The European Myth about the human essence and Talal Asad

The construction of civilizational difference is not exclusive in any simple sense. The de-essentialization of Islam is paradigmatic for all thinking about the assimilation of non-European peoples to European civilization. The idea that people's historical experience is inessential to them, that it can be shed at will, makes it possible to argue more strongly for the Enlightenment's claim to universality: Muslims, as members of the abstract category "humans," can be assimilated or (as some recent theorist have put it) "translated" into a global ("European") civilization once they have divested themselves of what many of them regard (mistakenly) as essential to themselves. The belief that human beings can be separated from their histories and traditions makes it possible to urge a Europeanization of the Islamic world. And by the same logic, it underlies the belief that the assimilation to Europe's civilization of Muslim immigrants who are--for good or for ill--already in European states is necessary and desirable.

— Talal Asad (Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity)

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