Long known for his work in political and social theory, Jürgen Habermas surprised many by his recent turn to the subject of religion. His engagement with the place of religious positions in the public sphere, alongside his advocacy of the reality of the “postsecular” moment, has made his recent work a central source of reflection at The Immanent Frame. Below you’ll find a collection of essays that in turn engage Habermas’ thought, including a series of posts by, among others, Robert Bellah, Hans Joas, Cristina LaFont, and Charles Taylor; a dialogue between Eduardo Mendieta and Habermas; video of a lecture on myth and ritual delivered by Habermas at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; and transcripts and audio of conversations between Habermas, Judith Butler, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West that took place at a 2009 symposium co-organized by the SSRC. An essay based on the official remarks Habermas offered at that event is also available in the edited volume The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere. The forthcoming volume Habermas and Religion collects a series of sustained engagements with Habermas’s writing on religion in the public sphere, featuring new work and critical reflections from leading philosophers, social and political theorists, and anthropologists.
Habermas and Religion
Hubert Knoblauch is a professor of sociology at the Technical University of Berlin, where he specializes in general sociological theory, sociology of knowledge, and the sociology of religion. A student of Thomas Luckmann, he is among the most distinguished representatives of the sociology of religion in Germany today. This summer, we sat down together over some of Berlin’s famously bad Indian food to discuss the sociology of religion in Germany, the influence of Jürgen Habermas, the meaning of spirituality, and ways to quit smoking.Read The view from Berlin: An interview with Hubert Knoblauch.
It was, then, a stirring sight to see Habermas sit down with Cardinal Ratzinger in 2004 for a philosophical dialogue. It is hard not to miss a breath at the image of both men in conversation, one the arch-defender of reason and rationality, described by Habermasian scholar Thomas McCarthy as the “last great rationalist,” and the other, renowned as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (and subsequently as Pope Benedict XVI), for his steadfast theological defense of Catholic tradition and moral teaching. At the same time, the twinning of the two Germans made for a fitting tableau: through their long careers, both have shown little interest in sociological realities and have remained intellectually aloof from lived experience.Read Enter the Post-Secular.
Akeel Bilgrami’s article, “Secularism: Its Content and Context,” is an important and welcome contribution on a topic that has acquired momentum with the renaissance of the public role of religions, in democratic and non-democratic societies alike. Bilgrami clarifies in a penetrating and lucid way, three fundamental ideas on secularism: first, that it is “a stance to be taken about religion”; second, that it is not an indication of the form of government or the liberal nature of a regime; and third, that the context is a crucial factor in issues concerning the relationship between politics and religion.Read The context of religious pluralism.
Raising issues central to post-secularism, Ryan Gillespie reviews three distinct recent works—Steven D. Smith’s The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, Terry Eagleton’s Reason, Faith and Revolution, and Jürgen Habermas’ Between Naturalism and Religion— in the International Journal of Communication.Read What are the uses of religion?.
Kahn has identified an ideal—the sacrificial ideal of freedom—that exists both as an ideal and at times in practice. And while the U.S. is certainly his main subject, he describes an ideal of freedom that has purchase well beyond American borders. Perhaps this freedom is what we’ve seen evoked by some of the protesters in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months. And Kahn is right to draw our attention to the claim that there is something miraculous in the plausible appearance of “the people.” Conjuring the people by giving up one’s self seems to represent just the kind of freedom and popular sovereignty that Kahn has in mind. The challenge for those who accept Kahn’s ideal is how to bring the individual and the conjured popular sovereign into a sufficient degree of unity with the apparatus of government, for such is the condition of more lasting freedom. These are the directions in which Kahn pushes us, and we need not think that he is correct on a factual or phenomenological level all of the time in order to examine this ideal, to ask when and how it emerges, and to see it as something astounding and “theological.”Read The political theology of freedom and unfreedom.
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 post-secular: A different account.
To say that religion has power in the public sphere is not to say that it can be easily absorbed or that it should be. It is a basis for radical challenges and radical questions; it brings enthusiasm, passion, indignation, outrage, and love. If enthusiasm is sometimes harnessed to unreflective conviction, passion is also vital to critical engagement with existing institutions and dangerous trends. The public sphere and the practice of public reason have power too. And they not only take from religion but also offer it opportunities to advance by reflection and critical argument.Read Religion’s many powers.
The term “postsecular” is quickly becoming a keyword for scholars of religion and public life. So what is it all about? An overview of its uses and meanings.Read What we talk about when we talk about the postsecular.
The centrality of religion to social theory in general and philosophy in particular explains why Jürgen Habermas has dealt with it, in both substantive and creative ways, in all of his work. Indeed, religion can be used as a lens through which to glimpse both the coherence and the transformation of his distinctive theories of social development and his rethinking of the philosophy of reason as a theory of social rationalization.
For Habermas, religion has been a continuous concern precisely because it is related to both the emergence of reason and the development of a public space of reason-giving. Religious ideas, according to Habermas, are never mere irrational speculation. Rather, they possess a form, a grammar or syntax, that unleashes rational insights, even arguments; they contain, not just specific semantic contents about God, but also a particular structure that catalyzes rational argumentation.Read Religion as a catalyst of rationalization.
Edited by Craig Calhoun, Eduardo Mendieta, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, Habermas and Religion presents a series of original and sustained engagements with Habermas’s writing on religion in the public sphere, featuring new work and critical reflections from leading philosophers, social and political theorists, and anthropologists. Contributors to the volume respond both to Habermas’s ambitious and well-developed philosophical project and to his most recent work on religion. The book closes with an extended response from Habermas—itself a major statement from one of today’s most important thinkers.Read Habermas and Religion.
This “religion in the public sphere” thread has featured debates about whether citizens of liberal democratic societies can offer religious reasons for public laws that will be coercive on all citizens, or whether they must use, in John Rawls’s terms, “public reason.” . . . This normative debate is about what people should do in public debates, but knowing what people actually do would allow theorists to develop greater nuance in their analyses. When we see what people actually do, we can further inquire as to whether there are social structures that are pushing people toward good or bad behavior. For example, it is possible that the normative structure of the contemporary public sphere works so strongly against certain normative proposals that they should just be abandoned as utopian. Moreover, it is possible that we may gain normative wisdom from the collective practices of citizens. In any event, given the many hundreds of normative analyses, some empirical examinations may usefully agitate the debate.Read An empirical perspective on religious and secular reasons.
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 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 Secularism, secularization, and why the difference matters.
Recent events in Europe, from the cartoon crisis in Denmark to the controversy over the construction of minarets in Switzerland, have brought the status of Islam in the secular public sphere to the forefront of European political debates. The consequences of these debates can be seen in a hardening of the boundary between what is public and what is private, as many assume that religion generally belongs to the private sphere. Collective views in Europe have come to dictate that any claim or expression in public space deriving from religious beliefs be seen as illegitimate. As Jürgen Habermas has noted, the liberal vision of a secular public sphere imposes a special burden on the shoulders of religious citizens. Many believers, however, would not be able to undertake such an artificial division in their own minds between their religious beliefs and their civic commitments without destabilizing their existence as pious persons.Read Muslims in European public spheres and the limits of liberal theories of citizenship.