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Islam, World Politics, and Democracy

Islam and the politics of democratic pluralism is one of the research and teaching clusters and activities of the UF Center for Global Islam Studies. Islam and the politics of democratic pluralism is a topic of the hour on national and global scales. This is a vital issue that is now and will remain on the national and global agendas in the twenty-first century and beyond. This research and teaching cluster seeks to provide an interface between conceptual and theoretical explorations of the idea of democracy and concrete practices and policies of democracy promotion within the politics of Islam in the contemporary world wherein religion and secularism coexist in every corner of the world. The cluster is conceived on the premise that we must think in terms of an irreducibly increasing diversity of Muslims worldviews in terms of historical, theological, ritual, ethical, epistemological, cultural, social, economic, demographic, political and ideological dimensions. To this end the cluster focuses on questions about the ontological, epistemological and logical presuppositions underpinning the concepts of Islam, pluralism, and democracy in the existing literature and current political practices for the purpose of building a research tradition driven by the key question of how to theorize, empirically study, and evaluate and validate new approaches to the issue of Islam and politics within an enriched concept and practice of democratic  pluralism.


Research Projects

Pluralism to-come and the Debates on Islam and Secularism

PI: Prof. Badredine Arfi

The project seeks to advance the debate on Islam and secularism, not by thinking of secularism in terms of whether there is or should be state neutrality toward religion, but rather by proposing that we think in terms of a state neutrality which is anchored in pluralism to-come. The latter is not a future pluralism that will one day arrive but is rather characterized by a structural promise of openness to futurity which thus exposes us to absolute surprise simultaneously of the best and the worst in plurality, the one never coming without opening the possibility of the other. The project specifically proposes to shift the debate on the question of Islam and state neutrality in two ways. First, the project proposes that instead of thinking in terms of secularism and its mechanism – civic reason – for sustaining pluralism in heterogeneous societies, we think in terms of a secularity and a civic reason, both of which presuppose a pluralism to-come. Second, the projects propose that we think not simply in terms of actual pluralism but rather in terms of an autoimmune pluralism.

Habermas and the Aporia of Translating Religion in Democracy

PI: Prof. Badredine Arfi

The project revolves around examining Habermas’ recent attempt to make democracy more politically hospitable to religion. Whereas Habermas calls for not neglecting the potential contributions of religion to democratic politics, he simultaneously calls for translating religious meanings into neutral reasons as a path for including them at the level of formal politics and for maintaining the necessity of an institutional translational proviso to immunize the neutral character of the state. In doing so Habermas necessarily runs into the aporia of translation in the sense that certain aspects of religion are untranslatable into a generally accepted language or reason. Consequently, Habermas’ translation proviso creates an asymmetry between religious and non-religious citizens, which is detrimental to the conditions of political legitimacy in a pluralistic democracy. The project proposes to address this problem by developing the idea that the citizens must adopt an ethos of hospitality toward the untranslatable of religion as part of the conditions of political legitimacy.

Islam and Religion in World Politics

PI: Prof. Badredine Arfi

The project examines how extant approaches to the study of world politics address the topic of Islam in world politics. The core motivation of this project is that while many of the existing efforts are a right step in the right direction they ultimately take the ‘wrong’ turn when they engage in a phenomenological translation of Islam into the theories of world politics. As a result, they fall into the trap of neutralizing or ‘othering’ Islam in the study of world politics through a Weberian-like gesture of ‘ideal-typologizing’ Islam. In contrast, the project follows the steps of Talal Asad and others who go beyond a Weberian thinking about religion. The project seeks to develop a framework which enables us to make sense of why any phenomenological translation of Islam into the study of world politics ends up silencing Islam by examining the power/knowledge nexus at work in existing efforts that seek to incorporate Islam in the study of world politics. The project builds the argument that the simultaneous occurrence of an inexorable worldwide ‘fact’ of religious pluralism and worldwide democratic aspirations forces us to think of the issue of Islam and more generally religion in world politics as ethical, epistemological and methodological challenges the resolution of which calls for digging out our ‘unthought’ presuppositions underpinning our knowledge of politics and religion.