Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment is a rigorous exploration of how secularism and identity emerged as concepts in different parts of the modern world. At a time when secularist and religious worldviews appear irreconcilable, Akeel Bilgrami strikes out on a path distinctly his own, criticizing secularist proponents and detractors, liberal universalists and multicultural relativists alike.
Those who ground secularism in arguments that aspire to universal reach, Bilgrami argues, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of politics. To those, by contrast, who regard secularism as a mere outgrowth of colonial domination, he offers the possibility of a more conceptually vernacular ground for political secularism. Focusing on the response to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Bilgrami asks why Islamic identity has so often been a mobilizing force against liberalism, and he answers the question with diagnostic sympathy, providing a philosophical framework within which the Islamic tradition might overcome the resentments prompted by its colonized past and present.
Turning to Gandhi’s political and religious thought, Bilgrami ponders whether the increasing appeal of religion in many parts of the world reflects a growing disillusionment not with science but with an outlook of detachment around the rise of modern science and capitalism. He elaborates a notion of enchantment along metaphysical, ethical, and political lines with a view to finding in secular modernity a locus of meaning and value, while addressing squarely the anxiety that all such notions hark back nostalgically to a time that has past.
This talk was in conversation with Dr Shantha Sinha.
Akeel Bilgrami, Dr
Dr. Bilgrami got a first degree in English Literature from Bombay University but defected to philosophy because he found the former too hard. He went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and there got another Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, after writing a dissertation, “Meaning as Invariance,” on the subject of the indeterminacy of translation and issues concerning realism and linguistic meaning. He joined the Department in 1985 after spending two years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
He is the Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, where he is also a Professor on the Committee on Global Thought.
Professor Bilgrami has two relatively independent sets of intellectual interests–in the Philosophy of Mind and Language, and in Political Philosophy and Moral Psychology especially as they surface in politics, history, and culture.
He teaches courses and seminars regularly in the department on Philosophy of Mind and Language and also in the Committee on Global Thought and Political Science on issues in Politics and Rationality as well as Religion and Politics in a Global Context.
Professor Bilgrami was the Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1994-98 and the Director of the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University from 2004-2011.
His publications include the books ‘Belief and Meaning (1992)’, ‘Self-Knowledge and Resentment’ (2006), ‘Democratic Culture’ (2012), and Secularism, Identity and Enchantment (2014). He is due to publish two short books in the near future: What is a Muslim? and Gandhi’s Integrity. His long term future work is on the subject of agency and practical reason.