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Implicated and Enraged: An Interview with Judith Butler

May 14, 2011

Nathan Scneider in The Imminent Frame:

Judith Butler, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is among the leading social theorists alive today. Her most recent books are Frames of War (2009) and The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere (2011), an SSRC volume that puts her in conversation with Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West. As we carried out our conversation by email between Brooklyn and Berkeley, uprisings were occurring across the Arab world, and a U.S.-led coalition had just begun conducting airstrikes in support of rebel forces in Libya. We had discussed some similar questions, and some different ones, a year earlier in an interview for Guernica magazine.

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NS: Some commentators have said that the uprisings now taking place are remarkable for being secular in nature. Do you think it’s helpful to speak of them that way?

JB: Well, I am not at all sure why they’re saying that. In Cairo, it was clearly the case that secular, Christian, and Muslim people were in the square, and that it was an impressive mixture. I would be interested to know who has access to the groups involved in Libya to know with certainty that they are secular. Perhaps some of us impose our ideological dreams on concrete situations that we either fail to investigate or have trouble finding out about.

NS: How relevant are these ideological dreams? Do you think that the question of whether these movements are secular is worth caring about?

JB: I myself do not care, and I wonder why people do. It seems to me that the secular/religious debate has not been at the forefront of these uprisings. They have been against censorship, military control, graft, and outrageous class differences, and they have been for various kinds of democratization. And we have seen women in these movements, veiled and unveiled, working together. It is clear that demands for democratization of various kinds are articulated through religious and secular discourses and practices, and sometimes a combination of the two. [More]

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