The Secular and the Sacred: Complementary And/or Conflictual?

Washington, DC, USA: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy (2017)

Sayed Hassan Hussaini Akhlaq
Notre Dame of Maryland University
The issue of the relation of the sacred to the secular has become paramount in virtually every country in the world. From church-state relations in the US, with the debates around abortion and same-sex marriage, to the vitriolic discussions in France over the veil (hijab) sacred-secular, faith-reason, transcendence-imminence -- impacts every aspect of personal, social, and political life. Indeed, the questions often asked are whether Huntington s, Clash of Civilizations is today s reality? Is clash and conflict inevitable? This volume collects papers from scholars from all around the globe and digs into that question. Do the sacred and the secular necessarily end in conflict? Building on scholars such as Charles Taylor, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jurgen Habermaus, and John Rawls, as well as the world s great religious traditions, the authors assembled here respond with a nuanced, but resounding, NO. A deeper read demands the possibility, indeed, necessity, of complementarity. It has become ever more urgent to discover the proper and complementary relation between the two so that both can be promoted through mutual collaboration. The deeper implications of the discussion can be perceived in many current global problems: cultural identity, multiculturalism, pluralism, nationalism, economic inequality, race, terrorism, migration, public education, and climate change. The volume unfolds in seven sections: Foundations; Sacred and Secular; Complement or Conflict; Hermeneutics; African traditions; South Asian Traditions; Chinese Traditions; and Islamic Traditions. It is fascinating to observe how the various authors grapple with unfolding the relation of sacred/secular, faith/reason, church-mosque/state, transcendence/imminence. The section on Islam illustrates this. These chapters deal with the thorny, usually misunderstood debate between the scholars and those, westerners refer to as fundamentalists or radicals. In the latter, there is no space left to reason, interpretation, or historical criticism. This ugly divide usually emerges in the hot-button issues like the treatment of women and religion-related terrorism. However, these oversimplifications betray the intellectual roots of Islamic tradition. Here the argument is advanced that there are common and multiple meanings of rationality in the Islamic primary sources and that doctrine, the Qur an, and the Sunnah, open considerable space for the rational and the secular in Islamic teachings. Unknown to most in the West, the grappling within Islam goes on. Moreover, the grappling seems to be heating up in all traditions. We are all called to the discussion. Our globe needs it!
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