12.13.2009

Democracy and Religion International Master Course Tilburg University


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For a long time, prevailing opinion has been that democracy exists because politics has detached itself from religion. Thus the fact that democracy since some 250 years slowly has gained the upper hand in the world is supposed to be the result of a strong secularisation of daily life and an institutional separation of church and state. Implicitly it is assumed that religion in itself is an anti-democratic force in modern society.

On the other hand, however, it is generally acknowledged that for instance in Eastern European countries religion has played an important role in the resistance against the Sowjet system, and therefore, in the return of democracy. Against this background, several questions are rising, such as:
What exactly is democracy?
What is religion?
What is the relationship between democracy and religion?
Are mutual differences between religions relevant concerning these questions?
Is religion still possible in a secular society?

There is a body of texts in which the classical discussion in philosophy with regard to these questions can be studied, texts of, amongst others, Augustine, Locke, Spinoza, Kant and Weber. Generally, an opposition is presupposed between belief, superstition, myth and ideology on the one hand, and secularisation, Enlightenment, modernity and rationality on the other hand. Recently, however, philosophy has more and more come to cast doubt on this opposition and on the ‘secularisation-thesis’ based on this opposition. Writers such as Gauchet, Habermas, Nancy, Taylor and others deny the contrariety between democracy and religion, or point out that actually religion has laid the foundation for democracy. What are the consequences of these reconsiderations for our debate on the foundations of the European Union?