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Abstract

This dissertation questions the binary distinction between tradition and modernity. Below, I examine how modernizing processes draw from and remake traditions. I discuss the advent of the idea of mass education in Egypt and China in the late-19th century and how this and related concepts altered earlier understandings of knowledge, vocation, and belonging in the Islamic and Confucian traditions. I argue that advocates of mass education and other reforms effectively used their traditions to argue for conscriptionist progressive social and political projects. Such projects, in my analysis, are not only exercises of power people of some over others. The projects rather substantively contribute to modern understandings of the self, the community of the tradition, and the state. However, as expansive and inclusive as the idea of education as duty and right is, questions of difference invariably arise. Reformists treat people who are marked as not belonging to Confucian or Islamic traditions as subjects of generosity and suspicion at the same time. I do not see the minority question as the inevitable outcome of modernizing states that privilege one tradition. Instead, I approach the minority question through investigating older conceptions of difference within and among communities, and within individual people and forms of thought. This dissertation will foreground the contrast between modern reformists and earlier thinkers. I will do so by outlining how these modern and premodern people thought about topics such as education and relations with others on their traditions’ own terms. I will also examine how late-19th century Western scholars interpreted Islamic and Confucian reform in their categorizations of spiritual and scientific modernity and its others.

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