What if Culture Did Not Matter? Asian Studies and the New Universalism(s)

  • Joel S. Kahn


Let me be clear about the reason I have chosen to conclude this book by asking about the significance of cultural difference. To ask whether culture matters is not to imply that there are no differences among human beings, much less that difference should not be acknowledged, even at times celebrated. It is not to propose that knowledge production or ethical and political thinking should proceed as if culture and difference did not exist, but rather as if they did not matter. It is to suggest that we need to seek forms of encounter with others that, to quote Alain Badiou, are “indifferent to difference” (Badiou 2003).


Asian Study Human Genome Project Historicist Critique Cultural Logic Southeast Asian Study 
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  1. 1.
    For a discussion of the universalizing aspirations of global Christianity, see Matthew Engelke and Joel Robbins, eds. 2010. “Global Christianity, Global Critique.” South Atlanitic Quarterly 109(4): 623–829. That this has been mirrored by developments in global Islam is evident, for example, from the work of Olivier Roy (Oliver Roy. 2004. Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah. New York: Columbia University Press). Opinions are divided on the question of whether there is any relationship between the actually existing global Christianities and the neo-universalism of critical theorists like Badiou, Žižek, and Agamben.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The so-called “Perennial Philosophy” as we have noted drew not on Enlightenment notions of universalism but on those of Renaissance philosophers of the “Christian Kabbalah,” “a notable, original effort at the outset of modernity to address the emerging question of religious diversity. There was not one revelation, but many, and, conversely, there were not many truths, but one original source of truth … Religious multiplicity, by any definition, was the social reality to which Christian Kabbalah responded. Esotericism, insofar as it posited a transcendent unity to world religions, in this light is linked, historically speaking, to the rise of comparative religion. Both sought solutions to the problem of revelational diversity” (Steven M. Wasserstrom. 1999. Religion after Religion: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 49–50).Google Scholar

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© Joel S. Kahn 2016

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  • Joel S. Kahn

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