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Habermas’ Kierkegaard a nd the Nature o f the Secular

Ada S . Jaarsma

“The mode for nondestructive s ecularization i s t ranslation”

– J ur¨ gen Habermas

Whereas I doubt that anyone would approach me today in this way, many years ago, a classmate asked me in casual tones if I was “religious.” I had just begun my graduate studies and left behind a close-knit community in order to study philosophy, and this unexpected question was both startling and vaguely vexing. Despite my awareness of the perception of others that I was indeed “religious,” at the time I did not, and actually would not have wanted to, identify in those terms. Were I pressed to self-identify, it would have been in the terms of belonging to specific communities – in my case, the Anabaptist peace-church tradition and the somewhat ethnically based community of Dutch Canadian neo-Calvinists, or, more generally, Christianity. At that time, the term “religious” struck me in some ways as a secular identification, reflecting an outsider’s overly imprecise perspective on my subjective sense of religious participation. In other words, I r esisted the label “religious” because it seemed to reduce complex confessional affiliations to an uncomfortably external vantage point. Moreover, to cede ground to the outsider suggested the acceptance of an implicit judgment of Christianity – namely as marking the nonsensical or at least highly problematic co-existence of religious faith with the scientific context of graduate school. As a member of a r eligious community, I had a highly attuned awareness of the boundaries of community, including not only a robust understanding of precisely who else belonged to the fold but also a sense of how differently these boundaries might appear to an outsider. Anthropologists identify this tension between a participant’s self-understanding and an observer’s perspective as the indeterminate relationship between emic and etic analyses; and this indeterminacy plays an important role in current debates about the nature of the religious, the secular, and the fraught relations between the two. I recall this anecdote in order to reflect on the ambiguity of the term “religious,” e specially in terms of its meaning for r eligious participants and its relationship to its companion term “secular.” In what follows, I describe Habermas’ normative program for the successful and mutually beneficial co-existence of the religious and the non-religious, looking especially at his reliance upon a particular reading of Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard himself wrote as a self-described Christian, or at least as someone invested in the possibilities of Christian existence, and so it is instructive to examine how Habermas, an admittedly non-religious thinker, r enders Kierkegaard’s project. As I argue below, the specific ways in which Habermas employs Kierkegaard’s thought demonstrates what Habermas himself advocates for others: an appreciative respect for r eligious insights and simultaneous self-reflection on the limitations of both secular and philosophical thinking. Especially in his recent writings, Habermas expresses a great degree of empathy with religious believers. His frequent use of the term “post-secular society” expresses hope for

Constellations Volume 17, No 2, 2010.


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Constellations Vo lume 17, Number 2, 2010

meaningful, mutually edifying relations between those who “believe” and those who do not. Moreover, Habermas’ theoretical understanding of the very processes of communication includes considerable attention to the problem of the participant’s perspective. To translate effectively between the religious and non-religious, therefore, means to respect the subjective, first person investment of another, while generating the inclusive participatory third person “we” necessary f or moral judgment. On Habermas’ terms, such translation is only possible if tolerance is able to mediate between sincere cognitive and cultural differences and between religious and non-religious stances. The concept of the secular plays an integral role in this liberal project because its boundaries help determine the nature of successful translation – namely, generally accessible terms that can be publicly debated in terms of validity and legitimacy. In tension with Habermas’ use of the term “secular” are recent debates within the emerging field of secular studies. Research into the nature of the secular by theorists like Talal Asad, William Connolly, and Saba Mahmood often brings to light implicit judgments about reli- gious participation that are presupposed by the liberal conception of tolerance. To question the secular, along these lines, is to ascertain the stakes involved with assessing the sub- jective understanding of “religion.” Such an approach takes seriously the tensions between the perspectives of the observing theorist of religion and the religious participant. It also considers the methodological predicaments of critique as caught up in the preconditions of the secular, and so willingly confront the limits of so-called secular critique. This involves, among other things, considering what “stands in” for Christianity, for “belief ” more gener- ally, and, perhaps most fraught these days, for the “secular” when a liberal framework sets up the religious/secular divide in the name of tolerance. As Mahmood has demonstrated, one of the consequences of liberal tolerance is that judgments tend to be supported, rather than scrutinized, about certain disliked acts or dogmas, judgments about what social theo- rists have named the “culturally repugnant other.” 1 Mahmood notes that while the religious “culturally repugnant other” is often understood in terms like anti-modern, fundamentalist, and backwards, such “repugnant” practices and ideologies are products of the conditions of secular morality. 2 In other words, the characterization of “repugnance” is reinscribed, rather than undermined, in the liberal framework. The stakes are clearly very high here in how the “secular” is defined and understood because it plays a key role in how boundaries are determined about acceptable and non-acceptable behavior in contemporary democratic society. To return briefly to my opening anecdote, I used to resist identifying myself as “religious” in part due to a discomfort with the implied judgment that “religious” people tend to be close-minded imperialists who over extend the reach of their own truth claims. Although I therefore eschewed the term “religious” to describe myself, I now find myself using the term fairly often, employing it for example in the classroom to explain that “I grew up in a r eligious community.” I have, in general, become more comfortable with the term “religious,” and this shift coincides exactly with my own move away from a participatory perspective within the religious communities to which I once belonged. Having “come out” as feminist and queer—and hence am now living out of the fold, so to speak—the question of who is the “culturally repugnant other” seems both pressing and highly contingent. When I willingly make use of the religious/secular divide—expressed, for example, in the phrase “I grew up religious”—am I thereby implicitly endorsing an understanding of faithful living as ultimately culturally repugnant? Does the categorical divide between religious and secular, especially when employed by someone who self-identifies as “secular,” result in a willful misrecognition of religious belief as less rational, insufficiently liberal, or essentially


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Habermas’ Kierkegaard and the Nature o f the Secular: Ada Jaarsma


anti-modern? These questions seem to be at the heart of the emerging debates within secular studies because they challenge the ideal of inclusive tolerance that is presupposed by liberal democratic rhetoric. By way of r eflections on my own use of the category “religious,” I seek to ascertain the degree to which Habermas, as a liberal proponent of secularization, is open to critical challenges by those who employ a greater degree of skepticism towards the religious/secular divide. In his recent writings on religion, Habermas maintains a commitment to a categorical divide between the religious and the secular in order to put forward a normative program that will enable citizens, regardless of religious affiliation, to learn how to co-exist peaceably. In what follows, I examine Habermas’ understanding of the “secular” by reconstructing his use of Kierkegaard’s writings. I argue that Habermas’ interpretation of the Christian existential thinker models his argument about how philosophy can and should engage with religious thought. His specific rendering of Kierkegaard thereby brings to light Habermas’ own existentialist presuppositions, and it opens up the opportunity to recast Habermas’ project in light of recent arguments about the religious/secular divide, the nature of tolerance, and the problem of cultural repugnance.

I. Habermas and the Suspension o f the Ethical

In his engagement with Kierkegaard, Habermas models his own suggestion that philosophy can learn from r eligion in order both to salvage otherwise inaccessible insights and to make sense of the limits of philosophy itself. It may seem surprising that Habermas makes use of Kierkegaard at all, given the presuppositions of Habermas’ project. In modern life, according to Habermas, neither tradition nor convention provide sufficient resources for our moral decision-making, and this has enormous consequences for the scope of philosophical reflection. In contrast to the premodern era, in which philosophy accorded with religious faith, in modernity, Habermas explains, “philosophy retires to a metalevel and investigates only the formal properties of processes of self-understanding, without taking a position on the contents themselves. That may be unsatisfying, but who can object to such a well-justified reluctance?” 3 This reluctance is well-justified because, like John Rawls, Habermas argues that practical philosophy must be limited to abstract questions of justice and morality. 4 In other words, whereas we all make ethical judgments about how to live, we cannot extend substantive claims about the good life beyond the bounds of our own contexts. Only formal principles, like the equality and respect for each individual, have rational validity across different settings. 5 Philosophy itself must thus be “postmetaphysical” in its commitments to formal, rather than particular and substantive, claims about justice. 6 This argument reflects Habermas’ consistent position that the “right” maintains priority over the “good.” Moral claims about rightness, which are inclusive and universalizable, are inherently open to ongoing public debate about their validity and legitimacy. They assert validity in principle for every individual, setting out abstract norms of rightness that apply to each of us. Ethical claims, in contrast, are limited in scope to debates about the conventions and norms of specific communities. Corresponding to Hegel’s descriptions of Sittlichkeit, the “ethical” consists of visions about the good life in relation to our own identities and communities: who we are and who we would like to be. In contrast to Hegel’s argument that the ethical is rational and ultimately universal, Habermas maintains that only moral claims about rightness are binding, rationally, across cultural divides. On these terms, to be modern is to be able to differentiate between the moral and the ethical. It is a mark of maturity to be able to distinguish between a community’s claims to


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goodness and those formal principles of rightness that extend to all and, more significantly, to accept that not everyone will likely agree with one community’s ethical norms and values. Moreover, maturity also means taking seriously the subjective import of moral norms to every individual who is affected by that norm’s scope and application. There is rational import to another’s participant perspective because the legitimacy of a norm’s r ecognition depends on its inclusivity, which is brought about discursively. And so to be able to adopt a moral point of view which transcends one’s particular social and historical context is also to adopt the perspective of all affected by the norm in question. 7 In other words, mutual perspective-taking and impartiality are necessary skills for the rational determination of moral r ightness. 8 This differentiation between the “moral” and the “ethical” gives rise to certain quan- daries, resolved in part by Habermas’ reading of Kierkegaard. Habermas maintains that the motivations that drive one’s actions and decisions must be embedded within one’s ethi- cal self-understanding. 9 It is through specific socialization practices that we gain ethically grounded convictions and the motivation for moral discernment. 10 However, as stated above, philosophy is precluded from intervening in assessing ethical judgments about the good life because it is only able to set out formal claims that are context-transcending and thus universalizable. Given this committed restraint, several questions arise: how can we theoretically determine what specific ethical conditions should be established in order to motivate moral maturity? What must be ethically or culturally true of one’s participant perspective so that universal moral principles are not experienced subjectively as imperialist or violent? Habermas admits, “Theories of justice that have been uncoupled from ethics can only hope that processes of socialization and political forms of life meet them halfway. ” 11 The nature of this hope, which is essential for Habermas’ vision of contemporary “post-secular” society, is articulated through Habermas’ reading of Kierkegaard. 12 Habermas looks to Kierkegaard because he finds Kierkegaard’s approach to ethics to be sufficiently restrained and formal. In other words, he can be read as a postmetaphysical, but ultimately religious, thinker. Restraining himself from adjudicating between different ethical norms or values, Habermas wants to account for moral action without prescribing any reliance upon divine revelation or religious teachings, not solely because of the social and epistemic realities of pluralism but because of the subjective implications of his postmetaphysical project: namely, that we ourselves, as modern and autonomous subjects, are the source of morality, and that moral r ightness is established through inclusive, intersubjective and ongoing debate. Habermas is not simply reviving Kantian rationality here. Rather, agreeing with Kierkegaard, Habermas explains that Kantian projects of self-knowledge are ultimately insufficient in that reason itself cannot move the will. If we ground morality solely in human knowledge, we will lack the motivation for acting morally. 13 Rather than relying on the abstractions of Kantian morality, then, Habermas looks to Kierkegaard, in whose writings we find “the structure of the ability to be oneself.” 14 This structure consists of the existen- tial conditions necessary f or ethical subjectivity: responsibility, transparency, self-choice, and a sufficiently impassioned will. This structure coincides with Habermas’ search for a sufficiently formal description of an ethical self. It is not Kierkegaard’s explicitly religious writings where this structure is articulated. Rather, in Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous writings, it is the ethicist who displays the self- conscious fallibility and finitude that enables him to “take himself as a task.” 15 The ethical stage of existence consists of choosing to choose, taking responsibility for the very act of


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Habermas’ Kierkegaard and the Nature o f the Secular: Ada Jaarsma


making ethical decisions. In other words, the ethical self makes the decision to be a moral, as opposed to an amoral, actor. The ethicist, whose existence reflects a sufficiently formal depiction of what it means to engage with the project of discerning moral rightness, supplies Habermas with the resources for conceptualizing the motivated moral actor. Of course, the ethicist is exposed as deeply despairing, when we read Kierkegaard’s most Christian pseudonym, Anti-Climacus. In terms of his overall project, Kierkegaard is not pointing to the ethicist as either the most passionate or the most faithful exemplar. Rather, Kierkegaard is inducing the reader to go beyond Kant and Socrates, beyond the very self- reliance of the ethicist, to Christ. As Habermas acknowledges, Kierkegaard wants the reader to recognize the dependence of the self on “the Other” as the very ground of its freedom. 16 Whereas we ourselves are responsible for choosing to choose, Anti-Climacus demonstrates that the ethical self ultimately fails to achieve the goal of becoming a self through its own powers. The task of selfhood thus requires the acceptance that it is my own despair, rather than external circumstances, that pushes me to recognize my dependence on the Other. 17 Habermas acknowledges that this total reliance marks “the overturn of a secular self-understanding. It motivates the finite mind to transcend itself and recognize the dependence on an Other in whom its own freedom is rooted.” 18 Whereas for Anti-Climacus, this “Other” refers to the Christian God, for Habermas, its referent must be carefully translated into terms that are as inclusive as possible. I want to examine how this specific translation of Kierkegaard demonstrates the limita- tions of philosophy, as described above. Under the premises of postmetaphysical thinking, Habermas explains, we cannot identify the “power beyond us” as the “God in time,” 19 despite the fact that this is Kierkegaard’s insistent claim. Because he hopes to secure the means by which both believers and non-believers are able to discern moral validity that is universal and worthy of recognition across the chasms of ethical differences, Habermas translates Kierkegaard into what he calls generally accessible terms. Whereas Anti-Climacus describes a religious formula for selfhood in which the self rests transparently in “the power that estab- lishes it,” Habermas interprets the “absolute power” as the intersubjectively shared powers of language. Reaching an understanding with one another about something in the world and about ourselves, “we encounter a transcending power” 20 in and through the discursive practices that no one owns or authorizes exclusively. While we depend on these practices, they exceed our own control. In line with postmetaphysical thought, we presuppose the un- conditionality of truth and freedom, and yet we accept the impossibility of their ontological guarantee. And so, Habermas concludes, “the enabling power built into language is of a trans-subjective, rather than an absolute, quality.” 21 Subjectively, we are free to “choose to choose” to be morally engaged, as demonstrated by Kierkegaard’s ethicist. However, Habermas points out that we are free “only in virtue of the binding force of the justifiable claims” that we raise toward one another: “The logos of language embodies the power of the intersubjective, which precedes and grounds the subjectivity of speakers.” 22 While we do not own or control language, it still remains “ours”; since it is intersubjective, it cannot be ruled over by any one individual, and so how we make use of our freedoms when we engage discursively with each other is not arbitrary. We achieve the “right ethical self-understanding” together, as a joint effort, and this is manifested in our discursive practices as we take up what Habermas calls the participant perspective of the “we” necessary for moral discernment. 23 Our capacity for the awareness of another’s perspective is only disclosed because our understanding of authorship and accountability is not limited to our autonomous selves. 24 And thus we construct our moral order ourselves, together. 25


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What then is the relationship, in Habermas’ terms, between the morally engaged individ- ual, who demonstrates the existential structure of selfhood, and the particular socio-ethical context in which he or she lives? This question is a central preoccupation of Kierkegaard’s own writing, as it highlights the tensions between the single individual and the leveling effects of society. One striking formulation of this question is found in Fear and Trembling, where Kierkegaard’s pseudonym Silentio asks: “Is there a teleological suspension of the ethical?” 26 The “ethical,” which corresponds to Hegel’s Sittlichkeit , refers to those historically specific norms and values with which one is socialized. Posing the possibility of a “suspension” of the ethical, Silentio is ascertaining the finite limitations of those norms and values for the faithful individual. There is an echo here of the limits of the ethical that Habermas acknowledges, in light of the universalizing scope of the moral. Looking at Abraham’s faithful response to God, Silentio is struck by the incommensurabilities between the knight of faith’s subjective obedience and his culture’s normative expectations: either Abraham is a murderer, or he is an exemplary model of what it means to be faithful. As the knight of faith, Abraham cannot speak; in principle, he cannot make his actions understandable to anyone else, and his silence thus marks the existential limitations of intersubjective discourse and other ethical social relations. 27 Like Silentio, Habermas describes the passionate individual in terms of a “suspension of the ethical.” Unlike Silentio’s knight of faith, however, Habermas’ suspension does not result in silence, nor does it signal obedience to the divine. Rather, it r eflects the translation of faith into terms consistent with Habermas’ postmetaphysics and his hope in the “trans-subjective” powers of language. The Kierkegaardian “divine” becomes, in Habermas’ rendition, the transcending force of discourse, and this means that the source of truth and morality is both “innerworldly” and “context-transcending.” We can rely on our own shared resources as we seek to discern and establish social justice, and we can place real hope in our understanding of what is morally right, not solely for our own communities, but f or all of us, in a binding way and in principle. Habermas has made the continual case that moral rightness must be differentiated from ethical conceptions of the good and that philosophy must willingly forego the task of prescrib- ing substantive ethical visions of how to live. 28 Likewise, as individuals, we must “suspend” the question of substantive ethical truths because, as we accept the plural makeup of our democratic societies, we acknowledge the unresolvable difficulty of adjudicating between competing conceptions of the good. 29 Whereas we cannot hope to resolve conflicts about ethical norms, we can and must work towards discerning together, across real cultural di- vides, what is morally and universally right. Habermas has consistently argued that moral judgments can be right or wrong. 30 Suspending the ethical, therefore, does not mean resign- ing oneself, in apathy or cynicism, to the impossibility of asserting moral claims. Conversely, it does not mean maintaining an impartial or observer’s assessment of moral rightness. In other words, the priority of the “right” over the “good,” discussed above, is only possible because of our willingness to participate in the discursive search for universal morality. We can only suspend the ethical if we ourselves are engaged participants in inclusive discursive practices. In fact, moral judgment is only accessible from a participant’s perspective, a participant who is able to take seriously the views of others in the shared world “that reveals itself only from within.31 To only operate from the first-person perspective would be to prejudice the view in favor of ethical issues, closing off moral judgment. 32 Such a r efusal to “suspend the ethical” risks the very possibility of a legitimate social order because it calls into question the principle that all individuals, regardless of social and cultural backgrounds, must be able to take part in democratic debates and processes. 33


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Habermas’ Kierkegaard and the Nature o f the Secular: Ada Jaarsma


As we know from Kierkegaard, to subjectively will something – for example, willingly engaging in moral discernment – brings with it extensive qualitative changes to the self. In the case of Habermas’ portrayal of the participant who takes on the perspectives of others and exercises the discursive skills necessary f or mature r ational debate, this individual becomes the author of the law. It is not simply that, as participants, we recognize that we are affected by moral judgments because, as universal, they are binding on all of us. Rather than solely understanding ourselves to be “addressees” of the law, we understand that we ourselves are authors of the law. 34 As we participate in these legitimation practices, we not only discern and make sense of objective “truth” or “morality,” we ourselves are becoming, in crucial ways, gaining specific capacities and goals. Habermas maintains that a shared world is not a given but a mandate that has to be achieved, dialogically. 35 Seeking the validity of moral norms is not separate from the modes and practices by which it is secured. We therefore need to be socialized, through ethical activities like education, in order to learn the meaning of validity and gain the necessary tools for participating in and, indeed, the motivation for participating in public debate. 36 Ultimately, then, we are motivated to live together peacefully in a particular order because, as authors of the law, we can rely on our own understanding of how that order is justified; we know that the legislative arguments that ground our democratic systems can be justified on bases that we, as rational participants, can follow and evaluate. As these discussions are, in principle, open-ended, we owe it not only to each other but also to ourselves to expect that our democracies are, in Habermas’ terms, “truth-sensitive.” 37 In Fear and Trembling, it is the knight of faith who demonstrates the teleological sus-

pension of the ethical. 38 The knight of faith, heeding the call of the divine, suspends the ethical norms of the community in order to become religious. The individual who refuses to suspend the ethical can be understood as either defiant or as existentially lacking in passion. 39

Tr anslated into the terms of Habermas’ project, the knight of faith becomes the citizen. For

Habermas, it is the citizen who, responding to the project of seeking and establishing moral- ity and democratic legitimacy, suspends his or her own particular ethical norms in order to become the author of the law. On his terms, those who are unwilling to undertake or partic- ipate in the learning processes which involve “suspending the ethical” can be characterized as immature, irrational, or, in more extreme cases, immoral. It is the citizen who is motivated, by solidarity with others and by the achievement of the legitimation of society itself, to suspend the ethical. The “citizen,” on these terms, is

a more existentially intense version of the ethicist. By identifying Habermas’ “citizen” as

a translation of Kierkegaard’s “knight of faith,” I am making the case that the learning

process – the “decentering” as Habermas calls it – which the citizen undergoes is analogous to the learning process or existential transformation of Kierkegaard’s religious individual. 40 As the author of the law, I have the freedom and responsibility to say “yes” or “no” to how I participate within my own cultural traditions and to choose one tradition reflectively over multiple alternatives. 41 However, I must suspend any substantive ethical commitments in light of the formal procedures by which we adjudicate rightness. This is how I can participate in the self-correcting functions of democracy, listening to individuals who protest disrespect and discrimination and thus seek to extend universal principles like civic equality. We can hope to achieve, together, ongoing progress in what Habermas calls “a self-correcting learning process,” 42 reflecting on past mistakes and achieving more inclusive justice. When we broaden our respective social worlds and “include one another in a world [we] jointly construct,” we are able to assess our conflicts in light of “shared standards of evaluations” in order to resolve them consensually. 43 The verb “broaden” is an important


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one in this context. Habermas defines moral learning in terms of an increased inclusivity of claims and persons such that their worthiness of universal recognition is legitimated intersubjectively. 44 He claims that discrepancies between normative ideals like equality and actual material conditions produce, for participants, a highly motivating “cognitive dissonance” 45 that prompts moral learning. According to Habermas, we can place real hope for improved social justice in the insights and debates that such dissonance calls forth. 46 This hope is not the Kierkegaardian hope for Christian ethics, where individuals love each other as neighbors and seek to follow Christ’s example above all else. 47 Rather, it is the hope of postmetaphysics, where individual as well as social learning enables all of us to progress towards more egalitarian and fully actualized social justice.

II. Habermas and the Gap between Knowledge a nd Fa ith

I began this paper with a brief anecdote about a shift in my r eaction to and use of the term “religious.” I described my unwillingness, several years ago, to identify myself as “religious” because of an intuition that this category r eflected assumptions about the “culturally repug- nant” nature of religious belief. The term seemed to solidify the affirmation of a contrasting term, “secular,” as if it coincided with qualities of open-minded tolerance and impartiality. Whereas I was once uneasy with identifying as “religious,” in contrast, I now employ the term “religious” fairly frequently in order to describe my own socio-ethical background, and this shift corresponds exactly with my transition away from the bounds of my original faith communities. In this story, I want to draw attention to a tension between two different formulations of what it means to be “religious.” The first concerns the categorical distinction between “religious” and “secular,” where the categories imply certain essential differences between what it means to belong to a religious tradition and, conversely, what it means to self-declare as not religious. From the perspective of the “faithful” person, this is the distinction that is potentially open to the charge of intolerance, even as it promises to model the very meaning of tolerance. This distinction also seems to indicate the presence of an observer – someone who is determining where exactly the line between “religious” and “non-religious” life should be drawn. From the perspective of the “religious” person, this observer is presumably aligned with the category of the “secular.” In contrast, the second formulation of “religious” is one that precludes the possibility of formally distinguishing between “religious” and “secular” modes of life. Living a “religious” life, on this account, entails performing specific actions which produce, teleologically, a certain kind of self: a virtuous self, a faithful self, a self with the capacity and the inclination to continue performing these particular actions. There may be an invocation of a difference between “religious” and “secular” here, but it does not reflect a firm categorical distinction. Rather, it refers to boundaries that are subjectively meaningful to the religious self, boundaries that delineate those prescribed goals and actions from non-religious, potentially destructive, goals. This latter formulation can be found in the research of scholars like Talal Asad and Saba Mahmood, who draw our attention to the ways in which religious lives are oriented towards the production of specific capacities. According to this methodological approach, the scholar of religion or the observer of the religious practice is encouraged to approach the religious/secular divide with skepticism and self-reflexivity. This is especially because of an intuition that the category of the secular promotes, rather than undermines, dislike and the political rejection of those who appear to be “religious.” Given the political, economic, and military power that often backs liberal discourse on secularism, this intuition is critical, in


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Habermas’ Kierkegaard and the Nature o f the Secular: Ada Jaarsma


the sense of calling for much more substantive awareness of culpability for violence against others. I want to take seriously the question: is Habermas open to the charge of intolerance against those who, according to the terms of his project, appear “repugnant”? In other words, despite his use of the word “tolerance” in relation to religion, does his use of the religious/secular divide justify an unintentionally dismissive, perhaps even violent, attitude towards r eligious believers? In my r econstruction of his use of Kierkegaard in the preceding section, I argue that the religious knight of faith becomes the citizen; the “religious” in this Habermasian translation becomes the discursive decentering of the mature citizen. The suspension of the ethical, enacted by the engaged citizen, is something that every mature adult needs to learn, and so it has universal import. At least ideally, the term “citizen” is applicable to all members of society, and it reflects the social achievements of inclusivity, impartiality, democratic legit- imation, and ongoing collaborative learning about how to further the ideals of social justice. This “suspension of the ethical,” however, is not in itself sufficient, according to Habermas, for the necessary legitimation of the state. In his recent writings on religion, Habermas acknowledges that the realities of pluralism give rise to predicaments that require citizens to undertake additional practices beyond solely learning how to suspend ethical differences. Because Habermas now accepts the ongoing existence of religious communities within the broader context of secularized society, he makes the case that there is a separate form of learning that is necessitated by the presence of religious claims within the public sphere – and that this occurs through translation. 48 In order to examine Habermas’ approach to religious pluralism, I want to reconstruct an alternative, potentially competing way in which Habermas translates Kierkegaard – namely, Habermas’ interpretation of a claim by Climacus, a Kierkegaardian pseudonym, that there is a gap between faith and knowledge. This employment of Kierkegaard will not result in a formally universal concept of existential selfhood. Rather, as a key premise for Habermas’ commitment to a secular state, it sets out a categorical divide between those citizens who are believers and those who are not. In contrast to learning by “suspending” one’s own ethical norms, this second interpretation of Kierkegaard leads Habermas to claim that tolerance results from “translation” – specifically from the translation of religious claims into generally accessible, secular terms. Since this is the argument where we see Habermas relying upon a categorical religious/secular divide, this is the interpretation of Kierkegaard that is most open to critique from contemporary secular studies, specifically in terms of the methodological assumptions about what “counts” as religious in the first place. By arguing that religious claims must be translated, rather than suspended, Habermas is relying in part upon a claim that Climacus makes in Philosophical Fragments. Referencing Climacus, Habermas maintains, “The gap between knowledge and faith cannot be bridged by reason,” 49 and because of this gap, secular and religious citizens need to look to translation as the mediating bridge that enables them to communicate. Religious convictions must be translated into generally accessible validity claims; there is an implied equation, here, of “generally accessible” with “secular.” 50 Habermas maintains that translation serves as a bridge because it successfully meets the epistemic conditions of pluralism: namely, that discourse that purports to be inclusive and universal is limited by scientifically generated secular knowledge. 51 secular knowledge provides the conditions by which discourse renders itself accessible. It is therefore the religious believer who is asked to translate claims into generally accessible terms because of his or her acceptance that “an exclusive claim to truth by one faith can no longer be naively maintained.” 52 Tr anslation is, however, a task for both secular and religious citizens, 53 and so the translation imperative goes in two directions:


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openness on the part of secular citizens to their own fallibility and to the insights found in religious claims; acceptance on the part of the “religious” citizens to the secular nature of the state and to the necessity of generating inclusive debates. Translation reflects a categorical difference between the “secular” and the “religious” citizen, and while both categories of citizen must participate in translating, the burden is asymmetrical. Only religious believers, Habermas acknowledges, must split their identi- ties into public and private elements in order to have the possibility of gaining majority support f or their arguments. 54 The burden is asymmetrical because, on Habermas’ terms, the believer’s ethical self-understanding “derives from religious truths claiming universal validity.” 55 Religious individuals justify their claims by referencing a “divine perspective” or a “view from nowhere,” which are metaphysical sources that, according to Habermas, contrast sharply with the “limited metaphysical baggage” of the secularized citizen. 56 The secular citizen is able to suspend ethical truths, as described in the earlier section, in light of the formal priority of universal rightness. This category of citizen needs not struggle with cognitive dissonance because of a r obust capacity for rational adjudication, made possible because the priority of the “right” makes good secular sense. Descriptively, then, Habermas sees the religious believer as encumbered with an approach to knowledge that is permeated by “faith,” meaning that what is legitimate and reasonable refers to the specific, transcendentally grounded dictates of the religious worldview. To translate religious claims is to accept that such dictates, although they are eminently legitimate in the eyes of the believer, are not universal in the eyes of the broader democratic society. Religious citizens hereby demonstrate “what the secular grounds for the separation of religion from politics” actually mean: 57 namely, that the neutral state responds to the competing claims of knowledge and faith by abstaining from prejudging political decisions. Thus believers must accept the independence of secular from sacred knowledge as an important part of coexistence within pluralist society, accepting that secular reasons have priority in the political realm. 58 Conversely, for the secular individual, knowledge is always a matter of cultural conditions and constructions, and so the burden of translation simply reflects the necessary neutrality of the state. 59 For all citizens, however, translation does require a “change in consciousness,” namely, an increasing acceptance of the normative claim that both religious and secular mentalities must take each other seriously and examine themselves self-reflexively. 60 The gap between faith and knowledge has two different meanings according to Clima- cus. In his two pseudonymous texts, Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript , Climacus is drawing the reader’s attention to the two contradictions between sub- jective existence and external or objective knowledge. First, he is pointing to the ga p between willed certainty and finite historical knowledge. “Faith” in this sense does not necessarily involve r eligious claims but rather the leap of belief involved with claims about knowledge. 61 Climacus explains that it is the will, rather than competing knowledge claims, that excludes doubt. 62 When we heed Climacus’ words and accept that objective knowledge “is only an approximation,” 63 we can reflect on our existential relations to knowledge claims – our own interested investment in the very processes of seeking certainty in knowledge. As individuals, we are thus challenged to accept the uncertainty of knowledge and, conversely, embrace the “truth of subjectivity” and the task of passionate existence. If someone refuses to acknowledge the uncertainty of knowledge, Climacus explains that this can result in real violence; an individual who seeks to secure with force the requisite “eyewitnesses” of an event, for example, is a tyrant who hereby refutes his or her own nature as an existing self. 64 Such a “tyrant” refuses to take r esponsibility for the riskiness of knowledge, preferring instead to ground knowledge through the “view from nowhere,”


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as Westphal characterizes such appeals to objectivity. 65 Based on this account, Habermas’ characterization of religious belief is, on Climacus’ terms, not belief at all. The “view from nowhere” that, for Habermas, grounds religious claims is merely, for Climacus, the temptation of external, rather than internal, truth. 66 The gap between knowledge and faith also has a more intensely religious meaning for Climacus. In this second meaning, the gap corresponds to contradictions between human existence and the eternal divine. Beyond accepting the fallibility of knowledge claims, he states, one’s own understanding must surrender itself. 67 Such “surrendering” results in the religious expressions of guilt and sin consciousness. Ultimately, in the face of the contra- dictions between human finitude and the absolute, Climacus explains that the learner “must develop the consciousness of sin as the condition for understanding.” 68 For Kierkegaard, such sin-consciousness results in the Christian existence of transparently relating to the divine, as described above in the terms of Anti-Climacus. Habermas, as a secular thinker, is translating Kierkegaard into terms that accord with his postmetaphysical approach to philosophy. As stated above, Habermas seeks to model an approach to philosophy that is “ethically abstinent,” in which “every universally obligatory concept of a good and exemplary life is foreign.” 69 This ethically abstinent approach is necessitated by the diverse pluralism of society, and it hopes to secure the means by which citizens collaboratively determine the truth and rightness of morality. In contrast, whereas “morality can be right or wrong,” religious insights cannot be verified as true or false by philosophy. 70 Philosophy must therefore be bound by what Habermas calls “methodological agnosticism:” “[Agnostic philosophy] refrains on the one hand from passing judgment on religious truths while insisting (in a non-polemical fashion) on drawing a strict line between faith and knowledge. 71 Philosophy’s agnostic approach means that it cannot determine what part of religious doctrines is irrational and what part rational. 72 The first meaning of the “gap” between faith and knowledge aligns with this “non- polemical” acceptance of the inability of secular knowledge to judge religious truth. “The boundaries between secular and religious reasons are fluid,” 73 according to Habermas, and therefore religious claims can be converted into terms that are generally accessible and extend beyond the bounds of particular communities. 74 In order for translation to be successful, both the religious and the secular citizen must “accept an interpretation of the relation between faith and knowledge that enables them to live together in a self-reflexive manner.” 75 Constitutional guarantees like freedom of religion, while necessary, are not in themselves sufficient for securing peaceable and free coexistence. Citizens must themselves be able to accept compelling reasons for the necessity of tolerance. 76 In other words, through tolerance, I recognize you as a worthy member of society, deserving of equal rights, and so I commit to the substantive inclusion of all members of society through education, democratic processes, and equal access to the labor market. 77 While I need not ignore real disagreements with you, I accept as reasonable the need to tolerate you because of, not despite, my sense of the wrong or unpleasant qualities of your way of life. 78 Where Climacus challenges the individual to consider the existential limitations of epis- temology – foregoing certainty in the name of subjective inwardness – Habermas challenges the individual to accept that inevitable disagreements result from the incommensurabilities between religious and secular perspectives – foregoing repugnance in the name of toler- ance. 79 This acceptance of tolerance does not require the same task for the secular and the religious citizen. Because, on his terms, the absolutist tendencies of metaphysical religion are missing, Habermas states that the secular individual does not struggle with the cognitive dissonance facing the religious self when he or she accepts the fact that each individual has


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subjectively interested relations with knowledge claims. This secular ease does not, however, legitimate any sense of rational superiority to the believer but rather prompts acceptance of the impossibility of verifying the rational validity of belief claims. The gap between faith and knowledge has higher stakes for societal harmony when it comes to the religious believer. The religious citizen must, from within his or her own participant’s perspective, willingly accept the need to translate his or her beliefs because of an acknowledgement that faith claims are not ultimately inclusive – because of a commitment to solidarity that extends beyond the bounds of religious community. Tolerance consists of the acceptance on a cognitive level, by religious individuals of religion’s nonexclusive place in modern pluralist society. 80 As described in the previous section, in order for us to become the authors of the law, we must open up our own perspectives to the learning processes of translation. No one can do this for us, and the will to learn must be subjective and sincere. 81 In the case of religious belief, this task is more demanding, given that public discourse is limited by secularly generated scientific knowledge. Habermas acknowledges that religious persons are not likely to rate themselves as cognitively backward. 82 To self-identify as culturally repugnant is, of course, nonsensical. Religious communities must generate the normative principles of secular society from within, cultivating in their members the motivation and capabilities necessary for tolerance. 83 This means that their own r eligious doctrines must be convincingly and cognitively connected with the constitu- tional and democratic principles of equality and morality. 84 There are real social dangers, Habermas warns, when religious communities do not confront and respond to the “cogni- tive dissonance” that arises from their co-existence with both different belief systems and the authoritative secularly generated scientific knowledge. 85 They become “fundamentalist” when they “either combat the modern world or withdraw from it into isolation.” 86 Funda- mentalism is thus a modern phenomenon 87 and terrorism is a symptom of the miscarrying of secularization. 88 Religious believers need to align themselves on the right side of the faith/knowledge separation, accepting that public democratic debate must be inclusive and generally accessible. 89 The second meaning of the gap between faith and knowledge corresponds to the recent turn in Habermas’ reflections on religion. In response to his increased acceptance of the ongoing existence of religious communities, Habermas makes the case that the translation of religious claims has real cognitive value for secular thinkers. 90 He states explicitly that there are places that secular thinking, and philosophy more generally, “cannot go;” but rather than rendering them obsolete, this limitation makes religious insights highly valuable for their ability to “semantically regenerate” secular thinking. 91 “Something was lost,” Habermas explains, when religious concepts such as “sin” were converted into their modern secular concepts like “culpability.” 92 While we lament for what we now miss in our modern society, we can place hope in the semantic potential inherent within religion that we can access through translation. Conversely, we risk impoverishing our collaborative search for truth and rightness if we do not have access to such inspiration and insight. On one reading of Habermas, secularization hereby carries with it a hope of eventually achieving the kind of moral insights now still limited to religion. 93

III. Secularization a nd a Rereading of Kierkegaard

In order to think more carefully about the nature of this hope that Habermas places in secularization, in this final section I reconstruct another way in which Habermas interprets Kierkegaard. I then examine challenges posed to Habermas by contemporary scholars of


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secular studies and point beyond Habermas’ Kierkegaard to Kierkegaard’s own religious texts. I suggest that by clarifying specific limits of Habermas’ rendering of Kierkegaard, we can view certain critical affinities between Kierkegaard and secular studies. This final interpretation of Kierkegaard concerns what we might call a third meaning of the faith/knowledge gap, and we find it in Habermas’ normative description of the “ethical self-understanding” attained by citizens who fulfill the tasks described above: suspending the ethical in light of collaboratively discerned moral r ightness; either translating religious claims into generally accessible terms or being receptive to salvaged meaning in such translations. In this third interpretation, the gap between faith and knowledge is overcome through the “common sense” attained by the modern self. To participate in secularization is ultimately to participate in what Habermas identifies as the historical achievements of democratic human rights, and this constitutes a commitment that his project will neither compromise nor fully question. 94 It is important to be clear about terminology here. Habermas does not want to reinstate a culturally specific, “ethical” vision because, as described above, the “ethical” must be suspended before f ormal rightness. Politically prioritizing an “ethically-permeated common good” over formal r ights and freedoms guaranteed to every individual leads to discrimination and, globally, “helplessness in the face of a ‘clash of civilizations.’” 95 However, what moti- vates us and enables us to prioritize universal rightness is our “ethical self-understanding,” in other words, the modern selfhood that emerges out of the ongoing “learning processes” undertaken by individuals and communities about epistemological and moral fallibilities. 96 The religious/secular divide does not disappear with this modern common sense. Rather, what Habermas calls “nondestructive secularization” shapes individuals into tolerant selves who are able to either translate or listen to translation within the terms of liberal discourse. This conflation of modern self-understanding with the processes of secularization is under strong critique by various social theorists. 97 As Saba Mahmood points out, arguments in favor of global “secularism” have intensified tremendously after September 11, 2001 because of the widespread assumption that secularism “is the best way to ward off the dangers of religious strife.” 98 According to Mahmood and other scholars within secular studies, the policies, which are aimed at confronting the “dangers” of religious strife, rigorously define and circumscribe the very meaning of “being religious.” The liberal project of secularism, on this account, is better understood as a reshaping of religion through reforms, state injunctions, and, most significantly, the authorization of a “kind of subjectivity” that complies with the normative demands of secularism. 99 It is therefore a “secular conceit,” according to William Connolly, that liberal hopes for global harmony depend upon a “single, authoritative basis of public reason and/or public ethics that governs all reasonable citizens regardless of ‘person’ or ‘private’ faith.” 100 On these terms, the assumption that secularism has a certain moral superiority needs to be urgently rethought. As Mahmood writes, “Apart from the fact that this secular vision does not command broad allegiance in the world today, I fear that it is premised on a propensity to violence that is seldom questioned.” 101 She points out that the secular strategy seeks to make provisional, if not extinct, those religious life-forms that are deemed incompatible with the liberal global order, r isking more rather than less violence; 102 conversely, secularism seeks to produce religious subjectivities that are essentially compliant with liberal political rule. This line of thought challenges Habermas to acknowledge the substantive or ethical forms of selfhood prioritized by his commitments to secularism. Habermas explicitly identifies what he sees as the necessary presuppositions of his project:

participants must “always already buy into” the egalitarian universalism of our shared world,


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“lest they f orfeit the cognitive import of their undertaking.” 103 Underlying the will to suspend the ethical, to translate religious claims, is a commitment to a common standard of universal equality, mutual respect, solidarity, and the protection of everyone’s individuality. 104 In other words, Habermas’ postmetaphysical commitments can be seen, in this final translation of Kierkegaard, as specific liberal constraints: “As soon as the ethical self-understanding of language-using agents is at stake in its entirety, philosophy can no longer avoid taking a substantive position.” 105 If we look at Kierkegaard’s understanding of the third gap between faith and knowledge, we find a possibility that Kierkegaard might challenge Habermas’ approach to the secular. Colin Jager has recently suggested that Kierkegaard’s writings contain an alternative ge- nealogy of the secular, one that does not marginalize “the religious” in the name of liberal secularism, 106 indicating that Kierkegaard might serve as a helpful ally for secular studies. Kierkegaard aimed his texts at the single individual, hoping that his writings would serve as a corrective to each reader. His texts therefore differ significantly in how they pitch their arguments because they take aim at qualitatively varying existential modes. The Kierkegaar- dian arguments described in the previous sections correspond to the “generically religious” reader, the individual who is willing to accept that there is a telos that is higher than the ethical realm, that truth is subjective and uncertain. In contrast, the third meaning of the divide between faith and knowledge corresponds to Kierkegaard’s most religious mode of existence, which he called Christian existence. “What one’s life proclaims is a hundred times more powerfully effective than what one’s mouth proclaims.” This is a statement from one of Kierkegaard’s explicitly religious texts, 107 and it reflects Kierkegaard’s understanding of how authentic faith is expressed outwardly. More existentially intense than Climacus’ descriptions of religious inwardness, Kierkegaard states that the ultimate religious expression of faith is action. 108 This understanding of faith is, above all, a corrective to established Christendom. Kierkegaard condemns the Christian community of his own society as not being at all “really Christian,” and so he is especially targeting those individuals who wear the “guise” of religion. Seeking to disrupt the complacency of so-called Christians, Kierkegaard explains that the only gap between faith and knowledge is one that the secular individual enacts, by keeping a “chasmic abyss” between knowing and living. 109 In societies where Christianity is dominant, this abyss between faith and action results in a secularized guise of religion. Secularized faith echoes the truth as “accurately as possible” 110 by sticking solely to “facts” and objective knowledge. 111 In contrast, the religious individual approaches life as “essentially action,” 112 relinquishing the security of knowledge probability. The faithful person thus foregoes access to power, profit, and popularity, venturing instead to express faith by acting. 113 Kierkegaard identifies tolerance as an especially secularizing temptation, which promotes a lack of existential passion. “Tolerance,” he explains, can be found in “a eulogy of an enlightened century’s matchless progress” towards a society where “being a Christian became practically nothing.” 114 As tolerant Christians, he explains, we insist on a version of Christianity that is in harmony with our “increasing enlightenment and culture.” 115 The only pious action that results from Christianity is careerism and tolerance, which Kierkegaard maintains is actually secularism. 116 “Secularized” religion fundamentally misunderstands the role that doctrines play in one’s existence. Christianity is not a doctrine, Kierkegaard maintains, but it has gained immense imperialist power because of its secular self-identification as objective doctrine. 117 Given these admonitions that objective knowledge leads only to secularized versions of religion, to what can we objectively point to in the name of productive critique? Kierkegaard provides an


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explicit answer to this question: we have the right, he states, to require that secular versions of Christianity admit openly that they are not actually Christianity: “there must be truth in this matter.” 118 In contrast to seeking truth in interpretations of scripture, we should read scripture as a mirror, seeing ourselves in the text 119 in order to relate “subjectively” to the Word. 120 As opposed to external doctrines, the only assurance is what my own life expresses. 121 Kierkegaard thus defines religion in terms of subjective capacity, rather than objective belief:

how one lives and inhabits one’s beliefs matters, rather than what specifically one believe s. 122 Rather than pointing the “finger of scorn” at someone else, Kierkegaard advises that we devote ourselves to becoming spirit, 123 knowing that we will be deemed “repugnant” in the eyes of the establishment. Kierkegaard’s description of faith as cultivated action corresponds to the recent findings of secular studies. In her ethnography of the mosque movement in Egypt, for example, Mahmood describes piety in terms of a continuum of practices that are performed not for the sake of external prescriptions but rather for the realization of specific forms of selfhood. Particular rituals and practices, for example, are undertaken because they produce specific desires and capacities in the self. 124 Pedagogical programs are geared towards making certain prescribed behavior become natural to one’s disposition, “thereby making an a priori separation between individual feelings and socially prescribed behavior unfeasible.” 125 This understanding of the religious self as one particular form of selfhood leads to highly uncomfortable methodological challenges for liberal readers. Mahmood acknowledges the likelihood that “cognitive dissonance” will arise when differing ethical projects encounter each other, f or example, when contemporary feminist liberalism seeks to understand the women’s piety movement occurring within Egyptian Islamic mosques. 126 Habermas gives us a way to deal with such dissonance, namely, to translate Kierkegaard’s expressive faith into the terms of liberal secularism and thereby benefit from the learning process that will result. However, Mahmood prompts us to reflect on the way in which such secularism produces a highly specific rearrangement of religion into beliefs and doctrines from which the indi- vidual believer can stand apart from, examine, and translate. 127 To be “religious,” according to secularism, is to be able to identify and analyze one’s specific objective beliefs. Not co- incidentally, this kind of analysis accords exactly with the critical reason that accompanies the modern ethical self, according to Habermas. Rather than describing such an approach to religion in terms of transparent reason, Mahmood exposes the modern self as one, among other possibilities, form of ethical subjectivity. Kierkegaard also seems to dispute the so- called neutrality of the modern self. He claims that religious passion cannot be translated, only performed, because it is the mode of belief that produces one’s capacity for ongoing pious expressions. I do not think that the ramifications of Mahmood and Kierkegaard’s challenges to Habermas include having to forego insisting upon the repugnance of certain actions. How- ever, the locus of the critique has to shift from one of dogma, of objective statements about religious belief (that Habermas identifies as the source of potential strife, if they are not translated into secular terms) to a critique about the mode by which creeds are enacted. So instead of looking at what beliefs someone upholds, we think about the ways in which those beliefs are inhabited. Connolly has recently proposed that the stakes are enormous here for the struggle against extremist forms of Christianity, imperialism, and “cowboy Capitalism,” each of which have very similar repugnant modes of spirituality. He is suggesting that we look for spiritual affinities that advocates of different creeds share in common in order to forge critical productive alliances. 128 If we accept his argument, that the same creed can be inhabited by generous or by domineering forms of spirituality, 129 then we can relinquish


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our hold on a strict religion/secular divide and instead rely upon a methodology that ac- knowledges our own passionate, affective investment in our ideas and, maybe the most controversially, acknowledge our own arguments as forms of ethical practice. That we too want to become certain kinds of selves. That this might make us even resemble certain religious forms of practices or at least that we can no longer rely upon the appearance of neutrality or inevitability in our commitments to feminist or liberal forms of selfhood.


I presented an earlier version of this article at the C anadian S ociety for Women in P hilosophy M eeting in Wi ndsor, ON in October, 2008, and I thank the participants for their insights. I also thank Tara Pedersen, Namrata M itra, Noelle Oxenhandler, and Alexis Shotwell f or invaluable conversations and s uggestions.

1. The phrase “culturally repugnant other,” coined by S usan Harding (see, “Representing F undamen-

talism: The R epugnant Cultural Other,” Social R esearch 58, no. 2 ( 1994): 373–93), r efers to t he challenges of studying communities t hat, especially in the eyes of the academy, seem to reflect antimodern or funda- mentalist practices and i deologies. For a more r ecent use of the term, see B rian Howell, “The Repugnant Cultural Other Speaks Back,” Anthropological Theory 7, no. 4 ( 2007): 371–91.

2. Saba Mahmood, Politics of P iety: T he Islamic R evival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton:

Princeton University Press, 2005, 37 note 56.

3. J ur¨ gen Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature (Cambridge: P olity Press 2003), 4.

4. On Habermas’ terms, t ruth and morality are analogous, both r equiring rational debate and the

successful warranting of claims; despite the loss of r eligiously grounded metaphysical guarantees, morality can t hus be “right” or “wrong,” but only in terms of the r ational validity of moral norms as established by

inclusive, dialogical inquiry into the worthiness of t heir recognition. While truth and morality are analogous, they are corroborated in diff erent ways. Where “truth” asserts what is the case, empirically, in an i ndepen- dently postulated objective world, “morality” asserts what ought to be the case, in the s hared s ymbolically structured social world. “Truth” i s thus justification-transcendent, and “rightness” i s justification-immanent, and both depend upon discursive practices in the lifeworld. Habermas acknowledges t hat t hese guiding in- tuitions are at odds with certain methodologies of cultural anthropology, as I explore below. S ee Habermas, “Rightness versus Tr uth: On the S ense of Normative Validity in Moral J udgments and Norms,” Tr uth and Justification, t rans. B arbara Fultner (Cambridge: M IT Press, 2005): 237–75, 246). For a r ecent discussion of the r elative s imilarities between Habermas and Rawls, see J ames W. Boettcher, “Habermas, Religion, and the Ethics of Citizenship,” Philosophy and Social C riticism 35, nos. 1–2 (2009): 215–38.

5. Habermas, “Rightness versus Tr uth,” 263.

6. Habermas, “Equal Treatment of Cultures and the L imits of Postmodern Liberalism,” The Journal

of Political Philosophy. 13, no. 1 ( 2005): 1–28, 1.

7. Habermas, “Remarks on Discourse Ethics,” Justification and Application: Remarks on Discourse

Ethics , t rans. C iaran P. C ronin ( Cambridge: M IT Press, 1994): 19–112, 24.

8. Habermas, “Fundamentalism and Terror – A Dialogue,” Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues

with Jur¨ gen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, ed. Giovanna Borradori ( Chicago: University of Chicago P ress, 2003): 25–44, 41; “Rightness versus Tr uth,” 260.

9. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 4.

10. Habermas writes, for example, “An abstract s olidarity, mediated by t he law, arises among citizens

only when t he principles of justice have penetrated more deeply into the complex of ethical orientations in a given culture” ( Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion , with Joseph Ratzinger, ed. F lorian Schuller, trans.

Brian M cNeil ( C.R.V. San F rancisco: I gnatius P ress, 2005): 19–52, 34). As I will argue in the final section below, these ethical orientations, differentiated in Habermas’ project from t he abstract moral claims of universal justice, are called i nto question by contemporary s ecular s tudies.

11. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 4.

12. My reconstruction of Habermas’ interpretation of Kierkegaard informs my understanding of

Habermas’ use of the t erm “post-secular.” T he term is both descriptive and normative; i t r efers to a shift in the degree to which Habermas accepts the ongoing co-existence of religious with non-religious citizens, and i t also marks his hope that such co-existence can be mutually satisfying and peaceful. I agree with Austin Harrington’s s uggestion t hat we can locate a meta-theoretical meaning in the term “post-secular” as it signals a t urn in Habermas’ project towards t he normative inclusion of believers within democratic


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society ( Harrington, “Habermas and the ‘ Post-Secular S ociety,’” European Journal of Social T heory, 10, no. 4(2007): 543–60, 547).

13. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 7; “How to R espond to the E thical Question,” The

Derrida/Habermas Reader, ed. L asse Thomassen ( Chicago: University of Chicago P ress, 2006): 115–27,


14. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 6.

15. Kierkegaard’s ethicist, Judge William, demonstrates the s tructure of the moral actor, which is

actualized through the f ormal choice to engage with choice itself: “you are not supposed to give birth to

another human being; you are s upposed to give birth only to yourself,” Kierkegaard, Either/Or II, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong & E dna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 206.

16. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 9.

17. In the algebraic terms of Anti-Climacus, the s elf who wills to be a s elf, entirely on its own

resources, is in defiant despair. While we need to take up the existential tasks of selfhood, ultimately r esting

transparently in the power that established us i s what makes becoming-self possible, Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, ed. and t rans. Hong and Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 14. The identity of this “power that established t he self” i s what Habermas t ranslates into generally accessible terms.

18. Habermas, “How t o R espond to the E thical Question,” 121.

19. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 10.

20. Ibid.

21. Habermas, “How t o R espond to the E thical Question,” 123.

22. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 11.

23. In Merold Westphal’s s uccinct words, “I am t he general will more deeply than I am my particular

will.” As a member of the conversational we, “I am the s ource of moral authority to which I submit” (Westphal, “Kierkegaard’s Teleological S uspension of R eligiousness B,” Foundations of Kierkegaard’s

Vi sion of Community: R eligion, Ethics, and Politics i n K ierkegaard , ed. George B. Connell and C . S tephen Evans ( New J ersey: Humanities P ress, 1998): 110–29, 270.

24. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 107.

25. Habermas, “Rightness versus Tr uth,” 272.

26. Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, ed. and t rans. Hong and Hong (Princeton: Princeton University

Press, 1983), 54.

27. I f ollow t he line of argument that Silentio’s teleological suspension of the ethical is a formal

suspension. Westphal, among others, makes this point in “Kierkegaard’s R eligiousness C—A Defense,” International Philosophical Quarterly 44, no. 4 ( 2004): 535–482, 539. This claim l eads to fraught debates among Kierkegaard s cholars about the nature of t he substantive ethics expressed by Kierkegaard’s more religious pseudonyms and his self-authored Christian writings. On Westphal’s t erms, we can best understand Christian ethics as “Religiousness C,” t he full consummation of the less intense existence spheres of Religiousness A and B. In Religiousness C, in contrast to Silentio’s formal teleological s uspension of the ethical, we find a C hristian t eleological suspension of the ethical – namely, a r ich description of how to live

a C hristian life by i mitating C hrist as the prototype. I n R eligiousness C, then, t he teleological s uspension of the ethical is both assumed and subsumed by outward expressions of faith. However, R eligiousness C, where r eligious existence enacts C hristian ethics, heightens t he tension between Religiousness A and B, and s o neither one’s rational understanding nor one’s sense of ethical living can be sufficient for faithful existence. Note that it is crucial here not to confuse Sittlichkeit , which is fully transformed by the life of faith, with the ethical mode of existence, which is l ess i ntense and quite distinct from the religious stage of existence; for a helpful explanation, see C alvin O. S chrag, “Note on Kierkegaard’s Teleological Suspension of the E thical,” Ethics 70, no. 1(1959): 66–68.

28. Habermas, “How to R espond to the E thical Question,” 118.

29. Maeve C ooke also identifies a “suspension” of the ethical in Habermas’ r ecent writings: “Haber-

mas does not see t his suspension of the question of ethical truth as a problem since he takes for granted that the citizens of contemporary democracies, r ecognizing the plurality and i ntractability of ethical viewpoints,

share his view that the t ruth content of s trong evaluations is not open to public assessment and t hat they are not troubled by this” ( Cooke, “A Secular S tate for a Postsecular S ociety? P ostmetaphysical P olitical Theory and t he Place of R eligion,” Constellations 14, no. 2 ( 2007): 224–38, 193, italics mine).

30. Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 9.

31. Habermas, “Remarks on Discourse Ethics,” 49.

32. Habermas, “Remarks on Discourse Ethics,” 180, note 39.

33. For example, refusing to “suspend the ethical” might result in the i mposition of one specific

ethical viewpoint or approach to the violent exclusion of others: “Legal procedures thus stand to lose the force to f ound legitimacy i f notions of a s ubstantial ethical life s lowly creep into the i nterpretation and practice of f ormal r equirements” (Habermas, “Religious Tolerance – the Pacemaker for C ultural R ights,” The Derrida/Habermas Reader , 203).


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34. Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 3, 29; “Religion

in the P ublic Sphere,” European Journal of Philosophy 14, no. 1 ( 2006): 1–25, 5. I always find it i nteresting to ask s tudents whether they indeed consider themselves to be “authors of t he law.” S ince this phrase marks

the achievement of communicative action, we can employ it symptomatically to test the r elative health of our own democratic communities. More often t han not, s tudents, upon reflection, will begin t o articulate ways in which t hey f eel alienated, misrecognized, or simply disinterested in those procedures that Habermas deems vital. Following Habermas’ descriptions, we can begin to think about the “learning defi cits” exemplified by the l ack of political motivation and solidarity (Habermas, “How to Respond to the E thical Question,” 18). In the terms of Habermas’ E nlightenment project, the classroom can be an apt space f or diagnosing and remedying such “learning deficits.”

35. As stated above, Habermas argues t hat while truth and morality are analogical, they are diff erent

in that moral norms refer s olely t o our social world which has no constitutive outside. As moral actors, we produce t he conditions of possibility for the determination of moral rightness: “By directing ourselves toward the goal of a ‘single r ight answer’ even in moral controversies, we presuppose that a valid morality applies t o a single s ocial world that includes all claims and persons equally” ( Habermas, “Rightness versus Tr uth,” 260). T his s ocial world is a mandate, not a given, and the legitimation of moral rightness depends upon the i nclusive We-perspective brought about by participants.

36. Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 30.

37. Habermas, “Religion in the Public Sphere,” 18.

38. In addition t o S ilentio’s depiction i n Fear and Trembling, there are other suspensions of the ethical

in Kierkegaard’s writing. See note 27 above, as well as M artin Matusˇ t´ık, “Kierkegaard as S ocio-Political

Thinker and Activist,” Man and World 27 (1994): 211–24.

39. Silentio’s Fear and Trembling describes t hese various types in detail.

40. When he uses the t erm “decentering” to describe the l earning that happens through reciprocal

debates, Habermas is making use of Piaget’s understanding of moral learning practices (Habermas, “Right-

ness versus Tr uth,” 244–270). Our perception of s elf and other i s decentered, and so we are able to gain the i mpartiality necessary for productive debate because we can take on a progressively more i nclusive participant-perspective.

41. One of t he characteristics of modern society t hat Habermas emphasizes is the fact that individuals

enjoy t he choice to reflect on the degree t o which they participate within the tradition where they were socialized (“Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 24). T his i s why he can argue that “the universalist project of the political Enlightenment by no means contradicts the particularist sensibilities of a correctly conceived multiculturalism” (Habermas, “A ‘Post-Secular’ Society – What does T hat M ean?” Reset Dialogues on C ivilizations, http://www.reset.doc.org/EN/Habermas-Istanbul.php, accessed August 13, 2008, 3). T his point is one key s ite of debate between Habermas and C harles Taylor. Where Taylor argues that cultural r ights are in need of political intervention, for example in Quebec

(“The P olitics of R ecognition,” Multiculturalism: Examining t he Politics of R ecognition , ed. Amy Gutmann (Princeton University Press, 1994), 25–74), Habermas disagrees, s tating, “Young people must be convinced that they can l ead a rich and meaningful life within the horizon of the acquired tradition” (Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 22). T his i s also where contemporary debates about the nature of the “secular” expose asymmetrical assumptions within liberalism about what it means to “choose culture.” For example, Wendy Brown points out the t endency t o equate western liberalism with choice and I slam with a t yrannical l ack of choice. P ointing to the “nearly compulsory baring of skin by American teenage girls,” Brown asks, “What makes choices ‘freer’ when they are constrained by s ecular and market organizations of femininity and fashion rather than by state or r eligious law?” ( Regulating Avers ion:

Tolerance in t he Age of I dentity and Empire (Princeton: Princeton UP 2006), 189). For a helpful overview of this debate, especially in relation t o B rown’s argument, s ee Anastasia Vakulenko, “Liberalism, Civilization and t he (Non-)Oxymoronic L imits of Tolerance,” International Journal of Law in C ontext 3, no. 4 ( 2008):


42. Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 8.

43. Habermas, “Rightness versus Tr uth,” 256.

44. Ibid., 257.

45. Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 14.

46. Habermas, “Equal Treatment of Cultures and the L imits of Postmodern Liberalism,” 9–10.

47. See M atustˇ ´ık, “Kierkegaard as S ocio-Political Thinker and Activist,” f or a Kierkegaardian critique

of Habermas’ postmetaphysics.

48. There i s a noteworthy s hift in Habermas’ approach to religious pluralism. Whereas i n his

earlier writings he indicated t hat the “secular,” manifesting in t he rational consensus of debate, would

fully replace t he “holy” (Westphal, “Kierkegaard’s Teleological S uspension of R eligiousness,” 269), he now accepts and r ecognizes the ongoing existence of r eligious community. R eferring to this recent turn, Harrington asks, f or example, “How can Habermas speak without contradiction of an ongoing


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Habermas’ Kierkegaard and the Nature o f the Secular: Ada Jaarsma


‘process of s ecularization’ in this ‘post-secular s ociety’” (“Habermas and the ‘ Post-Secular Society,’”


49. Habermas, “How to R espond to the E thical Question,” 122.

50. Cooke makes this point, clarifying t hat t his i s where Habermas differs from R awls, who distin-

guishes between public reason and s ecular r eason ( “A Secular S tate for a Postsecular S ociety?” 230).

51. Habermas, “Fundamentalism and Terror,” 31.

52. Ibid., 31.

53. Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 52.

54. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 109. In terms of what t ranslation necessitates on t he part

of the r eligious believer, Habermas explains, “But all that is required here i s t he epistemic ability to consider one’s own faith reflexively from t he outside and to r elate i t t o s ecular views” ( Habermas, “Religion in t he Public Sphere,” 9). M ichael Warner provides a s keptical analysis of the ways in which purportedly neutral “critique” i s thus made synonymous with the f ormation of a particular kind of subject (Warner, “Uncritical

Reading,” Polemic: Critical or Uncritical , ed. Jane Gallop ( Oxford: R outledge, 2004): 13–38, 18). At s take here is what Warner identifies as a Protestant metareligious understanding of religion as a matter of “belief,” generalized as an understanding of religion per se´ ( Warner, “Is Liberalism a Religion?” Religion: Beyond a Concept , ed. Hent de Vries ( New York: Fordham University Press, 2008): 610–17, 613).

55. Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 27.

56. Ibid.

57. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 105.

58. Habermas, “Religion i n t he Public Sphere,” 13.

59. In line with these descriptions of the r eligious and s ecular citizens, Habermas suggests that t he

religious believer will struggle more than the secular citizen with the acceptance of abortion r ights, even if they both hold pro-life/anti-choice positions, because of the cognitive dissonance t hat emerges from t he conflicts between t he “formal r ights” and the religious worldview (Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 10). T he secular citizen will not need to deal with such dissonance.

60. Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 47, 50. The

“secular” s tate is a historical achievement, f or Habermas, and t oday i t faces the challenge of accommodating

the continued existence of religious believers (Habermas, “A ‘Post-Secular’ Society—What Does That Mean?” 2). Habermas calls such accommodation a “post-secular” achievement. I n other words, secular citizens have t he obligation to transcend a s ecularist s elf-understanding of modernity, achieving a “post- secular” acceptance of the limitations of secular r easons, Habermas, “Religion in the Public Sphere,” 15. Whereas the term “secularist” denotes a polemical rejection of all religious claims in the public sphere, “secular” r efers to what Habermas calls an “indiff erent s tance” which r elates “agnostically to religious validity claims” ( Habermas, “A ‘ Post-Secular’ S ociety—What Does T hat M ean?” 5). The s ecularist position

risks a kind of fundamentalism unless i t too willingly undertakes the l earning processes of t olerance – which will then involve becoming post-secular.

61. Climacus explains that all historical knowledge is only an approximation: “The reason is partly

the i mpossibility of being able t o i dentify oneself absolutely with the objective, and partly that everything historical, i nasmuch as it must be known, i s eo ipso past and has the ideality of recollection” (1992,

574). Whereas some philosophers, most famously Hegel, claim to have produced a “system of existence,” Climacus explains that such claims are attempting s omething that i s only possible f or God ( Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, vol 1., ed. and trans. Hong and Hong (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992), 119).

62. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments , ed. and t rans. Hong and Hong (Princeton: Princeton UP,

1987), 84.

63. Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, 577.

64. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments , 92. As well as the tyrant’s violence, the misrecognition

of the passion of knowledge leads to s ocietal apathy: “because of much knowledge people have entirely forgotten what it means to exist and what inwardness is” ( Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript

to Philosophical Fragments , 242).

65. Ibid., 118.

66. Describing existential faith in terms t hat r eflect Climacus’ descriptions of the first gap between

faith and knowledge, William C onnolly writes, “An existential faith is not immune to argument and evidence; commitment t o it, rather, i s not exhausted by them. Better, the presentations of argument and evidence are themselves invested with an element of faith” ( Connolly, Capitalism and Christianity, A merican Style (Duke University Press, 2008), 70. Connolly understands the s ubjective intensity of faith in Climacus’ r ather t han Habermas’ terms. Whereas Habermas’ translation l eads him to posit a s ecular/religious divide, C onnolly’s

alignment with Climacus prompts him to conclude: “The s ecular division between private faith and public life i s compromised by t hese considerations. T he private-public division is not nearly as sharp as s ome pretend” (ibid., 70).


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Constellations Vo lume 17, Number 2, 2010

67. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments , 54. In the first case, a teacher can act like S ocrates and

serve as an “occasion” for a learner t o embrace t he passionate uncertainty of knowledge. I n this latter case, we must r eceive the condition f or faith from what C limacus calls “the god-in-time.” He r eminds us that

knowledge refers either to the eternal or to the purely historical; “no knowledge can have as its object this absurdity that the eternal is the historical” (ibid ., 62).

68. Ibid., 93.

69. Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 43.

70. Ibid., 42, 52.

71. Habermas, “Religion i n the Public Sphere,” 16, italics mine.

72. Ibid., 17. I want t o clarify that Habermas maintains that this translation of Kierkegaard hopes to

remove a t emptation f or philosophers and f or those who identify as s ecular t o identify r eligious affiliation

as repugnant. He points out, f or example, that the distinction between faith and knowledge does not permit philosophers, or non-religious thinkers more generally, t o demean r eligious claims as “purely and simply irrational” (Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 51).

73. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 109.

74. Harrington points out that this statement r isks contradicting Habermas’ other claim, namely, that

there i s a gap between faith and knowledge (Harrington, “Habermas and the ‘ Post-Secular’ S ociety’”).

Rather than reading t hese claims as contradictory, I i dentify here the hope that Habermas is placing in the very real workings of translation. As one example of t his hope, he describes translation as the crucial “filter” between the t wo spheres of church and s tate, a filter through which only translated and hence “secular” contributions may pass from public debates into t he formal agendas of s tate institutions (Habermas, “A ‘Post-Secular’ Society—What does that M ean?” 5).

75. Ibid., 5.

76. Habermas, “Religion i n the Public Sphere,” 5, 13.

77. Habermas, “Fundamentalism and Terror,” 36.

78. Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 25

79. Habermas writes, “This concession [that you have the r ight to convictions and practices that I

reject] must be s upported by a shared basis of mutual r ecognition from which repugnant dissonances can be

overcome” ( Habermas, “A ‘Post-Secular’ Society—What does t hat M ean?” 3).

80. Habermas, “Fundamentalism and Terror,” 31.

81. Habermas, “A ‘Post-Secular’ Society—What does t hat M ean?” 5.

82. Habermas, “Religion i n the Public Sphere,” 18.

83. Habermas, “Religious Tolerance,” 201.

84. Habermas, “Religion i n the Public Sphere,” 13.

85. Habermas, “A ‘Post-Secular’ Society—What does t hat M ean?” 2. Habermas notes that religious

communities can risk unleashing “a destructive potential” ( The F uture of Human Nature, 104), as s een for

example i n the 2004 conflicts over “Gods, gays, and guns” in t he United S tates ( “Religion i n the Public Sphere,” 3).

86. Asad directly refutes t his t hesis, arguing instead that Western imperialism, including the coer-

cive increase of economic and ideological power over non-European peoples, is part of t he conditions of

possibility for modern liberal arguments about tolerance and rational progress ( Habermas, “Remakrs on

Discourse Ethics,” 229. He highlights t he violence of processes of Westernization i n non-Western contexts, asking pointedly if we should distinguish between t he “liberating powers of transcendental reason” and the “secular powers that destroy and r econstruct” (Habermas, “Remakrs on Discourse Ethics,” 231).

87. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 102.

88. Ibid., 103.

89. Elizabeth A. C astelli provides a vivid portrait of various communities within the C hristian R ight

in the United S tates who see t hemselves as victims of r eligious intolerance because of what they identify as the “perilous ascendancy of American s ecularism” ( Castelli, “Persecution C omplexes: I dentity Politics and the ‘ War on C hristians,’” differences: a journal of feminist cultural s tudies 18, no. 3 ( 2007): 152–80, 156).

Here we see an i nversion of Habermas’ f ormula of faith and knowledge, where religious faith – exclusively

lifted up as a particularly patriarchal version of evangelical Christianity – r eflects an i nevitable progress of historical redemption, and s ecular knowledge represents an obstruction to r eligious freedom.

90. This reflects Habermas’ own admission t hat nonbelievers, like himself, might be “’unmusical’ in

religious matters” ( Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 51) and so might benefi t from translation.

91. Habermas, “Religion in t he Public Sphere,” 10.

92. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 110.

93. Simone Chambers, “How R eligion S peaks to the Agonistic: Habermas on t he Persistent Value of

Religion,” Constellations 14, no. 2 ( 2007): 210–23, 219.


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94. “The mode for nondestructive s ecularization is translation. This is what the Western world, as

the worldwide secularizing force, may learn from its history. If it presents this complex image of itself to other cultures i n a credible way, intercultural r elations may find a language other t han t hat of t he military

and t he market alone” ( Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 114). C ooke agrees with this admiration for t he secular s tate, linking the 16 th and 17 th century r eligious wars in Europe to the insight that “freedom of opinion is a basic political right” ( Habermas, “A S ecular S tate for a Postsecular S ociety?” 233). S ee also Cooke, “Salvaging and S ecularizing the S emantic Contents of Religion: The L imitations of Habermas’ Postmetaphysical Project,” International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 60 (2006): 187–207, 199. It seems noteworthy that t here is an assumption here t hat the secular s tate is one important structural factor in the r eduction of r eligiously based violence. Cooke describes the danger, for example, that “dispensing with the r equirement of a s ecular basis f or political authority will create the conditions for t he kind of religiously-based, authoritarian state t hat the secular s tate sought to overcome” ( Habermas, “A S ecular State for a Postsecular S ociety?” 234).

95. Habermas, “Pre-Political Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional S tate?” 3.

96. Ibid., 23.

97. The critique leads to an affirmation that t here are, in fact, many ways t o be modern. For example,

anthropologist Richard S hweder questions the widespread assumption that “the only way to be modern is to be part of the mainstream, and t he only mainstream t hat counts is t he one that runs through the West” ( Shweder, “The C ultural P sychology of Suff ering: The M any M eanings of Health in Orissa, I ndia (and Elsewhere),” Ethos 36, no.1 (2008): 61–77, 66). He highlights t he implicit secular/religious divide animating s uch an assumption: “In I ndia even t he most enlightened of medical scientists will tell you that ‘religion i s observed f or better health,’ while in the United S tates, at least among those who view themselves as ‘enlightened,’ the very i dea of ‘religion’ is opposed to ideas of ‘science’ and ‘ medicine,’ and s uch notions

as ‘atma,’ ‘ preta’ and ‘ chuan’ (‘soul,’ ‘ghost,’ r itual pollution’) are associated with darkness, s uperstition, irrationality, and an antique or premodern cast of mind. One of the surest ways to bring a dinner party to a halt on the Upper West S ide of M anhattan or B ethesda, Maryland, is to speak earnestly about the ‘ soul’ or to use the word God ” (Ibid., 63).

98. Mahmood, “Secularism, Hermeneutics, and E mpire: T he Politics of I slamic Reformation,” Public

Culture 18, no. 2 ( 2006): 323–47, 325.

99. Ibid., 328.

100. Connolly, Capitalism and Christianity, A merican Style , 5.

101. Mahmood, “Secularism, Hermeneutics, and E mpire,” 347.

102. Ibid., 328, note 11.

103. Habermas, “Rightness versus Tr uth,” 266.

104. Habermas, “Fundamentalism and Terror,” 42.

105. Habermas, The F uture of Human Nature, 11. This limitation is encountered in current debates

about genetic interventions, debates in which the boundary between who we “are” and what we “give” to ourselves, the boundary between persons and things, is at issue, thus threatening t he “fundamental symmetry of r esponsibility that exists among free and equal persons” ( ibid., 14). I n line with postmetaphysics,

“freedom” here is defined by our ability to give ethical shape to our own l ives in light of the contingencies of our very beginnings.

106. Colin Jager, “After the S ecular: The S ubject of Romanticism,” Public Culture 18, no. 2 ( 2006):

301–21, 321.

107. Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination/ Judge f or Thyself , ed. and t rans. Hong and Hong (Princeton:

Princeton University Press, 1991), 132.

108. To use technical terms f or these existence modes, as stated above, Westphal i dentifies this

as “Religiousness C,” a t erm which Kierkegaard himself did not employ. T he first two meanings of the faith/knowledge gap correspond to Climacus’ descriptions of Religiousness A ( the i mmanence of generic, Socratic religiousness) and R eligiousness B ( the transcendence of s in-consciousness). S omewhat contro- versially, Westphal posits that these s tages are, i n turn, teleologically suspended, in light of the actual life of faith. R eligiousness C i s the mode of existence that s eeks to follow C hrist as the prototype: faith here is essentially imitative. I find Westphal’s analysis both convincing and highly r elevant t o contemporary challenges to t he religious/secular divide.

109. Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination/ Judge f or Thyself , 117.

110. Ibid., 114.

111. Ibid., 96.

112. Ibid., 11.

113. Ibid., 100, 116.

114. Ibid., 68.

115. Ibid., 155–57.


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116. Ibid., 169.

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117. Ibid., 131. “Christianity became power, power, became the power t hat was able to transform the

world. It was s erved in that way for s ome three hundred years; in that way C hristianity became the power in

the world. B y then an enormous working capital, if I may call it that, was established; the only question was how i t would be used. Alas, t he retrogression, the deception, had already begun; instead of transforming the world, C hristianity began t o be deformed” (ibid., 129). And what would consist a new bank, with real capital? “Actions, character-actions” ( ibid., 136).

118. Ibid., 135.

119. Ibid., 25, 33.

120. Ibid., 35.

121. Ibid., 125.

122. In alignment with Kierkegaard’s descriptions of religious life, Talal Asad argues t hat it is not

the justification that i s used t hat matters, but the behavior t hat i s j ustified ( Asad, Genealogies of R eligion:

Discipline and Reasons of Power i n C hristianity and Islam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 236).

123. Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination/ Judge for Thyself , 110.

124. Mahmood, Politics of P iety, 126.

125. Ibid., 131.

126. In this way, Mahmood models what Janet E . Halley identifies as “taking a break from f eminism,”

as Mahmood explicitly poses to her own project t he question of f eminist limits: “Have I lost s ight of the politically prescriptive project of f eminism i n pushing at the limits of its analytical envelope” ( ibid., 36)? My analysis supports this intuition t hat questioning the r eligious/secular divide might include reflecting on the limits of our own methodological commitments.

127. Mahmood, “Secularism, Hermeneutics, and E mpire,” 335.

128. Connolly, Capitalism and Christianity, A merican Style , 41.

129. Ibid., 128.

Ada S. Jaarsma is an assistant professor in Philosophy at Sonoma State University. She works in continental philosophy, feminist philosophy, critical theory, and philosophy of culture. She has recently published articles in Hypatia, Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, and Studies in Social Justice and is completing a manuscript currently entitled Kierkegaard and Gender Studies: Sin, Sex, and Critical Theory.


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