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March 17th, 2011 at 9:52 am

Craig Calhoun on Religion’s Many Powers

The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere“To say that religion has power in the public sphere is not to say that it can be easily absorbed or that it should be. It is a basis for radical challenges and radical questions; it brings enthusiasm, passion, indignation, outrage, and love.”—Craig Calhoun

The Immanent Frame recently excerpted Craig Calhoun’s essay, “Religion’s Many Powers,” from the new book The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere. In the excerpt, Calhoun describes the positions taken by the book’s authors Judith Butler, Jurgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West.

While all of the contributors see a role for religion in the public sphere they also all express concerns about its role. Calhoun writes:

To say that religion has power in the public sphere is not to say that it can be easily absorbed or that it should be. It is a basis for radical challenges and radical questions; it brings enthusiasm, passion, indignation, outrage, and love. If enthusiasm is sometimes harnessed to unreflective conviction, passion is also vital to critical engagement with existing institutions and dangerous trends. The public sphere and the practice of public reason have power too. And they not only take from religion but also offer it opportunities to advance by reflection and critical argument.

The public sphere is a realm of rational-critical debate in which matters of the public good are considered. It is also a realm of cultural formation in which argument is not the only important practice and creativity and ritual, celebration and recognition are all important. It includes the articulation between deep sensibilities and explicit understandings and it includes the effort—aided sometimes by prophetic calls to attention—to make the way we think and act correspond to our deepest values or moral commitments.

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