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Religion and Community

Adam Smith on the Virtues of Liberty

Charles L. Griswold

The architects of what one might call ‘classical’ or ‘Enlightenment’ liberalism saw themselves as committed to refuting the claims to political sovereignty by organized religion.2 The arguments against the legitimacy of a state-supported religion, and in the extreme case, of a religious monopoly, are so integral a part of the Enlightenment’s effort to put politics on a stable and just foundation as to constitute one of the controlling themes of the period. Liberal politics requires toleration, or better, liberty of religious belief. And this in turn implies that religious institutions be privatized, as it were, and that just politics be secularized. Legitimate rule is to lie in the consent of the ruled rather than in the laws of God as interpreted by his ministers on earth. Differences in religious outlook are to be settled, as Jefferson tells us, by persuasion, not by force, and persuasion is a private matter. The state has no role to play except (to simplify somewhat) that of preventing the use of force by the parties involved. As Jefferson strikingly puts it: ‘The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg … Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments [against error in religion].’

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Joshua Mitchell

Because Hobbes is understood to be a proto-liberal thinker, a great deal hinges on how we understand his writings. Does he contribute to the development of a purely secular political self-understanding, as many liberals today claim? And, by extension, does that mean that liberal thought today best stands on a purely secular foundation? What, then, should we make of the extensive theological speculation throughout his Leviathan ? Here, I argue that to reconcile the seemingly purely secular claims in Leviathan with the obviously religious claims found there we must move beyond reading him in terms of what I here call 'the fable of liberalism', and comprehend Leviathan as a whole in terms of Reformation era debates between Protestants and Roman Catholics about the limits and purview of reason. Understood in that way we see his claims about 'reason' in a new and important light. Rather than being an inevitable development that comes to supercede honour and glory, as the fable of liberalism suggests, 'reason' is seen to have an historically contingent character, whose parameters are established by wagers about the meaning of religious experience.

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S.N. Eisenstadt

Modernity, modern civilization, the cultural and political programmes of modernity, have been often seen as epitomizing a break from religion; as heralding the rise of the secular age in which religion and the sacred have been relegated to the private sphere, or to the margins of society.

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Pamela Ballinger and Kristen P. Ghodsee

Scholars of religion have increasingly brought secularism within the framework of critical studies of spirituality, analyzing the dialogic relationship between religions and secularisms past and present. This emerging field of “postsecularist” studies examines the multiple meanings and practices that different cultures and societies attach to the concepts of “religion,” “faith,” and “piety.” The articles presented in this special section of Aspasia contribute to these larger academic debates by focusing on the multiethnic and historically pluralistic region of Southeastern Europe, an area too often ignored in larger scholarly discussions that have focused primarily on Western Europe and the so-called Third World. More important, the articles in this volume demonstrate how secularization projects are intricately interwoven with gender relations in any given society. Collectively, the articles urge readers to draw connections between the shifting spiritual cartographies, state formations, and definitions of appropriate masculinity and femininity of particular Southeastern European societies.

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Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought (Expanded Edition) by Sheldon S. Wolin Andrew Nash

Democracy Compromised: Chiefs and the Politics of Land in South Africa by Lungisile Ntsebeza Keith Breckenridge

Sociology, Religion and Grace: A Quest for the Renaissance by Arpad Szakolczai Roger Deacon

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Irena Selišnik

This article discusses the timing and character of women's philanthropy in Carniola, now part of Slovenia, in the period from 1848 to 1914. Based on primary research, it explores the beginnings of women's work for the poor; the impact of religion, especially Catholicism, on women's involvement in charity; and finally the rise of women's secular social care. I argue that in Carniola, Catholic women's organizations largely filled the space that opened up for women's philanthropic initiatives. By the late nineteenth century, a re-Catholicization of modern industrial society took place, which particularly focused on women, as seen in the phenomenon of the feminization of the Catholic religion. Catholic women's associations started to proliferate; some of these associations were charity associations that introduced new principles to charity work.

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This edition of Theoria encompasses an examination of the character of historical enquiry, critical encounters with contemporary perspectives in political theory, reflections on religion and the state, an exploration of the implications of the commodification of time and work and an examination of the role of human rights in the contemporary international context. In this it extends discussion of themes that have come to define the coherence and unity of the journal as an editorial project.

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Contradictory Concepts

An Essay on the Semantic Structure of Religious Discourses

Lucian Hölscher

The widespread opinion among conceptual historians is that political concepts are always contested in their actual usage. Religious concepts in modernity are also not only contested; they are constructed on an ontological contradiction. They imply that the object to which they refer exists, and at the same time that it does not. I demonstrate this idea using four religious concepts: religion, God, the beyond, and spirit. I conclude with discussion on the reality status of religious concepts in modern historiography and religious studies.

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In 2005 Theoria 105 was themed “Fundamentalism, Authority and Globalization” and included papers by Avishai Margalit and S.N. Eisenstadt that pointed to the religious origins of modern political thought and movements. The centrality of religion in recent conflict in the world and the seeming resurgence of religious fundamentalism of all persuasions poses specific challenges to the wider project of modernity. What Eisenstadt and Margalit pointed to is that the very core of modern political thought is underpinned by religious ideas and that we need to examine more carefully the seeming clash between modern and anti-modern tendencies.

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From Religious Transcendence to Political Utopia

The Legacy of Richard Turner for Post-Apartheid Political Thought

Laurence Piper

In recent times South African politics has come to exhibit features typical of many post-colonial contexts, not least the rise of acrimonious and confrontational politics based around personalities and forms of populism. In such contexts rational dialogue and democratic deliberation become increasingly difficult to get going and to sustain. Drawing on Richard Turner's The Eye of the Needle, first published some forty years ago, the paper examines the role religion, and religious organisations, could play in returning such acrimonious public debate to more democratic and visionary grounds. The key point is that religion offers a form of transcendence from the divisive and bitter particularities that animate contemporary political conflicts. It does this through the spiritual affirmation of our shared human worth due to the love of God(s). From this recognition, achieved through spiritual appeals, the conditions for more rational and democratic debate can be retrieved. In addition, religious transcendence redeems the value of utopian thinking, and thus could help re-orientate public debate from a politics of blame for past wrongs to a politics of imagining of future rights.