Islam and the Public Sphere in Africa: Overcoming DichotomiesPublic Deposited
This essay provides an introduction to eight papers on the theme of Islam and the Public Sphere in Africa that resulted from two conferences organized by the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA) in 2007. The author argues that these papers challenge the dichotomous thinking that has characterized much of the recent literature on Islam and the related concepts of civil society, democratization, and the public sphere (for example, civil society versus political society, public sphere versus private sphere, religious norms versus secular norms, and political Islam versus non-political Islam). The papers problematize those dichotomies in both empirical and theoretical terms, while also illuminating the segmented and gendered nature of the public sphere and civil society, both of which are or could easily be riddled with contradictions, exclusions, discriminations, subtle pressures, coercion and physical violence. The essays reveal the state sphere to be more a field of complex interactions among different actors than a unified actor defined by its differentiation from the supposedly distinct civil society. Finally, and perhaps less controversially, the essays demonstrate the intricate linkages of the religious and secular especially in the context of democratic politics in societies with a deeply religious electorate.
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