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Title: Secular assemblages : affect, Orientalism, and power in the French enlightenment
Author: Sullivan, Marek
ISNI:       0000 0004 7430 6483
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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Taking Saba Mahmood's question 'Can secularism be other-wise?' (2010) as the starting point for a critical-historical investigation of the 'secular body' (Asad 2003; Hirschkind 2011), my thesis develops in two stages. In the first, I argue that current works of secular theory - particularly A Secular Age (Taylor 2007) - tend to rely on an excessively rationalistic conception of Enlightenment thought for the construction of their central conceptual categories (e.g. the 'immanent frame', 'buffered self', or 'modern exclusive humanism'), thus reinforcing a double-binary linking rationality to Euro-American secularity, and emotion to subaltern 'religion'. Against Taylor and others, I emphasise the contradictory, 'assembled' nature of Enlightenment discourse, and point to alternative, more body-centred strands of thought in key figures of the seventeenth-eighteenth-century French Enlightenment, such as Descartes, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot, Helvétius, and Holbach. Against common perceptions, and drawing on a range of philosophical works, institutional reports, and stage plays in French and in translation, I suggest these figures in some ways reinstated emotion and the body against the rationalistic tendencies of the past. Insofar as 'the secular' was shaped by the Enlightenment, it emerged out of a conscious project of nationalist cultivation, based fundamentally on manipulating the body and emotions. In the second stage, I consider the way Orientalist representations of non-Western religions meshed with prevalent theories of political manipulation to generate an affective system of anti-Catholic propaganda geared towards the national good. Though existing critiques of Taylor tend to focus on the importance of religious (i.e. Christian) constructions of Oriental religions for the genealogy of secularity (e.g. Mahmood 2010), I suggest a distinctively secular form of Orientalism emerged in the eighteenth century, in which anti-religion, racism, and nationalism merged into a powerful weapon of republican discourse, congruent with ambient theories of emotion. The aesthetic manipulation of racist and Orientalist tropes in Montesquieu's Lettres Persanes (1721) and Voltaire's Le Fanatisme (1741), for example, can be read as a practical response to existing theory on the power of images to regulate people's passions in the national interest.
Supervisor: Schaefer, Donovan ; Hausner, Sondra ; Scheer, Monique ; Ward, Graham Sponsor: Clarendon Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Enlightenment ; Secularism ; Intellectual History ; Social Anthropology ; Postcolonialism ; Postsecularism ; Race ; The secular ; Montesquieu ; Descartes ; Voltaire ; Islam ; Charles Taylor ; Holbach