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Secularism, Sovereignty, Indeterminacy: Is Egypt a Secular or a Religious State?

  • Hussein Ali Agrama (a1)

In this essay I offer a thesis about secularism as a modern historical phenomenon, through a consideration of state politics, law, and religion in contemporary Egypt. Egypt seems hardly a place for theorizing about modern secularity. For it is a state where politics and religion seem to constantly blur together, giving rise to continual conflict, and it thus seems, at best, only precariously secular. These facts, however, go to the heart of my thesis: that secularism itself incessantly blurs together religion and politics, and that its power relies crucially upon the precariousness of the categories it establishes. Egypt's religious-political ambiguities, I argue, are expressions of deeper indeterminacies at the very foundation of secular power. In what follows, I elaborate my thesis, how it differs from other, similar sounding arguments, and the shift in perspective on secularism that it entails. I begin with a famous Egyptian apostasy case.

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Hussein Ali Agrama . 2010. Ethics, Tradition, Authority: Toward an Anthropology of the Fatwa. American Ethnologist 37, 1: 218.

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David Scott . 2004. Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment. Duke University Press.

Brian Silverstein . 2008. Disciplines of Presence in Modern Turkey. Cultural Anthropology 23, 1: 118–53.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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