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Winter 2024 | M 15 – 17

Geography of Secularism and Islam



Department of Geography and Planning (Geography, Religion)
St. George
Room: SS 5017A
Hülya Arik

Secularism is a key principle of Western modernity and an epistemic framework that shapes our understanding of the political legitimacy of bodies, spaces, nations, and borders in the contemporary world. While rooted in the social and political legacies of Enlightenment philosophy, secularism has become more contested in relation to the heightened visibility of Islam, Islamist politics, identities and cultural practices in the second half of the 20th century. In this course we critically explore the geographies of secularism and the key debates around concepts of secularity, religion and secularization from feminist, post-colonial and anti-capitalist perspectives with a focus on Islam and the Islamic world. This course will examine the genealogy of secularism, its relationship to Western colonialism and Orientalist thought, and its discursive currency in some non-Western contexts as a fixture of Western modernity. It will question the assumed neutrality of the separation between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ in the context of Muslim identities and cultural practices and examine secularism’s gendered, racialized and historically specific constructions of subjectivity, space and politics. The course will have an interdisciplinary perspective that will draw from studies in geography, political science, security studies, anthropology, literature, and gender studies. It will bring in case studies primarily from the Middle Eastern context as well as through the experience of xenophobia and Islamophobia of Muslim populations in Europe and North America. We will consider questions such as: what is the relationship of secularism to the global resurgence of Islamic movements? Whose “values” are in the Quebec charter of values? How has secularism shaped the designation of women’s bodies and spaces in the context of hijab and burqa debates in the West? How can we understand concepts of freedom, rights and agency in the context of Muslim women’s activism? How does secularism designate security and risk to Muslim identities in the context of global war on terror? The course will be in seminar format and course evaluation will be based on weekly reading reflections, a final research paper and an in-class presentation in a conference panel format on the last day of class.