Open lecture with Associate Professor Hussein Ali Agrama (University of Chicago).


This paper argues that there are forms of suspicion underlying the secular concept and practice of religious freedom that work to undermine the principled categories on which it rests. This suspicion cannot nevertheless be easily disentangled from the doctrine of religious freedom. Not only has it profoundly shaped the forms of religiosity to which such freedom is deemed appropriate, but it also lies at the root of various demands made by the modern state as necessary to its continued survival - such as the need for a basic unity of values and the complete loyalty of its citizenry. While this suspicion thus continues to be an integral part of the secular condition, it remains largely unexplored by contemporary theorists of secularism and the understandings of secularity that they promote.

Hussein Ali Agrama is Associate Professor of Anthropology and of the Social Sciences at the Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago. He has ongoing research interests in the anthropology of law, religion, Islam, and the Middle East; and in secularism, law and colonial power, and the genealogies of sovereignty and emergency states. Agrama is the author of Questioning Secularism: Islam, Sovereignty and the Rule of Law in Modern Egypt (2012).


This lecture is organized by the "Research network on religious freedom and secularity in the global era" and the Regulating Religion project. For more information contact: Christine M. Jacobsen ( or Kari Telle (

Copyright photo: Nefissa Naguib