Research Dossiers

Religion and Philosophy: Jürgen Habermas’ Take on Religion

Photo4257Few German philosophers of the post-war area have managed to gain an international notoriety rivalling that of Jürgen Habermas. His thinking has informed many of the major debates in various fields during the last decennia. Aiming at a critical reconstruction of the emancipatory potential of Modernity, Habermas’ collected works guides its reader through the history of modern thought from the enlightenment to social theory, from idealism to pragmatism and linguistics. His appropriation of the various contents of our intellectual tradition has led Habermas to an all-encompassing theory of modernity and its immanent potentials.

The Emancipatory Potential of Communication

If we may still retain hope after two world wars accompanied by historically unprecedented degrees of horror, it is due to our being endowed with language and our capacity for rational discourse. This conception of man as a political animal endowed with reason and speech (λογος) goes back to Aristotle’s definition of the citizen of the polis. But Habermas pushes things further when he insists on the intersubjective basis of the exercise of reason. Man’s judgment becomes sound thanks to exchange and consultation with his fellow citizens. Accordingly, the state should do everything it can to foster reasonable discourse concerning political affairs.

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Religion and Philosophy update: Jürgen Habermas’ Engagement with Religion

Photo4257Few German philosophers of the post-war area have managed to gain an international notoriety rivalling that of Jürgen Habermas. His thinking has informed many of the major debates in various fields during the last decennia. Aiming at a critical reconstruction of the emancipatory potential of Modernity, Habermas’ collected works guides its reader through the history of modern thought from the enlightenment to social theory, from idealism to pragmatism and linguistics. His appropriation of the various contents of our intellectual tradition has led Habermas to an all-encompassing theory of modernity and its immanent potentials.

The Emancipatory Potential of Communication

If we may still retain hope after two world wars accompanied by historically unprecedented degrees of horror, it is due to our being endowed with language and our capacity for rational discourse. This conception of man as a political animal endowed with reason and speech (λογος) goes back to Aristotle’s definition of the citizen of the polis. But Habermas pushes things further when he insists on the intersubjective basis of the exercise of reason. Man’s judgment becomes sound thanks to exchange and consultation with his fellow citizens. Accordingly, the state should do everything it can to foster reasonable discourse concerning political affairs.

But what are the exact measures to be taken in order to introduce more reason into the political process? Habermas proposes a model of discourse that should enable the citizens to deliberate on key political issues in the public sphere without the pressure of reigning powers and interests. The only coercive power should stem directly from the force of the better argument. Ideally the public sphere should become an open arena, where every citizen may advance his reasons for or against a certain policy. Thus, civil society becomes a sensor that urges the official political sphere (i.e. parliaments and other legislative bodies) to discuss certain subjects and to provide reasons for their decisions. The citizens and the media who facilitate the contact between the official political sphere and the free-flowing communication in the public sphere are in control of the agenda setting and supervising the political process.

An Approach to Religion within the Limits of the Speech Act Theory

So far for the basic framework of Habermas’ attempt to continue the project of critical theory that combines the empirical analysis of society with a normative approach of its immanent emancipatory potentials. Within his theory built up continually since the 60s, particularly through his groundbreaking works The Theory of Communicative Action (1981) and Between Facts and Norms (1992), Habermas has more recently come to address the role of religious argumentation in the political process. From his speech on Faith and Knowledge in 2001 to his collection of essays entitled Postmetaphysical Thinking II (2012), Habermas has exposed an ongoing investigation into the nature of religion and its place in modern politics.

As mentioned earlier, Habermas’ theory focuses on the use of argumentation in the political process. Accordingly, he doesn’t provide us with an anthropological analysis of religious behavior. He rather tries to expose the nature of religious argument so as to find a place for it in the political process. This automatically limits his approach of religion to its expression in the speech acts of the believers. Religion for Habermas corresponds to its written and oral propositions that have to be integrated into public discourse. This has to take place within the limits of a rational process of law making that is based on public reasons which are accessible to every citizen.

Religious Arguments in the Political process

So how ought religious people to be integrated into political discourse? Habermas suggests a twofold system: in the unregulated public sphere the use of religious argument is to be allowed, while in the organized public sphere of the lawmaking process religious arguments have to be strictly excluded. The reason for this lies in the fact that the arguments underlying the official lawmaking process have to be intelligible to all citizens without exceptions. For Habermas this is not the case of arguments based on religious beliefs and doctrines.

If he nevertheless succeeds in including religious arguments into his model of the public sphere, it is thanks to an idea he adapts from John Rawls. According to Rawls religious citizens should translate their religious arguments into commonly accessible language before taking part in the political process. Habermas takes up this principle of translation, but modifies it in order to facilitate the participation of religious citizens in the political process. Citizens should be allowed to bring forward their religious reasons within the public sphere without translating them beforehand. It should rather be a cooperative task for all citizens to lay bare the reasonable core of these arguments. This takes the burden of translation from the shoulders of religious citizens and delegates it to society as a whole. Thus, people who are deeply anchored in religious discourse may nevertheless participate in political debate with their existential convictions.

But in order to assure the accessibility of the arguments underlying the process of lawmaking, these arguments may not be integrated into the official public sphere without being translated into a commonly accessible language. A filter that Habermas doesn’t further elaborate on assures that only secular arguments enter the debate in the lawmaking process. Accordingly, members of parliament and other political bodies may not use religious vocabulary and arguments in the exercise of their functions. Because the state has to be secula,r no religious arguments might be put forward within its institutions. This allows Habermas to protect the concept of laicité without excluding religious arguments from the political process as a whole.

Whose worldviews, which religious arguments?

After this recapitulation of Habermas’ political theory and the place he allows for religious argumentation within a deliberative democracy, we will now proceed to a critical appreciation of Habermas’s contribution on the issue of politics and religion. Even though Habermas allows religious citizens more rights in the political process than Rawls, he still excludes expressions of religious convictions from the official public sphere. This restriction of liberty of expression constrains Habermas to advance conclusive reasons for its necessity. In order to examine whether he succeeds in doing so or not, we are going to take a closer look at his distinction between secular worldviews and their religious counterparts.

According to Habermas there is a dogmatic core in every religious argument that excludes it from being discussed conclusively within the limits of rational discourse. We may take this assertion for granted, and turn to secular worldviews. As Charles Taylor has convincingly laid out in his engagements with Habermas’ political theory one has to ask whether non-religious worldviews may not share the same features as their religious counterparts. Some “dogmatic” core seems to be indispensable if one wants to establish a coherent worldview. Every attitude we adopt facing the world seems to be built upon dogmatic presuppositions, because otherwise skepticism would be the only viable stand we could take on the latter. In order to stand firm, one has to stand on some sort of unshakeable ground.

Probably Habermas would reply to this criticism that it is not the same thing to be a Christian and to use the Bible as an argument as to be a Kantian or a Utilitarian and to quote from The Critique of Pure Reason or the writings of Jeremy Bentham. But doesn’t it seem to be more logical to make a distinction between the people who refer to their convictions dogmatically and those who refer to them in a manner that maintains them open to diverging arguments? In other words, there are dogmatic defenders of enlightenment and there are dogmatic religious people. And there are extremist communists and extremist Muslims or Christians. So a democracy built upon public deliberation requires citizens who listen to each other’s arguments and who are willing to change their convictions in the light of better arguments.

If such is the case, it is democracy’s task to defend itself against dogmatic reasoning from all sides. Maybe religious people tend to be more dogmatic on some subjects than their fellow citizens, but there are many religious arguments that may make their case in a reasonable discourse. One could for example imagine a Muslim who may refer to the life of the Prophet in order to demonstrate that a certain behavior or policy would be reasonable under certain circumstances. This would be no threat to a reasonable discussion as long as the person in question is allowed to explain his use of the argument. On the other hand, we could imagine a utilitarian who insists that a hundred people should be sacrificed for the well-being of a million and who is not open to any dialogue on the issue. So what’s at stake in the defending of democracy might be less about the difference between religious and secular reasoning than the need to advance arguments which the other may understand and admit the fallibility of one’s own judgment. This insistence on the fallibility of all our judgments is equally at the core of Habermas’ theory of deliberation.

The Use of Translation in Democratic process

If the distinction is not to be made between religious and non-religious worldviews but between their liberal and their dogmatic interpretations, one has to admit the plurality of irreducible world-views. In order to integrate all these worldviews and the people who hold them into a democratic society we may return to Habermas’ proposal of a mutual translation of arguments into a language that is accessible to all citizens. If there might be no lingua franca that neutralizes all worldviews, there is nevertheless the possibility to seek for some common ground upon which reasonable discourse may build its arguments. In this case it would be the responsibility of all citizens to listen carefully to what the other is saying and to translate what is not clearly understandable into an accessible proposition. In order to overcome the Post-Babelian cacophony of diverging worldviews, translation seems to be the only way to integrate modern pluralistic societies.  

So if we return to Habermas’s theory, a differentiation between dogmatic and liberal world views rather than between religious and secular ones might be suggested. Habermas is right in pointing out the need for rational discourse in order to integrate modern pluralistic societies. But this rational discourse doesn’t represent a neutral ground that is established for good. It is rather a moving consensus that has to be redefined ever anew in the public discourse of citizens. It’s not a definitive achievement we may rely on, it’s more like a never ending task we have to solve over and over again in order to enable our living together. This is the challenge that has to be faced by religious and non-religious citizens alike within a discourse that is open to every non-dogmatic argument.

Research Dossier:Updating Religion and Philosophy, General Introduction

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Historically, all the great world religions have been intrinsically linked to philosophical thought. In our research dossier we shall attempt to gain some insights into the philosophical and sociological analysis of religion by recent thinkers. In order to do so, we have chosen to present four very different approaches within the field in order to provide an overall impression of the diversity of contemporary discourse revolving around religion. So we here we shall be focusing on accounts of 1) a theory of myth,2) modern Islamic theology, 3) French sociology of religion and last but not least 4) an analysis of the  place of religion within modern democracies.

In our first article we show how Hans Blumenberg, one of the most eminent German philosophers of the second half of the 20th century, tackled the problem of myth. According to Blumenberg, the function of myth resides in its power to overcome man’s fear facing the ‘absolutism of reality’. By giving names to the different aspects of reality and by assigning different powers to different gods, man domesticates his environment by integrating it into his lifeworld.  Interaction with the world becomes possible through its differentiation into multiple aspects. This process of the ‘depotentialisation’ of the absolute is an ever ongoing process and the work on myth as a work on our way of relating to reality is followed up  by Blumenberg throughout the  intellectual history of the Occident in an amazing manner.

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Cover up in style: hijabistas, between faith and high fashion ...

Hijab 1

Abstract: Depuis quelques années, principalement dans les pays de culture anglo-saxonne, nombreuses sont les bloggeuses de mode musulmanes qui se sont fait une place dans l’univers très riche de la blogosphère :comme leurs homologues occidentales, elles publient des photographies de leurs tenues à travers des billets d’humeur, mais ont pour particularité de revendiquer leur culture musulmane, notamment à travers le port du hijab. Entre mode et religion, retour sur ce phénomène qui peut surprendre, mais qui montre avant tout la volonté de moderniser l’image de la femme musulmane dans une société où le port du voile est régulièrement perçu comme un signe d’infériorité du genre féminin.

 

Hijab style, hijabistas: between faith and high fashion

 Over the last few years, new fashion bloggers have been appearing in the blogosphere: hijabistas - Muslim fashion addicts and bloggers. Like their western homologues, they are trendy and post pictures of their outfits on their blogs. The only difference is the fact that they wear the hijab and that their clothes respect the norms of decency. More than a sign of faith, here the hijab is a trendy accessory, mingling the sphere of Islam with that of fashion and the consumer society. How is this phenomenon to be apprehended? Are we talking about a depravation of the hijab or of the proof that there is no incompatibility between faith and fashion?

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Dossier Mode et Religion - Dolce & Gabbana, quand la religion devient synonyme de glamour

Dolce and Gabanna last fashion show (women’s collection fall/winter 2013) stirred together  the provocative and glamorous aspects of fashion and the mystical iconography of the Monreale cathedral (Palermo, Sicily). Religious and respectful homage or impish provocation? This event allows us to raise many inquiries and reflections about these two systems, which finally have many common points.

Le duo formé par le sicilien Domenico Dolce et le milanais Stefano Gabbana, connu par tous dans l’univers de la mode et de la couture de luxe, s’est illustré lors de ses derniers défilés par la présentation de collections surprenantes, mêlant chic et élégance aux motifs parfois austères, parfois étincelants, de l’imagerie religieuse traditionnelle italienne. Retour et interrogation sur un phénomène en vogue et pourtant encore trop peu étudié dans les milieux de la recherche universitaire : les rapports malicieux de la mode et de la religion.

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Art and Politics: towards a post-utopian, participative paradigm

They did not know it was impossible: so they did it.

FAce2Face JRFace2Face,

JR, 2007

  JR is a young French street artist, born in Paris, in 1983. Nobody knows about his real name: his initials, J and R, are the only clue he uses in signing his performances. Since the late 1950s, the number of street artists has grown exponentially. However, JR’s art is different. It may be said to be the ideal blend of graffiti, now perfectly integrated into landscape of the common city, and the power of Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s drawings deposed on pavements and monuments, catching the walker’s eye in order to remind him of the darkest hours of recent History (Deportation, the criminalization of abortion, civil war, and exile). JR’s creations are based on the same paradigm: huge black and white, always highly expressive, portraits pasted on urban walls, originally illegally but JR now having reached fame, occasionally officially authorized, even patronized. There are several aims to his infiltrative art: forcing walkers into confrontation with art (even if - above all if - they might not readily have taken the step of going into a gallery to appreciate artistic creations of their own initiative), creating a feeling of surprise, fear or laughter. Thus placing them artificially face to face with people they would ordinarily ignore or stigmatize.

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Dossier (1): Qu’est-ce que le multiculturalisme ? Différents aspects de la reconnaissance (Partie II)

PadaniaEn poursuivant notre discussion antérieure (Partie I), la conception de cultures comme comprenant des expressions, des ressources et des pratiques, est d’abord l’objet d’une pensée sociale, et ensuite un cadre de politiques publiques. Pour les partisans de politiques du multiculturalisme comme Charles Taylor, « nous n’accordons de reconnaissance légitime qu’à ce qui est universellement présent - chacun a une identité - et ce par la reconnaissance de ce qui est particulier à chacun. L’exigence universelle promeut la reconnaissance de la spécificité. » Cette position doit être éclairée en détaillant ce qu’est le multiculturalisme sur des aspects récurrents tels que l’ethnie (ou la « race »), la religion, et les inégalités d’ordre économique et urbain.

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Dossier (1): Qu’est-ce que le multiculturalisme ? Tentative de définition a minima (Partie 1)

Multi 3The arguments revolving around multiculturalism evoke a long opposition in political philosophy and social thinking between individuals and traditions, but they place these terms within recent institutional realities. Indeed, the contemporary relevance of this debate is outlined by the extent to which the diversity of origins, whether ethnic or religious, is taken into account besides the inequality of incomes as a parameter of public policies. Nevertheless, the ambiguity of the term “multiculturalism” requires confronting different definitions before questioning it more precisely.

            Le terme multiculturalism  apparait dans l'Oxford English Dictionary en 1989. Cette institutionnalisation du mot est le résultat de l'usage croissant de celui-ci dans les débats entre chercheurs et dans la société civile. Pour autant, est-il possible de donner une, et une seule, définition de ce qu'est le multiculturalisme ? Le terme est utilisé dans des contextes nationaux et scientifiques distincts. Cela rend difficile d'appréhender une fois pour toutes ce qu'est le multiculturalisme.

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Multiculturalisme et politiques publiques: un Dossier

Introduction générale          Multi 3

 La notion de multiculturalisme porte en elle des tensions entre individu, communauté et Etat. Bien qu’étymologiquement récente, elle renvoie à des débats anciens dans l’histoire de la philosophie politique, notamment relatifs aux questionnements sur la cité chez les Grecs.

            Penser le modèle politique de la cité suppose la résolution de la contradiction première entre l’un et le multiple, entre l’exigence d’unité et l’existence d’une pluralité. Contradiction bien présente si l’on considère que le choix de l’unité étatique a pour corollaire symétrique la négation du pluralisme. C’est précisément vers ce modèle que tend la conception platonicienne de la cité[1], pensée comme un tout où les citoyens sont sinon assimilés à la structure politique, du moins associés à une fonction précise. On assiste alors à l’effacement de l’identité culturelle au profit d’une identité fonctionnelle, les conflits de traditions dont peuvent par exemple être porteurs les individus étant neutralisés par la confusion entre le rôle et l’identité politique.

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