Priestley Lectures

Event Date: 
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 16:30 to Friday, March 28, 2014 - 18:00

The Politics of Secularism

I. Women and Religion
II. Reproductive Futurism
III. Indeterminacy

Professor Joan Scott
Institute for Advanced Study
Princeton University 

March 26-28, 2014
Room UC 140, 4:30 p.m.

These lectures address the stark contrast in current political discourse between Islam (religious) and the West (secular), arguing that it covers over the knowledge historians and others produced in the 1970's-90's.  This is knowledge that suggests that gender equality was, and continues to be, a problem for even the most democratic of nation-states.  The point of these lectures is to remind us of that history.  I’ve gone back to many of the studies written in the hey-day of second-wave feminism and I’ve investigated more recent work in post-colonial and non-Western fields.  My conclusion is that far from a “primordial value,” equality between the sexes was not the goal of secularizers.  I’d go so far as to say that gender inequality was a constituitive feature of the formation of modern secular Western nation-states.  Historically, secularization was not synonymous with women’s emancipation, but with the articulation of new justifications for their exclusions from male public worlds.  This was not simply a matter of refiguring gender distinctions that had existed from the earliest times, but of making the difference of sex a more central feature of social and political organization.  Despite challenges from individuals and social movements, this aspect has endured, albeit with changes that are important to note.  It’s not change I want to deny; it’s the ahistorical equation of the secular with gender equality that I want to challenge.  The current preoccupation with the evils of Islam has served to distract our attention from changes that still need to be made if gender equality is to be realized in the nations of the secular/Christian West.