The latest post in the field: postsecularism and South Asian fiction

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University of New Brunswick


In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Western philosophy became increasingly accepting of the “secularization thesis” – the argument that modernization leads to a decline in religion. Recently emerged theories of postsecularism refute this idea, arguing that the world is experiencing a revival, rather than decline, of religion. This observation has generated renewed interest in and advocacy for the coexistence and interaction of the sacred and the profane along with criticisms of essentialist secular and religious metanarratives. However, most postsecular criticism is Western and Eurocentric in focus, associating present-day “religion” almost entirely with 9/11. Literary studies of postsecularism are rare, as are works that explore links between postsecularism and postcolonialism – a startling oversight, given the neocolonial connotations present in approaches to religiosity and religious others in the Western world. This dissertation bridges that gap by performing a postsecular analysis of six South Asian postcolonial novels: Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (1988), M. G. Vassanji’s The Assassin’s Song (2007), Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day (1980), Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines (1988), Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2003), and Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows (2009). The analysis of The Satanic Verses and The Assassin’s Song explores the complicated distinction between the sacred and the profane through the blurred boundaries between secular and religious imagery in each text. The juxtaposition of Eastern and Western representations of religion, secularism, and postsecularism in Clear Light of Day and The Shadow Lines interrogates the separation between sacred and profane concepts of national culture and presents a transnational postsecularism that posits a much more inclusive form of postcolonial, anticolonial nationalism. Finally, the analysis of Brick Lane and Burnt Shadows juxtaposes the violence of 9/11 and the American War on Terror with racial discrimination and other violences perpetuated by the West, challenging Eurocentric approaches to Islam, religion, and secularism and exhibiting a postsecularism that transcends a literary fetishization of 9/11. Overall, this dissertation emphasizes the postsecular’s capacity to serve as an organic extension of the postcolonial and challenges the tendencies of postsecular criticism to adopt, rather than problematize, an inherently Western imperialist approach to classifications of religiosity, secularism, and postsecularism itself.