Jurgen Habermas on the post-secular age

It is also in connection with this widespread push toward reflection that we have to view the progressive disintegration of traditional, popular piety. Two specifically modern forms of religious consciousness emerged from this: on the one hand, a fundamentalism that either withdraws from the modern world or turns aggressively toward it; on the other, a reflective faith that relates itself to other religions and respects the fallible insights of the institutionalized sciences as well as human rights. This faith is still anchored in the life of a congregation and should not be confused with the new, deinstitutionalized forms of a fickle religiosity that has withdrawn entirely into the subjective.

Pat Kane alerted me to a remarkable, lengthy interview by Jurgen Habermas, one of my favourite philosophers, about the topic of religion and how he has gradually changed his view, from a secular to a post-secular point of view. I feel very aligned with his insights, but as the above quote show, especially the last sentence, Jurgen Habermas does seem to miss the new religious forms which are neither anchored in a congregation, but also not the fickle new age narcissism of supermarket spirituality. Indeed, the fact that modern individuals may wish to expose themselves to various traditions, and exercise continuous experimentation, personal reflection, intersubjective dialogue and even formal peer to peer cooperative inquiry into it, seems to have escaped his observations.

Here’s what he means by post-secular, but please, do read the whole interview, it’s worth your time.

Jurgen Habermas:

The expression “postsecular” is not a genealogical but a sociological predicate. I use this expression to describe modern societies that have to reckon with the continuing existence of religious groups and the continuing relevance of the different religious traditions, even if the societies themselves are largely secularized. Insofar as I describe as “postsecular,” not society itself, but a corresponding change of consciousness in it, the predicate can also be used to refer to an altered self-understanding of the largely secularized societies of Western Europe, Canada, or Australia.

Despite my little critique above, it is clear that Habermas gets it (if I may allow to say this from my own so much more limited intellectual and philosophical understanding), in terms of the necessity of a productive dialogue with the world’s spiritual traditions:

“For philosophy, there are empirical indications that religion has remained a contemporary configuration of spirit [Gestalt des Geistes]. In addition, philosophy also finds internal reasons for this, reasons in its own history. The long process of translating essential, religious contents into the language of philosophy began in late antiquity; we only need to think of concepts like person and individuality, freedom and justice, solidarity and community, emancipation, history, and crisis. We cannot know whether this process of appropriating semantic potentials from a discourse that in its core remains inaccessible has exhausted itself, or if it can be continued. The conceptual labor of religious writers and authors such as the young Bloch, Benjamin, Levinas, or Derrida speaks in favor of the continuing productivity of such a philosophical effort. And this suggests a change of attitude in favor of a dialogical relationship, open to learning, with all religious traditions, and a reflection on the position of postmetaphysical thinking between the sciences and religion.

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