Friday, November 20, 2009

Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor in conversation

From the conference on "Rethinking Secularism: The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere" (New York University, October 22, 2009), a discussion between Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor on the difference between religious and secular reasoning:

Audio and transcript here (at the blog "The Immanent Frame")


Jürgen Habermas: "I’m, in the first place, maintaining that there are differences in kind between religious and secular reasons. Secondly, I’m maintaining that religion makes, in relation to the legitimation of constitutional essentials and so forth, a difference because of the historical fusion of religion with politics that had to be differentiated out."

Charles Taylor: "I don’t see how you can track in different kinds of discourse—unless we are talking about other kinds of discourse, where I’m saying to you, “Well, I had this great experience, a vision of the Virgin or St. Therese,” and so on—Of course, at that point, that discourse is directly related to this kind of experience. Certain kinds of discourse, if I were trying to describe to you a religious experience, would be directly related to that experience. But the kind of discourse we’re sharing—Martin Luther King had a certain discourse about the U.S. Constitution and its entailments which weren’t being followed through. And then he had a very powerful Christian discourse, referring to Exodus, referring to liberation. Nobody had any trouble understanding this. They didn’t have to imagine or be able to understand or conceive the deeper experiences that he might have had—you know, the experience in the kitchen when he decided he had to go on."

Jürgen Habermas: "I do want to save also the imperative character of religious speech in the public sphere, because I’m convinced that there are buried intuitions that can be uncovered by a moving speech. Listening to Martin Luther King, it makes no difference whether you are secular or not. You understand what he means. He is speaking in the public and was killed for that. This is not our difference. Our difference is that in one of your phrases, at least in the paper, you said there is a call for a deeper grounding of a secular justification of constitutional essentials in terms of popular sovereignty and human rights. This is our difference. There I think I could not follow you...."

Jürgen Habermas: "I am raised as a Lutheran Protestant and now I am an agnostic...."

Charles Taylor: "If you want an emphasis on negotiation, where we put together our charter of rights from different people, it can’t be in Benthamite language, it can’t be simply in Kantian language, it can’t be in Christian language. What Jürgen calls “secular” I’ll call “neutral.” That’s how I see it. I see it as absolutely indispensable."

Listen to the paper presentations that preceded this discussion here.

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