Sabancı Üniversitesi


SPS Seminar Series: Sinem Gurbey, PhD Candidate at Columbia, 2004 SPS graduate


Sabancı University

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Social and Political Sciences Program Seminar Series


Sinem Gurbey

PhD Candidate in Political Science

Columbia University

SPS Program 2004 Graduate

The Priority of the Public Over the Private: A Critique of the Post-Secular Understanding
of Modernity

Date: January 5, 2011
Time: 13:30-15:00 pm
Place: FASS 2034

Abstract: A prominent academic literature that intersects anthropology and political theory characterizes secularism as a coercive and disciplinary tool of Western imperialism. It is claimed that the secular distinction between public reason and private faith is in hospitable to the virtuous and religious ways of living of Muslims. I argue that the post-secularist stance is theoretically faulty on three grounds. First, it rests on an essentialized definition of the Muslim as cognitively incapable of distinguishing the political from the religious. Second, by defining the political community in terms of a friend-enemy distinction (secularists vs. Muslims), it is ill-prepared to face the problems generated by multidimensional plurality. Third, by prioritizing the public over the private, it runs the  risk of turning private life into a matter of public concern and anxiety. Following these  theoretical objections, I also point to the empirical implications of the post-secular understanding of modernity for the case of Turkey with reference to the activities of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) in the post-1980 period. I argue that the post secularist stance helps strengthen the recent calls of the Diyanet for gender-inequality in Turkey rather than solving the problems generated by state-imposed secularism. As an alternative to both post-secularism and the Turkish laicite, I propose to re-think liberal secularism in relation to the idea of constitutional state that seeks to protect individual rights from the will of temporary majorities by differentiating the political and the legal  dimensions of state sovereignty.