The Postsecular Turn: Enlightenment, Tradition, Revolution

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,Agata-Bielik-RobsonMW Occasional Talk

Jointly organized with the project ReligioWest

Agata Bielik-Robson (University of Nottingham)

14 May 2015, 17:00-19:00

Badia, Emeroteca


The aim of this lecture is to give a general and accessible overview of the so called ‘post-secular’ turn in contemporary humanities.

The main idea behind the post-secular turn is that it constitutes an answer to the crisis of secular grand narratives of modernity: in Rosenzweig’s case – the Hegelian narrative of the immanent progress of the Spirit; and in case of Adorno, Horkheimer, and Habermas (all representatives of the Frankfurt School) – the Enlightenment narrative of universal emancipation. All these thinkers want to rethink the place of religion in the seemingly secularized modern paradigm and see if revelation can cooperate with Enlightenment, i.e. whether it can support Enlightenment values in times of their ‘crisis of legitimacy.’

But this is not the only meaning of late-modern post-secularism. A parallel interpretation, coined more or less at the same time as Habermas, by John Milbank and his pupils, Philip Blond and Conor Cunningham insists on the return of theology in the hard-core version of Radical Orthodoxy. Radical Orthodoxy’s merit lies in gathering all theologico-conservative critiques of modern nihilism under the one heading of the post-secular reconquest of the West in the name of tradition.

And, finally, the third use of religious terminology today: this time in favour of the revolution. This variant of the post-secular debate, which revolves mostly around the ‘revolutionary figure’ of Saint Paul (Taubes, Agamben, Badiou, Zizek), constitutes a radically left answer to the crisis of Marxism as the allegedly scientific insight into the objective laws of history.

Despite irreconcilable differences between these three options, there is also a clear sense of affinity: in all three cases, religion is recollected in order to counteract the detrimental tendency, characteristic of a purely secular modernity, to reduce human existence to a monotonous quasi-natural cycle of life and death in which radically new political decisions either count for nothing or simply become impossible. But the post-secular use of religion may also be accused of such reductive instrumentality itself, summoning elements of transcendent faith merely in order to change the immanent conditions of our social life. It will also be my aim to assess this objection and see if such a pragmatic use of transcendence for the sake of immanence, which post-secular thought advocates, can be justified from the theological point of view.

Chair: Magdalena Malecka (MW Law Fellow)

About the speaker:

Agata Bielik-Robson is a Professor of Jewish Studies at The University of Nottingham and a Professor of Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences. She specializes in all areas of Jewish philosophy with special emphasis paid to modern Jewish thought, from Spinoza to Derrida. Her field of expertise is also contemporary philosophy, particularly when in a dialogue (or polemic) with theology.

Prof. Bielik-Robson’s newest book Jewish Cryptotheologies of Late Modernity: Philosophical Marranos was published in 2014 by Routledge.