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Reviewed by:
  • The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere
  • Michael P. Kramer (bio)
Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West, The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, ed. and intro. Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan Vanantwerpen, afterword Craig Calhoun (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 137 pp.

This much we know: the separation of church and state never prevented religion from entering, even permeating the public sphere. Now that we think of pure secularism not only as a failure but as a fantasy, what is to be done? Four formidable philosophers and their able hosts took on this vexing question one evening several years ago in Lower Manhattan, and this volume is the record. Habermas asserts once again (this time via a critique of Carl Schmitt’s political theology) that religion has a positive role to play in establishing the moral solidarity necessary for the proper functioning of a rational state. Taylor demurs, suggesting that the opposition of secular and religious does not adequately characterize a public sphere in which many sources of (nonrational) moral commitment, both religious and nonreligious, confront and interact with each other. Butler argues (using Zionism as a test case) that religion must be reinvented to serve the needs of political “cohabitation,” albeit in terms that can be seen to be true to its tradition. And West enacts a blues-inflected prophesying meant to demonstrate that religious passion is not the sole possession of fundamentalists and conservatives. Discussions of such round out the volume, and the vexing question still nibbles at the soul. [End Page 148]

Michael P. Kramer

Michael P. Kramer directs the Anne Shachter Smith Memorial Project in Literature at Bar-Ilan University. He is the author of Imagining Language in America and coeditor of the Cambridge Companion to Jewish-American Literature; Modern Jewish Literatures; Intersections and Boundaries; and The Turn around Religion in America.



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