Salvaging and secularizing the semantic contents of religion: the limitations of Habermas’s postmetaphysical proposal

  • Maeve CookeEmail author
Open Access
Original Paper


The article considers Jürgen Habermas’s views on the relationship between postmetaphysical philosophy and religion. It outlines Habermas’s shift from his earlier, apparently dismissive attitude towards religion to his presently more receptive stance. This more receptive stance is evident in his recent emphasis on critical engagement with the semantic contents of religion and may be characterized by two interrelated theses: (a) the view that religious contributions should be included in political deliberations in the informally organized public spheres of contemporary democracies, though translated into a secular language for the purposes of legislation and formal decision making and (b) the view that postmetaphysical philosophy should seek to salvage the semantic contents of religious traditions in order to supply the evocative images, exemplary figures, and inspirational narratives it needs for its social and political projects. With regard to (a), it argues that the translation requirement impairs the political autonomy of religious believers and other metaphysically inclined citizens, suggesting that this difficulty could be alleviated by making a distinction between epistemologically authoritarian and non-authoritarian religious beliefs. With regard to (b), it argues that the salvaging operation is not as straightforward as Habermas seems to suppose and that social and political philosophy may not be able to tap the semantic power of religious traditions without relying on metaphysical assumptions; it concludes that, here, too, a distinction between authoritarian and non-authoritarian approaches to knowledge and validity may be useful.


Habermas Religion Postmetaphysical thinking Public sphere Semantic resource 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PhilosophyUniversity College DublinBelfieldIreland

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