The Secular and the Post-Secular
: Subjectivity, Power, Europe, and Islam

  • Luca Mavelli

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores the modes of subjectivation and the forms of power encompassed by the epistemic category of the secular with specific reference to recent controversies over Islam in Europe. The inquiry moves from the observation that contemporary reflections on postsecularity conceived as a normative ideal of inclusion of religious sensibilities in secular societies tend not to be grounded in an exploration of the constitution of the moral subject under conditions of secularity. Accordingly, the key questions driving this thesis are: How does the secular episteme as a power/knowledge formation based on the separation between knowledge and faith affect the process of constitution of the secular subject, with specific reference to his/her practices of solidarity and exclusion? And, how is it possible to conceive the postsecular? Drawing on Michel Foucault and engaging with the work of scholars such as Talal Asad, José Casanova, Thomas Aquinas, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, Charles Taylor, Roberto Esposito, Jürgen Habermas, Pope Benedict XVI, William Connolly, and Martin Buber, I suggest that the process of secular subjectivation is characterised by a triple process of withdrawal from the empirical other, from the senses and from the transcendent Other/God that confines the self in an iron cage of subjectivity, and accounts for an immunitary reaction towards those perceived to be ‘other’. This framework is employed to read some recent controversies over Islam in Europe, including the French controversy over the headscarf, the publication of the so-called Danish cartoons, and the speech of Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg. Drawing on this analysis, the thesis concludes by laying down the foundations of a post-immunitary model of postsecularity that, through the recovery of the subject’s embodies dimension and the reappropriation of the transcendent Other/God as a common medium of identification between self and other, may help directing the always imperfect knowledge of the other into an act of love and pluralism’s disconcerting flow of becoming into possibilities of life yet to come.
Date of Award13 Jul 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorAndrew Linklater (Supervisor) & Alistair Shepherd (Supervisor)

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