Thinking About the Secular Body, Pain, and Liberal Politics

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

We often speak of a religious body and we think of it as the body of a believer. Can we also speak of a secular body? If so, what might that mean? And how is “the secular body,” whatever it may be, related to liberalism and modernity? Does pain have an ineradicable place in secularism? Is Christianity, with its sacred narrative of pain and suffering, nevertheless the immanent frame of modern secularity? Charles Hirschkind and Matthew Scherer have raised these interesting questions, and they have provoked me to think further about secularism and the secular for which I am grateful. So in what follows I speculate about the “secular body” as the site of sensibilities and convictions, and the ways in which it may or may not be distinguishable from the “religious body.” I do so by paying special attention to pain because it directs us to the human body as a finite organism. I also consider what relevance the secular body might have for secularism as a political system, particularly as a precondition for democratic life.

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