Friday, July 25, 2003

Immanuel Kant's notion of "True Liberty" in a Secular State (3)

The public sphere, probably the most important product of the Enlightenment, was supposed to be separated from religion and religious values. It is essential, however, to discern the origin of, and the historical events leading to, creation of this central concept of secular discourse. In the eighteenth century England, as Peter van der Veer shows, creation of the public sphere galvanized voluntary groups of Evangelical Christians, who believed deeply in the concept of Natural Religion, which as Talal Asad argues, is rooted in the Christian values.
Asad’s analysis shows that in the seventeenth century a systematic attempt was made to produce a universal definition of religion. He states that, "the fragmentation of the unity and authority of the Roman church and the consequent wars of religion, which tore European principalities apart" constituted the social context within which such an attempt was made possible. This attempt resulted in creation of Natural Religion. This response which was particularly developed to address problems of Christian theology resulted in emergence of the universal phenomenon called Natural Religion. Asad emphasizes that this, "was a crucial step in formation of the modern concept of religious belief, experience, and practice."
In this process, Christianity becomes redefined in terms of Natural Religion and its values in terms of universal values. Therefore, although in a different framework, religion becomes a central part of the public sphere. Thus, as van der Veer states, " Enlightenment did not do away with religion in Europe…there continued to be a direct connection between natural science and natural religion, as well as between political debate and religion." This so-called liberal public sphere, therefore, not only did not provide a value free sphere encompassing all the citizens, but also historically excluded certain groups of people.

(posted by Farid)

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