On the public uses of reason: Habermas, religion, and the public sphere

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Sheedy, Matt
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Jürgen Habermas is widely considered one of the most influential living philosophers and social theorists, whose work has spanned sixty years of academic writing. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, he began to engage more explicitly with questions of religion in his work, helping to popularize the term “post-secularism,” and offered leading analysis on the problem of religion in the public sphere, expanding and innovating John Rawls’s idea of the “public use of reason.” While this shift in Habermas’s work is significant, he has long been interested in questions relating to religion, dating back to his doctoral dissertation in 1954. To date, very few scholars have traced the idea of religion in Habermas’s work as a whole, and none have developed an analysis of how his conception of religion changes in relation to shifts in his broader theoretical ideas, and to significant changes in politics, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. My dissertation thus offers the first English-language critical investigation of the social construction of Habermas’s theory of religion. More specifically, I provide a critique of his theory based on ideas generated within the critical study of religions, and revisit the controversy between “deconstruction” and “rational reconstruction” in contemporary critical theory. Ultimately, I aim to expand Habermas’s model of reason and rationality to include elements of myth, ritual, and symbols, along with their various iterations in contexts of interaction, and as they are expressed in cultural narratives about religion within the public sphere.
Habermas, religion, public reason, public sphere