Western Muslim Intellectuals in Dialogue with Secularism: From Religion to Social Critique

By Dilyana Mincheva.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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In the last 20 years, a new class of Muslim intellectuals working in the western academic environment has been actively engaged in the controversial enterprise of developing a theoretical approach to Islam that “liberates” the theological message from its strict reference to dogma. In a number of western debates on the current presence and visibility of Islam in the West, these Muslim scholars express a readiness to break free from the strict disciplinary boundaries of their academic research in order to make statements on Islam, western society, values, and religious universalism in general. Despite their different approaches, these thinkers usually insist that the debate between Islam and modernity/publicity is a matter of complex historical, cultural, and civilizational exchange. This debate is as much concerned with the capacity of Islam to adopt secular paths to modernity as with the ability of western public today to confront Muslims and Islam, first, as an interlocutor and, second, as a structure embedded in the historical narrative of the West.
The hypothesis of my work is that current debates on religion and publics give impetus to a new Western-Islamic public sphere. New actors and observers who criticize the main framework of secularism (Habermas) emerge in the academic and intellectual fields. In the proposed paper, I intend to reveal how this new Islamic critique, present in the work of two disparate Western-Muslim intellectuals—Tariq Ramadan (theology) and Abdelwahab Meddeb (literature)—contributes to the formation of a polyphonic space, beyond the academy, in which numerous (occasionally contradictory and exclusive) arguments meet and exist in infinite dialogue.

Keywords: Critical Islam, Ramadan, Abdelwahab Meddeb, Secularism, Public Sphere

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.13-24. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 252.247KB).

Dr. Dilyana Mincheva

PhD Candidate, Cultural Studies Department, Trent University, Peterborough, Canada

Currently, I am a PhD Candidate at the Department of Cultural Studies at Trent University, Canada. A graduate of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, Bulgaria, with a BA degree in Cultural studies (BA honors, Arab Nationalism–between Religion and the Nation State, 2006) and an MA degree in Arabic studies (MA honors, Islam and the European Public Sphere: the Crisis of Multiculturalism, 2008), my continuous interests in the debates surrounding Islam and its occasionally problematic inscription in western secular contexts, also developed during continuous studying and traveling in Europe and the Middle East, have determined my current dissertational focus. With a few publications regarding the heated French-English debates on secularism and religious expression, I have also presented my research at a number of conferences in Canada, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Syria, Egypt, and Iran. My lasting engagement with women’s liberty and artistic expression in the Islamic world was acknowledged in 2008 with an honorary award from the Bulgarian University Women Association for an assay on the oeuvre of the Kuwaiti artists Suraya al-Baqsami. Away from the public and vanity of the academia, I experiment with creative writing and playing both the guitar and cello.