Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The three discourses would be philosophy, history and sociology

The Immanent Frame Secularism, religion, and the public sphere “What motivates human beings in their religious life?” asks Charles Taylor, in an interview with Akbar Ganji posted today at The Immanent Frame.

Now I think that this motivation is very different in different times and periods. And we might miss this point because a lot of very powerful religions today Islam, Christianity etc. are very close to each other in many respects in their driving motivations. But if you look wider at Hinduism, Buddhism, earlier forms of religion, you realize that there is just an immense difference. So that's why I say that you can't write a general history of secularization. Even writing one about the whole West is maybe too ambitious...

And I mean to talk about how I see this movement in the West, the mainline theory—I mean the theory I’m attacking—thinks there is a linear movement of secularization as modernity advances. As one progresses the other progresses. A simple functional relationship.

Now according to my underlying theory, you’d expect something different. You would expect that certain developments of modernity would in fact destabilize earlier forms of religious life. I mean for instance the idea of a monarchy embedded in the cosmos connected to God, the kind of picture of the French monarchy, that’s not going to survive certain changes in society that come with modernity. But if the human relation to religion and to God is not as shallow as the mainstream theory thinks, then what would happen in many cases is religion would be recomposed in new forms that meet the new situation. And that is in fact what I would argue has happened in the West.

So this is a much more adequate theory to understand this historical and sociological reality, but what it required is a deep understanding of the place of religion in human life. So I would claim that there’s a single discourse and it’s made up of elements that look as though they are drawn from three disciplines, but in fact they cohere together as a single discourse. The three discourses would be philosophy, history and sociology. You can’t do sociology without history, history without sociology, and you can’t do either without a proper philosophical understanding of human motivation. So the whole thing hangs together from those three sources.

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