Religion in the Public Sphere: The Limits of Habermas's Proposal and the Discourse of "World Religions"

Matt Sheedy


Since 2001, Jürgen Habermas has turned increasingly toward questions on the role of religion in the public sphere. Modifying his earlier position, Habermas now argues for the equal inclusion of religious voices in the political public sphere and urges for the recognition among secular citizens that we are living in a “post-secular” world that must become adjusted to the continued existence of religious communities. Such a process requires that secular citizens undergo a “cognitive dissonance” when confronting religious claims and attempt a “translation program” to discover the profane truth content contained within. While there is much to commend this position, I argue that Habermas’s model is unnecessarily constrained by his narrow understanding of “religion” as a normative category, and that he privileges a Euro-hegemonic conception of “world religions” while circumscribing the parameters for how discourse on religion—both in philosophy and in the public sphere—ought to proceed.

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