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Unformatted text preview: The Postmodern Condition and the Meaning of Secularity Ars Disputandi Supplement Series Volume 4 edited by marcel sarot michael scott maarten wisse Ars Disputandi [ ] (2011) The Postmodern Condition and the Meaning of Secularity A Study on the Religious Dynamics of Postmodernity Postmoderne seculariteit Een studie over de religieuze dynamiek van de postmoderniteit (met een samenvatting in het Nederlands) Proefschrift ter verkrijging van de graad van doctor aan de Universiteit Utrecht op gezag van de rector magnificus, prof.dr. G.J. van der Zwaan, ingevolge het besluit van het college voor promoties in het openbaar te verdedigen op maandag 4 juli 2011 des middags te 2.30 uur door Hendricus Johannes Prosman geboren op 26 november 1975 te Utrecht Promotoren: prof.dr. D.-M. Grube prof.dr. P.H.A.I. Jonkers Contents Preface 1 2 3 1 Can there Be a Postmodern Secularity? 1.1 Field of Research & Central Concepts . . . . . . . . 1.1.1 Secularization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.1.2 Ontological Secularity . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.1.3 Political Secularity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.2 Postmodernism and Secularity: The Current Debate 1.2.1 Selection of Authors . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.2.2 Research Questions & Method . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Secularity: Premodern, Modern, Postmodern 2.1 Premodern Origins of Secularity . . . . . . . 2.2 Secularity in Modernity and Enlightenment . 2.2.1 Verweltlichung . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.2.2 Secularization and Political Theology 2.3 Secularization in the Sociology of Religion . 2.4 The End of the Secularization Paradigm? . . 2.5 Postmodern Secularity? . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.6 Evaluation and Orientation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 . 31 . 37 . 50 . 55 . 59 . 62 . 65 . 67 Postmodern Secularism 3.1 Secularity in (Neo)Pragmatism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.2 The Secularization of Philosophy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.2.1 Philosophy as Secularization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.2.2 Reconsidering the Mirror of Nature . . . . . . . . . . . 3.3 Postmodern Secularity and the Autonomy of the World . . . . 3.3.1 In Touch with the World . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.3.2 The Disappearance of the World in Rorty’s Philosophy 3.4 Secular Liberalism and Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.4.1 Religion and Cultural Politics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.4.2 Critique of Rorty’s Cultural Politics . . . . . . . . . . . 3.5 The Return of the Secular in Postmodernism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . i 3 4 5 7 10 15 21 26 71 71 76 77 83 86 88 90 94 94 98 102 ii | contents 3.6 4 5 6 3.5.1 The Emergence of a Secular Culture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 3.5.2 Religious Ambiguity in Postmodernism. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111 Evaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115 Religion and Secularization as Counter Narratives 4.1 Milbank and the Postmodern Condition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.1.1 Rorty and Milbank: Two Sorts of Pragmatism . . . . . . . . . 4.1.2 Milbank on Secularity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.1.3 Milbank and Postmodernism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.2 The Narrative of Secularization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.3 Secularity as the Autonomy of the World . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.3.1 Problematizing Immanence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.3.2 Postmodernity and Transcendence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.3.3 A Critique of Milbank’s Theological Perspective on Secularity 4.4 Postmodern Society as a Hall of Mirrors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.4.1 Church and State . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.4.2 A Christian Secularity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.4.3 The Secularization of Public Discourse . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.5 Evaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121 122 122 127 129 131 138 140 147 150 154 154 163 165 171 Secularization as Kenosis 5.1 Secularization and Weak Thought . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.1.1 Exploring Vattimo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.1.2 Weakening Philosophy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.2 Secularization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.2.1 Postmodernism and the Secularization of Progress . 5.2.2 Postmodern Secularization as kenosis . . . . . . . . . 5.2.3 Secularization and the Truth of Christianity . . . . . 5.3 The Dissolution of the World . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.3.1 World Dissolution as a Mark of Postmodern Culture 5.3.2 Theological World Denial. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.4 Heterotopian Politics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.5 Evaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175 175 175 178 187 189 193 198 203 204 208 211 220 Trajectories of Postmodern Secularity 6.1 Again: What is Secularization? . . . . . 6.2 A Secular Society . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.3 A Secular World . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.4 Perspectives of Postmodern Secularity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 225 225 229 231 236 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bibliography 241 Samenvatting in het Nederlands 263 Curriculum Vitae 273 Preface It has always fascinated me that our postmodern culture is at the same time blatantly religious and increasingly secular. In political debates the role of religion in society is often met with the highest suspicion, whereas other domains of culture – such as management, psychology and art – are shot thorugh with (quasi) religious notions. When I got the opportunity in 2003 to work on a dissertation project in the field of postmodern philosophy of religion, I saw this as a chance to get more insight in the nature of this paradox. Departing from the work of Richard Rorty – on whose work I had just written an MA thesis – I discovered the fascinating thought of John Milbank, who sees exactly in secularity the kernel of postmodern culture. Together with the thought of Gianni Vattimo these authors are the pillars on which this study is built. I hope that this study will contribute to a better understanding of their writings and of the meaning of secularity in postmodern culture. I am most grateful to my thesis directors prof. dr. Dirk-Martin Grube and prof. dr. Peter Jonkers, who have been most patient and encouraging and who have given me the privilege of working in a stimulating, academic atmosphere. My years at the department of theology at Utrecht University would not have been so rewarding without the support and friendship of my fellow doctoral students dr. Coen Constandse, dr. Willem Maarten Dekker, dr. Izaak den Hulster and dr. Arwin van Wilgenburg. Furthermore, I would like to thank dr. Maarten Wisse for his work on the typesetting of this book and Elisabeth Houdijk-Abbess MA for her valuable corrections of my English texts. Lastly, I thank my father dr. Ad Prosman for correcting the final manuscript and for years of encouragement and inspiration. Looking back over the years of research and writing, I can only have admiration for my wife Linda and our children, for supporting me and accepting my persistent physical and mental absence. I dedicate this work to her and our future together. Woerden, May 22th 2011. 1 1 Can there Be a Postmodern Secularity? There is in postmodernism a return of religion. This thesis is well known and often discussed by philosophers of religion and social theorists. Postmodernism also knows – and this is less evident – a return of the secular. The reaffirmation of secularity in postmodern philosophy is not self-evident. On the contrary: the postmodern condition is generally seen as implying a post-secular turn. Prominent theorists of postmodern philosophy and theology have defended a post-secular position as the implication of postmodern epistemology. John Caputo says: “If the word postmodern were not overused as it is now, its most worthwhile definition would be postsecular.”1 Contemporary philosophers are deeply divided on the meaning of postmodernism for secularity. Some assert that postmodernism means an end to secularism, whereas others hold that postmodernism is the achievement of secularity.2 The argument goes as follows: Secularity is one of the key values of modernity and sometimes it is even seen as identical with the history of the West.3 The relationship of modernity and secularity is more-or-less evident. Modernity presents itself as emancipation from religion and tradition and autonomization of reason. Religion and tradition are undermined ‘by the reflexivity of modern 1 John D. Caputo, On Religion (London: Routledge, 2001), 41-2. Hent de Vries says that, “. . . the apparent triumph of Enlightenment secularization, manifest in the global spread of political and economic structures that pretended to relegate the sacred to a strictly circumscribed private sphere, seems to have foundered on an unexpected realization of its own parochialism and a belated acknowledgment of the continuing presence and force of ‘public religions’.” Hent de Vries and Lawrence E. Sullivan, ‘Preface’, in: Hent de Vries and Lawrence E. Sullivan, editors, Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006), ix. 2 Paul Kurtz sees postmodernism as a genuine threat to secularity: “Today’s post-modernists prophesy an end to the Enlightenment and the end of the secular century.” Paul Kurtz, ‘Will Secularism Survive?’, in: Vern L. Bullough and Timothy J. Madigan, editors, Toward a New Enlightenment. The Philosophy of Paul Kurtz (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1994), 115. 3 “La ‘sécularisation’ serait à la fois la marque de l’epoque moderne, ce qui fait sa singularité et de son sens.” Jean-Claude Monod, La querelle de la sécularisation. Théologie politique et philosophies de l’histoire de Hegel à Blumenberg (Paris: Libraire Philosophique J.Vrin, 2002), 16. and: “De revolutionaire geschiedenis van het westen tot aan de huidige tijd is welbeschouwd één steeds voortgaand, onstuitbaar en onomkeerbaar seculariseringsproces.” A. Th. van Leeuwen, Het Christendom in de wereldgeschiedenis (Amsterdam: Paul Brand, 1966), 278. 3 4 | postmodern condition and secularity social life, which stands in direct opposition to it.’4 In postmodernity, doubts are cast on the autonomy and self-sufficiency of reason. What are the consequences of this shift from a modern to a postmodern account of rationality for the concept of secularity? All relevant authors in hermeneutical philosophy today are regauging the meaning of secularity and its traditional counterpart, the sacred. Does the alleged parochialism of secularism force us to leave the idea of secularity behind as a mistake, or does it mean something else? For instance, that secularity has been interpreted too one-sidedly? How can we understand the meaning of secularity, under the parameters of postmodern philosophy? Before addressing these questions in detail, I will first give an outline of my central concepts and distinctions. I will define postmodernism, secularization, political and ontological secularity and post-secularity. 1.1 field of research & central concepts The argument thfat the postmodern condition forces us to regauge secularity is relatively simple: Secularity is one of the central achievements of modernity. When in postmodern philosophy the credentials of modernity are under severe criticism, the secular character of modernity is called into question as well. Secularity has always been one of the most typical features of the modern project. Modernity can, without exaggeration, be described as ‘. . . a secular movement that sought the demystification and desacralization of knowledge and social organization in order to liberate human beings from their chains.’5 Enlightenment philosophy is considered as emancipation from the tutelage of institutions and traditions and inaugurated the autonomization of reason.6 Postmodern critique of the foundations of modernity has ramifications for the political meaning of secularity.7 I therefore distinguish between secularization, ontological secularity and political secularity. In the first place I single out the secular as dealing with the socio-historical process of secularization. This socio-historical use is the most speculative use of the concept and it often functions to suggest a certain legitimation to contingent history. Subsequently, I will distinguish between a meaning of secularity in an ontological sense and secularity in a political sense.8 Ontological secularity concerns the (relative) autonomy of the world and the human capacity to know this world. A.E. Loen, for instance, speaks of the Säkularisation 4 Anthony Giddens, The consequences of modernity (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990), 109-110. David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity. An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Malden: Blackwell, 1990), 13. 6 As for example in Kant’s philosophy. Kant writes: “Da… die Menschen, wie die Sachen jetzt stehen, im ganzen genommen, schon im Stande wären, oder darin auch nur gesetzt werden könnten, in Religionsdingen sich ihres eigenen Verstandes ohne Leitung eines andern sicher und gut zu bedienen.” Immanuel Kant, ‘Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?’, in: Ehrhard Bahr, editor, Was ist Aufklärung? Thesen und Definitionen. Kant, Erhard, Hamann, Herder, Lessing, Mendelssohn, Riem, Schiller, Wieland (Ditzingen: Reclam, 1974), A491. 7 See Ankersmit for epistemology and political philosophy as interconnected vessels. He speaks of a policing of reality in Rorty’s philosophy of solidarity. Frank Ankersmit, ‘De grondslagenvijandige politieke filosofie van Richard Rorty’, in: Rene Boomkens, editor, De asceet, de tolk, en de verteller. Richard Rorty en het denken van het Westen (Amsterdam: Krisis Onderzoek, 1992), 58–75. 8 This distinction between an ontological and a political account of secularity accords with Monod’s definition, which contains two elements: first, a departure from religion as a dominant sector of culture and second, a self affirmation of man as a reasonable being. Monod, Querelle de la sécularisation, 23. 5 can there be a postmodern secularity? | 5 des kosmischen Weltbildes.9 The emergence of a scientific attitude in modernity changed the relation of man and world. In the place of speculative knowledge of reality, rational thought concerns the inner nature and regularity of the world. Implied here is that the relation to the world changes from an experience of belonging to the world to an experience of mastering the world.10 Political secularity concerns the relation of religion to various domains of society and the state. Social institutions ‘. . . become gradually distinct from one another and increasingly free of the matrix of religious assumptions.’11 Political secularity in a modern sense refers to a social ordering where religion plays a limited role, or no role at all, in civil affairs. Moral and social life are no longer experienced as participating in an ordo, but are redefined as autonomous domains from the ground up. In the following chapters those aspects will continuously be distinguished, they can however not be treated in complete isolation from each other. 1.1.1 Secularization In the nineteenth century, the critique of religion is expressed in the terminology of positivist science, as for example in Comte.12 In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, secularism is a standard assumption for virtually every intellectual.13 Secularity as the often unstated assumption of modernity plays a role that is as important as it is obscure. The irony Casanova sees in the modern, intellectual mindset is that the most central assumption is itself neither tested, nor explicitly developed as a theory. Nevertheless, the assumption was that religion in the end would wither away. Van der Veer’s apt description of this tradition goes as follows: From Kant to Habermas there is a liberal Enlightenment tradition in the West which emphasizes the public use of reason as the arbiter of true knowledge. In this tradition religious arguments are seen as disruptive in the public sphere and thus to be relegated to a private sphere.14 Throughout the twentieth century, the project of modernity has been criticized, but not neceassarily its secularity. The Frankfurter Schule criticized the rationalistic and bureaucratic nature of modernity, but not its secular nature. And in the post-war period 9 He writes: “Säkularisation ist der historische Prozess der allmählichen Ersetzung des mittelalterlichthomistischen durch das moderne Weltbild.” Arnold Loen, Säkularisation (München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1965), 18. 10 Antoon Vergote, Het meerstemmige leven. Gedachten over mens en religie (Kapellen: DBN, 1987), 94. 11 Bryan R. Wilson, ‘Secularization’, in: Lindsay Jones, editor, The Encyclopedia of Religion (Gacl, 2002), 8214. 12 Positivism is typically secular in the sense of Kolakowski’s definition: “. . . positivism constantly directs its criticism against both religious interpretations of the world and materialist metaphysics, and tries to work out an empirical position entirely free of metaphysical positions.” Leszek Kolakowski, Positivist Philosophy. From Hume to the Vienna Circle (London: Penguin Books, 1968), 19. 13 Casanova writes: “. . . from Karl Marx to John Stuart Mill, from Auguste Comte to Herbert Spencer, from E.B. Tylor to James Frazer, from Ferdinand Tönnies to Georg Simmel, from Émile Durkheim to Max Weber, from Wilhelm Wundt to Sigmund Freud, from Lester Ward to William G. Sumner, from Robert Park to George H. Mead. Indeed, the consensus was such that not only did the theory remain uncontested but apparently it was not even necessary to test it, since everybody took it for granted.” Jose Casanova, Public religions in the modern world (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 17. 14 Peter van der Veer, ‘The modernity of religion’, Social History 20/3 (1995), 369. 6 | postmodern condition and secularity in Europe, the anti-ideological philosophies of Sartre and Camus rejected the central features of modernity, but wholeheartedly endorsed its secularism. It is therefore fair to say that not until the postmodern era, has secularity itself been subjected to a philosophical critique. The postmodern era in philosophy begins with the publications of Lyotard and Rorty.15 Their primary targets were a dominant, scientific rationality and the tradition of positivism. Postmodern criticism belies the neutrality of scientific discourse and interprets it as a part of a dominant, Western tradition. Although Rorty’s philosophy is in many ways in continuity with secularism, there is in postmodernism from the outset a religious dynamic that no longer takes for granted the secular character of philosophy.16 In postmodernity it became possible to break with the secular tradition, for reasons that are closely related to the epistemological critique of postmodernity. Postmodernism bid farewell to the abstract and ahistorical reasonings of transcendental and analytical philosophy and took a more positive attitude toward tradition and history.17 For Rorty, all human thinking...
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