Department of social anthropology seminar with Charles Hirsckind

The Department of Social Anthropology has the pleasure to invite you to this week's seminar. Prof. Charles Hirschkind from the Department of Anthropology, Berkeley University, will present the following paper:

Is there a Secular Body?


In this talk, I want to follow out one line of inquiry into secularism and the secular opened up—if in different ways—by the pioneering works of William Connolly and Talal Asad: namely, the extent to which the development of secularism has historically entailed—among its various dimensions—a unique configuration of the human sensorium. For both of these scholars secularism must be approached, not simply through the doctrine of separation of church and state, not simply through the sociology of social differentiation and religion decline, but rather in terms of the cultivation of the distinct sensibilities, affects, and embodied dispositions that undergird secular forms of appraisal and practice. Asad, for example, has explored secular attitudes to pain and suffering across a number of different practical contexts, and often through a comparison with the way pain has been accommodated, symbolically and practically, within diverse religious traditions. Connolly, on the other hand, has sought to delineate a “minor tradition in Europe,” one predicated on a positive orientation to sensory experience and techniques of ethical cultivation, and exemplified most notably in Spinoza, though with echoes in Kant as well. Yet, despite this shared emphasis on embodiment, when it comes to identifying the specific attributes of a secular body, we find a curious silence on the part of both authors. In my talk, I will explore this hesitation, and try to show why the question—Is there a secular body?—may not be amenable to any determinate answer. I conclude by drawing out the implications of this fact for our understanding of the concept of the secular and its historical vocation.

All are welcome!