What Alternatives to Secularisation? Analysis of Islam and Modernity between West and East

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Rassa GHAFFARI, University of Milano Bicocca, Italy
Religion constitutes one of the social phenomena that has changed and evolved most over time, influencing the course of human civilisation. Following the post-Enlightenment thought, the gradual decline of the public role of religion in modern industrial societies has been foretold in the last centuries, defining modernity as the product of a structural dissociation of religion from other spheres, its progressive privatisation and the decline of its public functions.

A brief overview of contexts other than West, however, seems to question this consolidated tradition of thought and the illusory inexorability of the secularisation process. Islam provides a cause for reflection on alternative analyses of modernisation and secularisation; the recent news reports -the apparent revival of fundamentalism and the creation of a self-appointed Islamic State at the gates of Europe, to name a few- exhort us to wonder whether these phenomena represent anomalies which requires innovative analytical tools, and if sociology is able, today, to provide them.

This work will explore the main reflections on secularisation and the relationship between Islam and modernity. I will present the responses and criticism of thinkers, from the Islamic world and beyond, to the above-mentioned concepts. The 1979 Islamic Revolution, which led to the fall of the Pahlavi monarchy and the birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran, will be exposed as an emblematic case; a revolution regarded often as a confirmation of the dichotomy between a modern and secular West and an East that "has gone through no process of secularisation, because [...] Islam admits no separation between religion and State".

Finally, I will discuss one of the most illustrious figures of the Iranian history, Ali Shariati, and the interpretation he gave of the great phenomena of the last century, in an original and worthy of attention effort to combine Islam, sociology and modernity.