete secular transformations in Muslim societies which occurred at particular times and by specific social agencies
Explores how secular changes influenced the functioning of different strata and groups, and the central attitudes of their members
Devotes considerable attention to religious reform in the broader context of the developments studied, and of the ideological, political and institutional religious reactions to both
Includes a new Preface by the author to introduce the English translation


This book is a translation of Aziz al-Azmeh’s seminal work Al-’Ilmaniya min mandhur mukhtalif that was first published in Beirut in 1992. Both celebrated and criticised for its reflections on Arab secularisation and secularism in the modern history of the Arab World, it is the only study to date to approach its subject as a set of historical changes which affected the regulation of the social, political and cultural order, and which permeated the concrete workings of society, rather than as an ideological discussion framed from the outset by the assumed opposition between Islam and secularism.

The author takes a comprehensive analytical perspective to show that an almost imperceptible yet real, multi-faceted and objective secularising process has been underway in the Arab world since the 1850s. The early onset was the result of adapting to systemic novelties introduced at the time and a reaction to the perceived European advance and local retardation. The need for meaningful reform, and the actions taken in order to put in place a new organisation of state and society based on modern organisational and educational criteria, rather than older, religious traditions, stemmed from the perceived weakness of Arab polities and from an internal drive to overcome this situation.

The book follows these themes into the close of the 20th century, marked with the rise of Islamism. A preface to the English translation takes a retrospective look at the theme from the vantage point of social, political and intellectual issues of relevance today.


Table of Contents

Foreword by Gilbert Achcar

Preface to the English Translation
1. 1992-2018
2. Negative authority
3. Keywords: vitalism, historism
4. Secularism and the sociology of fate
5. One postcolonialist standard

Preface to the second edition


Chapter One: Religion and the world in historical perspective
1.On the term “secularism”
2.Religion and public life in Christian commonwealths
3.Islam and the world

Chapter Two: The reformist state and the universalist orientation
1. The state and its society: education and secular culture
2. The secularisation of daily life
3. The state: from the millet to the secular state

Chapter Three: Intellectual transformations and elusive reconciliation
1. Evolutionism and Salafism
2. Translation and equivocation
3. Explicit secularism and accord with reality

Chapter Four: Sites of secularism in the twentieth century
1. Secular legislation and social dynamics
2. Intellectual secularism and reformist retrogression
3. Secularism and politics

Chapter Five: The nationalist era and the future besieged
1. The flowering of secularism and its social dynamic
2. State, religion and the beleaguered future

Chapter Six: Conclusion: Secularism today in the context of its adversaries
1. The discourse of exceptionalism and its auxiliaries
2. Islam, politics and society
3. The context of secularism




Aziz Al-Azmeh is University Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of History, Central European University, Budapest. He is the author of Ibn Khaldun (1982), Arabic Thought and Islamic Societies (1983), Islams and Modernities (1993), Muslim Kingship (1996) and The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity (2014).