Public Religions in a Post-Secular World
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: Fordham University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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The age of globalization, as we seem destined to regard it, confronts us with more ironies than sources of clarity. The apparent triumph of Enlightenment secularization, manifest in the global spread of political and economic structures that pretended to relegate the sacred to a strictly circumscribed private sphere, seems to have foundered on an unexpected realization of its own parochialism and a belated acknowledgment...
Introduction: Before, Around, and Beyond the Theologico-Political
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What has happened to ‘‘religion’’ in its present and increasingly public manifestation, propelled by global media, economic markets, and foreign policies as much as by resistance to them? How should we understand the worldwide tendencies toward the simultaneous homogenization and pluralization of our social and cultural practices, that is to say, of our...
Part I: What Are Political Theologies?
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The Gods of Politics in Early Greek Cities
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I have decided to speak of ‘‘the gods’’ rather than ‘‘religion,’’ and of the
‘‘political domain [le politique]’’ to identify the specific domain that has
been recognized as such (as tō politikōn) ever since Aristotle. As for the
earliest Greek cities, they constitute the area of my present fieldwork.
No doubt you thought ‘‘Presumably, he’s a Hellenist’’ . . . and there is surely nothing shameful about being a Hellenist. All the same, I...
Church, State, Resistance
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The separation of church and state is the French expression, linked to the dominant Catholic Church in that country, used to signify the complete differentiation between the laws [droits] and powers of the religious order (whether ecclesiatical or constituted in another way) and the political order. In any civil or public matter, the political order is...
Politics and Finitude: The Temporal Status of Augustine’s Civitas Permixta
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If, generally speaking, readers’ and writers’ attitudes toward the autobiographical genre can be characterized as naïve in that they take for granted the sincerity of the author, it is even harder for historians to be professionally effective without taking their products to be authentic reflections of time. There is a sense, however, in which histories of the state, histories of the church, and, indeed, histories of great institutions...
The Scandal of Religion: Luther and Public Speech in the Reformation
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Although Luther is generally viewed as the creator of a homogeneous, modern German vernacular, after even a cursory sampling of passages in his immense oeuvre, one is struck by how artificial, hybrid, and strange his language is. Luther mixes Latin and German, biblical references and vernacular idioms, and blessings and curses. This mixing of registers was not entirely unprecedented in the sixteenth century—for...
On the Names of God
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God is nameless for no one can either speak of him or know him. . . . Accordingly, if I say that ‘‘God is good,’’ this is not true. I am good, but God is not good! In fact, I would rather say that I am better than God, for what is good can become better and what can become better can become the best! Now God is not good, and so...
The Permanence of the Theologico-Political?
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There was, in the nineteenth century, a widespread and lasting conviction that one cannot discern the transformations that occur in political society—that one cannot really take stock of what is appearing, disappearing, or reappearing—without examining the religious significance of the old and the new. In both France and Germany, philosophy, history, the novel, and poetry all testify to that. This conviction is not, of...
Violence in the State of Exception: Reflections on Theologico-Political Motifs in Benjamin and Schmitt
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Two months after the events of September 11, President George W. Bush issued a Military Order authorizing the ‘‘indefinite detention’’ of certain noncitizens in the ‘‘war on terror.’’1 The Military Order effectively resulted in the suspension of fundamental rights of ‘‘enemy aliens,’’ such as the right to be brought before an impartial tribunal...
Critique, Coercion, and Sacred Life in Benjamin’s ‘‘Critique of Violence’’
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I would like to take up the question of violence, more specifically, the question of what a critique of violence might be. What meaning does the term critique take on when it becomes a critique of violence? A critique of violence is an inquiry into the conditions for violence, but it is also an interrogation of how violence is circumscribed in advance by the questions we pose of it. What is violence, then, such that we can...
From Rosenzweig to Levinas
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It seems that through the work of Franz Rosenzweig, and subsequently that of Emmanuel Levinas, the twentieth century has seen the birth of a radically new conception of ethics. It appeared against the horizon of the two great historical catastrophes that left their mark upon that century, the First World War, in the case of Rosenzweig, and in that of Levinas, the Second World War and the massive extermination of the...
Levinas, Spinoza, and the Theologico-Political Meaning of Scripture
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At intervals of about ten years, Levinas devoted articles to Spinoza.1 At first glance, these readings stand out for their critical, indeed, polemical tone. In his 1955 ‘‘The Case of Spinoza,’’ Levinas accepts Jacob Gordin’s summary verdict: ‘‘Spinoza was guilty of betrayal [il existe une trahison de Spinoza]’’ (108 / 155–56). Indeed, in this text we find an even more...
Part II: Beyond Tolerance: Pluralism and Agonistic Reason
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On the Relations Between the Secular Liberal State and Religion
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The suggested theme for our discussion today is reminiscent of a question that Ernst Wolfgang Böckenförde, in the mid-1960s, succinctly put as follows: Is the liberal secular state nourished by normative preconditions that it cannot itself guarantee?1 The question expresses doubt that the democratic constitutional state can renew the normative preconditions...
Prepolitical Moral Foundations of a Free Republic
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In the acceleration of the tempo of historical developments in which we live, two factors, it seems to me, stand out above all others as characteristics of a development that, earlier, began only slowly. The first is the formation of a world society in which individual political, economic, and cultural powers depend, more and more, on each other, and come...
Bush’s God Talk
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Most discussions of George W. Bush’s religious faith draw heavily on his campaign autobiography, A Charge to Keep: My Journey to the White House (1999), which puts religion at the beginning, middle, and end of the story.1 Deliberately vague in its chronology, the book describes a man who drifted until middle age, when Billy Graham ‘‘planted a mustard seed’’ in his soul and helped turn his life around.2 Modifying the...
Pluralism and Faith
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Straussianism is the only professorial movement in the United States that has attained the standing of a public philosophy. Since at least the late 1970s, its proponents have not only played a significant role in the academy but have served as advisers to the president when a Republican holds office and as talking heads on news channels such as Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC when Republicans are in or out of office. The tendency...
Subjects of Tolerance: Why We Are Civilized and They Are the Barbarians
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In recent years, culture has become a cardinal object of tolerance and intolerance. This is not only because liberal democratic societies have become increasingly multicultural as a consequence of late-modern population flows and the affirmation of cultural difference over assimilation. It is also because political conflict has become, in Mahmood Mamdani’s phrase, ‘‘culturalized’’: ‘‘It is no longer the market (capitalism...
Religion, Liberal Democracy, and Citizenship
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Contrary to what many liberals had predicted, instead of becoming obsolete thanks to the development of ‘‘postconventional identities’’ and the increasing role of rationality in human behavior, religious forms of identification currently play a growing role in many societies. Yet the question of what should be the place of the church in a liberal democracy is a burning issue in several of the new Eastern European democracies...
Toleration Without Tolerance: Enlightenment and the Image of Reason
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Contemporary attempts to justify tolerance and toleration converge on the importance of reason. The argument for this, on behalf of what we might call the ‘‘model of reasonable toleration,’’ is that reason is available to everyone who is willing to give to others what they want for themselves. Its laws apply universally, and even though its results are more reliable than those that come from other sources of knowledge, it...
Saint John: The Miracle of Secular Reason
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John Rawls is a saint. In the words of Amy Gutmann, who remarked, when delivering his eulogy, that she felt ‘‘privileged to have lived in his time,’’ Rawls was ‘‘saintly as well as wise.’’1 Within certain communities of political theorists, such sentiment appears to be widespread, as is evident from expressions of personal admiration in the wake of Rawls’s...
Part III: Democratic Republicanism, Secularism, and Beyond
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Reinhabiting Civil Disobedience
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To clarify it again, what, then, is the difference between religion and philosophy? A core distinction would be that the latter can subsist without a conception of the divine. In other words, philosophy does not necessitate a conception of another, higher world, with which to slander or to beautify, or to authorize its work in this world. It need not traffic in super-earthly hopes. Of what consequence then, is this emergent conception...
Rogue Democracy and the Hidden God
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‘‘America will have been my subject’’—it is almost in passing, and yet with considerable emphasis, that Jacques Derrida makes this announcement early on in a lecture that was to become the major portion of Rogues (Voyous).1 And yet the passing remark could hardly have been more significant. America—in particular, the United States—always held a special importance for Derrida’s work.2 It was in American universities...
Intimate Publicities: Retreating the Theologico-Political in the Chávez Regime?
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On January 10, 2001, television screens across Venezuela filled with an extraordinary image: surrounded by a forest of microphones and journalists, the nation’s Defense Prime Minister, General Ismael Eliécer Hurtado Soucre, suddenly produced and held up in his right hand a pair of lightly colored women’s panties, which he waved at the cameras...
The Figure of the Abducted Woman: The Citizen as Sexed
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Writing in 1994, Gyanendra Pandey, the well-known historian of the subaltern, took the neglect of the Partition in the social sciences and in Indian public culture to be a symptom of a deep malaise.1 Historical writing in India, he argued, was singularly uninterested in the popular construction of Partition, the trauma it produced, and the sharp division between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs it left behind. He attributed...
How to Recognize a Muslim When You See One: Western Secularism and the Politics of Conversion
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One of the most dramatic aspects of the encounter between the West and Islam today is the urgency with which both are being driven to reexamine their most fundamental assumptions and worldviews—and to reinvent them. Striving, forced, fearing to live together, we are creating a new world, now, this very minute...
Laïcité, or the Politics of Republican Secularism
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Laïcité—the French version of secularism, which insists on the strict separation of church and state or, more generally, of politics and religion— has become well known internationally in the context of the March 2004 law prohibiting pupils at public schools from wearing ‘‘signes religieux ostensibles [conspicuous religious signs].’’1 Historically...
Trying to Understand French Secularism
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In modern society there is typically a multiplicity of religious beliefs and identities, and—so we are told—they can be held together only by a formal separation between religious belonging and political status, and by the allocation of religious belief to the private sphere. To be fully part of a democratic community, citizens holding different religious beliefs (or none) must share values that enable them to have a common...
Pim Fortuyn, Theo van Gogh, and thePolitics of Tolerance in the Netherlands
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In August 2004, a short film that dealt with the theme of violence against women in Islamic societies was broadcast on Dutch television. The key scene showed four topless women in transparent clothing; their bodies had been covered with calligraphically inscribed verses from the Koran that legitimate the subjection of women. Working from a script written...
Can a Minority Retain Its Identity in Law?: The 2005 Multatuli Lecture
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It is an honor and a pleasure for me to address you here today in the Grote Kerk of Breda in the context of the 2005 Multatuli Lecture. The theme about which I have been asked to say something is: Can a minority retain its identity in law?..
Prophetic Justice in a Home Haunted by Strangers: Transgressive Solidarity and Trauma in the Work of an Israeli Rabbis’ Group
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What does it mean to practice a peace activism simultaneously rooted in Judaism and in human rights, in a context in which trauma-influenced readings of Jewish identity are invoked to justify violating the rights of other people(s)?1 How can the language of universal rights be reconciled with a belief in Jewish uniqueness that includes a history of exceptional...
Part IV: Opening Societies and the Rights of the Human
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Mysticism and the Foundation of the Open Society: Bergsonian Politics
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In his 1920 Oxford lecture ‘‘The Possible and the Real’’ (published in 1934 in La Pensée et le mouvant, rather unhappily translated as The Creative Mind1), Bergson returns to a question of method: the importance of the position of problems in philosophy. Solutions, or answers to problems, are implied in the way in which problems are stated; they...
The Agency of Assemblages and the North American Blackout
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One thing that globalization names is the sense that the ‘‘theater of operations’’ has expanded greatly. Earth is no longer a category for ecology or geology only, but has become a political unit, the whole in which the parts (e.g., finance capital, CO2 emissions, refugees, viruses, pirated DVDs, ozone, human rights, weapons of mass destruction) now circulate. There have been various attempts to theorize this complex, gigantic...
Automatic Theologies: Surrealism and the Politics of Equality
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To write about surrealism and theology seems an almost heretical act, on both sides of the equation. Like other Romantic and post-Romantic artistic movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, surrealism owes a debt to mysticism and the occult that is already widely acknowledged, as is the occurrence of religious symbolism throughout...
Theoscopy: Transparency, Omnipotence, and Modernity
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To be forever seen without seeing back is to succumb to a mercy and grace carved in religious force, to walk in fear and faith of a tremendous power one cannot face. It is to live a paranoid existence of nakedness before a God who is all-seeing, hence omniscient and omnipotent, and who accordingly metes out a social experience and a knowledge of oneself...
Come On, Humans, One More Effort if You Want to Be Post-Christians!
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In the spring of 2003, the news came from the diocese of Helsingoer— Hamlet’s country, quite appropriately—that Thorkild Grosboell, a theologian and minister in the Lutheran Church of Denmark, was an atheist. The pastor later retracted, but the fact remains: he had publicly stated that he believed neither in God the creator of the world, nor in the resurrection of Christ, nor in the eternal life of the soul. Mr. Grosboell is...
The Right Not to Use Rights: Human Rights and the Structure of Judgments
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The claim that human rights are rights and that they are the rights of human beings means two things. First, it means that they apply neither to the empirical totality of a bio- or zoological species nor to any individuals as the privileged (because exemplary) instances of such a species but rather to the human ‘‘as such’’ or ‘‘in truth.’’ Human rights do not...
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Page Count: 800
Publication Year: 2006