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.
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.
"Scott poses a direct and clear challenge to those who equate secularism with progress, and who conclude that feminist progress relies on secular history. Her book is disorienting, provocative, and lively, challenging her readers to come to know the historical legacies of secularism that inform the common concepts of feminist debate and which are rarely exposed to the light of day. The story she tells is at once sweeping and incisive, offering a substantially new account of equality and emancipation."--Judith Butler, University of California, Berkeley
"Joan Wallach Scott is a scholar who forces us to think harder, and to think differently, about questions of class, identity, and faith. In Sex and Secularism, she turns her attention to our assumptions about what it means to be modern, showing how entangled they are with attitudes about gender and sexuality. Writing on a topic that lends itself to intellectual complacency, she is a tonic: erudite, lucid, and original. No one who studies the question of secularism can afford to ignore her."--Adam Shatz, contributing editor, London Review of Books
"This wonderful book addresses both academic and activist worlds concerned with feminism, secularism, sexuality, and politics. With her historian's sensibility and signature analytic clarity, Scott offers a novel account of the vicissitudes of gender in Western secular thought and practice."--Wendy Brown, author of Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution
"Sex and Secularism is a timely, rich, and highly informative book. Its concise and clear arguments are expertly woven around the differing discourses and myths of secularism in the West. Scott clearly demonstrates that not only has secularism not been feminist, it has been a main organizer of discriminatory practices against women."--Joseph A. Massad, author of Islam in Liberalism
Table of Contents:
Introduction The Discourse of Secularism 1
1 Women and Religion 30
2 Reproductive Futurism 60
3 Political Emancipation 89
4 From the Cold War to the Clash of Civilizations 122
5 Sexual Emancipation 156
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Joan Wallach Scott: