The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere

The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere represents a rare opportunity to experience a diverse group of preeminent philosophers confronting one pervasive contemporary concern: what role does—or should—religion play in our public lives?

Reflecting on her recent work concerning state violence in Israel-Palestine, Judith Butler explores the potential of religious perspectives for renewing cultural and political criticism, while Jürgen Habermas, best known for his seminal conception of the public sphere, thinks through the ambiguous legacy of the concept of “the political” in contemporary theory. Charles Taylor argues for a radical redefinition of secularism, and Cornel West defends civil disobedience and emancipatory theology.

Editors Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen detail the immense contribution of these philosophers to contemporary social and political theory, and an afterword by Craig Calhoun places these attempts to reconceive the significance of both religion and the secular in the context of contemporary national and international politics.

Each of the core essays was originally presented as a talk at a symposium co-sponsored by the Social Science Research Council, the NYU Institute for Public Knowledge, and the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University. The book also includes edited transcripts of dialogues between Butler, Habermas, Taylor, and West, which—along with the original audio—can be found below.

De kracht van religie in de openbare sfeerTranslations of the text have been made into Dutch, German, and Spanish. Continuing the discussion at The Immanent Frame, Akeel Bilgrami responded to Charles Taylor’s chapter in The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, offering an alternative conceptualization of secularism in an SSRC Working Paper. Bilgrami’s working paper elicited a series of reactions of its own.

• Read an excerpt from Jürgen Habermas’s chapter on “The Political.”
• Read an article on the book by Scott McLemee in Intellectual Affairs.
• Read James Swindal’s review in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
• Read Peter Gordon’s review in The New Republic.
• Read Christopher Lane’s use of the book at The Huffington Post.
• Purchase The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere at Amazon.com or Powell’s Books.

October 20th, 2011

Secularism: Its content and context

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I begin with three fundamental features of the idea of ‘secularism.’ I will want to make something of them at different stages of the passage of my argument in this paper for the conclusion—among others—that the relevance of secularism is contextual in very specific ways. If secularism has its relevance only in context, then it is natural and right to think that it will appear in different forms and guises in different contexts. But I write down these opening features of secularism at the outset because they seem to me to be invariant among the different forms that secularism may take in different contexts. It is hard to imagine that one hasn’t changed the subject from secularism to something else, something that deserves another name, if one finds oneself denying any of the features that I initially list below.

Read Secularism: Its content and context.
October 6th, 2011

Focus on the funk: An interview with Cornel West

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“I would go with Pierre Hadot and say that the love of wisdom is a way of life; that is to say, it’s a set of practices that have to do with mustering the courage to think critically about ourselves, society, and the world; mustering the courage to empathize; the courage, I would say, to love; the courage to have compassion with others, especially the widow and the orphan, the fatherless and the motherless, poor and working peoples, gays and lesbians, and so forth—and the courage to hope. So, it is a way of life, a set of practices, no doubt, but, at the same time, I call it a kind of focus on the funk.”

Read Focus on the funk: An interview with Cornel West.
April 1st, 2011

Implicated and enraged: An interview with Judith Butler

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Judith Butler, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is among the leading social theorists alive today. Her most recent books are Frames of War (2009) and The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere (2011), an SSRC volume that puts her in conversation with Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West. As we carried out our conversation by email between Brooklyn and Berkeley, uprisings were occurring across the Arab world, and a U.S.-led coalition had just begun conducting airstrikes in support of rebel forces in Libya. We had discussed some similar questions, and some different ones, a year earlier in an interview for Guernica magazine.

Read Implicated and enraged: An interview with Judith Butler.
March 16th, 2011

Religion’s many powers

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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.
February 3rd, 2010

A postsecular world society?: An interview with Jürgen Habermas

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“We should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The debate over the sociological thesis of secularization has led to a revision above all in respect to prognostic statements. On the one hand, the system of religion has become more differentiated and has limited itself to pastoral care, that is, it has largely lost other functions. On the other hand, there is no global connection between societal modernization and religion’s increasing loss of significance, a connection that would be so close that we could count on the disappearance of religion. In the still undecided dispute as to whether the religious USA or the largely secularized Western Europe is the exception to a general developmental trend, José Casanova for example has developed interesting new hypotheses. In any case, globally we have to count on the continuing vitality of world religions.”

Read A postsecular world society?: An interview with Jürgen Habermas.
December 4th, 2009

Judith Butler and Cornel West in conversation

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rethinkingIn a recent symposium held by the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU, the Social Science Research Council and the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University, Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West came together to discuss the project of “rethinking secularism.” Today we are posting audio and a transcript of the discussion that took place between Butler and West, moderated by Eduardo Mendieta, in which the two leading thinkers exchange thoughts on the ethics and limitations of citizenship, as well as temporality, memory, and the problematics of progress. (Listen to the paper presentations that preceded this discussion here and add your own voice to the discussion here.)

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November 20th, 2009

Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor in conversation

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rethinkingIn a symposium convened by the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU, the Social Science Research Council and the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University, Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West came together last month to discuss the project of “rethinking secularism.” Today we are posting audio and a transcript of the October 22 discussion between Habermas and Taylor, moderated by Craig Calhoun, in which the two leading philosophers discuss the place of religion in the public sphere and whether there are differences in kind between religious and secular reasons. (Listen to the paper presentations that preceded this discussion here. Add your own voice to the discussion here.)

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November 2nd, 2009

Audio: The power of religion in the public sphere

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Four of the world’s leading public intellectuals came together on Thursday, October 22 in the historic Great Hall at Cooper Union to discuss “Rethinking Secularism.” In an electrifying symposium convened by the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU, the Social Science Research Council and the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University, Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West gave powerful accounts of religion in the public sphere. The Immanent Frame is now posting the full audio of each talk. (Click here to join an open thread conversation about this event.)

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October 23rd, 2009

Open thread: The power of religion in the public sphere

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Four of the world’s leading public intellectuals came together yesterday in the historic Great Hall at Cooper Union to discuss “Rethinking Secularism.” In an electrifying symposium convened by the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU, the Social Science Research Council and the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University, Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West gave powerful accounts of religion in the public sphere. The Immanent Frame invites you to respond to the symposium presentations by submitting comments in the space below. UPDATE: Listen to audio of the event here.

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