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Minorities and Modernity: The Crisis of Liberal Secularism

The Enlightenment as the origin of modernity and as the foundation of moral universalism has been much invoked by social theory in recent years especially by writers influenced by Michel Foucault's essay on the subject. Postmodernism and cultural anthropology have made the question about Enlightenment universalism ever more pressing. At one level the issue is very simple. By its emphasis on universalism in knowledge and ethics, the Enlightenment made particularity a problem and it resulted in a stigmatization of those social groups that patently departed from its magisterial interpretation of rationality appear to be irrational, premodern and dangerous. Aamir Mufti claims uncontroversially that the Enlightenment idea of universalism set up a series of contrasts between the universalism of the bourgeois world of civility, civilization and citizenship on the one hand and local practices and customs on the other. The result was to construct a classification of social minorities who were deemed to be in need of education, moral reform, modernization and assimilation. Enlightenment in the Colony involves a comparison between “the Jewish Question” and the Partition of India. The particularity of Jews and Muslims is examined in the context of modern assumptions about universalism, especially the notion of universal citizenship.

Bryan S. Turner
Taylor and Francis Online