I have always been puzzled by the fact that Charles Taylor starts his book A Secular Age with a long quote from Bede Griffith in order to describe a religious type of experience. It is the description of a scene experienced by the author as a school-boy: trees are blossoming, birds are singing, the author has the sensation that angels are present and that God is looking down on him. My question is: Why this quote? Why choose an image and a language of sunset, trees and birds in order to describe something for which the different languages of theology have worked out precise and elaborate codifications? I understand, of course, that in the context of the introduction to A Secular Age, Taylor uses this quote in order to make a soft claim to the human openness to experiences of transcendental nature. He uses the rest of the eight-hundred pages of the book to explore why it has become increasingly rare and difficult in our secular age to live these kinds of experiences, let alone to look for them in the context of an organized religious tradition. Most of us, he says, live our lives in an “immanent frame” and religious belief “has become one option among many.”
Posts Tagged ‘John Rawls’
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.
What is interesting about An-Na`im’s arguments is that they ground the case for the secular state not in the Quran, not in claims about the presence of the imago Dei in the person or in some other source of the person’s intrinsic dignity, not in natural law, some closely similar type of practical reason, or universal moral precepts, but rather in what might be called “second order” observations about the phenomenology of belief, the character of government, the lessons of history, and the like. To be sure, good reasons for the secular state lie therein. But are these arguments sufficient to ground an Islamic case for constitutionalism, human rights, and the secular state? I doubt it.
It is clear from the ongoing discussion about “Religion in the public sphere” that we live in an age when many inside and outside of the academy are thinking and talking about religion—specifically about religion in public and whether it ought to be there. Many are turning their attention to the relation among religion, law, and politics, now that the once-common theories about the inevitable march of (what is commonly understood as) secularization have been mostly discredited. Such theories were based on an erroneous interpretation of the Enlightenment as a monolithic force that discounted religion, and on the view that modernity would necessarily usher in secularism, that is, launch an age in which religion had no significant standing. Yet most have come to realize that religion as an intellectual, cultural, and political force is not, in fact, waning on the globe. To help us think about religion in the public and political landscape, I propose a model—what I call Public Landscape as Varied Topography—in which there is room for various socio-political stances, religious or otherwise. […]
If the state is going to enforce any principle from Islamic sources, according to Abdullahi An-Na‘im, then it should implement the principle that the state should not enforce Islamic principles. This is the crux of An-Na‘im’s new book, Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari‘a. An-Na‘im, a renowned Islamic scholar and human rights activist, is a leading member of the generation of Muslim intellectuals that came to prominence in the 1980s as critics of both Islamist revolutionaries and post-colonial dictators. According to An-Na‘im, the secular state is not just a good thing on public-policy grounds; it is also justified on Islamic grounds. […]
What are we to think of the idea, entertained by Rawls for a time, that one can legitimately ask of a religiously and philosophically diverse democracy that everyone deliberate in a language of reason alone, leaving their religious views in the vestibule of the public sphere? The tyrannical nature of this demand was rapidly appreciated by Rawls, to his credit. But we ought to ask why the proposition arose in the first place.
What distinguishes Habermas from Rawls on religion in the public sphere is not Habermas’s slightly amended view of public reason, but his willingness to entertain the idea that religion has a positive and substantive role to play in public debate.
In his essay “Religion in the Public Sphere,” Habermas joins the debate between liberals and critics of liberalism on the proper role of religion in the public sphere. His proposal focuses on what each side of the debate gets right: the liberal emphasis on the obligation to provide nonreligious reasons in support of coercive policies with which all citizens must comply, on one side, and the critic’s insistence on the right of religious citizens to adopt their religious stance in public deliberation about such policies, on the other. […]