> 3, 2019 > Three discourses on religion in neo-pragmatism

Ludwig Nagl
Three discourses on religion in neo-pragmatism

03 2019

The presentation focuses, first, on Richard Rorty’s debate with the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo in The Future of Religion (2005): that is to say on a debate which – taking into account pragmatism’s attitude towards “the religious” as well as to the postmodern critique of those radicalized (post-Kantian) modes of Enlightenment that without much hesitation affirm “atheism” – critically revisits the standard verdict of modernity regarding the unstoppable demise of religion. The paper discusses, secondly, Hilary Putnam’s post-analytical conception of faith that he developed in his books Renewing Philosophy (1992) and Jewish Philosophy as a Guide to Life. Rosenzweig, Buber, Levinas, Wittgenstein (2008). Putnam’s elaborate interest in “the religious” is, as will be shown, inspired by William James as well as by late Wittgenstein and by (elements of) John Dewey’s social philosophy. Part three of the paper is dedicated to Charles Taylor’s (both sympathetic and critical) analysis of William James’s – individual-focused – survey of “religious experience” which was published in his 2002 Vienna Lecture, Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited. This segment of the talk primarily focuses on Taylor’s renewed emphasis on the communal aspects of faith. The coda deals briefly with Hans Joas’s pragmatist concept of the “optional” character of religious belief “in a secular age” (Faith as an Option, 2014). In the context of his (Taylor-inspired) analysis of modernity, Joas emphasizes (with reference to Robert N. Bellah, with whom he co-edited The Axial Age and Its Consequences, 2012), that in a globalized world no religion should insist, dogmatically, on the absolute validity of “its own take on the divine,” since such an insistence can easily trigger a fanatic rejection of “the other.” While avoiding abstract relativism, religions should rather mutually focus on their best sides, trying to learn from each other: from their different – and at all times fragile and unfinished – attempts to explore (as James put it) “the relation of man to the divine.” The core thesis of the paper is thus twofold. Firstly, neo-pragmatic attempts to explore “the religious” have the potential to critically distance the (strict as well as dogmatic) verdict of older secularization theories that (in view of today’s scientific progress) religion is (or will soon be) “a matter of the past.” Secondly, pragmatist as well as neo-pragmatist re-readings of religion – while focusing on the individual and taking a critical stance vis-à-vis religious institutions – do not (ultimately) shy away from a careful re-investigation of the social embeddedness of all religious experience, thought, and practice.