Secularism And The Citizen In The Middle East And South Asia. Session Three: Peter Van Der Veer

Secularism And The Citizen In The Middle East And South Asia. Session Three: Peter Van Der Veer


SPEAKER: Welcome to
DivCasts from the University of Chicago Divinity School. For more of our podcasts and
information about our terms of use, please see our website
divinity.uchicago.edu/podcasts. MONICA RINGER: Welcome
and welcome back, for those of you who
joined us this morning. The afternoon program has, like
morning, two speakers, each one of which will speak
for about 30 minutes, after which we have about
30 minutes for discussion. We’re starting just
a few minutes late on our third
distinguished speaker, so it’s OK if we sort of
push back the entire program by five or 10 minutes
or so, since we’re not rushed by any pressing
obligation this afternoon. So I’d now like to
introduce Tasha Ramos, who is a second-year graduate
student at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies in
the Social Sciences Division, who focuses on language politics
in Tunisia, who will introduce our third speaker. NATASHA RAMOS: Thank you. Director at the Max
Planck Institute for the Study of
Religious and Ethnic Diversity, the distinguished
professor at Utrecht University, Dr. Peter
van der Veer’s work focuses on religion and
nationalism in Asia and Europe, on which he has
published several books. He’s held visiting positions at
the London School of Economics, the University of Chicago,
the University of Michigan, the Ecoles des Hautes Etudes
en Science Sociale in Paris, the Institute for Advanced
Study in Princeton, the New School in New
York, and the National University of Singapore. And that’s a truncated version. Beyond merely being
prolific, Dr. van der Veer is also revolutionary in
his field, exemplified by his 2001 book
Imperial Encounters– Religion and Modernity
in India and Britain. In this work, he challenges
the conventional wisdom on British cultural hegemony. Before Imperial
Encounters was published, the idea was held that Britain
imposed culture and policies onto its Indian colony
vis-a-vis a top-down model. What Dr. van der
Veer argues for, however, is a model
based on reciprocal cultural and political exchange,
whereby the colony influenced the shaping of what he
deems the English metropole in equal measure. Influenced by changing ideas
around religion and secularity and influenced by such
factors as language and race, the work ultimately posits a
shared national development in both England and
India based on a shared experience of empire. Today, he will be speaking to
us about his latest book, which goes beyond the Indian
subcontinent, entitled The Modern Spirit of Asia– The Spiritual and the
Secular in China and India. So now please join me in
welcoming Dr. Peter van der Veer as he discusses
Keeping the Muslims Out– Concepts of Civilization,
Civility, and Civil Society in India, China,
and Western Europe. PETER VAN DER VEER: Thank
you very much for this very gracious introduction,
which reminds me that I have been traveling too much. But not to the
University of Chicago. In fact, over the last 10
years, I’ve not been here, but I’m happy to see it’s
just as cold as last time. And I thank Monica Ringer
for inviting me to this place again to experience also
some nice encounters again with friends and colleagues
who I’ve met in other places and who I’ve known
for a long time. The issue I want to
address is the problem of the stranger in
society in relation to concepts of civilization,
civility, and civil society. The concept of civilization
has to be taken seriously, despite all the conceptual
confusion often surrounding it. In a discussion on the
European constitution, the question of
civilization loomed large. Christian Democrats
pointed out that Europe was founded on a
Christian civilization, while liberals and
socialists pointed at the secular
liberal Enlightenment foundations of Europe. Those arguments were also
used against the inclusion of Muslim Turkey as
a member of the EU. The fact that there
are already millions of Turks, as well as
other Muslims, in Europe seems to have no
bearing on the question whether Europe was Christian
or secular liberal. The fact that Turkey has a
secular state and a secularism that resembles most
[INAUDIBLE] also did not have a bearing on the
discussion of the inclusion of Muslim Turkey. This civilizational
debate shows the extent to which Muslims are defined
as strangers in Europe. The Bharatiya Janata
Party in India constantly points at Hindu
civilization as foundational to India. To be an Indian is to be
a Hindu, while the Secular Congress Party has a
more inclusive, but still quite Hindu, understanding
of Indian civilization, as laid out in Nehru’s book
The Discovery of India. Like in Europe, the Muslim
is the significant stranger, despite the presence of Islam
in South Asia for almost as long as Islam exists. Even in China, the
communists have rediscovered Confucianism as the
basis of Chinese civilization. Following an old
pattern of thinking, different religions submit to
the harmonious order controlled by the Chinese state. Here the strangers are
either Muslims or Christians, routinely seen as
foreign and not belonging to the civilization. Now, as one knows, one of
the most disturbing recent– or not so recent
anymore– important theoretical applications of
the concept of civilization has been that of the
late Samuel Huntington in his Clash of Civilizations,
in which he argued that global conflict arises out
of the clash of civilizations that culturally
divide the world. These civilizations
are in his account– one is Western;
second, Latin American; third, Islamic; fourth,
Sinic, which means Chinese; fifth, Hindu; sixth,
Orthodox; seven, Japanese; and eight, the African. It’s a really interesting
kind of summing up of the civilizations
of the world. I’m pretty sure Chicago
still has a safeguard, right? So what is seen as
civilization and what therefore requires some understanding
in these courses is always interesting. The core of the civilizations is
formed by religious traditions. If you look at the
regions we discuss here, this theory of
international relations does not sound very convincing. Pakistan and Bangladesh
were together after independence because
of shared religion, but later split
because of ethnicity. China and Vietnam had
a war in the late 70s despite their
common civilization and their common communism. The Irish fight each other
as Catholics and Protestants within the same civilization. The only case that seems to
fit the civilizational theory is that of al-Qaeda fighting
Western civilization. Al-Qaeda itself, however,
is a terrorist group, not a civilization. So Huntington’s theory
is only partially about international
relations, pleading for peaceful coexistence
between civilizations much as in Cold War
containment policies. But it’s mainly about the
need for civilizational unity in the West and
especially in the US. It’s here that the problem
of the stranger who threatens the unity
of a civilization comes into the foreground of
thinking about civilization. While European
intellectuals worried about Muslim demographics
in their societies, Huntington was, in fact, worried
about the Hispanic demographics in the US. So the whole book is,
in fact, in the end, a story about the US
and about the unity of American civilization. Cultural relativism abroad and
cultural homogeneity at home seems also to be the message
of his last book, which was entitled Who Are We– The Challenges to
American Identity, which came out in 2004. The attention that
has been given to Huntington’s theory and
also the application of some of the elements of the
theory in political practice shows that the concept
of civilization is very much alive in the study
of international relations. Recently, Peter
Katzenstein, a leading IR, international
relations, theorist, has been arguing
that, and I quote, “Civilizations are
social and operate at the broadest level of
cultural identity and world politics. Because they are
culturally integrated, civilizations can assume
a rarefied identity when encountering other
civilizations,” unquote. And following the
sociologist Randall Collins, he sees civilizations
as, and I quote, “zones of prestige that have one
or several cultural centers,” unquote. In Katzenstein’s view, India
and China as well as the US are civilizational states. Religious traditions are
central to their identity and to the civilizing projects
of Indicization, Sinicization, or Americanization. A major impetus in
thinking about civilization is to find deep history or
even unchangeable essences. Max Weber’s understanding
of Western modernity is based on the theory about
the rationalization of religion in Europe, which he compares to
the rationalization of religion in India and China. It has inspired a group of
scholars around the late Shmuel Eisenstadt to suggest a
deeper history of civilization means religious patterns
that lead to differences in their modernities. Eisenstadt argues that the
disjunction, but not a split, between the transcendental
and the mundane was for the first time made
in a number of civilizations in roughly the same period– the first millennium
before the Christian era. These civilizations
include– and again, this is a summing up of
civilizations– ancient Israel, ancient Greece, early
Christianity, Zoroastrian Iran, early imperial China, and
the Hindu and Buddhist civilizations– around 500 BCE. Sociologically, this development
assumed the emergence of intellectual elites– say, Confucian literati,
Brahmans, Buddhist Sangha– that wanted to share
the world in accordance with its transcendental vision. This revolution in
civilization that occurred in all these
civilizations in a relatively short time span, around 500
BCE, was called the Actual Age Breakthrough, using a concept
developed by the philosopher Karl Jaspers after the war,
who argued that, in this period the [INAUDIBLE] framework
for universal historical self-understanding emerged. The central idea in this theory
is that in the actual age a new emphasis on the existence
of a higher transcendental moral order was developed
across civilizations, as well as the concomitant emergence
of the problem of salvation and immortality. How this problem is addressed
differs from civilization to civilization. Jaspers’s and Eisenstadt’s
actual framework is the background to
Charles Taylor’s work on Western modernity, which he
characterizes as a secular age. In Taylor’s view, the actual– actual– diet of
eminent transcendence, and these two belong
to each other, was radically split
in European thought from the 17th century onwards. And that split gave
rise to the possibility of seeing the eminent
as all there is and to see the transcendent
as a human invention, so making the secular
possible, as it were. This worldly in
the Chinese case, then, does not mean
exactly the same as secular in the Western case. Ultimately, Weberian
arguments, however, essentialize
civilizational units that can be compared without
sufficiently exploring the highly fragmented and
contradictory histories of these societies. They also tend to underestimate
the influence of thought that does not fit easily in the
eminent transcendent framework, such as all those religious
movements in India and China and elsewhere that emphasize
the unity of being– so not a split between the
transcendent and the eminent– and the denial of
difference, like some of the Indian movements. Weber’s comparative historical
sociology itself has much in common with Hegel’s
philosophy of history, according to which the
geist, this irrationality, develops in the West and
cannot develop in the east because of a lack of
individuality in India and China. In the Hegelian
argument edition, India, the caste
system that corrupts people from their
individual rationality, while in China it is
the overwhelming power of the state. In my view, we need to avoid
these essentializations of civilization, without
denying the deep histories of especially religious
traditions and processes of state formation that connect
people over vast territories. Of great importance is to
avoid the failed necessity to narrativize unity. When we look at
tradition– and I think traditions
are very important– we may want to use Talal
Asad’s definition, and I quote. This as a difficult
definition, but I think it’s a very
enlightening definition. “A tradition
consists essentially of discourses that seek
to instruct practitioners regarding the correct form and
purpose of a given practice. Precisely because it is
established and has a history, these discourses
relate conceptually to a past, namely when the
practice was instituted, and from which the
knowledge of its point and proper performance has
been transmitted and a future– how the points of
the practice can best be secured in the
short or long term”– so it’s not only conservative– “of why it should be
modified or abandoned and that connects the past and
the future through a present, namely how it is linked to
other practices, institutions, and social conditions.” So central to a
tradition is, therefore, the debate about authenticity
and transgression. So it’s not like a conservative
thing that people have, but it is a debate
that people conduct. And if they don’t
conduct a debate, then the tradition
is dead, you can say. Traditions project themselves as
timeless, transcending history, and their [INAUDIBLE]
of authority lies precisely in their claims. So in traditions, you have
the tendency to say, well, these things have always been
like this, which is basically a discursive claim in a debate. It is thus not so much
that in the modern period traditions are cast away in
a process of westernization or modernization, but that the
debate about how indigenous traditions relate
to the necessity to measure up against the
modern power of the West becomes central. And what we have been discussing
this morning about Turkey will be one of the
examples of it. When we examine nationalism
and modernity in India, China, and Europe, we
should not simply see this as a break with
the traditional past, but as a reworking and
transformation of traditions that are now portrayed
as constituting the essence of national
identity or its civilization. So there’s a nationalization
of culture, which amounts to the idea of civilization– a national
civilization, in fact. As Norbert Elias
has pointed out, the term “civilisation”
in French identifies the national
characteristics of the French, while the German “Zivlisation”
stands for outwards material civilization and is seen as
inferior to Kultur, which is purely spiritual,
“rein geistig,” and much less
connected to politics. In the second half
of the 19th century, these concepts also come to
stand for essential differences between the French
and the Germans, and we know what that led to. So these things are not innocent
ideas about, ah, these Germans or these French and so
on, but they are really of political importance. This is a longer paper, in fact. Let me now turn to the
concept of civility that is closely related
to that of civilization. In Adam Smith’s understanding
of commercial society, a stranger is someone who
is neither friend nor foe, but someone uninvolved,
indifferent, and impartial. Commercial society depends
on impartial interaction, which requires self-constraint
and civility in public spaces. Smith saw that the growth
of such interactions would lead to
universal sociability. So civility is necessary
for commercial transactions, and this is close to Norbert
Elias’s interpretation of the process of civilization. According to Elias’s
social differentiation, a longer change
of interdependence would result in
regulation of conduct. While Smith emphasized
market society, Elias emphasized state formation
that led to specification and a monopoly of the
state on physical force. In both arguments, we find
a teleological causality that makes us all into
strangers and requires that we can treat
each other impartially and without violence. You can see that some of these
older debates about getting rid of communal bonding and
so on and family bonding is necessary for modern society. To use Albert Hirschman’s
classic interpretation, we lose our passions
because of our interest. I find the idea that we all
have to become strangers to be able to enter a commercial
society very interesting. It’s close to the idea
in modernization theory that ethnic bonds have to
be replaced by civic bonds. Weak ties, or being
strangers to one another, is an important element of
commercial society, even before modern. Times when one cannot rely on
family or ethnicity and has to trust complete strangers, one
needs to have trust inspiring codes of conduct. And civility and social trust
are therefore closely related. In modern society, this is
partly [INAUDIBLE] based. It’s what one learns in high
school and at university. So we are all being
civilized in the university. However, there are different
spheres of civility with cognoscenti and strangers. Students of China have pointed
at the importance of Guanxi, practices like gift giving and
banquets to establish relations between between strangers. I always gain a lot
of weight in China. There’s a lot of
dining and wining. Since much of this involves
eating and drinking, Muslims with food
and drinking taboos have difficulty in
participating in them. This is mostly seen
as the main element of a distinction between Muslims
and the rest of the Chinese. You can’t eat wisdom,
so how can you actually build trust wisdom? However, they may
be able to create their own ethnic
enclaves in the business community in which
civility is exercised and trust and
solidarity grow out of the very fact of exclusion
from wider commerce– so specialized traders. Indians with their
cast-based food taboos can relax them during
business transactions. And buffet meals, which
is one of the banes of modern Indian
society, the buffet– in buffet meals, both meats and
vegetarian dishes are served. However, again, Muslims tend
to be excluded not so much because they eat meat,
but because people think they eat beef. In Europe, there’s
another aspect of civility, namely public
appearance and behavior, that tends to exclude
Muslims as strangers. It’s in the
anonymity of the city that, according to [INAUDIBLE],,
we are all strangers. Public civility is
imposed on everyone to be able to be in each
other’s face in public transport or shopping malls. Here, civility is, in
an interesting way, connected to indifference
or ways of not seeing. Strangers have to acquire
these forms of conduct to be able to become invisible. It’s here that especially
dressing codes are crucial. In Europe, the feasibility
of difference, especially of a gendered nature, of
Muslims in the public sphere is one of the main
issues in politics. I hardly have to
mention the importance of covering one’s hat in modesty
for debates about inclusion or exclusion of Muslims. Muslim modesty is
interpreted as obscenity, as uncivil behavior
that signifies the subjugation of women
in modern society, in which equality, individuality, and
liberty are the guiding values. And there’s a lot of passion
in these kinds of arguments, and you hear them
constantly and everywhere. Finally, let me say a few
things about civil society. This is generally
understood as an aspect of modern civilization. In accounts by Norbert
Elias and Roger Chartier, civility is the code
of behavior that is required in the new free
spaces of communication of citizens, those who belong
to political community. Civil society refers to
voluntary associations outside of state control, and
thus the possibility of the free exchange
of ideas, this constitutes the public sphere. Theorists like Habermas,
Rawls, and Taylor have all attempted to describe
the nature of civil society and also to prescribe the
nature of communication in civil society. Since the 1980s,
much of the critique of the twin concepts of civil
society and public sphere has focused on who have been
excluded from it, say, women, blacks, et cetera. The major elements
of the arguments of John Rawls and
Jurgen Habermas has been that the
public sphere has to be completely secular to be
neutrally accessible to all. These are arguments not about
the content of the debate, but about procedures of
conducting a rational debate and creating an
overlapping consensus. But still, they
depend on the secular as the frame of any debate. This is even true for
later for the formulations of their position. Rawls argues later that
religious arguments could have a place in
the debate, as long as they were translatable
in secular terms. Habermas argues nowadays–
totally uninterested in religion before, but religion
seems to be still there– argues that they
are permissible, religious arguments, and
can even be helpful, as long as there is no direct appeal
to a transcendent notion of ultimate truth. Charles Taylor has
responded to this by putting forward that
Habermas’s own demand of complete rationality
is, in fact, a claim to a transcendent
value, which is, I think, a logical argument. In Europe, the practical
political question is not whether religious
arguments can be discussed in the public sphere or
whether religious organizations can be part of civil society. In Germany and Holland
with their strong Christian Democratic traditions, there
is no question about this. Well, in France,
with all the emphasis on [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH],,
one should not underestimate the strong social and
political presence of lots of Catholicism. In Britain the Queen is
head of the Anglican Church, and dissenting
traditions have been important sources for the
politics of the labor party. The practical political
question in Europe today is whether
Muslims can be allowed to be part of civil
society as Muslims. To what extent can the
religious arguments based on interpretations
of Islamic tradition be uttered and heard in
European civil society? When one looks at the treatment
of a Muslim intellectual like [INAUDIBLE],, who tries
to argue for a modern European Islam, and for Muslim
participation in democracy, this is still very precarious. Whatever one think
about his arguments, the kind of response
to his is very fanatic. The mainstream theoretical
debate about civil society does not look
outside of the West. In a historical
essay, Ikegami has argued that’s Japan
in the Tokugawa period had civility without
civil society. About communist China and
we can say that it does have a very spheres
of civility, as for example, in what I
just mentioned, [JAPANESE],, Building relations. But no civil society. In response to a
talk I gave last year at Renmin University in
Beijing, students and faculty responded that civil society was
a typical Western concept that was imposed on China. Chinese could find
their own ways of creating relatively
free spaces, especially in creating
economic opportunity. What I think was not fully
appreciated by my audience is that there is a Marxist
understanding of civil society, taking the German
term [GERMAN],, which argues that the bourgeoisie
as the social locus of civil society, should be
destroyed in order to achieve an equal and just society. What we now have in
China seems to be commercial civility, and
the rise of a bourgeoisie without civil society. Again, in China, religious
voluntary organizations are not allowed to
play the role that they have played in Europe,
to shape civil society. This is particularly true for
those voluntary organizations that are placed outside of
the common civilization, namely those of
Christians and Muslims. In India, one has a
robust civil society– lot of voluntary organizations
outside of the grip of the state– and a public sphere
which is also very lively, in which
religious organizations play a significant role. The civility of
that civil society, however, is quite doubtful– pogroms against Muslims and
to a lesser extent Christians have been a major part of
political democratization in India. Come to my conclusion– Muslims seem to be the
quintessential strangers in Europe and India. They are, in many ways, excluded
from civilization, civility, and civil society. And I speak, of course, about
Muslims in minority positions, as a minority in
a larger society. Assimilation into the
mainstream society does not always
work, as demonstrated by the assimilation into
[GERMAN] of German Jews. In India, one can be totally
assimilated as a Muslim, but in times of
communal violence, the ultimate check is whether
one is circumcised or not. The body marks who one really,
truly is, sincerely is. In China, Muslims are excluded
from civilization to an extent, from important
forms of civility. Now, the question of civil
society does not come up. In China, the only real
political problem comes up when the sovereignty of
the state is challenged, like in [INAUDIBLE]. Philosophers like [? Sheila ?]
[? Benavieve ?] think that the problem of the stranger can
be solved in a legal manner, by being inclusive
citizenship rights, and of course is
an important step. But Muslims in Europe, India,
and China are citizens. It is the application
of cultural concepts like civilization,
civility, and civil society that is the basis
of national identity which identifies and
excludes the stranger. Thank you. MONICA RINGER:
People need a moment to collect their thoughts. PETER VAN DER VEER:
Are people still awake? AUDIENCE: Thank you for
such a wonderful talk. I had a question
as to why you chose the European Union and society. PETER VAN DER VEER: Europe was– I think Europe in
creation of what I call imperial modernity plays
a more important part in India and China. And my research has been first
on India and later on China. So I’m interested in the
way western cultures are brought into India and China
and transformed into what we’ll call native traditions. I understand that some
people think that Europe should be provinicialized. But it’s actually of
universal importance in the modern period. And it’s very hard
to provincialize. AUDIENCE: Does Europe
not define itself basically in terms of
an Islamic relationship? PETER VAN DER VEER: In terms of? AUDIENCE: Does Europe
not define itself regionally in terms
of the Islamic world and its interface with
the Islamic world? I mean, in a sense, Muslims
are the ultimate outsider. We are who we are
because we’re not them. PETER VAN DER VEER: Yeah. Yeah, I think that this is an
important part, but it’s not– AUDIENCE: Going back to
the crusades and all that. PETER VAN DER VEER: Yeah– so that’s one element of
historical understanding. But I think what’s more crucial
today is daily encounters. So they are conceptualized
in relation to history by intellectuals. But in many places– I speak about the
Netherlands and Germany. The daily interaction
is not a problem. AUDIENCE: Oh absolutely, I
would agree, but the one of us– those people who
are not in touch with what the
intellectuals are thinking are heirs to centuries of
hostile, popular depictions of Turk personalities
in eastern Europe. You know, this was something
that was very much in the air. And I don’t think
people are hermits. I think it’s still there. PETER VAN DER VEER: I think
one of the ways in which 19th century Europe
defines itself in relation to the
empire is by seeing itself as moral and advanced. And other areas as
backward and therefore in need of some influence. And a major part of that
imperial world is Muslim. And through the idea
of pan-Islamism, this is also seen as being
connected over a long stretch of the empire. So it’s different from,
say, Hindus or Hinduism in the sense that
there is a potential to be a political
opponent of the empire. So not only backward
also dangerous. This is different from how
Buddhism and Hinduism are conceptualized. So it plays a special role
in the imaginaire of Europe. AUDIENCE: There’s a sense
here in the United States– I was wondering if you
could reflect a little bit on our particular situation. As you mentioned there are
different constructions of secularism in Arab countries. So the Turkish model is
similar to the French model. Indian secularism
is rather different. We see in the latest
contrast regarding book where there’s this idea of
different religious communities and different sentiments
and those sorts of things. And then here in
the United States, we have our own
particular conception of secularism based on
the first amendment, obviously, and the free
exercise clause, which is also quite different from French. So do you think across all
these different secularisms this same generalization
you make about Muslims as part of the
quintessential strangers holds simultaneously no matter
what construction of secularism you’re talking about in
these different countries? PETER VAN DER VEER: No, I think
that what I’ve pointed out is a particular
role that Muslims play in a number of
these imaginaire. But that is not to say that
they are the only ones who can be strangers– Catholics can be strangers for
a Protestant society, which was true in the beginning of
the 19th century in Ireland and in Britain. They’re also close
to home, so it’s more interesting to
actually think about them and to do something
about them if you can. Jews obviously played
an important role in this kind of thinking
in many places in Europe. I think what we
have now in Europe– Muslims are the major
component of what is seen as strange and dangerous. And I think a lot of the
debates about immigration are basically about Muslims. But that is not to say that
cannot change and divert to some other group
of people who come in. Africans or eastern
Europeans or– AUDIENCE: But it’s a little
bit different, I think, in the United States
than from France. PETER VAN DER VEER:
Yeah, it works out in different places
in different ways. But as Fred was pointing out,
there is this necessity– or there’s a kind
of almost a logic to define yourself
in relation to. So some form of
boundary maintenance– some form of
saying, well, we are this because we are not that. And there’s no need
to essentialize that. But it is trying to
them in the location I’ve been talking about. Muslims do play this role. And I think one
of the reasons is at that “Adam Smith” point what
kind of forms of interaction are possible? Interaction So whom
can you actually marry, with whom can
you eat and so on. But these things
are quite crucial. AUDIENCE: I think I would
say that Latin Americans play a similar role to Islam. I mean if you look at
conservative discourses on immigration– the
quintessential immigrant, the person who’s bringing
diseases across the border, is usually a Latin American. In the American
imaginaire, Muslims are definitely a
boogeyman but have kind of a different
subordinate place. Although it is interesting to
see arguments about immigration sometimes– well,
if we don’t put this wall across the southern
border of the United States, all the Muslims are going
to go through Mexico. Things like that. It’s interesting. But I do think of Latin
America because it is our proxy “other” in the United States. It plays a rather
different and more central role, obviously, than
it would in Europe. PETER VAN DER VEER:
That would be the case. There’s a very good article,
a very interesting article by an Irish publication who
works on global immigration issues. It says the title is something
like “Is the Hispanic to the US the same as the Muslim to
Europe” or something like that. So I think that that
point is well taken. AUDIENCE: So my question has
to do, in its first part, with theory and then next with
perhaps reality [INAUDIBLE].. But it seems like, in your
talk, you implied that, with models of secularism, the
different models that we have, there’s the
theoretical possibility of implicit
transcendence of identity or I guess a consciousness
of this transcendence. But in reality, it seems like
these models of secularism also kind of create a way of
using language to get around conflicts in identity. So in essence, in
your 3K studies, the problem with Islam
as a stranger, secularism should, in theory,
remove, over time, the existence of the stranger. But in reality,
what it’s doing is it’s calling strangers
or defining strangers along religious lines. And perhaps the
difference is actually coming from racial or
cultural implications. But the people don’t want
to use that language, because it’s couched in a very
20th-century type discourse. And so it’s secularism that’s
kind of replaced the language that had been used. And so instead of
removing the stranger, it’s just calling it
by a different term. PETER VAN DER VEER: Yeah. I think these terms are
very connected, right? And it’s almost like optional. So in Europe, we had a
debate about immigrants that was largely based on
ethnicity for a long time. So Moroccans and
Turks were mentioned. And before, there are
Spanish and Italian. And only in the, I think,
late 1980s, this changed into a language of religion. So there’s a kind of
transposition form ethnicity to religion. The debate then also shifts,
because what is happening here is actually to
essentialize difference. These are immutable
differences like race. When you call
something ethnicity, then people can become
citizens and they have an ethnic background,
like all Americans are aware. But when you speak about
biological differences that are vested in race,
then, of course, you have esesentialized them. Religion has also
this potential. Because it, in
its own discourse, emphasizes immutability,
as it were. It has this potential of
being used as something which justifies people entirely
and fixes them, as it were, in a position. Whereas these are
transpositions, they have also political meaning
when you change from one thing to the other. Religions has this
element that it– ethnicity, to some
extent, also has that. There was long debates, for
example, about Turks in Europe, whether they would be loyal
the state of immigration, because they also
had a double loyalty to their state of origin. Religion has something similar. That are people loyal
to political identity of their citizenship
or ultimately loyal to the religious
movement they are part of or the religious leaders? An accusation, you heard
already, in the 19th century against Catholics– are they connected to
the pope, or are they really Dutch, or
British, or whatever? So I think these are, in
a way, interchangeable. But their change has meaning. And so it is
interesting to see when does this religious definition
of immigrants in Europe comes up and replaces this
more ethnic distinction? When was raised the
most important element of defining people in
white and black in the US? And when does culture come
up, culture as a thing that, through education,
would be malleable or kind of changeable? These things have
political consequences. AUDIENCE: Have you considered
Islam, Christianity, Judaism? And when we look at
holy books, there are certain verses in all these
religions of a [INAUDIBLE] nation. And then there are certain
verses of [INAUDIBLE] nation. And then there are
verses of [INAUDIBLE].. PETER VAN DER VEER: Of? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]
or surfism. PETER VAN DER VEER: OK. AUDIENCE: Best analysis. So some scholars, they’ve
begun to argue the importance on the [INAUDIBLE]
aspects of these three monotheistic religions. [INAUDIBLE] that the
efforts to come up with [INAUDIBLE] civilizations
may, in fact, be achieved. Does this make sense to you? PETER VAN DER VEER: No,
I think one can basically argue anything from any
of these holy books. So basically– [LAUGHTER] –you can have any
political position that we would see as a
positive interpretation in the direction of
more [INAUDIBLE],, more inclusiveness, et cetera. But we would– the two of us– I can definitely, I
think, put a finger as a positive interpretation
of these texts– can be counter– there can be a
counterargument based on other elements of that holy
book to say, this– AUDIENCE: So you are now
a [INAUDIBLE],, right? [INAUDIBLE]? PETER VAN DER VEER:
Well, basically, these are just arguments. Yeah. When the tradition is alive,
you will have these arguments. And it’s really, I think,
also important to take these arguments serious. So when people argue something
which you find actually abhorrent or terrible, to figure
out what is going on there, what people try to
argue, and actually politically go against that. But in the end, this is politics
and it’s not what is available. I think almost
everything is available. AUDIENCE: What you’re getting at
is that we define civilization by the the proof texts that
are used to make the arguments. PETER VAN DER VEER: Yeah, yeah. AUDIENCE: That’s
what [INAUDIBLE].. PETER VAN DER VEER:
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Yeah. Yeah. AUDIENCE: So [INAUDIBLE]. PETER VAN DER VEER:
No, no, you go on. [INAUDIBLE] Yeah. AUDIENCE: So you largely
define citizenship against identification with
any subgroup within the state. I’d like to question that
category with another example, because– well,
Russia, where you have this confessional
system in the empire, where your citizenship is through
your religious community. And this, in some
ways, sort of feeds into the, in the Soviet
state, [INAUDIBLE],, where you w nationality
that’s on your passport that’s additional to you’re being a
citizen of the Soviet Union or, subsequently, the
[INAUDIBLE] state. And if we think of this as
having some things in common with, say, Indian communialism
or even, in Western Europe, where you have, in effect,
multiple established religions, where everyone takes
religious studies classes– it might be humanist, and it
might be Catholic, and so on– what could you say
about conceptualizations of citizenship as being
precisely through a subgroup within a state? PETER VAN DER VEER: I
think modern conceptions of citizenship in
practice are not always related to existing
historical formations. So in, say– I grew
up in the Netherlands when everyone had a, say,
confessional identity. And the confessional
identity was the basis of political parties
of civil society organizations and basically everyone–
the butcher, the bakery. And so a total communal
organization, in fact. On the other hand,
you cannot say, at the end of the 19th
century and the 20th century, how long [INAUDIBLE]
modern society. So there are these claims
from organization theory that people have to
divest themselves from– basically, in the
line of Adam Smith– divest themselves from all
these allegiances and so on, and become strangers
to each other to be able to fully interact. I think that it’s a claim that
cannot be maintained unless one thinks that one is always
a stranger to another. I mean, there is a
philosophical battle [INAUDIBLE] always a stranger. So I do entirely agree that
one can have citizenship in a modern society in
which these subgroups or religious groups, et
cetera, play an important role. The fact of the matter is, of
course, how majorities that are constituted through
elections, treat minorities. And so I think that is, in the
end, the proof of the pudding. Yeah. AUDIENCE: Yeah. So in terms of
constructing identity, it seems like, from what a
couple other questions have touched on, is that there’s a
way to construct it negatively, that is we are French
because we are not Turks, or we are not
Muslims, and so on. And then there’s a sort
of positive construction as well, where we are
French or we are German, because we are A, B, and C.
And I think each one of those has implications in
terms of bringing in a group like Muslims. If it’s a negative
construction, then it seems to me to be a lot more
difficult, whereas if there’s a positive construction,
then it’s just a matter of, can you be French? We are French and so on. So I guess I’m wondering, in the
cases that you were looking at, which construction seems
to be more dominant? And if they both sort
of co-exist equally, then what does the process
of the inclusion of Muslims look like when it
comes to combatting both positive and negative
constructions of identity? PETER VAN DER VEER: Yeah,
there are, of course, positive arguments. I would say that it is more
civilized to include people. And so there’s, of course,
also a whole history and a philosophy around the
stranger, which you could– you can go back to
Greek philosophy. There are all kinds
of arguments which try to make a positive
point of inclusion. And I think the issue
is to what extent these arguments are
related to changing political configurations. And the immigration
issue is directly related to populist politics. So the multiculturalism argument
that was available in the end of the ’80s till, say, the
mid-’90s in the Netherlands, and in Germany, and Britain
basically collapses under populist attacks, which
became the vast majority. So it’s not a philosophical
debate anymore, in which people say all
kind of nice things about, well, Turkish food
is also nice, and so on, Moroccan food is
nice, and whatever. But in which, say, the
politics of numbers become the crucial
determining factor. If we want to look at something,
what we have to look at is democratic politics. What are democracies, and how
do they create a [INAUDIBLE] and not a demon? [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: Definitely [INAUDIBLE]
Muslims are being strangers. In Turkey, for
instance, when you look at the [INAUDIBLE] or
some nation [INAUDIBLE] then they ask people, how
do you define yourself? Only 4% of the respondents say
they are Muslims [INAUDIBLE].. [INAUDIBLE] with
different [INAUDIBLE].. In Germany, the great majority
of people say they are Turks, and the minority says
they are Turkish Muslims. [INAUDIBLE] PETER VAN DER VEER: Well, when
you ask people in the United States what they are– working class or middle class,
then everyone is middle class. So this is a normal
survey finding in the US. So how people
identify themselves is how they see themselves,
how they would like to be. Like being Christian in
the US is a positive term, it’s not a negative term. It’s something they
call a civilized person. To say, in the US, that
you are an atheist– well, it’s almost like
a pedophile, I guess. [LAUGHTER] It’s a kind of dangerous
position to take. So it’s actually not
generally being other. Maybe agnostic would just do
in an intellectual circle. In many places, it
would just be not done. So I don’t know, but I
guess that in Turkey, saying that I’m a
Muslim is saying that I’m a normal person. I’m normal. I belong here. And so it doesn’t mean much. That’s why I find
the term “pious” that we have been
discussing this morning, kind of difficult, because it’s
pious debates to a certain kind of Protestant understandings
of sincerity and someone who is actually believing
in what he does. And the outwards
activity [INAUDIBLE] of the inner conviction. But most people have
no inner conviction. [LAUGHTER] I don’t think that
it’s really an issue. If you ask someone in India who
belongs to a Muslim community, all these people
say, I’m a Muslim because I’m born as a Muslim. I was a Christian in India. People would ask me what I was. Well, I said, I don’t
believe in anything. So that does not matter. I mean, I am from Holland, and
I am therefore a Christian. So it’s also the identification
from outside is a [INAUDIBLE].. So a Turk can say, well, I
don’t believe in all this stuff. Well, he still will be
seen as a Muslim in Europe. I think mostly inner,
internal identification as part of being a normal
part of society would be, I’m a Muslim. And when a Turk
travels to Europe, he will be, whatever
he does or does not do, be identified as a Muslim. It’s almost impossible
to get away from it. So that is, are not
free, chosen things. MONICA RINGER: Any
last questions? PETER VAN DER VEER: We seem
to have convinced everyone. [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: I’m a reluctant guest. I haven’t quite formulated
what I would like to say just because of time. But I guess one thought
that I’m having and I’m kind of playing with
right now is when we talk about civilization and when we
talk about strangers, for me, it’s both very compelling. But I’m left with
the question of, who are the guardians
of civilization? Because it seems by
talking about civilization, we almost sidestep
the nation-state. And unfortunately,
the nation-state is only [INAUDIBLE] the
guardian of the nation-state. And so I was thinking of
terms of– but it seems like we, [INAUDIBLE]
the question of, well, who defines
civilization, who are the guardians of
civilization in order to find out how we
create these strangers? And so I don’t know if you
have any thoughts on that. PETER VAN DER VEER: Yeah. No, I think– yeah, again,
this is a political process. And therefore, you have to see
when and where this term is used. In China, there
was a calm period in which people
had doubts– which was very similar to our
description of Turkey this morning– that their
civilization could stand up to a Western civilization. Basically, the idea was
to catch up with the West, we have to get rid
of what we have. So there’s a particular
understanding of one’s traditions, of one’s
civilization as an obstacle to progress. That includes all
the people there that belong to that society. But after a century of these
kinds of ideas, we still– and we haven’t
actually [INAUDIBLE],, as it were, of that idea
of civilization in China. And now it becomes, indeed,
again important to say, well, what we do today has
a very long tradition, and we do it because
of the tradition, which does define people
who belong and do not belong in civilization terms. It’s a political moment that
has to be understood to see how this term is being applied. That doesn’t mean
that this thing is a way when political
movements just want to get rid of it. It just means that
it has not been taken as the positive
element of one’s nation, of one’s nationalism. Now we see again a use of
it as a positive element in nationalism. In the end, a very
peculiar kind of use of the idea of
civilization sounds pretty in its idea of nationalism. So there is this idea of there
is a Hindu civilization, which can be defined, more
or less, specific, more or less inclusive. But it plays a role in almost
all Indian nationalism. And the question
there is, what kind of conceptualization
of civilization is being used in a
political program? So you have a new vision
of the Indian civilization. It’s much more inclusive
and has certain kind of main characters as positive
characters throughout history. And the internationalism of
the [INAUDIBLE] Yalta party has another selection
to say, well, this is Indian civilization,
and it is really Hindu. Some groups have not
contributed to it, which is also an interesting
way of determining who actually belongs. Is there real poetry being made
by some group or something? It’s really interesting how
all that has been found. MONICA RINGER:
Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] SPEAKER: We thank you for
listening to or viewing our podcast. For more information
and for other podcasts, please see our website,
divinity.uchicago.edu/podcasts. Copyright, The University
of Chicago Divinity School. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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