Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review of "The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere"

At "Notre Dame Philosophical Review", James Swindal reviews "The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere" (Columbia University Press, 2011), edited by Eduardo Mendieta & Jonathan VanAntwerpen:

Review of "The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere"

"In October 2009 Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, Judith Butler, and Cornel West, in a public forum in New York City's Cooper Union (sponsored by New York University, Stony Brook University, and the Social Science Research Council), each addressed one of the thorniest current topics of public deliberation: its incorporation of religious thought. Until the work of Rawls, little philosophical discussion had targeted the role of religion in the public sphere. But now, as Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen point out in their Introduction to the volume, even in the face of increasing technological development and modernization, religion has not "withered away," and thus an analysis of its role in public deliberation repays renewed exploration."

"Habermas, appropriately, begins the debate. [....] Habermas builds his argument in his lecture by criticizing Carl Schmitt's notion of "the political." Schmitt believed that the twentieth century rise of liberalism and its attendant emphasis on normative democratic will-formation effectively negated genuine politics. In contrast, Schmitt wanted a return to a sovereign state power, exercised not through reason but primarily through a charismatic leader. [....] This sovereign form of power embodies in an authentic way the religious roots of all political authority. Like Rawls, Habermas thinks that in modernity politics did in fact migrate from the sovereign to civil society, which now functions on the basis of the public use of reason. But he thinks civil society should nonetheless refer to religious sources if they are "translated" in a way secular persons can understand. Habermas is concerned that this ought not, however, to place a greater burden on the religious persons to carry out this translation. Instead, nonreligious persons must, for their part, realize the limits of secular reason and be open to the "truth content" of vibrant world religions. [....] So, we jettison Schmitt's notion of sovereignty but retain his hope for a continued substantive form of association between politics and religion."

See my previous post on the book here.

James Swindal is Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy, Duquesne University. He is co-editor (with David Rasmussen) of "Habermas II" vol. 1-4 (Sage, 2010). See my post here.

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