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European Culture vis-a-vis "Multiple Modernities" European Culture vis-a-vis "Multiple Modernities"
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2009-04-03 08:41:10
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“Are religious issues simply to be regarded as relics of a pre-modern era, or is it the duty of the more secular citizens to overcome his or her narrowly secularist consciousness in order to engage with religion in terms of ‘reasonably expected disagreement’?”

--Jurgen Habermas (“Religion in the Public Sphere,” Journal of Philosophy, 2006: 14: pp. 1-25)

 

As already discussed in a previous article on Europe’s secularism vis a vis religion, the German philosopher Habermas has challenged some of its taken for granted assumptions in a seminal essay which envisions a post-secular Europe. He poses the above quoted challenging question to European culture’s conception of modernity as seen through the prism of secularism and its corollary aversion to religion’s role in the public agorà (see here).

Habermas addresses the debate in terms of John Rawls’s concept of “public use of reason” and proposes that secular citizens in Europe learn to live, and the sooner the better, in a post-secular society; in so doing they will be following the example of religious citizens, who have already come to terms with the ethical expectations of democratic citizenship. So far secular citizens have not been expected to make a similar effort.

He is not alone in that challenge. In the year 2000 an essay came out written by Shmuel Eisenstadt, an Israeli sociologist, titled “Multiple Modernities (see Daedalus 129: 1-30) which right from its outset challenged the taken for granted assumption that modernizing societies are convergent, as well as the notion that Europe is the lead society in that converging modernizing process.

This is what Eisenstadt writes on the very first page of the essay: “The notion of ‘multiple modernities’ denotes a certain view of the contemporary world—indeed of the history and characteristics of the modern era—that goes against the views long prevalent in scholarly ad general discourse. It goes against the view of the “classical” theories of modernization and of the convergence of industrial societies prevalent in the 1950s, and indeed against the classical sociological analysis of Marx, Durkheim, and (to a large extent) even of Weber, at least in one reading his work. They all assumed, even if only implicitly, that the cultural program of modernity as it developed in modern Europe and the basic institutional constellations that emerge there would ultimately take over in all modernizing and modern societies; with the expansion of modernity, they would prevail throughout the world.”

In other words, Eisenstadt is saying that modernity can come in both secular and religious versions. This notion, of course, contradicts the theory that modernization necessarily implies secularization and that the United States is a mere exception to this rule made safe by the proverbial separation between State and Church. Rather, what Eisenstadt is suggesting is that the United States and Europe should be seen as two different versions of modernity. Which in turn leads to this crucial question: is secularization intrinsic or extrinsic to the modernization process? More to the point: is Europe secular because it is modern or is it secular because it is European? Depending on how one answers that question, one will assign exceptionalism to either the United States or Europe. In fact, they are two different ways of being modern. The Chinese wish to go one step further and even prove that one can be modern without being democratic. That experiment bears watching closely because it would sever the link between democracy and so called “free markets” and prove Marx right by revealing that indeed Western societies are what many outside the West believe they are: decadent materialistic societies paying lip service to democratic ideals and human rights but ultimately interested only in the selfish amassing of wealth and capital; which is to say, one can be prosperous without being democratic.

What the concept of multiple modernities implies is that Western (especially European) modernity is not the only conceivable one. It can come with indigenous differences. It would be enough to consider India, the largest democracy on earth which enshrines religion as part of its heritage and cultural patrimony. If one takes a careful look at the world outside the West one immediately notices that it is religion which defines the aspiration to an alternate modernity. That may well surprise the “enlightened” European mind, but there is such a thing as a Russian modernity inspired by Russian Orthodoxy, an Islamic modernity, a Hindu modernity, and what may surprise them even more, an integrally Catholic modernity. They are not illusions as the old classical secularization theory tended to imply.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of all might be that, as hinted above, that in many parts of the world the West is perceived in a pejorative way, as propagating a decadent. hedonistic culture of irreligious materialism. Such a perception is reinforced by both the influence of intellectuals, usually heavily secular, and the omnipresence of the Western mass media, much of whose content can indeed be defined as materialistic and irreligious. If that be true, it ought to be of great interest to the practice of diplomacy of Western democracies. At the very least, this crucial question ought to be asked and discussed: What are the consequences of taking seriously the empirical sociological fact that for the great majority of the world’s populations in the 21st century, it is not only possible, but quite normal to be both modern and religious? Might this question make a difference in the kind of paradigm that we construct in the West to understand a little better the nature of the modern world, be it European, American, Asian or African. Is it really “enlightened,” as the age of Enlightenment surely supposed in Europe, to isolate the vast field of the sociology of religion, or should it be restored to its rightful place in the overall global social agenda? Food for thought!


   
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AP2009-04-04 15:10:26
"Secularism - the belief that religion and ecclesiastical affairs should not enter into the functions of the state"

"Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. It does not question the pretensions of Christianity; it advances others. Secularism does not say there is no light or guidance elsewhere, but maintains that there is light and guidance in secular truth, whose conditions and sanctions exist independently, and act forever." (Holyoake)


AP2009-04-04 15:29:30
"Habermas addresses the debate in terms of John Rawls’s concept of “public use of reason” and proposes that secular citizens in Europe learn to live, and the sooner the better, in a post-secular society"
Oh boy... this sounds like an ultimatum by Habermas - not the first time the Germans do it.

Anyway, apart from manichaean and simplistic perspectives, there are both secular and religious people in all continents. Furthermore, there are religious secularists and atheist non-secular fellows - please remember this. As we've seen before, Secularism was invented by an Islamic philosopher. A propos, to say that India is a Hindu modernity ignores all other religions in India, including Buddhism. Also, to say that there is "one Islamic modernity" shows great ignorance about the core of the core of Islam, which is: multiplicity.


Emanuel Paparella2009-04-05 16:20:03
“…to say that there is ‘one Islamic modernity’ shows great ignorance about the core of the core of Islam, which is: multiplicity.”

Ms. Pereira, the whole premise of Habermas and Eisestadt’s theories of multiple modernities is indeed that there is a religious as well as a secular way of being modern, there is also a religious and secular way of being an intolerant ideological fanatic, The sooner European intellectuals come to grip with that reality the better it will be for Europe’s negative image abroad.

In the second place, I suggest that what indeed shows great ignorance is the ignoring of the fact that the core of the core of Islam is this simple and invariable profession that “I believe in One God and Mohammed the Apostle of God.” It was that profession which united a disparate nomadic idolatrous people into one people that came close to overunning and conquering the whole of Europe. There is a lesson there too for those European intellectuals--not all of them, to be sure-- that went to great lengths to make sure that the name of God and Christianity would not in any way appear in the EU constitution to make Europe’s culture more neutral and value free. That so called "constitution" which speaks only of the unity of banks and soccer games, and therefore offers no vision and sense of cultural identity to Europeans in general; it is now, perhaps more appropriately, called the Treaty of Lisbon.


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