Presidential Historical Narratives and the Future of the Religious State

AHA Session 113
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Room 207 (Hynes Convention Center)
Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago
Muslim Zion
Faisal Devji, Oxford University
Sacred Violence: The Sikh State in the Twentieth Century
Shruti Kapila, Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge
Gujarat: A Successful Hindu State?
Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi, Rutgers University-New Brunswick
Citation as Future in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Setrag Manoukian, McGill University

Session Abstract

Made up of two historians and two anthropologists from the US and UK, and chaired by Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty from the University of Chicago, the inter-disciplinary panel we propose aims to open a discussion on the religious state as a continuing project.  We are interested in departing the conventional debate over the “return,” or conversely the “continuation,” of religious politics in modern times, which proceeds in either case by tracing the genealogy of some contemporary movement and exposing the “invention” of its historical narratives. Instead of focussing on genealogies and narratives of the past, we intend to look at the way in which such movements envision the future in historically sophisticated ways. In roughly chronological order, papers will deal with the simultaneous founding of Pakistan and Israel as the two modular religious states of the twentieth century (Faisal Devji), the struggle to create a Sikh state in the wake of India’s partition during the 1980s (Shruti Kapila), the shaping of the Indian province of Gujarat as a Hindu state from the 1990s (Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi), and the way in which Iranian dissidents and protesters re-work the legacy of the Islamic Revolution (Setrag Manoukian). What unites these papers on Pakistan and Israel, India and Iran, is their attempt to demonstrate not only the diversity of the project for a religious state in our times, but also to show how it manages to surpass inherited analytical categories, by refusing to be framed within dichotomies like the sacred and the secular, public and private. For given the multiple ways in which they combine and transform such categories, the movements for a religious state we examine lie outside the thesis of some incomplete or deferred secularization. How then can we think about the politics of religion in a productive way?

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