The Public Sphere and Religion

Esfera pública y religión. Relaciones mutuas en la historia, educación y sociedad

The Public Sphere and Religion. An Entangled Relationship in History, Education and Society

March 4th and 5th, 2020

University of Navarra, Campus Madrid

The relationship between the public sphere, democratic forms of government and a state education system open to all is a product of the eighteenth century and the European Enlightenment (Israel, 2013). Unlike the public sphere as a representation of the feudal-religious order during the Middle Ages and its transformation into a secular power of the absolutist state, the idea of the public sphere characterized by the freedom and continuity of the logos in the ancient polis reappeared in the context of civil society’s formation (bürgerliche Gesellschaft) as a rational-communicative space vis-à-vis the modern State (Habermas, 1990 [1962]).

Within the framework of political-philosophical discourse on modernity, theory concerning democracy and theory concerning pedagogy have functioned as two sides of the same coin. John Dewey, with his influential book Democracy and Education (1916) is perhaps one of the most emblematic representatives of this connection that, according to recent criticism from sociologists, historians, philosophers, etc., is now largely seen as irretrievably bankrupt (Honneth, 2012; Weymann, 2014, etc.). Substituting the idea of a functional-dualist relationship between the State, on the one hand, and the various institutional levels of education, on the other, research has begun to focus more on understanding this connection in terms of a multifaceted and complex interaction (Green, 1990). In this context, the question of the public sphere is again a key issue not only with respect to different modern conceptions—that is, as a discursive-deliberative, subaltern-agonistic, elitist-deficitarian, liberal-democratic or empirical-descriptive sphere (Habermas, Arendt, Fraser, Benhabib etc.)— but, above all, with respect to a new structural change in the public sphere as an effect of a growing dynamic of media fragmentation, the digitalization of social communication and Lock-In effects, echo chambers, etc. (Binder & Oelkers, 2017).

While it is important to reflect on novel democratic governance and education models that sprang from the secular Enlightenment context (Montesquieu) and the American Revolution (Jefferson), we should not forget that religious frameworks have also played an important role in pedagogical innovation and its public-political expanse. Thus, for example, even before Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827), the Swiss Benedictine Konrad Tanner OSB (1752-1825) talked in 1787, starting from Montesquieu, about education’s adaptation to democracy in order to transform citizens into an active element in this emergent form of politics. Furthermore, in 1813, the Protestant theologian Heinrich Stephani (1761-1850), in his demand for a public education system, pointed out that the process of improving the educational system would require allotting separate funds from the State budget (Binder & Oelkers, 2017, p. 8-10).

The symposium “The Public Sphere and Religion. An Entangled Relationship in History, Education and Society” delves into the question of how the idea of the public sphere and, in particular, public education and its innovation, continues even now to closely interact with the religious sphere.


Carl LemkeCarl Antonius Lemke Duque

Leyre OvalleLeyre Ovalle
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