Monday, December 27, 2010

I Think We Need New Categories

The Immanent Frame is not really a blog, although it calls itself one.
Founded in the fall of 2007, The Immanent Frame is a production of the Social Science Research Council’s Program on Religion and the Public Sphere. In 2008, the new blog was named an official honoree by the Webby Awards and a “favorite new religion site, egghead division” by The Revealer.
This interview with Australian academic Simon During offers up some interesting food for thought, not the least of which is that we need to stop talking about "post"-cultural eras. Post-modernity, that marvelously trivial and largely spent attempt to make the decline of western capitalism look both inevitable and profound, tells us next to nothing about what, exactly, comes after modernity. Because it was less about what comes "after" the modernist project - everything from the Enlightenment to Nietzsche and Heidegger, really - and more about convincing the world that alternatives to capitalist dominance were pretty much doomed to failure even as it considered capitalism itself pretty horrible, it offered nothing more than the shrugged shoulders of the resigned fatalist.

Post-secularism seems to me, at least as it is explained and expanded upon here, to be much the same kind of term, although serving different ideological ends. While on the one hand, it seeks to correct the totalitarian nature of secularist thought by engaging with the historical reality that literally billions of human beings adhere to a variety of religious beliefs with some level of serious commitment, it clings, in many ways, to certain secularist principles, not the least of them being that much of the content of religious belief qua religious belief is humbug. Rather than engage Christianity, Islam, or other religious beliefs on their own terms, as well as larger social and cultural phenomena, they merely see them, as the author quite rightly points out, as pre-modern remnants of socialization that can serve as a critique of global capitalism precisely because these sets of beliefs and practices predate global capitalism.

How we are to utilize these potential sources without engaging them on their own terms, however, the author doesn't seem to consider. Furthermore, while the secularist critique of religion as an ideology certainly contains much with which I agree, and the social practices of secularization have been, by and large, forces for good, without setting engaging seriously and thoughtfully with what has been lost in process of secularization, as well as the short-comings of secularism as a part of that same ideology - global capitalism - that "post-secularism" wishes to critique.

Finally, it seems to me we are only now, albeit belatedly, to the realization that there are limits to the benefits of secularization, much the same as we have yet to learn there are limits to the benefits of global capitalism. One would hardly imagine calling our age "post-capitalist". "Post-secular" just doesn't seem even a good placeholder as a way of thinking about our current moment.

Virtual Tin Cup

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