Hostname: page-component-594f858ff7-c4bbg Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-06-08T01:26:23.468Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "corePageComponentUseShareaholicInsteadOfAddThis": true, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

The Varieties of Secular Experience

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 June 2010

Gregory Starrett*
Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Charlotte


It has become a nearly universal reflex to think about the contemporary Middle East as a region in which secularism is in decline. This is particularly true in countries like Egypt, where the modernist imagination of independence-era socialism seems to have been eclipsed by a grassroots vision of the future as a thoroughly Islamic place, and where the nature of the government's stance with regard to secularism and religion has long been an important question (Winegar 2009; Agrama, this CSSH issue). Since the late 1970s, a decade which saw the Iranian Revolution, the rise of televangelism in the United States, and the beginnings of an extraordinary wave of Protestant conversion in Latin America, it has become popular to produce histories of secularism that will help explain the failure of “the secularization thesis,” the idea that with economic development, the spread of education, and the advancement of Science, religion was a doomed commodity like pounce pots and butter churns. The moral vision of the popular long-running Star Trek mythology, in which humans as a species have given up religion altogether, seems ever more remote the closer its technological vision becomes. Surprisingly durable, religion refuses to wait quietly in the churchyard for people to visit. Instead, it stands on the street corner denouncing bad behavior and calling the world to salvation. But now the street corner is a television broadcasting satellite (or a cassette tape, or a website), and religion's call has succeeded in ways that no Cold War sociologist or political scientist could have imagined.

Research Article
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2010

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Abaza, Mona. 1994. Islamic Education: Perceptions and Exchanges. Indonesian Students in Cairo. Paris: Cahier d'Archipel.Google Scholar
Abu-Lughod, Lila. 2004. Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Armbrust, Walter. 1996. Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Armbrust, Walter. 2005. Synchronizing Watches: The State, the Consumer, and Sacred Time in Ramadan Television. In Meyer, Birgit and Moors, Annaleis, eds., Religion, Media and the Public Sphere. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 207–26.Google Scholar
Asad, Talal. 2003. Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Asad, Talal. 2008. Reflections on Blasphemy and Secular Criticism. In de Vries, Hent, ed., Religion: Beyond a Concept. New York: Fordham University Press, 580609.Google Scholar
Berger, Peter. 2000 [1996]. Secularism in Retreat. In Esposito, John L. and Tamimi, Azzam, eds., Islam and Secularism in the Middle East. New York: New York University Press, 3851.Google Scholar
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bowen, John. 2006. Why the French Don't Like Headscarves. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Cox, Harvey. 1966. The Secular City. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
Dalsheim, Joyce. forthcoming. Unsettling Gaza: Secular Liberalism, Radical Religion, and the Israeli Settlement Project. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Deeb, Lara. 2006. An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi`i Lebanon. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Eickelman, Dale F. 1992. Mass Higher Education and the Religious Imagination in Contemporary Arab Societies. American Ethnologist 19, 4: 643–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Froese, Paul. 2008. The Plot to Kill God: Findings from the Soviet Experiment in Secularization. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gallie, W. B. 1956. Essentially Contested Concepts. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society of London 56: 167–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man. In The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 3354.Google Scholar
Hirschkind, Charles. 2006. The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
James, William. 1958 [1902]. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: New American Library.Google Scholar
Mahmood, Saba. 2005. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Mahmood, Saba. 2006. Secularism, Hermeneutics, Empire: The Politics of Islamic Reformation. Public Culture 18, 2: 323–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mahmood, Saba. 2008. Secular Imperatives. Post on the SSRC website “The Immanent Frame”: accessed 7 Jan. 2009.Google Scholar
Marx, Karl. 1978 [1846]. The German Ideology. In Tucker, Robert C., ed., The Marx-Engels Reader. 2d ed.New York: Norton, 146200.Google Scholar
Nandy, Ashis. 2007. Closing the Debate on Secularism: A Personal Statement. In Needham, Anuradha Dingwaney and Rajan, Rajeswari Sunder, eds., The Crisis of Secularism in India. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 107–17.Google Scholar
Özyürek, Esra. 2006. Nostalgia for the Modern: State Secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schielke, Samuli. n.d. “Doubt and Unbelief in a Time of Religious Revival.” MS.Google Scholar
Schielke, Samuli. 2006. Snacks and Saints: Mawlid Festivals and the Politics of Festivity, Piety, and Modernity in Contemporary Egypt. PhD thesis, University of Amsterdam.Google Scholar
Schielke, Samuli. 2008a. Boredom and Despair in Rural Egypt. Contemporary Islam 2, 3: 251–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schielke, Samuli. 2008b. Policing Ambiguity: Muslim Saints-Day Festivals and the Moral Geography of Public Space in Egypt. American Ethnologist 35, 4: 539–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schielke, Samuli. 2009. Being Good in Ramadan: Ambivalence, Fragmentation and the Moral Self in the Lives of Young Egyptians. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15(s1): s24s40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shryock, Andrew. 1997. Nationalism and the Genealogical Imagination: Oral History and Textual Authority in Tribal Jordan. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Starrett, Gregory. 1998. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Starrett, Gregory. 1999. Who Put the “Secular” in “Secular State”? Brown Journal of World Affairs 6, 1: 147–62.Google Scholar
Starrett, Gregory. 2006. The American Interest in Islamic Schooling: A Misplaced Emphasis? Middle East Policy 13, 1: 120–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sullivan, Winifred Fallers. 1995. Paying the Words Extra: Religious Discourse in the Supreme Court of the United States. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Center for the Study of World Religions.Google Scholar
Sullivan, Winifred Fallers. 2005. The Impossibility of Religious Freedom. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Taylor, Charles. 2007. A Secular Age. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Thomas, Keith. 1971. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Scribner's.Google Scholar
Warner, Michael. 2008. Is Liberalism a Religion? In de Vries, Hent, ed., Religion: Beyond a Concept. New York: Fordham University Press, 610–17.Google Scholar
Weber, Max. 1946 [1915]. The Social Psychology of the World Religions. In Gerth, H. H. and Mills, C. Wright, eds., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 267301.Google Scholar
White, Leslie. 1949. Energy and the Evolution of Culture. In The Science of Culture. New York: Grove Press, 363–96.Google Scholar
Winegar, Jessica. 2009. Culture is the Solution: The Civilizing Mission of Egypt's Culture Palaces. Review of Middle East Studies 43, 2:189–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar