Publication Date

2011

Abstract

The resurgence of religion as an influential socio‐political element poses a serious challenge to the secularisation thesis. This resurgence not only involves different religions and regions but also encompasses various forms of religion’s engagement in politics. In direct conflict with secularism, it has led to the establishment of an Islamic state in countries including Iran, Afghanistan and the Sudan. In others, eg, Turkey and the US, religion has increasingly come to be an influential component of secular politics. Diversity, in the form of religion’s engagement with politics, engenders a theoretical shift by questioning the dominant notion of the dichotomy between religion and secularism. Iran occupies a prominent place in both theoretical shifts. The 1979 revolution, which put an end to the top‐down secularisation program, pioneered an Islamic resurgence, thereby disqualifying the secularisation thesis within the Muslim world. Today, a group of religious scholars disillusioned by the lived experience of the Islamic state, is reconceptualising state‐religion relations in which the possibility of the co‐existence of Islam and secularity is proposed. Nader Hashemi contends that the Anglo‐American secularisation process resulted from religious reformation debate, which inspired Locke to articulate his notion of modern liberal democracy. Inspired by Hashemi's conceptual framework, this paper argues that a newly emerging religious reformation discourse in Iran promotes institutional separation of state and religion from an Islamic standpoint. To this end, the thought of key religious scholars, eg, Soroush, Kadivar, Mojtahed‐Shabestari and Ayatollah Montazeri is investigated. Similar to Abd Allah Na`im, these scholars advocate the separation of religion from the institution of state but not from politics. Religious stimulation is the distinguishing feature of their argument for separation. Unlike the prevailing mood of secularisation, emancipating religion from politics is the main concern of this articulation of secularism. Rather than being political theorists, advocates of this secularity are religious scholars. Their articulation is not only engendered by religious concerns: religious methods and Islamic sources such as the Quran and the Hadith are also employed to articulate the necessity of separation of religion from state. In contrast to the pre‐revolutionary, anti‐religious secularisation model, in this conceptualisation, the religion‐secularity relationship is not antithetical. This emerging discourse thus contributes to a theoretical shifting away from the religion‐secularism dichotomy. It is worth mentioning that this discourse is not confined to theoretical debate: the current Green Movement (2009 onwards) is, in many respects, a manifestation of this particular scholarly discourse.

Document Type

Conference Paper

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