Sex and Secularism

Princeton University Press
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How secularism has been used to justify the subordination of women

Joan Wallach Scott’s acclaimed and controversial writings have been foundational for the field of gender history. With Sex and Secularism, Scott challenges one of the central claims of the “clash of civilizations” polemic—the false notion that secularism is a guarantee of gender equality.

Drawing on a wealth of scholarship by second-wave feminists and historians of religion, race, and colonialism, Scott shows that the gender equality invoked today as a fundamental and enduring principle was not originally associated with the term “secularism” when it first entered the lexicon in the nineteenth century. In fact, the inequality of the sexes was fundamental to the articulation of the separation of church and state that inaugurated Western modernity. Scott points out that Western nation-states imposed a new order of women’s subordination, assigning them to a feminized familial sphere meant to complement the rational masculine realms of politics and economics. It was not until the question of Islam arose in the late twentieth century that gender equality became a primary feature of the discourse of secularism.

Challenging the assertion that secularism has always been synonymous with equality between the sexes, Sex and Secularism reveals how this idea has been used to justify claims of white, Western, and Christian racial and religious superiority and has served to distract our attention from a persistent set of difficulties related to gender difference—ones shared by Western and non-Western cultures alike.

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About the author

Joan Wallach Scott is professor emerita in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and adjunct professor of history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her many books include The Fantasy of Feminist History, The Politics of the Veil (Princeton), and Gender and the Politics of History.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Oct 16, 2017
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9781400888580
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Language
English
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Genres
History / General
History / Social History
History / Women
Philosophy / Political
Social Science / Feminism & Feminist Theory
Social Science / Gender Studies
Social Science / Sociology / General
Social Science / Women's Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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In 2004, the French government instituted a ban on the wearing of "conspicuous signs" of religious affiliation in public schools. Though the ban applies to everyone, it is aimed at Muslim girls wearing headscarves. Proponents of the law insist it upholds France's values of secular liberalism and regard the headscarf as symbolic of Islam's resistance to modernity. The Politics of the Veil is an explosive refutation of this view, one that bears important implications for us all.

Joan Wallach Scott, the renowned pioneer of gender studies, argues that the law is symptomatic of France's failure to integrate its former colonial subjects as full citizens. She examines the long history of racism behind the law as well as the ideological barriers thrown up against Muslim assimilation. She emphasizes the conflicting approaches to sexuality that lie at the heart of the debate--how French supporters of the ban view sexual openness as the standard for normalcy, emancipation, and individuality, and the sexual modesty implicit in the headscarf as proof that Muslims can never become fully French. Scott maintains that the law, far from reconciling religious and ethnic differences, only exacerbates them. She shows how the insistence on homogeneity is no longer feasible for France--or the West in general--and how it creates the very "clash of civilizations" said to be at the root of these tensions.



The Politics of the Veil calls for a new vision of community where common ground is found amid our differences, and where the embracing of diversity--not its suppression--is recognized as the best path to social harmony.

A New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal Bestseller!

"the glowing ghosts of the radium girls haunt us still."—NPR Books

The incredible true story of the women who fought America's Undark danger

The Curies' newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these "shining girls" are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.

But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women's cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America's early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers' rights that will echo for centuries to come.

Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the "wonder" substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives...

At many universities, women’s studies programs have achieved department status, establishing tenure-track appointments, graduate programs, and consistent course enrollments. Yet, as Joan Wallach Scott notes in her introduction to this collection, in the wake of its institutional successes, women’s studies has begun to lose its critical purchase. Feminism, the driving political force behind women’s studies, is often regarded as an outmoded political position by many of today’s students, and activism is no longer central to women’s studies programs on many campuses. In Women’s Studies on the Edge, leading feminist scholars tackle the critical, political, and institutional challenges that women’s studies has faced since its widespread integration into university curricula.

The contributors to Women’s Studies on the Edge embrace feminism not as a set of prescriptions but as a critical stance, one that seeks to interrogate and disrupt prevailing systems of gender. Refusing to perpetuate and protect orthodoxies, they ask tough questions about the impact of institutionalization on the once radical field of women’s studies; about the ongoing difficulties of articulating women’s studies with ethnic, queer, and race studies; and about the limits of liberal concepts of emancipation for understanding non-Western women. They also question the viability of continuing to ground women’s studies in identity politics authorized by personal experience. The multiple interpretations in Women’s Studies on the Edge sometimes overlap and sometimes stand in opposition to one another. The result is a collection that embodies the best aspects of critique: the intellectual and political stance that the contributors take to be feminism’s ethos and its aim.

Contributors
Wendy Brown
Beverly Guy-Sheftall
Evelynn M. Hammonds
Saba Mahmood
Biddy Martin
Afsaneh Najmabadi
Ellen Rooney
Gayle Salamon
Joan Wallach Scott
Robyn Wiegman

In 2004, the French government instituted a ban on the wearing of "conspicuous signs" of religious affiliation in public schools. Though the ban applies to everyone, it is aimed at Muslim girls wearing headscarves. Proponents of the law insist it upholds France's values of secular liberalism and regard the headscarf as symbolic of Islam's resistance to modernity. The Politics of the Veil is an explosive refutation of this view, one that bears important implications for us all.

Joan Wallach Scott, the renowned pioneer of gender studies, argues that the law is symptomatic of France's failure to integrate its former colonial subjects as full citizens. She examines the long history of racism behind the law as well as the ideological barriers thrown up against Muslim assimilation. She emphasizes the conflicting approaches to sexuality that lie at the heart of the debate--how French supporters of the ban view sexual openness as the standard for normalcy, emancipation, and individuality, and the sexual modesty implicit in the headscarf as proof that Muslims can never become fully French. Scott maintains that the law, far from reconciling religious and ethnic differences, only exacerbates them. She shows how the insistence on homogeneity is no longer feasible for France--or the West in general--and how it creates the very "clash of civilizations" said to be at the root of these tensions.



The Politics of the Veil calls for a new vision of community where common ground is found amid our differences, and where the embracing of diversity--not its suppression--is recognized as the best path to social harmony.

Academic freedom rests on a shared belief that the production of knowledge advances the common good. In an era of education budget cuts, wealthy donors intervening in university decisions, and right-wing groups threatening dissenters, scholars cannot expect that those in power will value their work. Can academic freedom survive in this environment—and must we rearticulate what academic freedom is for in order to defend it?

This book presents a series of essays by the renowned historian Joan Wallach Scott that explore the history and theory of academic freedom and the value of critical inquiry today. Scott considers the contradictions in the concept of academic freedom through examinations of the relationship between state power and higher education, the differences between the First Amendment right of free speech and the guarantee of academic freedom, and, in response to recent campus controversies, the politics of civility. The book concludes with an interview with Bill Moyers in which Scott discusses the personal experiences that have informed her views. Academic freedom is an aspiration, Scott holds: Its implementation always falls short of its promise, but it is essential as an ideal of ethical practice. Knowledge, Power, and Academic Freedom is both a nuanced reflection on the tensions within one of academia’s cherished concepts and a strong defense of the importance of critical scholarship for the preservation of democracy against the anti-intellectualism of figures from Joseph McCarthy to Donald Trump.

At many universities, women’s studies programs have achieved department status, establishing tenure-track appointments, graduate programs, and consistent course enrollments. Yet, as Joan Wallach Scott notes in her introduction to this collection, in the wake of its institutional successes, women’s studies has begun to lose its critical purchase. Feminism, the driving political force behind women’s studies, is often regarded as an outmoded political position by many of today’s students, and activism is no longer central to women’s studies programs on many campuses. In Women’s Studies on the Edge, leading feminist scholars tackle the critical, political, and institutional challenges that women’s studies has faced since its widespread integration into university curricula.

The contributors to Women’s Studies on the Edge embrace feminism not as a set of prescriptions but as a critical stance, one that seeks to interrogate and disrupt prevailing systems of gender. Refusing to perpetuate and protect orthodoxies, they ask tough questions about the impact of institutionalization on the once radical field of women’s studies; about the ongoing difficulties of articulating women’s studies with ethnic, queer, and race studies; and about the limits of liberal concepts of emancipation for understanding non-Western women. They also question the viability of continuing to ground women’s studies in identity politics authorized by personal experience. The multiple interpretations in Women’s Studies on the Edge sometimes overlap and sometimes stand in opposition to one another. The result is a collection that embodies the best aspects of critique: the intellectual and political stance that the contributors take to be feminism’s ethos and its aim.

Contributors
Wendy Brown
Beverly Guy-Sheftall
Evelynn M. Hammonds
Saba Mahmood
Biddy Martin
Afsaneh Najmabadi
Ellen Rooney
Gayle Salamon
Joan Wallach Scott
Robyn Wiegman

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