For anyone interested, the editor’s Introduction for After the Postsecular and Postmodern is available at Scibd. One of the editors and several of the contributors in this volume are regulars at AUFS. As I started reading through it I thought I would past chunks that stood out or reflected the direction or intent of the volume (I have not yet seen a copy). I have inserted a few comments, some of which are critical but of course they are then very provisional as I am working from something that points to a whole that I have not seen. I have tried to keep the comments then on how this piece structures the project.
The norms and traditions of theological modes of thinking are cast off in favour of a philosophy that is limited only by its own internal necessity (9).
The studies of modern philosophers which form section one of this volume are “test-cases for modern philosophy of religion”. Their aim is therefore twofold. First, by highlighting the depth, vitality and complexity of speculation about religion in modern, secular philosophy, the essays form indirect rebuffs to postsecular thought’s all-too-quick dismissal of it. Second, and most significantly, by uncovering and subsequently mimicking the intellectual strategies—whether emancipatory or mutative—by which modern thought upset orthodoxy’s claims upon it, they also directly combat the “theological postsecular”(11).
At the moment when modern secularism has failed and the so-called return to the religious is on the precipice of failing, philosophers must be bold in putting forth a theory of secularity that is, in its very thinking, an abstract instance of that new secular (13).
I will be curious to see where that precipice is located and who identifies it.
We must distinguish, however, between the genuine postsecular event and its misappropriation and misuse at the hands of theologians. In the wake of the postsecular event, a distinction is necessary between the infidelity to that event attested in the “theological postsecular” and a potential faithfulness to it made possible through thinking the secular anew (14).
The response to the postsecular situation is not,pace [Philip] Blond [and Red Toryism], to return yet again to the presecular (to theology), but (at least for Kotsko and Agamben) a radical messianic nihilism that dismantles the theo-political machine. In other words, what is required in the face of the postsecular event is a philosophy which takes up the modern emancipation of philosophy in the service of a new speculative construction of a true secular. This requires a reconsideration of discussions of the secular in modernity so as to take up what is most powerful therein, and recast it in a new critical form (15).
[T]his gives rise to a distinction between the “imperial secularity” of the past and the genuine potential of the secular as a category to do justice to all religious particularities. This latter idea we designate “the generic secular”. The task, then, a number of contributors undertake is the construction of a truly generic secular, a secularity that can sustain the particularity, and even proliferation, of all religious and post-religious modes of being (16).
It is around this point that my interest begins to wane. Not for lack of intellectual interest but more on a practical level. I am a particularity defined, in part, as being a Mennonite pastor. I am NOT arguing that this project is insignificant or unhelpful only that it is not MY project. Yes, I hope this creates a benevolent context in which for me to practice my particularity but I simply cannot see how this project escapes the logic and practice it seems to want to overcome. I am sure the chapters address this very question directly. But quote above reminds me that I am a particularity and my practice is not in the interest of ‘the secular’ as such (though I could be argued on this). The point being that the resources for this project begin to take me away in places that I may not be able to justify for interests sake given the priority I place on other resources. I suppose it is just the tone of this introduction that makes me wary that this offers any sort of alternative to existing imperialisms. I guess I simply don’t believe that speculative reason is capable of this claim.
[T]here has been a persistent tendency to maintain that the truly radical response to the postsecular event is not only a return to the religious, but a return to the dominance of the religious over all other forms of thought. Theology— specifically Christian theology—would once again become Queen of the sciences. The return of the religious means, within the context of globalisation, a return to religious conflict, war, and violence, and, it is claimed, Christianity would uniquely respond to such events as the tradition that would best rescue the meaning necessary to resist the loss of identity following from imperial secularism. The choice given to us by these thinkers is not between freedom and imperialism, but between two imperialisms, both equally parochial.
This strikes me as patently untrue as the Anabaptist theology and practice continues to try and address (not without its own problems of course!).
Meillassoux’s After Finitude is certainly (although not solely) an indictment of the current state of Continental philosophy of religion. However, this critique of the return of the theological and its prevalence in postmodern and postsecular philosophy of religion is not, we contend, a critique of philosophy of religion tout court. In fact, Meillassoux’s critique of fideism could well be read as a call to practice philosophy of religion: to make rational claims on the absolute once again, in opposition to its theological colonisation by religious discourses. Speculative philosophy of religion is, therefore, a means of saving philosophy from religion. . . . Within the speculative realm itself there can be no orthodoxy, only a practice of radical heresy. . . . Thus, within the volume as a whole and this section in particular a nascent speculative debate opens up regarding the act of mutating theological practice. Already within this volume, a proliferation of heresies and experiments are in the process of being produced (20-21).
I will be curious to see how and if orthodoxy is consistently named in this volume. The Introduction seems to indicate that it is a clearly identifiable and isolated expression. If so I would tend to disagree with its definition looking towards Rowan Williams’ test of Christian orthodoxy as that which resists simplification. I know this does not directly address or respond to the issues in this Introduction but I think ‘orthodoxy’ is more more problematic a term then how it is used here.
However, all such heresies must ultimately be assessed for their cogency and power, and one criterion recently proposed by Iain Hamilton Grant for so evaluating the recent spate of speculative experiments is the “extensity test.”. . . Yet (by way of conclusion), the “extensity test” is not the only criterion by which to evaluate new experiments in Continental philosophy of religion, and in the Afterword to this volume, Philip Goodchild (and the personae which populate his piece) subjects the very practice of philosophy of religion to a far-reaching critique of its sincerity/hypocrisy. The volume thus ends with a number of questions: is speculation necessarily fabrication? How can heresies remain faithful to human living in the world? Questions which only further experiments in Continental philosophy of religion can hope to answer. This volume stands witness to this call to further experimentation (22).
I will look forward to reading these particular sections as assessment always makes particularities more explicit.
I do hope to read a number of these articles and I recognize the significance of the shift this volume is seeking to make or contribute towards but as I alluded to earlier I also began to feel as though this represented a particular community, a community with valuable goals and agendas, but a community I am not a part of. It reminded me of my reading of The Gift of Difference and how this volume reflected some of the same ‘open spaces’ advocated for in After the Postsecular. However, The Gift of Difference engaged my particularity and called me to a fidelity that I could recognize and reflect on. I am not sure how this volume will create space for ‘all modes of being’ without engaging particular communities. And if it does engage particular communities then how will assessment (even if provisional) proceed, by virtuous contamination? This is not said to condemn out of hand but more as a honest curiosity and hope that their project will take root beyond academic and political structures or even activist modes. And I have no doubt that if I give this volume a careful read it will in fact inform my own particularity.