In the performance of a magic trick, misdirection draws attention away from the trick to another place which appears more fascinating. This book shows how secularism creates such a misdirection.
Menon argues that secularism stands in as an umbrella term for a range of associated ideas – global science, historical progress, general development, individual freedom, rational choice. Within this grid of meanings linked with secularism, certain features become hypervisible (religion, women) while others are obscured (caste, capitalism, the non-individuated and non-rational self). Secularism, Menon shows, is merely a strategy of rule, being compatible with both democracy and authoritarianism, capitalism and socialism. Only when we are no longer dazzled by secularism’s ability to misdirect can meaningful values – democracy, social equality, and ecological justice – emerge centre stage.
This book is a powerful reconceptualisation of what secularism really means – of what is really being said under cover of the term secularism. Menon’s perspective is from the global South, specifically India, though her book is not about the global South. She explores religion, state, and women; Hindu supremacism’s project to equate Brahminism with Hinduism; psychoanalysis and the self in the global South; and new articulations of constitutionalism and citizenship across the world.
This is one of those profoundly interesting books that make you rethink the nature of the world you were sure you understood.
Nivedita Menon is Professor, Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her books include Seeing like a Feminist (2nd edn, 2022) and Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law (2004). She has co-written Power and Contestation: India after 1989 (2nd edn, 2014). Her edited volumes are Gender and Politics in India (1999), Sexualities (2007), and (co-edited) Critical Studies in Politics: Exploring Sites, Selves, Power (2014).
She is a regular commentator on contemporary issues on the collective blog kafila.online, of which she is one of the founders. She has translated fiction and non-fiction from Hindi and Malayalam into English, and from Malayalam into Hindi. She is a recipient of the A.K. Ramanujan Award for translation.