, Volume 70, Issue 3, pp 187-201

Rorty, religion, and humanism

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Abstract

This article offers a review of Richard Rorty’s attempts to come to terms with the role of religion in our public and intellectual life by tracing the key developments in his position, partially in response to the ubiquitous criticisms of his distinction between private and public projects. Since Rorty rejects the possibility of dismissing religion on purely epistemic grounds, he is determined to treat it, instead, as a matter of politics. My suggestion is that, in this respect, Rorty’s position is best construed as that of a humanist rather than a post-modernist. Ultimately, it appears that, in his view, the positive element of religion—i.e. the idea of religion as a social gospel—has been absorbed and transformed into a utopian striving which humanists associate with the ideal of democracy. Hence, in this regard, religion can be considered obsolete. Yet, without explicitly invoking the usual epistemic grounds, Rorty’s arguments for excluding religion from the public sphere remain rather thin, and an interest in reforming rather than excluding religion would have been more consistent with his general outlook.