I find Kahn’s book as a whole less coherent than some others have. One issue I want to raise is the specter of American exceptionalism that haunts the book. Haunts, actually, may be too mild a word, since Kahn enthusiastically embraces the exceptional nature of American politics and law, and does so in absolutist terms (perhaps this is just the unfortunate sign of the legal mind at work, as is also the case in Schmitt).Read the rest of American exceptionalism redux.
Vincent P. Pecora
Vincent P. Pecora is the Gordon B. Hinckley Professor of British Literature and Culture at the University of Utah. His books include Secularization and Cultural Criticism: Religion, Nation, and Modernity (University of Chicago Press, 2006), Households of the Soul (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), Self and Form in Modern Narrative (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), and, as editor, Nations and Identities: Classic Readings (Wiley-Blackwell, 2001).
Posts by Vincent P. Pecora:
John Boy, in a post on March 15th, titled “What we talk about when we talk about the postsecular,” provides a brisk empirical overview of his key word’s appearance in recent discourse. But it is not at all what I talk about when I talk about the post-secular, and in many ways I think Boy’s account is rather wrong-headed.
Boy takes his cue from a lecture delivered by Jürgen Habermas in 2001, where Habermas proposes to bridge the gap posited by Ernst Bloch’s notion of non-synchronicity—which is simply an uncritical early version of Johannes Fabian’s “denial of coevalness,” in his Time and the Other—through “democratically enlightened common sense.” However, what this “common sense” means for Habermas—”a translation of religious positions” into (for example) “Kant’s postmetaphysical ethics”—is in no sense post-secular! It is in fact the essence of the secularization thesis itself, in one of its most prominent historical guises . . . .Read the rest of The post-secular: A different account.
To much fanfare, the Vatican recently decreed that under certain conditions the trapping of male semen by a thin balloon of rubber fastened around the penis when it is inserted into various orifices (mouths, anuses, vaginas?) is officially, morally, and doctrinally acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church. Now, why would anyone ever say that religion is no more than a fantastic spiritual exercise?Read the rest of Rubber soul.
Concerning recent (and seemingly conflicting) poll results from the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, Justin Reynolds is, I think, exactly right when he says: “Actually, a sounder reading of these results would suggest that most Americans see the separation of church and state itself as the mark of a ‘Christian’ nation.” Absolutely correct. What the average American (if there is such a thing) sees in the First Amendment is primarily a guarantee that he or she can practice whatever religion he or she wants to practice. But this “right” to practice the religion of one’s choice, however impinged upon by cultural prejudices about various “minority” beliefs (such as Catholic or Jewish in former days, or Islam today) has nothing to do with how Americans understand the deeper cultural roots of their nation. What, alas, is often missing in Americans’ view of their culture is the sense that things do not have to remain exactly the same for all time.Read the rest of Don’t drink everything that runs downstream.
I write having seen the first installment of God in America, a three-part series produced by PBS that showed some promise. While there is much still to come, I can report that it is not as bad as it might have been. (Is anything?) But it is also much, much worse than it has any good reason to be.
The most egregious problem—and it is really no surprise given the rather large role played by Stephen Prothero in the commentary—is the astonishing insularity. To put it bluntly, America is presented as an exception, once again. More specifically, the more nuanced argument one gets, largely from Prothero, is: America is an exceptional case, religiously speaking, because Americans believed (and still do believe) that they have an exceptional relationship with God.Read the rest of God in America? Really?.
By now, everyone has seen the Newsweek poll indicating that a majority of Republicans believes President Barack Obama sympathizes with radical Islamists who would like to impose Shari‘a on the United States. Certainly, political debates in America generally get fairly nasty whenever the defense of “the American way of life” is at issue. And in America, such threats have had a long history of steering the popular imagination back to the question of race. But this time around, the mixture is especially volatile, I think, because race is once again being stirred into a mixture with religion.Read the rest of Black crescent, white cross.
David Buckley’s recent post in Notes from the field raises a crucial methodological question. On what basis is comparative work to be done if the methods of comparison developed by the culture of reference (the analyst’s culture) are seen to be so deeply embedded in the ethos—that is, in many cases, a worldview with a clearly identifiable history of religion and secularization—of the culture of reference that these “methods of comparison” obviously fall under the umbrella of what is to be analyzed from the start, and hence to be differentiated from or likened to some other culture or cultures? If my perspective on what rational comparison amounts to cannot be shared by those in the situations I am comparing, then what does it mean to compare anything in such a context, since the “frame” I construct for the comparison could itself always already be just “my” frame, and hence something that would in turn require a larger “frame” (but whence would it come?) to be properly understood?Read the rest of Comparing the incommensurate.
I think Jonathan Sheehan points to something quite useful in his last post: the need for a discourse that does not immediately slide into the “ideological” conflict of religious versus secular teleology. I think many in the religious studies and sociology of religion fields have tried to find such a discourse for decades now. It is just that their disciplinary efforts have become far more visible to the rest of us recently. Still, Justin Reynolds raises a point that is indeed important in the entirety of the “post-secularization” discussion, as it is now being called. However we contextualize this discussion—I tend to see it as accelerating rapidly after the end of the cold war—it is clear that much of it has circled around the question of teleology. For a variety of reasons, two of the foundational questions of religion and philosophy, and certainly not only in the West, have reemerged to trouble the standard thesis among Western intellectuals that predicted inevitable and irreversible secularization and modernization: What is the aim, the end, the purpose of human life? and, Can different societies reasonably embrace quite different answers to this question?Read the rest of A brief note on teleology.
I wondered how long it would take DPDF participants to undo what I thought I had carefully assembled in my opening post on “Secularism, secularization, and why the difference matters.” Not very long at all, it seems. And so, I will try a response here to Justin Reynolds and Alex Hernandez, both of whom have questioned what I actually mean by saying that “secularization” is a conceptual improvement over “secularism.”Read the rest of Waiting for Godot, who is either late or not coming at all.
Several decades ago, well before there had been any concerted effort among historians and sociologists of religion to trash the standard model of the “secularization thesis,” Jürgen Habermas famously pronounced modernity an “unfinished project,” and then proceeded to outline both the conditions needed to complete the project and the barriers that the twentieth century had thrown up in its way. This is obviously not the place to rehearse Habermas’s ideas, especially since so many others have done it well. . . . But, for the present purposes, I think we can usefully boil the conditions down to two.Read the rest of Secularism, secularization, and why the difference matters.