Let me begin by thanking the contributors to this book forum for their respective reviews. I am enormously grateful for the gift of time and attention their reviews represent. It is always instructive to see one’s work through the eyes of others, even if one does not always immediately recognize what one then sees! While finding valuable insights and many points for further reflection in all them, this is something of my reaction to Michael Gillespie’s and Jane Wills’s reviews. In responding to their critiques I will put them in dialogue with the reviews by Andrew Forsyth and Richard Wood, who I read as more directly articulating and speaking to the core foci and concerns of Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life. Situating my own response as an interaction between the two sets of reviews will hopefully clarify and help develop some of the book’s central arguments and positions.
Posts Tagged ‘democracy’
Community organizing is faith-based, at least in its best-known form. Since the 1940s, organizers in the mold of Saul Alinsky have worked with local congregations and civic groups to identify issues of shared interest and to marshal energies into action for social and economic change. Scholarship on community organizing, however, is surprisingly sparse. Work that treats religion non-reductively—as more than an interchangeable component in organizing—is sparser still. There are fine sociological studies, and earlier this century, reports of Barack Obama’s three years in Chicago brought bursts of scholarly and journalistic attention. But with Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life, Luke Bretherton joins Romand Coles and Jeffrey Stout as one of the few scholars who treat community organizing as essential to discussions of political theory and the place of religion in the public square.
Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life is a weighty call to “resurrect democracy” and to do so by adopting the practices of broad-based community organizing (BBCO) as developed by Saul Alinsky in 1930s Chicago and subsequently by a range of organizations in the United States and more recently, beyond. The book draws on Luke Bretherton’s experiences as an active participant in the work of London Citizens during the years before and after the financial crisis of 2008. As a theologian and active Christian, Bretherton brings a valuable religious perspective to his analysis of the work of the alliance and its campaigns to support the living wage and responsible lending in the city of London in the wake of the crash.
In his thoughtful The Origins of Political Order, Francis Fukuyama argues that there are three pillars of order that are necessary for the stability of states such as Denmark, Sweden, or the United Kingdom, which he sees as the three best examples of how we might live together: centralized power (including a monopoly on armed force), the rule of law (which applies not just to the people but to the rulers themselves), and accountability (guaranteed not merely through “parchment barriers” but by real checks and balances). The story he tells explains what is necessary for a government of the people and for the people, but it is less compelling as an account of what is necessary for government by the people. Indeed, in focusing on these general structures of governance he overlooks the great in-between, the intermediating associations of civil society such as schools, churches, and unions in which we live much of our lives. Thinkers since Tocqueville have argued that such associations are the bedrock of political life, a point reemphasized in our own time by Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, Jean Bethke Elshtain Elshtain, Robert Putnam, and William Galston, all of whom worry about the danger posed by the erosion of such institutions in the age of globalization.
Luke Bretherton’s Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life not only focuses on these intermediating institutions and their decline, it also presents a model for strengthening them and thereby “resurrecting democracy.”
In the United States, the Middle East is almost always presented as a problem to be solved—most significantly, the problem of religious extremism and conflict. Popular explanations of such conflict turn on supposedly deep-seated cultural attributes within Arab societies and often tied to the nature of Islam. But even for those that avoid this essentializing turn, virtually all commentators take for granted the proposed solution: generate ever-more secular political practices. In other words, what the region needs are governing institutions that treat individuals of all religious backgrounds as civic equals and thus reduce confessional difference to a matter purely of private (and legally protected) choice.
Secularism has many critics in the academy these days, but not all have given up on it. This is made abundantly clear in the recently published volume, Religion, Secularism, and Constitutional Democracy edited by Jean L. Cohen and Cécile Laborde.
Perhaps the most pertinent question to be asked of Egypt’s revolutionary/counter-revolutionary process in the past three years is this: how can we properly diagnose the persistent incongruity between the slogan of the 2011 revolution—“bread, freedom, and social justice”—and the failures of all political entities in Egypt to achieve them? These entities include the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), a transitional military regime that assumed power directly after the revolution (February 2011–June 2012); the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (June 2012–July 2013); and now, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s new presidency and the immediately preceding civilian regime installed under his military command (July 2013–May 2014). In other words, how and why has every organized entity in Egypt since January 2011 failed to meet the basic demands of the revolution?
The ouster of Mohamed Morsi involved a dispute over legitimacy—what gave the Egyptian president the right to remain in power? Despite the arguments of some commentators to the contrary, Morsi’s claim to legitimacy was based in democratic norms, not religious ones.
An earlier article, “Egypt and the elusiveness of shar’iyyah,” published at The Immanent Frame, contains several problematic assumptions, which lead the author, Mbaye Lo, to a series of equally problematic conclusions. Lo suggests that former Egyptian president Morsi claimed legitimacy on religious grounds rather than democratic grounds and that Islamists could not be trusted to respect Egypt’s democratic process. Lo also seems to uncritically accept claims made about the Muslim Brotherhood by some of Egypt’s political liberals.
Shortly after the late Omar Suleiman, the Hosni Mubarak era head of Egypt’s military intelligence, had been appointed vice president in a belated attempt to appease Egyptian protesters, he gave an infamous interview to Christiane Amanpour, in which he declared that the Egyptian people were not ready for democracy. While his remarks were rightly dismissed at the time as a self-serving declaration intended to justify why the regime was not moving faster to respond to the demands of the protesters, it certainly invites one to ask why Egyptians have had such a difficult time building a viable democracy. A popular theory, invoked by many Egyptian liberal democrats and supported by the military’s ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi, is that there exists a fundamental incompatibility between Islamist politics and democracy, or at least between the Islamist politics of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and democratic politics. (Ironically, that was precisely one of Suleiman’s claims in that interview—that elections would only empower what he derisively called the “Islamic current.”)
On July 3, 2013, after four days of intense public protests, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was removed, by force, from elected office.
The Unintended Reformation is an unusual work of history in deliberately focusing as much on the present as on the past, and in emphasizing the ongoing importance of the Reformation era for understanding the Western world today. Having considered issues related to the book’s genre, method, and assumptions in the first part of my response and others related to its historical arguments and omissions in the second part, the principal focus here will be the reactions of the forum participants to my description and assessment of the present. I will also take up speculation about my supposed agenda, and the book’s lack of ideas for solving contemporary problems.
On May 22-23, 2014, John Cabot University, as part of its Summer Institute for Religion and Global Politics will host an international conference entitled “Rethinking Political Catholicism: Empirical and Normative Perspectives.”
As a scholar working and living in the Netherlands, I apparently live in a state of affairs in which disinterested moral disorder reigns: “Whatever the particular country in which they happen to reside, all Westerners now live in the Kingdom of Whatever.” According to Brad Gregory, our present is the endpoint of a process through which we have come to lose “any shared or even convergent view about what ‘we’ think.” The result is a condition in which the grounds for morality might altogether disappear. Or, in more colloquial terms, this lack of a moral framework leads to an attitude of disinterest: “Whatever.”
I suspect that in Gregory’s view the Netherlands must be a prime example of the Kingdom of Whatever. The influence of the Reformation has nestled itself so deep in the soul of the country that Calvinist capitalist frugality and boundless moral liberalism have well-nigh become synonymous with Dutch national character.
Or at least, so the narrative goes.
Recent years have seen the resurgence of “metahistories” that seek to provide a single complex narrative of seemingly disparate events and developments. Among the most prominent contemporary accounts are Marcel Gauchet’s La condition historique (2005), Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age (2007) and Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution (2011). In different ways, all three offer an overarching story of how the distant past—whether the emergence of the modern state or the rise of secular unbelief as a default position or cultural capacities driving religious development—continues to shape the present. Brad S. Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation is another such ambitious attempt, charting the way in which Protestantism unwittingly invented the capitalism and secular liberalism that together constitute our current condition.
Tags: business, capitalism, Catholicism, church and state, democracy, government, liberalism, modernity, modernization, morality, Protestant Reformation, Protestantism, secularization
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Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation is noteworthy for its readiness to tread upon questions of morality and metaphysics that most historians would consider forbidden terrain. It is a common characteristic of historical scholarship as it is practiced in the modern university today that it abstains from grand philosophical themes and fastens its attention upon a narrow set of questions in an empiricist mode. This is perhaps due in part to the way that a highly administered society that is bound with ever-increasing intensity to technocratic norms is inclined to make a fetish of academic specialization. It is no doubt also due to an accumulation of historical knowledge and a professional imperative to keep abreast of the published work within one’s field. Because the drive to produce in the corporate university cannot exempt itself from the largely quantitative assessment of a scholar’s value, the sheer mass of information to be absorbed increases as the range of academic expertise narrows. Despite the new vogue for “global” history and high sales for books that extol the apparent superiority of Western civilization, most historians are humble creatures who prefer the domesticity of the local and the precise.
Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation is an expansively ambitious work. Indeed, its aim is to provide nothing less than an “explanation of why the Western world today is as it is.” In this regard it sits comfortably alongside Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, with whose neo-Thomist structure, content, and purpose it has much in common. Both writers mix their Thomism with Hegelianism, treating the secular world as the form in which man confronts his own alienated or sublimated religious impulse. Lying behind this philosophical-historical theory of secularization is a conception of the world as the space in which its transcendent creator manifests himself sacramentally
The long-term consequences of the Reformation have been a subject of heated debate for many decades. Most accounts have taken one of two forms. On the one hand, in the wake of Weber’s magisteral Protestant Ethic, many historians have wondered about the relationship between Protestantism and capitalist development (R.H. Tawney and E.P. Thompson the most famous among them). On the other hand, many historians, philosophers, and theologians, writing from a Catholic perspective, have seen Luther’s Reformation as the blow that shattered the glorious unity of medieval Christendom. Brad Gregory is clearly of the latter camp, and he boldly revives this largely forgotten axis of “modernity critique” (even figures like Alasdair MacIntyre, to whom Gregory owes so much, pay comparatively little attention to the Reformation). In this exhaustive, and exhausting, tome, Gregory seeks to show how the little monk of Wittenberg is behind all of the most disquieting aspects of the modern condition. Although this is largely hidden by Gregory’s immense erudition and soothing style, The Unintended Reformation is a frightening and deeply anti-democratic work, both in its methods and in its findings.
The Immanent Frame contributor Mbaye Lo writes at Mondoweiss on ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s claim of legitimacy and its underlying religious nature, drawing upon narratives from Islamic history.
The public protests and ouster of elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi by the Egyptian military followed by the appointment of interim President Adli Monsour left Egypt with continued protests, violence, and an uncertain future for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Islamist politics across the Middle East. The following roundup culls the various religious and political motivations and interests of multiple parties, both within and surrounding Egypt.
Dennis J. Goldford was recently interviewed by Religion Dispatches Magazine about his new book The Constitution of Religious Freedom: God, Politics, and the First Amendment, which explores the notion of “separation of church and state” and the religious identity of America.
On November 21st, a Egyptian-sponsored ceasefire between Israel and Hamas took effect, bringing an end to eight days of particularly fierce fighting between the two.
Mohamed Morsi was declared President of Egypt little more than two weeks ago. Challenger and former President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, sent President Morsi a telegram congratulating him on his victory: “I am pleased to present to you my sincere congratulations for your victory in the presidential election, wishing you success in the difficult task that has been trusted to you by the great people of Egypt.”
As thousands celebrated the victory of the Freedom and Justice Party—part of the 84-year-old Muslim Brotherhood organization—in Tahrir Square, just a few blocks away a much more somber mood prevailed.
“Let me enjoy another bottle of beer,” said an old man as he plunked some coins on the counter at a local grocery store. “Soon the Jama’a (Muslim Brotherhood) will ban it.” The store owner, Mr. Ahmad, nodded. “Allah yastur al balad, [May god protect the country]—it will be like Sudan or Pakistan.” Clearly, anxiety and divisions still persist in Egypt. The pharmacists at the nearby El-Ezaby Pharmacy also looked disillusioned. This profession in Egypt is overwhelmingly dominated by the Coptic Christian community, who represent about 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people, but 90 percent of whom voted for Shafik according to exit polls.
The New York Times reports on the atmosphere in Cairo today, after news came in that Mohamed Morsi is the winner of the presidential race in Egypt.
Alfred Stepan is Wallace S. Sayre Professor of Government at Columbia University and founder and director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration, and Religion. He has written extensively on democratic transitions, military regimes, and the relationship between religion and democracy in countries throughout the world. His theory of the “twin tolerations,” which argues that healthy democracies require religious leaders to grant authority to elected officials, and that state authorities must not only guarantee freedom of private religious worship but allow democratic participation in civil and political society, has influenced political theorists, heads of state, and grassroots activists.
This Friday, June 15, The Duke Islamic Studies Center’s Transcultural Islam Project is co-hosting a panel discussion on the upcoming Egyptian run-off elections.
As Elizabeth Shakman Hurd’s and Saba Mahmood’s earlier contributions to this discussion remind us, the received wisdom in Western policy circles today emphasizes the necessary synergy between democracy and religious freedom. What I wish to suggest in my remarks here is not that this characterization is wrong, but that it is sociologically too simple, and that the oversimplification can result in ill-conceived prescriptions for pluralist religious freedom.
Tags: David Martin, democracy, democratization, global south, law and religion, liberal democracy, liberalism, multiculturalism, pluralism, religious diversity, religious freedom, secularization
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In this installment of the Rites and Responsibilities dialogue series, I met with the Boston University anthropologist and scholar of Islam Robert W. Hefner. A world renowned expert on Muslim culture, politics, and education in Southeast Asia and beyond, Hefner is the author or co-editor of more than a dozen books, including Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia and Shari‘a Politics: Law and Society in the Modern World.
Tags: anthropology, democracy, democratization, Indonesia, Islam, liberal democracy, multiculturalism, religious diversity, Rites & responsibilities, Robert Hefner, sharia
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It is hard to remember, but religious pluralism meant something quite different fifty years ago. We have, I would argue, so shifted our collective understanding of religious pluralism, and this transformation has been so naturalized, that we have little common conception that this shift even happened and much less sense of its consequences.
Tags: democracy, differentiation, economics, Judeo-Christian, liberalism, Norman Vincent Peale, Peter Berger, pluralism, public sphere, religion in the U.S., religious economy, religious freedom, Robert Bellah, secularization, sociology, Will Herberg
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Over at Foreign Affairs, Andrew Preston has written an article exploring the paradox of religion in U.S. foreign policy.
The New York Review of Books’ blog recently posted a debate between women’s rights groups and Human Rights Watch entitled, Women and Islam: A Debate With Human Rights Watch.
At Harvard Law School, faculty members Noah Feldman and Duncan Kennedy recently debated the question “Can Israel Be Both Jewish and Democratic?”
The organizers of the upcoming annual conference of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, “The Arab Spring: Getting It Right,” is currently seeking paper proposals.
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.
Tags: Akeel Bilgrami, church and state, democracy, Italy, John Rawls, Jürgen Habermas, liberal democracy, pluralism, political theory, secularism
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Today marks the first anniversary of the self-immolation of a young street seller in Tunisia that sparked the Arab Spring. How is Tunisia doing one year on?
According to Jean Daniel, the French commentator and founder of Novel Observateur, in his “Islamism’s New Clothes” article in the December 22, 2011 issue of The New York Review of Books, the answer is: very badly. In his view, the recent elections in Tunisia amount to a “counter-revolution.” It would appear from what he says that the elections could only count as a revolution if they had followed the script of a French model of 1905 laïcité –the most religiously “unfriendly” form of secularism of any West European democracy. Such a model, in a more extreme form, was imposed by the state in the authoritarian secularism under Habib Bourguiba and Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia without free elections from Independence in 1956 until the Arab Spring.
Having witnessed, and written about, over fifteen efforts at democratic transitions and having visited Tunisia three times since the start of the Arab Spring, I would argue the opposite: A much more appropriate description of the political situation in Tunisia is to call it the Arab Spring’s first completed democratic transition.
America Abroad, the award-winning documentary radio program, has released a new documentary, “The Politics of Faith—The Role of Religion in Divided Societies.” Drawing from interviews with locals and experts, the documentary examines the religious undercurrents that are sharpening societal divides, from Egypt to China, from Russia to Malaysia.
Tags: Buddhism, China, Christianity, church and state, Coptic Orthodox Church, democracy, Eastern Orthodox Church, Egypt, international affairs, Islam, Islamism, Malaysia, politics, religious freedom, Russia, tolerance
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Is there a crisis of secularism in Western Europe? Is Tariq Modood’s “moderate secularism” the solution, or should we go “beyond moderate secularism” and embrace the “alternative conception of secularism,” that of “principled distance,” proposed by Rajeev Bhargava? In this piece I hope to show that, for the purposes of normative thinking—in the realms of political and legal theory, constitutional law, and jurisprudence in particular—we had better drop the language of secularism altogether and reframe the contested issues in terms of the language of liberal-democratic constitutionalism and its respective principles, rights, and institutional arrangements.
I agree with Kahn (and with Schmitt) about the fact that political theory should leave room for decision and exception. But to me, the main question is: to what extent? Are there no principles that admit no exception? When I read Kahn, as when I read Schmitt, I don’t seem to encounter any such principles—anything like what Habermas thematized in Law and Morality as “indisponibility,” that is, rights that are not at the disposal of the sovereign. Can the sovereign decide that torture is a legitimate practice? The answer, to me, should be no without exception.
Tags: Carl Schmitt, democracy, freedom, George W. Bush, international affairs, international law, John Yoo, law, Paul W. Kahn, political theology, political theory, politics, sovereignty, terrorism, war
Posted in Political Theology | 1 Comment »
In liberal theory, essence is privileged over existence, reason over will, and endless discussion over decision. In political theology, things stand the other way around: existence, will, and decision have primacy over essence, reason, and endless discussion. If Kahn, like Schmitt, is right to criticize liberalism (albeit for the wrong reason), this does not mean that the either/or logic he seems to employ (either liberal theory or political theology) ought to be accepted at face value. An alternative to this either/or comes from the perspective (and practice) of the common, which maintains the decision as singular but rejects it as sovereign.
My claim and concern is not only that Kahn is captured by Schmitt’s particular view of political theology as a disclosure of the sacred in modernity, but also that he de-politicizes culture by imagining it as consensual, while he also disowns the positioning and perspective that drive his “description” (as if from nowhere) of a foundational “imaginary” defining (indeed sacralizing) national identity. What premises constitute his avowedly Schmittian, but also “American,” position? And how do the blind spots of this position—what it implicitly disavows, excludes, or fails to acknowledge—reemerge into the theoretical framework that Kahn elaborates?
Tags: American politics, Carl Schmitt, democracy, Hannah Arendt, liberalism, Paul W. Kahn, phenomenology, political theology, political theory, race, Ralph Ellison, sacrifice, violence
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What are the chances of successful democratic transitions in Tunisia and Egypt? I have just returned from both countries where many democratic activists shared notes with me about their situation, comparing it with the more than twenty successful and failed democratic transition attempts that I have observed throughout the world and written about.
At Patheos, philosopher Roger Gottlieb discusses why “spirituality” is a necessary supplement to democracy.
In the SSRC’s Transformations of the Public Sphere essay forum, Seyla Benhabib considers the recent and ongoing uprisings in the Arab world as a novel hybridization of Muslim and modern politics, suggesting that it “is altogether possible that these young revolutionaries who stunned the world with their ingenuity, discipline, tenaciousness and courage will also teach us some new lessons about religion and the public square, democracy and faith . . . .”
Amid the ongoing upheaval in Egypt, Clifford Bob discusses the U.S. Government perspective on Egypt’s future and the possibly—or, rather, probably—significant role to be played by religious associations and political parties in the event of a post-Mubarak transition
Marc Lynch responds to protests across the Arab world.
Simon During is a professor at the Centre for the History of European Discourses at the University of Queensland, having previously taught at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Melbourne, and elsewhere. In addition to editing The Cultural Studies Reader, now in its third edition, he is the author of several books, including Modern Enchantments: The Cultural Power of Secular Magic (Harvard, 2002) and Exit Capitalism: Literary Culture, Theory and Post-Secular Modernity (Routledge, 2010). In both, he brings questions of the secular to bear on historical, literary sources both obscure and revelatory. His Compulsory Democracy: towards a literary history is forthcoming.
Between 2006-2009, with the support of the Teagle Foundation, four self-identifying secular liberal arts campuses—Bucknell University and Macalester, Vassar, and Williams Colleges—engaged in a project, “Secularity and the Liberal Arts,” that tried to get at the purpose and nature of liberal arts education by asking what it means for a liberal arts campus to unabashedly call its practices “secular.” Is there a way, we wondered, that by spending some time thinking critically and honestly about this crucial term—one that ostensibly governs our practices—we might get a better handle on the nature of liberal arts education?