Rowan Williams and Hans-Georg Gadamer contra Jürgen Habermas: rethinking the problem of religion for liberals as a problem of dialogue

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    Abstract


    Purpose
    In this article I argue that the liberal problem of religion, which defines religion in terms of dogmatism or opaque justifications based on ‘revealed truth’, needs to be rethought as part of a broader problem of dialogue, which does not define religion as uniquely problematic.

    Design / Methodology / Approach
    Habermas argues for religious positions to be translated into ‘generally accessible language’ to incorporate religious citizens into democratic dialogue and resist the domination of instrumental rationality by enhancing ‘solidarity’. I contrast this with Rowan Williams’ and Gadamer’s work.

    Findings
    Williams conceptualises religion in terms of recognising the finitude of our being, rather than dogmatism or opacity. This recognition, he argues, allows people to transcend the ‘imaginative bereavement’ of seeing others as means. Using Williams, I argue that Habermas misdefines religion, and reinforces the domination of instrumental rationality by treating religion as a means. I then use Gadamer to argue that the points Williams makes about religion can apply to secular positions too by recognising them as traditions subject to finitude.

    Originality / Value
    This is original because it argues that the liberal problem of religion misdefines both religion and secular positions, by not recognising that both are traditions defined by finitude. To reach, dialogically, a ‘fusion of horizons’ where religious and secular people are understood non-instrumentally in their own terms of reference, will take time and not trade on immediately manifest – ‘generally accessible’ - meanings.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)171-191
    JournalCurrent Perspectives in Social Theory
    Volume35
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016

    Bibliographical note

    Volume 35 entitled: Reconstructing Social Theory, History and Practice.
    Publication is a monograph series.

    Keywords

    • Dialogue
    • Finitude
    • Gadamer
    • Habermas
    • Rowan Williams

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