The Use of "Public Reason" by Religious and Secular Citizens: Limitations of Habermas' Conception of the Role of Religion in the Public Realm



Baumeister A (2011) The Use of "Public Reason" by Religious and Secular Citizens: Limitations of Habermas' Conception of the Role of Religion in the Public Realm. Constellations, 18 (2), pp. 222-243.

While Habermas’ careful delineation of the implications of a commitment to freedom of religion for both secular and religious citizens gives rise to a much more nuanced account of the role of religion in both the formal and informal public realm, the paper argues that Habermas does not resolve the uncomfortable tension in his approach between his continued commitment to strict political secularism and his picture of a postsecular society characterised by a critical engagement between religion and the traditions of the Enlightenment. The ensuing difficulties are particularly apparent in relation to two concomitant concepts central to Habermas’ framework: (1) his account of the institutional translation proviso and (2) his conception of reason and religion as two separate, sovereign realms. Both aspects of Habermas’ approach raise worries regarding the equal standing of all citizens, albeit for different reasons. While the institutional translation proviso is insufficient to secure the discursive equality of religious citizens, Habermas’ failure to clearly distinguish between the epistemic and institutional sovereignty of the religious realm leads him to misconstrue the complex relationship between law and religion. His subsequent reluctance to intervene in the ‘internal’ affairs of religious institutions and organisations threatens to compromise the equal rights – including the right to freedom of religion – of traditionally marginalised members of religious communities. While the problems and ambiguities inherent in the institutional translation proviso suggest that the carefully delimited role Habermas assigns to religion in the liberal public realm is insufficient to address the fears of critics worried about the burdens the liberal state places upon religious believers, his presumption in favour of the institutional sovereignty of a clearly delineated and distinct religious realm will continue to trouble those who fear that the liberal separation between state and organised religion has enabled religious communities to escape critical scrutiny. In the light of these concerns the paper argues that within the context of a postsecular society a re-evaluation of the separation between state and organised religion is best conceived of as a two way process. Not only must we re-evaluate the exclusion of religiously grounded arguments from the public realm, but we must also re-examine the notion of religion as an institutionally sovereign sphere in which the principles of reason, freedom and equality that govern the public realm do not apply. This interplay, however, has more far reaching implications for both religious and secular citizens than Habermas acknowledges.

Habermas; Public Reason; Religion; Sovereignty; Institutional Translation Proviso; Political science Philosophy; Habermas, Jurgen

Constellations: Volume 18, Issue 2

Publication date30/06/2011
Publication date online22/05/2011

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Dr Andrea Baumeister
Dr Andrea Baumeister

Senior Lecturer, Politics