Violence, Religion, and the Politics of Post-secularism


Jakeet Singh


In this paper, I will argue that Habermas’s approach to modern religious violence focuses on a particular form of violence at the expense of the other significant forms of modern violence that are deeply intertwined with his modernizing approach.  In particular, I want to suggest that Habermas pays inadequate attention to (1) the violence of liberal-democratic imperialism (i.e. the coercive universalization of a monistic form of politics and subjectivity), and (2) the violence of liberal-democratic legitimation (i.e. the violence arising from the imperative of legitimating the liberal-democratic ‘people’ and institutions), both of which can be readily implicated in the approach he advocates for overcoming religious violence.  Furthermore, not only is Habermas’s solution to the problem of religious violence itself associated with widespread forms of violence, but the religious violence he condemns is in many ways a product of the modernization he advocates.  In other words, many contemporary forms of religious violence are not ‘modern’ simply because they are reactions to modernization, as Habermas implies, but precisely because they bear many of the marks of the same modern project that Habermas regards as the means to peace.  Instead of continuing to look toward processes of modernization and liberal-democratization as the means to peace, then, I suggest that we begin to look toward more pluralistic ways of envisioning a peaceful relationship between religion, secularism, and politics that do not presuppose liberal-democracy as a ‘meta-normative’ horizon.  I point toward several ways in which pre-figurative practices of such a relationship can be found within the ‘movement of movements’ that is today contesting imperial globalization. 


PhD Candidate in Political Science at the University of Toronto.  I am currently completing a dissertation that examines historical and contemporary forms of anti-imperial politics that move beyond an immanent critique of liberal-democracy, seeking instead to build living alternatives through transformative, non-imperial praxis.  Recent publications include “Is the World Social Forum a Transnational Public Sphere? Nancy Fraser, Critical Theory and the Containment of Radical Possibility” (co-authored with Janet Conway), forthcoming in Theory, Culture & Society (Sept 2009).

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