Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The "Return to Religion" in Philosophy

Scott McLemee, a columnist with Inside Higher Ed, recently interviewed editors Anthony Paul Smith and Daniel Whistler about their 2010 book, After the Postsecular and the Postmodern: New Essays in Continental Philosophy of Religion (Cambridge Scholars Publishing).

Let’s start with one word in your title -- "postsecular." What do you mean by this? People used to spend an awful lot of energy trying to determine just when modernity ended and postmodernity began. Does “postsecularity” imply any periodization?

Smith: In the book we talk about the postsecular event, an obvious nod to the philosophy of Alain Badiou. For a long time in Europe and through its colonial activities our frame of discourse, the way we understood the relationship of politics and religion, was determined by the notion that there is a split between public politics and private religion. This frame of reference broke down. We can locate that break, for the sake of simplicity, in the anti-colonial struggles of the latter half of the 20th century. The most famous example is, of course, the initial thrust of the Iranian Revolution.

It took some time before the implications of this were thought through, and it is difficult to pin down when “postsecularity” came to prominence in the academy, but in the 1990s a number of Christian theologians like John Milbank and Stanley Hauerwas, along with non-Christian thinkers like Talal Asad, began to question the typical assumption of philosophy of religion: that religious traditions and religious discourses need to be mediated through a neutral secular discourse in order to make sense. Their critique was simple: the secular is not neutral. Philosophy is intrinsically biased towards the secular. If you follow people like Asad and Tomoko Masuzawa, this means it is biased toward a Christian conception of the secular, and this hinders it from appreciating the thought structures at work in particular religions.

One of the reasons the title of the book reads, “after the postsecular” is that we felt philosophy of religion had yet to take the postsecular event seriously enough; it was ignoring the intellectual importance of this political event and still clinging to old paradigms for philosophizing about religion, when they had in fact been put into question by the above critique. So, the question is: What does philosophy of religion do now, after the postsecular critique?

Whistler: There are two other reasons we speak of this volume being situated after the postsecular. First, in our “Introduction” we distinguish between a genuine postsecular critique of the kind Anthony mentions and a problematic theological appropriation of this critique. The former results in a pluralization of discourses about religion, because the secular is no longer the overarching master-narrative, but one more particular tradition. The latter, however, has tried to replace the secular master-narrative with a Christian one, and so has perversely impeded this process of pluralization.

Yet it is precisely this theological move (exemplified by Radical Orthodoxy) which is more often than not associated with the postsecular. Thus, one of the aims of the volume is to move beyond (hence, “after”) this theological appropriation of the postsecular.

Second, we also conjecture in the Introduction that postsecularity has ended up throwing the baby out with the bathwater – that is, everything from the secular tradition, even what is still valuable. So, in Part One of the volume, especially, the contributors return to the modern, secular tradition to test what is of value in it and what can be reappropriated for contemporary philosophy of religion. In this sense, "after the postsecular" means a mediated return to the secular.
The full interview can be found here.

Meanwhile, while Whistler and Smith describe the "return to religion" in continental philosophy, William Lane Craig and Paul Copan write about the renaissance in philosophy of religion (focused on the development in analytic philosophy).

Patheos, which is quickly becoming the #1 clearinghouse for online religion content, is featuring a "Future of Evangelicalism" series at their Evangelical Portal. Copan and Craig, along with several other intellectual influencers, are contributing to the series.

In "Trajectories in Philosophy and Apologetics," Copan and Craig describe a rather unique phenomena concerning the influential effect of Christian intellectual work:
The effects of this remarkable renaissance of Christian philosophy are now making themselves felt on the non-academic level, as popularizers and apologists distill the academic work of professional Christian philosophers and make it accessible to a laity hungering for answers to the tide of secularism they feel rising around them. Academic apologetics work has served as an important bridge between high-level philosophical discussions and the translational work of local apologetics organizations and training centers ...
If this transfer of goods from the ivory tower to the pew continues (and it shows every sign of gathering momentum rather than abating), then the next major revival of evangelical Christianity, as strange as it may sound, may well come through the intellectual re-engagement of the church, as her people discover sound arguments for Christian faith and answers to the objections lodged against it -- and so, strengthened by the conviction that Christianity is not just "true for them" but objectively true for all, become emboldened, winsome, and intelligent witnesses for Christ in a decaying culture.
The growth of analytic philosophy of religion has also helped produced the flourishing of analytic philosophical theology, which Rea and Crisp's Analytic Theology, is one among many stellar examples in this area.

It would seem that viewing religion, and specifically one's theology, as a source of knowledge about reality, is crucial and perhaps increasingly "permissible" for religious believers working in philosophy, whether on the analytic or continental side of things, regardless if we are talking "secular," "postsecular," or "after postsecular" environments. For if what we have is not knowledge of what is real, - indeed, if our beliefs are not rooted in knowledge - what future do we really have as people or as a movement?

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