The Postsecular Imagination: Postcolonialism, Religion, and Literature (Hardback) book cover

The Postsecular Imagination

Postcolonialism, Religion, and Literature

By Manav Ratti

© 2013 – Routledge

242 pages

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pub: 2014-11-10
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The Postsecular Imagination presents a rich, interdisciplinary study of postsecularism as an affirmational political possibility emerging through the potentials and limits of both secular and religious thought. While secularism and religion can foster inspiration and creativity, they also can be linked with violence, civil war, partition, majoritarianism, and communalism, especially within the framework of the nation-state. Through close readings of novels that engage with animism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism, Manav Ratti examines how questions of ethics and the need for faith, awe, wonder, and enchantment can find expression and significance in the wake of such crises.

While focusing on Michael Ondaatje and Salman Rushdie, Ratti addresses the work of several other writers as well, including Shauna Singh Baldwin, Mahasweta Devi, Amitav Ghosh, and Allan Sealy. Ratti shows the extent of courage and risk involved in the radical imagination of these postsecular works, examining how writers experiment with and gesture toward the compelling paradoxes of a non-secular secularism and a non-religious religion.

Drawing on South Asian Anglophone literatures and postcolonial theory, and situating itself within the most provocative contemporary debates in secularism and religion, The Postsecular Imagination will be important for readers interested in the relations among culture, literature, theory, and politics.


‘Provocative and arresting, this is a work of subtle imagination and searching intellect. It is finely written, scrupulously researched and persuasively argued—very much of the times. I look forward to what Manav Ratti next has to say.’Elleke Boehmer, Oxford University, UK

"The Postsecular Imagination by Manav Ratti is an important book and it has come to us at a time of great need. It is clear, concise, and full of insights that will help us navigate a world all too often polarized by cynicism and half-truths. His presentation to a full house of inquisitive minds was one of the highlights of the past number of years and we cannot say enough about Manav Ratti's charm and poise in front of an audience. The Postsecular Imagination deserves a huge audience."Neil Wilson, Founding Director, Ottawa International Writers Festival

‘[one of] three important monographs [that] signal … a 'post-secular' turn in postcolonial theory and criticism’Graham Huggan in Modern Fiction Studies

‘The originality of Ratti's book resides in dealing with literary works as temporal products in which secular tenets have an impact on belief systems, while still recognizing the relevance of the latter. It shares much in common with Saba Mahmood’s Politics of Piety (2005), Achilles Mbembe’s On the Postcolony (2001), and Talal Asad’s Formations of the Secular (2003). Summing Up: Recommended.’K.M. Kapanga, University of Richmond, USA in Choice

‘Ratti's text is one of the most wide-ranging studies of postsecularism with particular attention to the field of literature.’ – Anthony Paul Smith in Reading the Abrahamic Faiths

‘Manav Ratti presents a study that, far from exclusively aiming at literary criticism, tackles one of the most virulent problems of cultural policy head on: the increasingly embattled relation of secularism and religion, in some parts of the world complicated by a nationalist agenda. […] The interpretations Ratti offers are illuminating and sensitive…the reader will feel tempted to discover the books they have not yet read themselves, a positive effect rarely produced by academic literary criticism. […] Ideological partisanship and one-sidedness [are] gratifyingly absent from the whole book. Also, the book shows a full command of state-of-the-art literary and cultural theory.’Bettina Gruber in Entangled Religions

"Written evocatively, this book is an interdisciplinary work useful to those interested in literary criticism, postcolonialism, and socio-political theory. [. . .] The Postsecular Imagination is a scholarly attempt to resuscitate enchantment in this world. Given the unforgiving rationalism of the modern secular state, and the violence of organized religion, Manav Ratti deems the binary of religion versus secularism as having practically failed and as being conceptually inadequate. The book then is a search for an imagination beyond these binaries. [. . .] Within the spectrum of postsecular discourse, the author takes a balanced, centrist position. [. . .] This book deserves to be closely read, in text and in spirit." - Rajgopal Saikumar, The Hindu

"Dr. Manav Ratti’s assessment of the postsecular imagination as reflected in some well-known literary works of recent decades is a highly readable book, a denouement of conflicts between conduct out of faith on one hand and claims of pragmatism and evolved rationalism on the other. Steering clear of both downright rejection or enthusiastic assertion of ideas and events under focus, the work exemplifies a calm objective approach to issues with, it seems to this reviewer, an unpronounced underlying faith that the contraries are facets of a goal towards which humanity is staging an unconscious march, for ‘an eternal perfection is moulding us into its own image,’ as stated by Sri Aurobindo. The content apart, the style is irresistible, a welcome academic exercise in recent times." —Manoj Das, Sahitya Akademi Fellow, Padma Shri, Saraswati Samman

"Daring, fine and nuanced, Manav Ratti’s book is probably the first monograph of its kind to raise important questions that probe the potentials and limits of both religious and secular thought in India. [. . .] His meticulous analysis of the context and politics enriches his reading of the text. In fact, one of the fortes of this impressive and scrupulously researched book is its interdisciplinarity, and the way that Ratti moves between the lenses of social and cultural criticism, political theory and literary criticism [. . .] One of the greatest achievements of the book is perhaps the way in which it raises uncomfortable questions about the significance of certain values that we do not question (such as the desirability of secularism, or the enchantment of religion), and forces us to rethink and rework those values."Journal of Postcolonial Writing

"A nuanced analysis of how literature is capable of generating new ways of interpreting the limits of religion and secularism [. . .]. Ratti’s book is a success and important reading for those interesed in secularism, religion, postsecularism and postcolonial theory. The text is well written, carefully argued and full of insights [. . .] [the] illustration of [the] indeterminacy and creativity associated with [postsecularism] is one of the many strengths of the book."Postcolonial Studies

"A major addition to contemporary scholarship on postsecularism, this is a significant book for those interested in the study of issues related to religion and secularism."Wasafiri

"Raises the stakes of both scholarly and literary interventions . . . Theoretically nimble and insightful . . . a nuanced, vibrant and stylistically elegant scholarship of possibility: one that is further informed by the author's rigorous knowledge of the geopolitical realities and physical locations (in India, Europe, Sri Lanka and further afield) that he has experienced and visited . . . Ratti’s work stands out in the field as an indispensable way forward"Postcolonial Text

"Timely—auspicious even. [. . .] Well-researched and theoretically sophisticated work contributes to debates regarding secularism by providing a critical vocabulary mediating between the secular and the religious. [. . .] Major intervention [. . .] Ratti’s compelling book promises to provoke further scholarship that takes up in a similar vein. [. . .] Provocative and suggestive in its demand to go beyond conventional dichotomous formulations. [. . .] Sensitive and nuanced readings [. . .] Ratti renews the theoretical bases of postcolonial literary studies, putting it in conversation with South Asian Studies."South Asian Review

Table of Contents

Preface: The Literary and The Postsecular. Introduction: Situating Postsecularism 1. Postsecularism and Nation: Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient 2. Minority’s Christianity: Allan Sealy’s The Everest Hotel 3. Postsecularism and Violence: Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost 4. If Truth Were A Sikh Woman: Shauna Singh Baldwin’s What The Body Remembers 5. Postsecularism and Prophecy: Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses 6. Art After the Fatwa: Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor’s Last Sigh, Shalimar The Clown, and The Enchantress of Florence 7. The Known and The Unknowable: Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide and Mahasweta Devi’s "Pterodactyl, Puran Sahay, and Pirtha" Coda Notes References Index

About the Author

Manav Ratti completed his doctorate at Oxford University and is Assistant Professor of English at Salisbury University, USA. A recent faculty Fulbright Scholar at New York University, he is Fellow Designate at the Institute of Advanced Study at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India.

About the Series

Routledge Research in Postcolonial Literatures

Edited in collaboration with the Centre for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, University of Kent at Canterbury, Routledge Research in Postcolonial Literatures presents a wide range of research into postcolonial literatures by specialists in the field. Volumes concentrate on writers and writing originating in previously (or presently) colonized areas, and include material from non-anglophone as well as anglophone colonies and literatures.

Part of our home for cutting-edge, upper-level scholarly studies and edited collections, this series considers postcolonial literature alongside topics such as gender, race, ecology, religion, politics, and science. Titles are characterized by dynamic interventions into established subjects and innovative studies on emerging topics. Series editors: Donna Landry and Caroline Rooney

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
RELIGION / Religion, Politics & State