Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Violence
Secondary Theme: The Political
This panel examines how non-secular bodies, texts, geographies, and archives disappear under regimes of secular power. Conceptually, this panel seeks to dismantle assumptions about the secular that are only legible via political critique. Rather, through generative/critical ethnography and conceptual anthropology, this panel examines other dimensions of the secular that affect forms of life and death in various contexts. Whether it is the massacre of Islamic practitioners in Dhaka under regimes of national secularism, or gaps in historical archives in the subaltern’s disappearance in Punjab misread as secular failing, or cartographic evacuation of the unrepresentable in Kashmir, this panel problematizes the very notion of disappearance, because disappearance in secularity is founded upon a quantifiable, measurable, scalable structure. In this sense, there is a scientificity to how disappearance is understood within the secular that this panel seeks to call into question. The panel also speculates on the problem of death. To think of disappearance in the secular, is to almost immediately think of death strategies, death dealings, and death distributions. What if we question that death itself is impossible in the secular? If so, of what kinds of deaths are we really speaking? Or, more importantly, how are we to speak of deaths that cannot be expressed in numbers? In the context of the May 5-6, 2013 massacre in Dhaka, for instance, interlocutors are less interested in proving to Human Rights organizations how many of the madrassa students were subjected to “enforced disappearance,” than to dwell on what it means to do simple quotidian tasks like walking, breathing, reciting in the aftermath of secular state violence. In Kashmir, discourses that have been restricted to searching for evidentiary death worlds – to prove or disprove occupation – have failed to engage with phenomena that escape infrastructures of secular power, such as Jinn. How might the presence of Jinn help us ontologically open different kinds of understandings of death and violence, of the after world and the worlds in between, of the undead – the excess of mourning that lingers and haunts secular archives? Moreover, with regard to the question of disappearance, this panel asks: How valuable is it really to think of the ‘non-secular,’ a term heavily reliant upon the secular? Isn’t the mobilization of ‘non-secular’ as a category itself a secular operation?