Joan Wallach Scott
’s contributions to the history of women and gender, and to feminist theory, will be familiar to listeners across multiple disciplines. Her latest book, Sex and Secularism
(Princeton University Press, 2017) is a compelling analysis of the discourse of secularism in the modern democratic (imperial) nation-states of “the West”. A profound challenge to assumptions that secularism has come with the assurance of gender equality, the book moves from the processes of secularization of the nineteenth century, through the era of the Cold War, and on to the notion of a “clash of civilizations” that continues to inform and shape the politics of gender and the gendering of politics in our current moment.
Revisiting decades of scholarship by historians and theorists of gender, religion, the family, and politics, the first three chapters of the book trace persistent and emergent forms of gender inequality that accompanied the insistence on a separation of Church and state in nineteenth-century sites committed to modernity and forms of liberal democracy. Examining the identification of women with religion; the substitution of biological rationales for religious justifications of gendered hierarchies across multiple domains; and the history of women’s suffrage in secular states, this first section of the book synthesizes as it analyzes in order to reveal the ways and reasons secularism did not bring about women’s equality. Subsequent chapters of the book move from the imbrication of gender and secularism during the Cold War to a critique of a “sexual emancipation” that would eventually fixate on Islam as the “enemy” of a secular “West”. Moving from France to other states in Europe, to the United States, and back again, Sex and Secularism
will change the way readers (and listeners!) think about the politically powerful and gendered keywords of the book’s title.
Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. Her current research focuses on the representation of nuclear weapons and testing in France and its empire since 1945. She lives and reads in Vancouver, Canada. If you have a recent title to suggest for New Books in French Studies, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The music that opens and closes the podcast is an instrumental version of “Creatures,” a song written by Vancouver artist/musician Casey Wei (performing as “hazy”). To hear more, please visit https://agonyklub.com/