Emory International Law Review


Rohit Chopra


This Essay presents a primarily theoretical examination of critical aspects of Abdullahi An-Na’im’s body of work. Drawing on my earlier work, the essay describes the current historical moment as one of “crisis globalization,” a normative condition characterized by the rise of authoritarianism and erosion of democracy across the globe, a backlash against religious and other kinds of minorities, as well as by a general sense of existential uncertainty stemming from the impact of climate change, terrorism, and our vulnerability to pandemics like Covid-19. I argue that An-Na’im’s work speaks especially powerfully to several aspects of this new condition. An-Na’im’s theorization and reconceptualization of the relationship between the secular and the religious, and his elaboration on the role of state and society in mediating that relationship, help us think through and grasp the rise of authoritarianism and religious majoritarianism. They also illuminate a path and template for countering these trends, as elaborated in An-Na’im’s articulation of the necessity and challenge of endowing the relationship of the state and religion, and a corresponding idea of the secular, with cultural legitimacy. In the Essay, I also examine these ideas with reference to recent developments in India, the distinct character of whose experience with secularism seems increasingly under threat.