The concept of “post-secularism” comes from the later works of Jurgen Habermas and his debates with John Rawls about the place of religion in the public sphere. In the face of the contemporary ethical crisis, Habermas makes the provocative point that secular western societies need the moral and spiritual resources of religion to renew the social contract. In this instance, secular and religious actors become equal partners in an open-ended process of production of meaning.

The post-secular hypothesis directly relates to the question of the religious roots of modernity and of the coexistence of different programs of modernization in the contemporary world. In an interview by Eduardo Mendieta, Habermas makes explicit the connection between the post-secular hypothesis and the topic of the Axial Age:

“I consider the program of the group around Shmuel Eisenstadt and its comparative research on civilizations promising and informative. In the emerging world society, and concerning the social infrastructure, there are, as it were, by now only modern societies, but these appear in the form of multiple modernities because the great world religions have had a great culture-forming power over the centuries, and they have not yet entirely lost this power. As in the West, these “strong” traditions paved the way in East Asia, in the Middle East, and even in Africa for the development of cultural structures that confront each other today—for example, in the dispute over the right interpretation of human rights. Our Western self-understanding of modernity emerged from the confrontation with our own traditions. The same dialectic between tradition and modernity repeats itself today in other parts of the world. There, too, one reaches back to one’s own traditions to confront the challenges of societal modernization, rather than to succumb to them. Against this background, intercultural discourses about the foundations of a more just international order can no longer be conducted one-sidedly, from the perspective of “first-borns.” These discourses must become habitual [sich einspielen] under the symmetrical conditions of mutual perspective-taking if the global players are to finally bring their social-Darwinist power games under control. The West is one participant among others, and all participants must be willing to be enlightened by others about their respective blind spots. If we were to learn one lesson from the financial crisis, it is that it is high time for the multicultural world society to develop a political constitution.”

Bibliography about post-secularism

Habermas, Jürgen. 2011. “‘The political’: the Rational Meaning of a Questionable Inheritance of Political Theology.” The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere. Columbia University Press.

______________ 2008. “Notes on post-secular society”. New Perspectives Quarterly, 25(4): 17-29.

______________ 2008. Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essay. Polity.

Habermas, Jürgen and Ratzinger, Joseph. 2006. The Dialectics of Secularization, San Francisco: Ignatus Press.

One thought on “Post-secularism

  1. Pingback: How Liberal Are We Really? | Engaging Religion

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