In many popular accounts of contemporary “Western” society there is an inherent contradiction between the principles underlying liberal secularism and Islam. This type of binary discourse about “religion” and “secular” naturalizes these differences and promotes the seeming rigidity of the two categories. But secularism is much messier than that.
Danielle Haque, Associate Professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato, questions this simplistic narrative in her new book Interrogating Secularism: Race and Religion in Arab Transnational Art and Literature (Syracuse University Press, 2019). She deconstructs liberal accounts of secularism through an examination of the work of authors and artists from ethnic and religious minorities. The literary and visual economies that inform their art demonstrates that secular values are not always neatly distinguished from religious principles nor are spiritual forms necessarily steeped in tradition. In our conversation we discuss secular ideologies, contemporary orientalism, the racialization of Muslims, the War on terror, state surveillance, visual and literary cultural production, transnational identities, publishing norms, museum practice, human rights discourses, Muslim feminist praxis, and LGBTQ identities.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.