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«Jürgen Habermas: Religion, Cultural Diversity and Publicity Paula Montero Department of Anthropology, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brasil ...»

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For Habermas, the speech acts of actors have illocutionary purposes in communicative action, although, according to Araújo, he acknowledges the presence of perlocutionary strategies in linguistically mediated interactions (Araújo, 1996: p. 127). George Herbert Mead provides Habermas with a theory of action based on an interaction model that was subsequently developed by the author in terms of communication. Moreover, by stressing the symbolic character of social actions that are no longer taken for a mere mechanical translation of rules, but understood as open and subject to continuous recognition, Mead also suggests a way to overcome a monological perspective on the theory of action. In Mead, Habermas finds the roots for a pre-linguistic communicative action connected to the world of observable objects and to the affirmation of identities (Araújo, 1996: p. 185).

Authors such as Pierre Bourdieu have also found inspiration in Mead and symbolic interactionism in order to integrate a theory of symbols and a theory of action conceived of in a less mechanic way, and not as a by-product of structure. However, although Bourdieu also takes language into account to think of the logic of practices, he does so in the framework of the Durkheimian reading of “representation,” which privileges categories of knowledge and their logical functions. The social forces of representation are, for Bourdieu, a dispute for the classification of the social world, a struggle for the monopoly of making seen, and legitimately acknowledging, the existence of social divisions. In this sense, for him, representation builds the world it represents to a great extent.

As for Bourdieu, for whom the symbolic world makes consensus on the social world possible because logical and moral integration are associated, Durkheim’s theory of solidarity offers Habermas a social theory that relates social integration and system integration. Durkheim considers the concept of “obligation” to be one of the characteristics of moral rule (Araújo, 1996: p. 149). But sanction is only one aspect of the acknowledgement of rule; it is necessary to also take into account the desire to comply with it. These two characteristics of the moral fact—desire and duty—have led Durkheim to propose an analogy between the sphere of morality and that of the sacred. Thus, Durkheimian anthropology offers Habermas a model to integrate pre-linguistic ritual actions into

P. Montero

his analysis: They express a normative consensus that is continuously updated. However, the normative consensus guaranteed by rite and mediated by symbol is the “archaic core” of collective solidarity. In modern contexts of action, religious symbols are no longer capable of expressing collectivity on their own. The normative consensus that used to be guaranteed by rite, based on religious symbols and interpreted by means of the “semantics of the sacred,” is dissolved and gives way to the “verbalization of the sacred”7, that is, to structures of action aimed at mutual understanding. Thus, the authority of the sacred is gradually replaced by that of consensus (Araújo, 1996: pp. 157-158).

Based on this idea of “verbalization of the sacred,” Habermas makes it possible to move the symbolic issue from the field of representation to the field of action as argumentation: Understanding the other does not depend, as in the tradition of understanding of Dilthey and Weber, on the possibility of (re)presenting the thoughts and feelings of those whose conduct or thought should be understood, nor on taking up the point of view of the actors (Giddens, 1995), but on establishing a dialogue with them. Understanding is thus not considered as a particular method of investigation, in the way interpretive anthropology absorbed the phenomenological supposition of the possibility of (re)experiencing the exotic, but the way in which life itself is constituted. On this non-systemic level, action is developed in the realm of the “life-world,” of lived experience, whose symbolic function is oriented towards consensus. The “lived world” is the horizon in relation to which communicative processes and interaction occur: It delimitates the situation of action, but remains inaccessible to thematization8.

Although the notion of “lived world” is still little systematized in the work of Habermas, it was developed based on the phenomenological tradition of Edmund Husserl and Alfred Schütz9. For Schütz, it constitutes the sphere of daily experience and work, in which the use of subjective and situational “practical reason” prevails, for it is aimed more at usefulness than at truth (Wagner, 1983: p. 291). In this sense, “life-world” in Schütz may

be understood as a context of convictions which are not explicitly formulated and serve as a background for social interaction. Habermas relies on this Schützian notion and emphasizes its function in intercommunication:

This pre-reflexive context offers a reserve of non-objectified convictions that are nonetheless linguistically structured, and actors resort to it to sustain their interpretations. It is based on this implicit and non-problematic knowledge that, according to Habermas, speakers and listeners may reciprocally intend that their enunciations coincide with the (objective, social, and subjective) world, criticize, and lay the foundations for their claims to validity, solve their divergences, and come to an agreement. However, in view of its own characteristics pertaining to the classical phenomenological tradition—that is, its immediacy, its totalizing force, and its holism—, it is not possible to produce an external and objectifying view on it (Araújo, 1996: p. 161).





By taking up the notion of “lived world” from Schützian sociology, Habermas seems to frequently associate it to the concept of “culture as tradition” that is characteristic of phenomenological schools. However, attentive as he is to the essentialism that is inherent to this stance, the author seeks to correct the culturalist reduction of this concept by suggesting that traditions are only one of the three components of the experienced world. In addition to culture, there are also institutions, which guarantee solidarity, and the competences of personality. These three levels of the “life-world” may not, therefore, be treated as social facts; contrarily, they are formulated in terms of

communicative interaction:

[…] I call culture the store of knowledge from which those engaged in communicative action draw interpretations susceptible of consensus as they come to an understanding about something in the world. I call society the legitimate orders from which those engaged in communicative action gather solidarity, based on belonging to groups, as they enter into interpersonal relationships with one another. Personality serves as a term of art for acquired competences that render a subject capable of speech and action and hence able to For Habermas, the history of societies is oriented towards the growing demand for linguistically organized legitimization. Archaic societies interpreted themselves through myth and established their normative validity by themselves. Traditional societies interpreted themselves by means of theological narrative, and their normative validity depends on laws guaranteed by the sacred power of a political chief. In modern

societies, argumentation replaces doxa: “Culture has the task of justifying why the existing political order deserves to be recognized.” (See:

Habermas, 1984).

Habermas distinguishes two opposed spheres in permanent tension in complex societies: that of the life-world and that of the system. The more complex social systems are, the more peripheral life-worlds become. However, every increase in complexification on the first level will only gain force if followed by an equivalent process on the second level (Araújo, 1996: p. 165).

Schütz takes up the term from the work of Husserl. In 1940 he declared that phenomenology is “the philosophy of the life-world.” According to Helmut R. Wagner’s reading of his work, Schütz dedicated a considerable part of his interpretive effort to the exploration of the structures of cognition and experience of the life-world. His objective was to reinterpret the world of work not from the perspective of institutional arrangements or the economic system, but from the perspective of human intention, cognition, and subjective effort towards cooperation (Wagner, 1983: pp. 289-290).

P. Montero

participate in processes of understanding in a given context and to maintain his own identity in the shifting contexts of interaction (Habermas, 1984: p. 344).

The notions of store, legitimacy, and competence associate these three levels on a procedural and non-structural level. It is in the very dynamics of communicative interactions that what may be accepted as knowledge, what is recognized as legitimate, and those who may speak gain visibility and are materialized as “facts.” If, as was proposed by Weber, the historical process of rationalization of the world has produced the disjunction of spheres10, for Habermas, language plays the same role as myth used to in the production of consensus today. Thus, contrary to what Weber intended with his notion of empathy, understanding action from the perspective proposed by Habermas would be related to the investigator’s capacity of describing actions in linguistic terms, that is, the way in which common language codes the perception of the world and its rules.

Although his model of the social evolution of modern societies supposes a progressive distance between mythical narratives and the level of the sphere of validity, in his 2006 article, Habermas recognizes that religion still provides an important cognitive basis for the world of daily life. Thus, as part of the experienced world, he proposes that it should be analyzed as a component of the common language that is mobilized in contexts of interaction. It is certain that if these contexts aim at communicability, religious narratives must also necessarily produce and base themselves on shared procedures. According to Habermas, reflexivity is one of the most important characteristics of this type of interaction. Thus, all religious certainties are, as any other, more and more exposed to the need to “view the own faith from the outside,” that is, to be capable of objectifying it and relating it to other points of view.

It is here that the concept of life-world meets the concept of publicity in Habermas. The category of publicity, which is central to Habermasian work, has allowed the author to articulate the Weberian notion of rationalization with the political notion of legitimization. In the context of his 1962 work, the constitution of the public sphere was historically associated both with the contraposition to absolutism and the traditional authority, and to the restriction of the upward mobility of subordinated classes. However, abandoning the idea of institutions of publicity, such as saloons, museums, newspapers, and churches for the idea of flow does away with the basis for an empirical investigation oriented towards the understanding of why only some meanings make sense. From the point of view of anthropological investigation, it is not enough to state that religious discourses are still capable of producing meaning: It is necessary to explain why some religious categories are more successful than others in establishing these meanings, why some religious institutions are more capable than others of producing veritable propositions in this respect. If a wide and varied set of meanings is available in a given moment, not all of them remain because not all of them are perceived as legitimate. Actually, the processes of legitimization that occur on the level of linguistic mediations depend, as has been previously mentioned, on publicity to establish consensus regarding the meanings of things and intentions, even if temporarily. The concept of public sphere would thus have a more profitable use if taken as the locus where cultural controversies and negotiations between various publics occur (Geoff, 1996: p. 306).

Because the principle of publicity is considered a condition for democracy, the public sphere is constituted as an abstract and virtual space of public criticism for Habermas. It is in this sense that religions are also part of the process. Habermas recognizes that religions may present their arguments in public debate and gain legitimate adherence to their propositions. For Habermas, it is not a problem if common people express their convictions in religious language or arguments. From the perspective of the political system, what matters for Habermas are the affirmations and issues that can motivate decisions cognitively and gain visibility in the impersonal flow of public communication (Habermas, 2006: pp. 6-13).

Thus, the author acknowledges that religion provides daily life with a cognitive basis, and that many individual decisions are made based on it. In his 2006 article, Habermas makes his previous positions more flexible and accepts that, for functional reasons, the polyphony of public voices may not be reduced. For him, the conflict between doctrines and cultures that dispute the explanation of man’s position in the world may not be solved on the normative or philosophical level. If epistemic attitudes express a particular way of viewing the world, it is only on the level of law that the reciprocity of expectations may be produced. This emphasis in procedures partly mitigates the dissatisfaction of his critics with what was perceived as an idealization of rational discourse in the formation of the public sphere (Eley, 1996: p. 312). Although the notion of public sphere—which supposes the legitimate production of the authority of discourse—may in fact be criticized for the supposition of homoRevisiting the Weberian idea of secularization as the separation between the spheres of economy, politics, religion, philosophy, aesthetics, and eroticism (Weber, 1946), Habermas proposes a separation between life-world and system on the first level and, within it, the disjunction between culture, society, and personality, on the one hand, and stratification, state organization, and law, on the other hand.

P. Montero

geneity and univocity that is inherent to it, the introduction of the subject of religion and the acceptance of religious language in the debate make this dispute more important than the quality of discourse regarding the validity of procedures.



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