Alone Before God: The Religious Origins of Modernity in Mexico

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Antinomies and enticements

In both conscious and inadvertent ways, such registers entail two simultaneous measures. The idea of modernity as a coming apart from the past rests on the imagination of ruptures within Western history, that prior terrain of the past intimating distinct and often diminished coordinates of time and space. But such an idea cannot help also turning on the importance of disjunctions of the West with non-Western worlds, a categorically distinct lower space-time, whether explicitly or implicitly.

These spirits are a prior presence and an ongoing process. Each attempt to engage them in the present entails marking them as an attribute of the past. I am suggesting, then, that the meanings, understandings, and actions that fall outside the disenchantment-driven horizons of modernity have to be plotted as lagging behind this novel stage. Here, spatial mappings and temporal measurements of the West and the non-West come to rest on the trajectory of time, an axis that claims to be normatively neutral but in fact produces profoundly hierarchical spaces. This is to say that the precise notion of modernity as a rupture with the past carves up social and historical worlds into the traditional and the modern, further naming and animating other temporal-spatial oppositions such as those between ritual and rationality, myth and history, and magic and modernity.

Why should the antinomies of modernity have played an important role in the mapping and making of social worlds? These oppositions emerged embedded within formidable projects of power and knowledge, turning on Enlightenment, empire, and nation as well as within the challenges to these projects. As worldly knowledge, then, these neat proposals, abiding oppositions, and their constitutive presumptions entered the lives of historical subjects, albeit at different times and in distinct ways.

Alone Before God: The Religious Origins of Modernity in Mexico

Formidably if variously disseminated as ways of approaching and modes of apprehending social worlds, they have appeared equally instituted as tissues of affect and textures of experience, intricately articulated in inherently heterogeneous ways with the production and meaning of space and time within everyday practices. And so, it should not be surprising that, their critical questioning notwithstanding, these oppositions continue to beguile and seduce.

The pervasive presence of modern oppositions, especially in intellectual arenas, derives in no small measure from the manner in which modernity is often elided with modernization, and at other times folded into modernism. Here, different, often hierarchically ordered, societies are seen as succeeding or failing to evolve from their traditional or pre-modern states through linear stages of succession to become modernized or capitalist arenas. Yet motifs of modernization have also crucially carried wide resonance, easily elided with mappings of modernity, such that each shores up the other.

To begin with, as was just discussed, a crucial characteristic of pervasive articulations of Western modernity has hinged on their positing of the phenomenon as marked by a carving up of space and time, a break with the past, a rupture with tradition, a surpassing of the medieval.

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In this scenario, the blueprints of modernization have actually distilled the designs of modernity, the aggressive spatial assumption of the latter holding in place the schematic temporal prognosis of the former. Yet there is more to the picture.


Reaching beyond routine representations, in artistic, intellectual, and aesthetic arenas, each understood broadly, modernity has often appeared in intimate association with its cognate or conceptual cousin , modernism. Modernism is also an enormously contentious term, which necessarily follows from the contested and contradictory character of the tendencies it describes.

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Here are to be found cultural movements, styles, and representations, going back to the mid-nineteenth century and extending into our own times, which have been diversely expressed and performed in different parts of the world. They have variously engaged and interrogated, accessed and exceeded Enlightenment thought and Romantic tradition, abstract reason and religious truth, surface coherence and tonal depth, Western representations and precolonial narratives, the certainties of science and the presence of God, and governmental authority and popular politics.

All of this raises intriguing issues of the configurations of time and space within the ideational articulations and aesthetic practices of modernism s. To approach the entanglements between modernity, modernism, and modernization in this manner, where the one is not simply folded into the other yet their mutual linkages are adequately acknowledged, might have critical consequences.

Building on my prior proposals, modernity is now understood not only as a forceful idea and ideology, but as also entailing heterogeneous histories and plural processes. There are at least two faces to the phenomenon, each insinuated in the other. Intrinsic to each is the importance of querying pervasive procedures of the temporalization of space and the spatialization of time. On the one hand, as part of a familiar picture, constitutive of modernity are processes of reason and science, industry and technology, commerce and consumption, nation-state and citizen-subject, public spheres and private spaces, and secularized religion s and disenchanted knowledge s.

On the other hand, although this is often overlooked, at the core of modernity are also processes of empire and colony, race and genocide, resurgent faiths and reified traditions, disciplinary regimes and subaltern subjects, and the seductions of the state and enchantments of the modern. Lessons learned from the split, Janus-faced nature of modernism assume salience here.

This is to register at once that ceaseless portrayals of modernity as embodying a singular seamless trajectory are actually shored up by hierarchical presumptions and antinomian projections of space and time; and that procedures of modernity have been contradictory, contingent, and contested — protocols that are incessantly articulated yet also critically out of joint with themselves. It is precisely these procedures that emerge, expressed by subjects of modernity. Here, my reference is to historical actors who have been active participants in processes of modernity: social actors who have been both subject to these processes but also subjects shaping these processes.

Over the past few centuries, the subjects of modernity have included, as was noted in the introductory chapter, peasants, artisans, and workers in South Asia that have diversely articulated processes of colony and post-colony; indigenous communities in the Americas under colonial and national rule; peoples of African descent not only on that continent but in different diasporas across the world; and, indeed, subaltern, marginal, and elite women and men in non-Western and Western theaters. Unsurprisingly, these subjects have registered within their measures and meanings the formative contradictions, contentions, and contingencies of modernity.

I am suggesting that at stake in this discussion of subjects of modernity are key questions of heterogeneous yet coeval temporalities and overlapping but contending productions of space.

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First, it is well known that conceptions of modernity generally proceed by envisioning the phenomenon in the image of the European and Euro-American frequently implicitly male modern subject. Is it perhaps the case, then, that my articulation of subjects of modernity productively widens the range of address for modernity and its participants?

And that it does this by querying the hierarchies and antinomies of time and space that underlie formidable projections of a routinely timeless tradition and an endlessly dynamic modernity? Moreover, mine is not a chronological claim that everyone living in the modern age counts as a modern subject. For subjects of modernity have revealed, again and again, that there are different ways of being modern, now accessing and now exceeding the stipulations of the Western modern subject.

Yet, all too often, in fashioning themselves, subjects of modernity have also scarcely bothered with the Western modern subject exactly while articulating the enduring terms of modernity. What are the implications of such recognition for weaving in distinct textures and transformations of affects and subjectivities — including inherently plural experiences, articulations, and elaborations of time, space, and their enmeshments — in considerations of modernity?

Finally, it bears emphasis that there are other modern subjects besides Western ones, embodying formidable heterogeneity yet coevality of the temporal and the spatial, the affective and the subjective. Does this not suggest the need in discussions of modernity to rethink exclusive images of the modern subject in the past and present, across non-Western arenas and Western ones, and through space and time? I begin with questions of religion and politics under regimes of modernity. When I write critically of this presumption, please do not get me wrong.

Mine is not the silly suggestion that processes of secularization over the past few centuries are only a fiction, a lie. Nor am I simply proposing that there is an unavoidable discrepancy between the ideal of secularism and its realization in history, an inevitable distance between preaching and practice, thereby casting the story of secularization as an incomplete narrative yet to arrive at its immanent resolution. Rather, my point concerns how the force and reach of this presupposition, not unlike the telos of progress, another monumental enchantment of modernity, constitute the very basis of our worlds, their inherited and internalized verities lying at the core of commonplace conceptions and authoritative apprehensions of religion and politics.

Among the consequences, enormously pertinent is the excision of distinct intermeshing s of religion and politics in the modern West. The former, the doctrinal ideal, is the true norm while the latter, the not-perfect reality, is merely a deviation. It also means that distinct intermeshing s of religion and politics in Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism, in Afghanistan or India or Mexico, in modern times usually appear as figures of absence, lack, and failure, imperfect images in the mirror of an immaculate secular West.

Such projections insinuate once more the abiding enchantments of modernity. There are weighty elisions at stake here.

Alone Before God - The Religious Origins of Modernity in Mexico by Pam

Let us briefly consider the interplay between authoritative traditions and monumental histories at the core of the modern self-fashioning s of state and nation, especially in recent times. I have implied earlier that representations of modernity imbue categories and arenas with a distinct salience. Here novel construal and institutionalization of hoary traditions of peoples and territories has gone hand in hand with newer construction and sedimentation of monumental histories of state and nation.

This has happened over the short run and in the long haul, from the altering faces of national civilization in India to the changing destinies of the Mestizo nation in Mexico to the shifting fortunes of the multicultural state in Western democracies. Yet, this should hardly surprise us.

For quite as the performative and the pedagogical imperatives of the nation entail one another, so too is the nation configured simultaneously through its past traditions and its present distinctions — history as imagined and instituted on a monumental scale. This is to say that terms and visions of monumental history lie at the heart of narratives and practices of the modern state and nation, albeit assuming critically different forms. In presenting this picture in broad and rapid strokes, I am aware of the dangers of bringing into existence newer modular designs of modernity while overlooking critical dimensions of its prior understandings.

For example, am I disregarding key processes of secularization, individualization, and the separation of private and public domains, privileging rather exclusive enactments of monumental histories as constitutive of modernity? Well, actually, not at all. On the one hand, I have earlier pointed to processes of secularization and formations of the private and the public as among the important attributes attending modernity. For to do otherwise, might be to endlessly endorse the hierarchical, spatial-temporal oppositions of modernity or to merely reiterate the empirical complexity of modern history as restlessly defying analytical categories, or indeed to be simultaneously bound to the one move and the other measure.

On the other hand, I also admit to the salience of thinking through the distinctions of monumental histories of state and nation, which come in different shapes and sizes, divergent hues and patterns. At the same time, my point is that we encounter in such distinct expressions of monumental history plural, disjunctive articulations of modernity, which is as true of secular states as it is of regimes that reject principles of secularization, individualization, and the separation of the private and the public.

After all, for very long now, antimodernist propositions — including, critically, positions that refuse claims made on behalf of the secular — appear enmeshed with authoritative terms, enduring oppositions, of modernity. Similarly, the negotiation and rejection of a dominant Western modern within enactment s of monumental history bear critical consideration.

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Taken together, at stake is nothing less than concatenations of distinct coeval temporalities and productions of overlapping heterogeneous spaces that variously straddle and scramble the hierarchies and oppositions of modernity. Posing matters in this manner clarifies that presumptions projecting India as a land of endless tradition, recently rising from its slumber in the wake of globalization to truly embrace a Western modernity, share common ground with the pictures of the past few decades portraying the Indian subcontinent as combining the traditional with the modern.

Both arguments rest upon exclusive, temporal blueprints and hierarchical, spatial oppositions of an essentially Western modernity and an innately Indian tradition. Instead, I am suggesting that the processes of modernity, including their contentions, on the Indian subcontinent over the past two centuries need to be understood as being shaped by diverse subjects of modernity as well as by distinct modern subjects. Consider the case of anticolonial political nationalism on the subcontinent, which had its beginnings in the late nineteenth century.

These endeavors participated in procedures of the modern nation by articulating specifically subaltern visions of freedom and their own initiatives of independence. Here are to be found frames of meaning and idioms of struggle that accessed and exceeded the aims and strategies of a generally middle-class nationalist leadership. On the other hand, middle-class nationalism in India, the work of Indian modern subjects who were rather different from their Western counterparts, expressed its own distinctions.

Drawing upon Enlightenment principles and the post-Enlightenment traditions of the West, it did not simply replicate but reworked these in distinct ways. Here were to be found translations and transformations of the ideals of the sovereign nation and the free citizen of Europe through grids of the subjugated homeland and the colonized subject in India. The discussion above suggests that processes of modernity in India, as elsewhere, have been characterized at once by contrariety and contention as well as ambiguity and ambivalence, a key claim of this book.

This is as true of the present as it was of the past. Therefore, I now raise a few questions concerning the ways in which modernity is being articulated and debated in political and intellectual fields in India today, especially seeking to draw out critical implications for understanding its enchantments and oppositions, temporal and spatial. Over the last hundred years, the politics of the Hindu nationalist Right, which has been thoroughly modern, nonetheless intimates a profound ambivalence toward modernity. This is expressed, for example, in its recent articulations of an alternative Hindu universalism, which is not a mere critique of the West.

Conversely, in recent years a variety of intriguing perspectives has served to open up questions of modernity in India. Next, it follows that to recognize the assiduous production of traditions by subjects of modernity is not to cast these — traditions and subjects — as somehow erroneous, faulty, or insubstantial. Instead, it is to acknowledge the enormous burden of such traditions in dominant projects of state and nation and the ethical force of particular claims upon community and tradition.

At the same time, in each case this admission further entails exploring how signs of state come to lie at the heart of traditions and communities, authoritative traces that communities and peoples yet work upon to engender distinct meanings of nation and modernity, the unknown and the familiar. Indeed, this also means not turning way from, but prudently unraveling, the exclusive images of Western modernity as shaping the concatenations and contentions of every modernity, while further recognizing that such stipulations are differently worked upon by social subjects to yield expected outcomes and unexpected consequences.

Modernity as history is intimately bound to images of modernity. Such considerations are further clarified by turning to discussions of modernity in Latin America. Intimations of modernity have long haunted Latin America, generally reflecting the phantasms of a reified yet tangible Europe. The region has itself been envisioned, uneasily yet readily, as part of the Western world, albeit with specific lacks and within particular limits. In Latin America, as in most of the world, dominant blueprints have rested on the modern stipulation decreeing that modernity had already happened somewhere else.

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  7. The point is that discussions of modernism — in their simultaneously republican and authoritarian, political and aesthetic, governmental and everyday avatars — have provided some of the most sustained understandings of narratives of modernity in Latin America. It is against this background, then, that we need to register the broad sets of recent discussions of modernity in Latin America, which have all put a question mark over facile polarities between prolific modernisms and deficient modernization in the region as expressed by influential authors.

    Such questions have found multiple expressions in discussions of architecture and the built form, 64 peasant and popular politics, 65 space and territoriality, 66 culture and consumption, 67 and representation and subalternity. In this terrain, the explorations have ranged from influential considerations of the hetero-temporal coordinates of national time-space 69 through to mutual mediations of modernity and nation.

    Taken together, here are to be found works focusing on different articulations of modernity as historically grounded and culturally expressed, articulations that query a priori projections and sociological formalism underpinning the category-entity. The spirit and substance of these writings shore up my efforts in Subjects of Modernity. I began this chapter by declaring that to adopt the oblique perspective of enchantment is a possible means of understanding modernity in newer ways. Now it remains to be stated that, for me, the enchantments that endure are also enchantments to endure , in order to better query their shadow and substance in the past and the present.

    For consider the irony and the travesty if our task consisted of merely demystifying — whether through the ruse of aggrandizing reason or the expedient of the critique of ideology — the enchantments of modernity. These enchantments constitute the formative entities and key coordinates of our worlds, which are not worlds or entities to presciently and pointedly disenchant. Rather, these are worlds to carefully question and ethically articulate, even worlds to re-enchant.

    User Account Individual sign in Create Profile. Search Close search all content. Advanced Search Help. Saurabh Dube. Maps of modernity Antinomies and enticements in Subjects of modernity. Open Access free. Download PDF. Overture The idea of modernity rests on rupture. Other moderns Posing matters in this manner clarifies that presumptions projecting India as a land of endless tradition, recently rising from its slumber in the wake of globalization to truly embrace a Western modernity, share common ground with the pictures of the past few decades portraying the Indian subcontinent as combining the traditional with the modern.

    Coda I began this chapter by declaring that to adopt the oblique perspective of enchantment is a possible means of understanding modernity in newer ways. Notes 1 Indeed, precisely recognizing the worldly or ontological dimensions of the enchantments and disenchantments of modernity, I do not offer here a consideration of the different theories of modernity.

    Rather, I provide a provocative account of modern disenchantments and their enchantments, raising critical questions around these categories-entities as well as highlighting wider issues of the intricate interplay of history and modernity, time and space, and pasts and communities. Pamela Voekel. Terry Rugeley. University of Oklahoma. Oxford Academic. Google Scholar. Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. Article PDF first page preview. Issue Section:. You do not currently have access to this article.

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