Rafael Vizcaino’s Dissertation Defense: Decolonial Responses to Secularism from the Underside of Modernity

By Yuanqiu Jiang, with editorial input from Rafael Vizcaino

March 10, 2020 witnessed Rafael Vizcaíno’s doctoral defense, the final step of his academic journey as a graduate student at Rutgers Comparative Literature.


Rafael started off by giving us a quick summary of his dissertation, which offers an interpretation of the notions of “secularity” and “post-secularity” from the perspective of epistemic decolonization. Rafael aims at a re-articulation of the meaning of secularization in modernity, where secularization learns from its own mistakes. Situating his project in Latin America and borrowing tools from decolonial thought, Rafael argues that secularity can be resignified beyond modern anti-religious secularism through epistemic decolonization. The ongoing project of postsecularity, defended by an array of scholars across the humanities and social sciences, can thus also take part in a broader process of decolonization.


In the examination portion of the defense, Professor Linda Martín Alcoff (CUNY Graduate Center) pushed Rafael to articulate how figures like Gloria Anzaldúa prefigure much of contemporary philosophy of science and standpoint theory. Professor Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel (University of Miami), asked Rafael about how he conceives of the relation between aesthetics, the erotic, and the spiritual. Professor Carlos Ulises Decena (Chair of Rutgers’s Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies) inquired about Rafael’s methods and urged Rafael to better articulate the embodied character of writing in the process of knowledge production. Lastly, our very own Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres, who chaired Rafael’s dissertation, asked about the role of dialectics and opacity in Rafael’s work.


In his thoughtful response to all these comments, the word “trans-disciplinary” emerged as a notion central to Rafael’s own writing and thinking. Rafael invoked the cyberneticist Stafford Beer, whose critique of scholarship Rafael constantly kept in mind while writing his dissertation. The trans-disciplinary moves beyond the disciplinary and the interdisciplinary to think the big picture in an ever-changing world. The project of epistemic decolonization, Rafael argues, presupposes this type of transdisciplinarity, and with this frame, Rafael seeks to make a contribution to theories of modernity, religion, and secularity.


Rafael’s dissertation was acclaimed by Professor Maldonado-Torres as a triad of excellent writing, excellent research, and excellent analysis, which were also powerfully demonstrated in the defense. Felicidades, Rafael! And good luck with the next chapter of your career!

Photo credits: Annabel We