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Postsecular revolution: religion after the end of history


This article claims that the revolutions in the Arab world foster insight into more than the spread of liberalism. Fukuyama's end of history has not just reached the Muslim world faster than expected. These revolutions show that strong religion and liberal democracy are compatible: they are postsecular revolutions. As already the revolutions of 1989 proved in some respect, in contrast to the secular ideals of the French Revolution, revolution and religion can go hand in hand in a postsecular way. Praying and making revolution does not need to end in a religious autocracy as 1979 in Iran. Religious citizens stood up praying for democracy and the rule of law against secular regimes which legitimised themselves as a bulwark against sinister forces of religion. Analysing the revolutions of 1989, Jürgen Habermas speaks of ‘catching-up revolutions’ which brought nothing new to the course of history. Yet after 9/11 he started to develop his idea of a postsecular society in which secular and religious citizens are equally entitled to make their arguments in a public sphere. Criticising the early Habermas with the later, the article argues that the postsecular revolutions of 1989 and 2011 are preparing the ground for a postsecular democracy.

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1 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spake Zarathustra (New York: Heritage Press, 1967), p. 228. ‘Fundamentally standeth everything still’ – that is an appropriate winter doctrine, good cheer for an unproductive period, a great comfort for winter-sleepers and fireside-loungers.’ ‘Fundamentally standeth everything still’ – but CONTRARY thereto, preacheth the thawing wind!’

2 Connolly, William E., Why I am not a secularist (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), p. 53.

3 Ibid., p. 51.

4 Ibid., p. 58.

5 Peters, Joel, The European Union and the Arab Spring. Promoting Democracy and Human Right in the Middle East (New York: Lexington, 2012).

6 Kepel, Gilles, The Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994).

7 Habermas, Jürgen, Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays (Cambridge: Polity, 2008), p. 110.

8 See for the term: Almond, Gabriel A., Appleby, R. Scott, and Sivan, Emmanuel, Strong religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms around the World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

9 It is striking but given the long standing dominance of secularism in social science not surprising how little the analysis of the revolutions of the Arab Spring takes religion into consideration. Khair El-Din Haseeb shows no interest in religion at all: Haseeb, Khair El-Din, ‘On the Arab “Democratic Spring”: lessons derived’, Contemporary Arab Affairs, 4:2 (2011), pp. 113–22. Tarek Masoud is aware of the factor religion but reads it more in the traditional cleavage of secular vs. religious forces. Masoud, Tarek, ‘The Road to (and from) Liberation Square’, Journal of Democracy, 22:3 (2011), pp. 2034. Despite the comparison with 1989 both Lucan Way and Robert Springborg miss out religion altogether. Way, Lucan, ‘Comparing the Arab Revolts: The Lessons of 1989’, Journal of Democracy, 22:4 (2011), pp. 1926; Springborg, Robert, ‘Wither the Arab Spring? 1989 or 1848?’, International Spectator, 46:3 (2011), pp. 512. Kees Van der Pijl offers a deep historical analysis from a neo-Marxian perspective, of course also without religion as a major issue: Van der Pijl, Kees, ‘Arab Revolt and Nation-State Crisis’, New Left Review, 70 (2011), pp. 2749. See also Anderson, Perry, On the Concatenation of the Arab World’, New Left, 68 (2011), pp. 515. My approach is closer to Seyla Benhabib's reaction: Seyla Benhabib, ‘The Arab Spring. Religion, Revolution, and the Public Square’, Transformation of the Public Sphere (24 February 2011) {}.

10 Agrama, Hussein Ali, ‘Secularism, Sovereignty, Indeterminacy: Is Egypt a Secular or a Religious State?’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 52:3 (2010), pp. 495523; Mavelli, Luca, ‘Security and Secularization in International Relations’, European Journal of International Relations, 18:1 (2012), pp. 177–99; Luca Mavelli, Postsecular resistance, the body, and the 2011 Egyptian revolution’, in this Special Issue.

11 Weigel, George, The Final Revolution: The resistance church and the collapse of communism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); Veen, Hans-Joachim, März, Peter, and Schlichting, Franz-Josef (ed.), Kirche und Revolution. Das Christentum in Ostmitteleuropa vor und nach 1989 (Köln: Böhlau, 2009). For an overview of the Arab Spring see Noueihed, Lin and Warren, Ale, The Battle for the Arab Spring. Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the Making of a New Era (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

12 Hashemi, Nader and Postel, Danny (ed.), The People Reloaded. The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran's Future (New York: Meville House, 2011).

13 Habermas, Jürgen, ‘What Does Socialism Mean Today? The Rectifying Revolution and the Need for New Thinking on the Left’, New Left Review, 183 (1990), pp. 321.

14 Habermas, Jürgen, The Future of Human Nature (Cambridge: Polity, 2003), pp. 101–15; Habermas, Jürgen, Between Naturalism and Religion (Cambridge: Polity, 2008), pp. 101–47.

15 Fukuyama, Francis, ‘The End of History?’, National Interest, 16 (Summer 1989), pp. 318.

16 Dahrendorf, Ralf, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: in a Letter Intended to have been Sent to a Gentleman in Warsaw (New York: Times Books, 1990).

17 Weigel, The Final Revolution.

18 Huntington, Samuel P., ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’, Foreign Affairs, 72:3 (1993), pp. 2249.

19 Cavanaugh, William T., The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

20 Habermas, ‘What Does Socialism Mean Today?’.

21 Ibid., p. 4.

22 Habermas, Jürgen, Die Nachholende Revolution: Kleine Politische Schriften VII (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1990).

23 As far as I understand the translation, ‘rectifying’ shifts the notion from catching-up towards correcting which adds an interpretation that this revolution has corrected a false course of history whereas ‘catching up’ puts the emphasis more on the aspect that there is nothing new in it, besides reaching a point which someone else has already reached. It is more like a pupil who was ill and returns to school than a pupil who was there and made a lot of mistakes. The idea of a mere catching-up processes leaves not much room for additional findings whereas the one who has corrected a false course might have something to tell about how he managed to return from his ill-guided path and how he learnt to do it better. The translation could thus be understood as a development of the text in the direction I am arguing for.

24 Habermas, ‘What Does Socialism Mean Today?’, p. 5.

25 Ibid., p. 13.

26 Ibid., p. 110.

27 Ibid., pp. 209–47.

28 Barbato, Mariano and Kratochwil, Friedrich V., ‘Towards a Post-secular Political Order?’, European Political Science Review, 3:1 (2009), pp. 335–38. I believe that a ‘strong reading’ of Habermas can avoid the shortcomings which Antonio Cerella and Adrian Pabst identify in their ‘weak reading’ of Habermas. A ‘strong reading’ understands Habermas's concept of a postsecular society as open even for the demands Fred Dallmayr asks for. See Joseph A. Camilleri's article in this Special Issue for a broader debate on Habermas.

29 See for the latest version: Jürgen Habermas, ‘Polyfonie der Meinungen. Wie viel Religion verträgt der liberale Staat?’, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (6 August 2012) (online).

30 Habermas, Jürgen, ‘“The Political”: The Rational Meaning of a Questionable Inheritance of Political Theology’, in Butler, Judith, Mendieta, Eduardo, and Van Antwerpen, Jonathan (eds), The power of Religion in the Public Sphere (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), p. 25.

31 Weigel, The Final Revolution, p. 17.

32 ‘What Lenin started at Petrograd's Finland Station on April 16, 1917…, Pope John II began to dismantle at the Jasna Góra monastery in Częstochowa, the shrine of the Black Madonna, Queen of Poland, on June 4, 1979.’ Weigel, ‘The Final Revolution’, p. 16. See also Weigel, George, Witness to Hope. The Biography of Pope John Paul II, 1920–2005 (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), pp. 601–12.

33 Bernstein, Carl and Politi, Marco, His Holiness: John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time (New York: Doubleday, 1996); Kwitny, Jonathan, Man of the Century: The Life and Times of Pope John Paul II (New York: Henry Holt, 1997). For a nuanced perspective on this see Byrnes, Timothy A., Transnational Catholicism in Postcommunist Europe (Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), pp. 26. See also John Paul II own moderate but metaphysically grounded statement: Paul, John II, ‘Was God at Work in the Fall of Communism?’, in Gillis, Chester (ed.), The Political Papacy. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Their Influence (Boulder: Paradigm, 2006), pp. 23–5.

34 Huntington, Samuel P., The Third Wave. Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991), pp. 7285.

35 Ash, Timothy Garton, The Magic Latern. The Revolution of '89 witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, and Prague (New York: Random House, 1990).

36 O'Grady, Desmond, The Turned Card. Christianity Before and After the Wall (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1997).

37 Jauer, Joachim, Urbi et Gorbi. Christen als Webgereiter der Wende (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 2008).

38 Neubert, Erhard, Eine Protestantische Revolution (Berlin: Kontext, 1990), Rendtorff, Trutz (ed.), Protestantische Revolution? (Götting: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993). See also Ramet, Sabrina Petra (ed.), Protestantism and Politics in Eastern Europe and Russia. The Communist and Post-Communist Era (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992).

39 Peter Maser, ‘Deutsche Protestanten haben noch niemals eine Revolution veranstaltet!’, in Veen et al. (ed.), Kirche und Revolution, pp. 71–4.

40 For the concept of postsecular International Relations see also Barbato, Mariano, ‘Postsäkulare Internationale Beziehungen: Eine Replik auf Karsten Lehmann’, Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen, 17:1 (2010), pp. 119–34.

41 Habermas, ‘What Does Socialism Mean Today?’, p. 19.

42 Ibid., p. 20.

43 Löwith, Karl, Meaning in History; The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949).

44 See also Koselleck, Reinhart, Vergangene Zukunft: Zur Semantik Geschichtlicher Zeiten (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1979).

45 Habermas, ‘What Does Socialism Mean Today?’, p. 5.

46 Ibid., pp. 7–8.

47 See also Barbato, Mariano, Pilgrimage, Politics, and International Relations. Religious Semantics for World Politics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

48 Connolly, Why I am not a Secularist, pp. 38–9; see also Barbato and Kratochwil, ‘Towards a Post-secular Political Order?’, p. 329.

49 Connolly, Why I am not a Secularist, p. 70.

50 ‘[T]he politician of becoming thinks a generous ethos emerges when a number of constituencies engage actively and more generously those differences in themselves and others the regulation of which enables them to be what they are. This end, then, forms a regulative ideal for the politician of becoming, a complex, final act never entirely susceptible to completion because some of its components cannot be synchronized perfectly with the others at any particular time.’ Connolly, Why I am not a secularist, p. 71.

51 Connolly, Why I am not a Secularist, pp. 19–71, pp. 163–87.

52 Fukuyama, ‘The End of History?’.

53 Ibid., p. 4 (‘in the long run’ is in italics in the original).

54 Ibid., p. 18.

55 Nietzsche, Thus spake Zarathustra, p. 9.

56 Aikman, David, ‘The Great Revival: Understanding Religious “Fundamentalism”’, Foreign Affairs, 82:4 (2003), p. 193.

57 Berger, Peter L., ‘The Desecularization of the World: A Global Overview’, in Berger, Peter L. (ed.), The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics (Washington, DC: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1999), p. 2.

58 Petito, Fabio and Hatzopoulos, Pavlos (eds), Religion in International Relations: The Return from Exile (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

59 Norris, Pippa and Inglehart, Ronald, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

60 Lech Walesa received his already in 1983.

61 Weigel, The Final Revolution.

62 Timothy Garton Ash, ‘Eastern Europe: The Year of Truth’, New York Review of Books (15 February 1990).

63 The case of John Paul II illustrates this discursive power most prominently.

64 Fukuyama, ‘The End of History?’, p. 14.

65 ‘Obviously after 9/11 we had a lot of problems with religious extremism and setbacks to democracy. But now the Arab Spring may be partially reversing that – but that itself may get reversed. The question is: In the long run is there such a thing as historical progress? On that score I still remain optimistic.’ Fukuyama, Francis, ‘Interview with Francis Fukuyama: Fiscal Crisis Erodes EU Legitimacy’, New Perspectives Quarterly, 28:3 (2011), p. 73.

66 Dahrendorf, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, pp. 33–7.

67 Fukuyama, ‘The End of History?’, p. 3.

68 Dahrendorf, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, p. 37.

69 Ibid.

70 Ibid.

71 Weigel, The Final Revolution, p. 191.

72 Unfortunately, Weigel himself falls prey to an idealism with boots in order to conquer the world or at least defending the American way of capitalist life. But this is another story.

73 Weigel, The Final Revolution, p. 192. For the whole argument see pp. 191–3.

74 Frank Schimmelfennig argues that the European Union was caught in the liberal trap of their European rhetoric which forced also those members of the European Union which were actually not amused about these new family members grabbing their expenses. Schimmelfennig, Frank, The EU, NATO and the Integration of Europe: Rules and Rhetoric, Themes in European governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). From a rational choice approach in IR theory, Schimmelfennig does the best he can to explain the power of legitimacy and argumentations which however can better understood from a more constructivist perspective.

75 Führer, Christian, Und wir sind dabei gewesen. Die Revolution, die aus der Kirche kam (Berlin: Ullstein, 2008), pp. 212–25.

76 See Luca Mavelli's article in this Special Issue on how torture and oppression by the state constructed a common identity of Egyptians which challenged this split.

77 Huntington, ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’

78 Bernard Lewis, ‘The Roots of Muslim Rage: Why so many Muslims Deeply Resent the West, and why their bitterness will not easily be mollified’, Atlantic Monthly (September 1990).

79 Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence, pp. 194–208.

80 Ibid., pp. 4–5.

81 Ibid., pp. 57–122.

82 Ibid., p. 84.

83 Ibid., p. 4.

84 Ibid., pp. 123–80.

85 See Philpott, Daniel, ‘The Challenge of September 11 to Secularism in International Relations’, World Politics 55:1 (2002).

86 Burleigh, Michael, Earthly Powers: Religion and Politics in Europe from the Enlightenment to the Great War (London: HarperCollins, 2005); Burleigh, Michael, Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al Qaeda (London: Harper Press, 2006).

87 Arendt, Hannah, On Revolution (New York, NY: Viking Press, 1963).

88 Frührer, Und wir sind dabei gewesen, p. 218.

89 In the Balkan wars religion was used to support the construction of national identities. See for instance, Sells, Michal A, The Bridge Betrayed. Religion and Genocide in Bosnia (Berkley: University of California Press, 1996). What is often ignored is that there were almost no other possibilities than to rely on a religious script for the national cause even if the protagonist as well as the people could hardly be seen as strong believers. Berger points at this issue: Berger, ‘The Desecularization of the World: A Global Overview’, p. 15.

90 For the broad coalition of the revolution see the essays of the Arab youth in Weddady, Nasser and Ahmari, Sohrab (ed.), Arab Spring Dreams. The Next Generation Speaks Out for Freedom and Justice from North Africa to Iran (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

91 Commentators range from warning of Islamist hijacking to praises of the end to the postcolonial era. Bradley, John R., After the Arab Spring. How Islamist Hijacked the Middle East Revolts (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Dabashi, Hamid, The Arab Spring. The End of Postcolonialism (London: Zed Books, 2012). See also Manhire, Tobi (ed.), Arab Spring. Rebellion, Revolution, and a New World Order (London: Guardian Books, 2012).

92 See Barbato, Mariano, ‘Conceptions of Self for Post-Secular Emancipation: Towards a Pilgrim's Guide to Global Justice’, Millennium, 39 (2010), pp. 547–64.

93 Connolly, Why I am not a Secularist, p. 51.

94 Butterfield, Herbert, The Englishman and His History, Current Problems, 19 (Cambridge: University Press, 1944), p. 83.

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