Religion and Civil Society
The Foundation and Future of the University in a Post-secular Society
Since the European Enlightenment, knowledge and teaching practice have been engaged in a broad and tense transformation process at different levels of education that is reflected, above all, in the growing differentiation of scientific disciplines and the consequent systematic dissolution of unified knowledge. The process of scientific rationalization is primarily associated with the idea of a secularizing modernity that is the driving force behind the pluralization and the individualization of social relations. From an institutional perspective, universities and schools are the core toward which this transformation process gravitates: they materialize and heighten its outcomes.
Starting in the late 1980s, the thesis of secularization as a characteristic element of modern societies has been widely criticized by philosophers, sociologists and historians of religion, including scholars like Jeffrey Hadden and Charles Taylor, etc. In this context, there has also been recent talk of a "resurgence of religion" as the most decisive element of a new pluralist era (Peter Berger). This critique is supported by recent historiography through studies that focus on modernization’s different impulses, for example, in the vein of a forgotten "Catholic Enlightenment" (Uhlrich Lehner). The critique of the thesis of secularization, and of its possible redefinition, focuses on conflicts and debates (intellectual, artistic, cultural, political, etc.) on how to reposition a universal idea of the sacred within the progressive extension of non-religious social spaces. That is, how can we specify new meanings of the religious in the face of its diminishing social function and the growing individualization of religious practice (Hans Joas)?
Currently, one of the most impactful criticisms of the thesis of secularization comes from the "post-secular society" concept (Jürgen Habermas). Within this critique, European and North American societies have reached the point that they take a progressively secular environment as the starting line for the permanence of religious communities. This recognition is as such a fundamental and constitutive element for reformulating secularism capable of respecting and integrating the dignity of religious traditions. Ultimately, it is a "mechanism for translation and filtering" (Schleusenfunktion) between the periphery and the center, that is, between the public sphere and the state (Bernhard Peters). Through the normative idea of the public as a sphere for deliberation and communicative inclusion of its citizens and a variety of social actors, in the sense of a permanent learning process, the re-universalization of the religious seems possible.
The research project herein formulated focuses on a critical foundation for the university as the decisive institutional engine for this "translation and filtering mechanism" in post-secular societies, and not just of religious identities, but also of cultural, linguistic, etc. ones. It will delve into a variety of related thematic areas that can be outlined with the following questions, among others: What forms of knowledge, for example with respect to the idea of man, underlie post-secular society? What type of education and what idea of the university does this "translation and filtering mechanism" require? Which concept of the political is constitutive for the post-secular public space regarding, for example, the ethos of citizenry?