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Religion in the public sphere: Religion as a catalyst of rationalization posted by Eduardo Mendieta The centrality of religion to social theory

in general and philosophy in particu lar explains why Jrgen Habermas has dealt with it, in both substantive and creati ve ways, in all of his work. Indeed, religion can be used as a lens through whic h to glimpse both the coherence and the transformation of his distinctive theori es of social development and his rethinking of the philosophy of reason as a the ory of social rationalization. For Habermas, religion has been a continuous concern precisely because it is rel ated to both the emergence of reason and the development of a public space of re ason-giving. Religious ideas, according to Habermas, are never mere irrational s peculation. Rather, they possess a form, a grammar or syntax, that unleashes rat ional insights, even arguments; they contain, not just specific semantic content s about God, but also a particular structure that catalyzes rational argumentati on. We could say that in his earliest, anthropological-philosophical stage, Habermas approaches religion from a predominantly philosophical perspective. But as he u ndertakes the task of transforming historical materialism that will culminate in h is magnum opus, The Theory of Communicative Action, there is a shift from philos ophy to sociology and, more generally, social theory. With this shift, religion is treated, not as a germinal for philosophical concepts, but instead as the sou rce of the social order. This approach is of course shaped by the work of the cl assics of sociology: Weber, Durkheim, and even Freud. What is noteworthy about t his juncture in Habermas s writings is that secularization is explained as pressure for rationalization from above, which meets the force of rationalization from belo w, from the realm of technical and practical action oriented to instrumentalizat ion. Additionally, secularization here is not simply the process of the profanat ion of the world that is, the withdrawal of religious perspectives as worldviews a nd the privatization of belief but, perhaps most importantly, religion itself beco mes the means for the translation and appropriation of the rational impetus rele ased by its secularization. Here, religion becomes its own secular catalyst, or, rather, secularization itself is the result of religion. This approach will mat ure in the most elaborate formulation of what Habermas calls the linguistificatio n of the sacred, in volume two of The Theory of Communicative Action. There, basi ng himself on Durkheim and Mead, Habermas shows how ritual practices and religio us worldviews release rational imperatives through the establishment of a commun icative grammar that conditions how believers can and should interact with each other, and how they relate to the idea of a supreme being. Habermas writes: worldviews function as a kind of drive belt that transforms the basic religious consensus into the energy of social solidarity and passes it on to social instit utions, thus giving them a moral authority. [. . .] Whereas ritual actions take place at a pregrammatical level, religious w orldviews are connected with full-fledged communicative actions. The thrust of Habermas s argumentation in this section of The Theory of Communicat ive Action is to show that religion is the source of the normative binding power of ethical and moral commandments. Yet there is an ambiguity here. While the co ntents of worldviews may be sublimated into the normative, binding of social sys tems, it is not entirely clear that the structure, or the grammar, of religious worldviews is itself exhausted. Indeed, in A Genealogical Analysis of the Cogniti ve Content of Morality, Habermas resolves this ambiguity by claiming that the hor izontal relationship among believers and the vertical relationship between each believer and God shape the structure of our moral relationship to our neighbour, but now under two corresponding aspects: that of solidarity and that of justice . Here, the grammar of one s religious relationship to God and the corresponding c ommunity of believers are like the exoskeleton of a magnificent species, which,

once the religious worldviews contained in them have desiccated under the impact of the forces of secularization, leave behind a casing to be used as a structur ing shape for other contents. In the postmetaphysical stage of Habermas s intellectual itinerary, he turns his att ention away from sociology and towards philosophy once again, in particular, pol itical and moral philosophy. Metaphysical thinking, which for Habermas has becom e untenable by the very logic of philosophical development, is characterized by three aspects: identity thinking, or the philosophy of origins that postulates t he correspondence between being and thought; the doctrine of ideas, which become s the foundation for idealism, which in turn postulates a tension between what i s perceived and what can be conceptualized; and a concomitant strong concept of theory, where the bios theoretikos takes on a quasi-sacred character, and where philosophy becomes the path to salvation through dedication to a life of contemp lation. By postmetaphysical Habermas means the new self-understanding of reason th at we are able to obtain after the collapse of the Hegelian idealist system the hi storicization of reason, or the de-substantivation that turns it into a procedur al rationality, and, above all, its humbling. It is noteworthy that one of the m ain aspects of the new postmetaphysical constellation is that in the wake of the collapse of metaphysics, philosophy is forced to recognize that it must co-exis t with religious practices and language: Philosophy, even in its postmetaphysical form, will be able neither to replace n or to repress religion as long as religious language is the bearer of semantic c ontent that is inspiring and even indispensable, for this content eludes (for th e time being?) the explanatory force of philosophical language and continues to resist translation into reasoning discourses. In contrast to metaphysical thinking, with its overvaluation of philosophy s power , and thus its belief that philosophy is itself the voice of the truth of being, postmetaphysical thinking would neither dismiss religion as mere myth, and thus as the other of reason, nor assimilate itself to religion, usurping religious l anguage and contents (as with mystical philosophies, such as that of the later H eidegger, with his call for a God who would save us). In other words, metaphysic al thinking either surrendered philosophy to religion or sought to eliminate rel igion altogether. In contrast, postmetaphysical thinking recognizes that philoso phy can neither replace nor dismissively reject religion, for religion continues to articulate a language whose syntax and content elude philosophy, but from wh ich philosophy continues to derive insights into the universal dimensions of hum an existence. Since 2001, when he was awarded the Peace Prize by the German Booksellers Associ ation, Habermas has been engaging religion even more directly, deliberately, and consistently. In the speech he gave on the occasion of this prize, for instance , Habermas claims that even moral discourse cannot translate religious language without something being lost: Secular languages which only eliminate the substanc e once intended leave irritations. When sin was converted to culpability, and th e breaking of divine commands to an offence against human laws, something was lo st. Still, Habermas s concern with religion is no longer solely philosophical, nor merely socio-theoretical, but has taken on political urgency. Indeed, he now ask s whether modern rule of law and constitutional democracies can generate the mot ivational resources that nourish them and make them durable. In a series of essa ys, now gathered in Between Naturalism and Religion, as well as in his Europe: T he Faltering Project, Habermas argues that as we have become members of a world society (Weltgesellschaft), we have also been forced to adopt a societal post-sec ular self-consciousness. By this term Habermas does not mean that secularization has come to an end, and even less that it has to be reversed. Instead, he now cl arifies that secularization refers very specifically to the secularization of st ate power and to the general dissolution of metaphysical, overarching worldviews (among which religious views are to be counted). Additionally, as members of a

world society that has, if not a fully operational, at least an incipient global public sphere, we have been forced to witness the endurance and vitality of rel igion. As members of this emergent global public sphere, we are also forced to r ecognize the plurality of forms of secularization. Secularization did not occur in one form, but in a variety of forms and according to different chronologies. With respect to his preoccupation that the liberal state depends in the long run on mentalities that it cannot produce from its own resources, through a critical reading of Rawls, Habermas has begun to translate the postmetaphysical orientati on of modern philosophy into a postsecular self-understanding of modern rule of law societies in such a way that religious citizens as well as secular citizens can co-exist, not just by force of a modus vivendi, but out of a sincere mutual respect. Mutual recognition implies, among other things, that religious and secul ar citizens are willing to listen and to learn from each other in public debates . The political virtue of treating each other civilly is an expression of distin ctive cognitive attitudes. The cognitive attitudes Habermas is referring to here are the very cognitive competencies that are distinctive of modern, postconventi onal social agents. Habermas s recent work on religion, then, is primarily concern ed with rescuing for the modern liberal state those motivational and moral resou rces that it cannot generate or provide itself. At the same time, his recent wor k is concerned with foregrounding the kind of ethical and moral concerns, preocc upations, and values that can guide us between the Scylla of a society administe red from above by the system imperatives of a global economy and political power and the Charybdis of a technological frenzy that places us on the slippery slop e of a liberally sanctioned eugenics. # This post is adapted from a longer essay by Eduardo Mendieta, entitled Rationaliz ation, modernity and secularization, which will appear in Jrgen Habermas: Key Conc epts, Barbara Fultner, ed. (Durham, UK: Acumen Publishing, forthcoming). Mendiet a is co-editor of two forthcoming SSRC volumes featuring work by Habermas: Haber mas and Religion and The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere. ed.