D. Read's Revelation

Michael Dreyfus (TMD5991@ACFCLUSTER.NYU.EDU)
Fri, 14 Jan 1994 14:25:52 -0500

history and throughout the
world have been able to be religious without the assistance of a=
special term, without the
intellectual analysis that the term implies. In fact, I have com=
e to feel that, in some ways,
it is probably easier to be religious without the concept; that =
the notion of religion can
become an enemy to piety.

Wilfred Cantwell Smith in=20
The Meaning and End of Religion

In the modernity, the transhistorical analysis of religion as a conce=
pt, apart from the
practice of forms of religion, though the two certainly inform each o=
ther, has taken on the
assumption that what is now known as religion can now and for all tim=
e be made
reducible to practices and forms, to doctrines and rituals. As such,=
religion becomes
one of many masks that may be donned or cast off by will, or rather b=
y compulsion, in
the public/private dichotomy. With the rise of science and nationali=
sm heralding the
establishment of Europe upon the memory of Christendom, new spheres o=
f discourse
arose that made possible the relegation of faith to religion and then=
religion to the so
called private sphere.
This discourse, being a peculiarly European innovation, has the =
distinction of, through the agency of colonialism on the one hand and=
reproduction on the other, dominating not only modern analysis of th=
e role of
Christianity in western civilization, but also of the roles of the ot=
her "world religions" in
their various abodes and epochs (e.g. Islam in the "Orient").=20
An attempt must be made to briefly historicize some of the many =
mutations that
have taken place before and during the tenure of the Enlightenment di=
scourse on religion
that made possible the notion of religion in the first place. Words,=
now conceived of as
the vessels of fixed meaning, must be made accountable for this. The=
re will be a brief
account of the uses of religion in its Enlightenment context, after w=
hich there will be a
discussion of the uses of religion in some of the major figures in th=
e Enlightenment such
as Turgot, Montesquieu, Saint-Simon, Tocqueville, Sieyes, and Comte.=
Hopefully, a
discussion on the uses of religion for these thinkers will inform the=
uses of the concept
by one of the founders of modern sociology, Emile Durkheim.=20
While divisions such as corporeal/spiritual and church/state exi=
st in pre-modern
times, from Constantinople to Rome and from Bacon to Luther, it must =
not be assumed
that the notion of faith in their conception of God's truth competed =
with faith in an
ideology of the state apparatus. The separation of church and state =
in pre-modern times
becomes the separation of Christianity from the overall framework of =
society in the
Enlightenment precisely because of the changes mentioned above; there=
is in general,
in the Enlightenment authors and their descendants in sociology, anth=
ropology, and
historical studies, a refusal to recognize the essential unity of pre=
-modern society, and
as we have the tendency to examine others in the light of our own exi=
stence and on our
own terms, we fail to recognize this unity of being precisely because=
modernity lacks
such unity. =20
A problem which can arise in the study of the process of secular=
ization is the
assumption that at some magical point in the past, society was totall=
y religious and that,
with the introduction of science and the Enlightenment, civilization =
has been on the
slippery slope of decline and fall, a la Gibbon. Unlike the claims o=
f modern
fundamentalists, statistical evidence cannot be gathered to support t=
his. As Owen
Chadwick notes, "We cannot begin our quest for secularization by post=
ulating a dream
society that once upon a time was not secular. The world drank barre=
ls of sack and
fornicated though Zeal-of-the-land Busy stalked through Bartholemew F=
air crying of
enormity." =20
Secularization, as an idea and a process, also cannot be assumed=
to have been
responsible for the alleged dechristianization of the Western mind, f=
or this is too
simplistic a claim to defend and presupposes that ideas of the intell=
ectuals and other
elites are necessarily ideas accepted by people at large without ques=
tion. For instance,
many conservative critics claim that the American intelligentsia (a.k=
.a. "the cultural elite"),
as well as the governing ideology and apparatus, are hostile to the C=
hristian religion,
therefore this is the cause of rampant lawlessness in American societ=
y. If one were to
follow this line of thinking, a problem arises when statistics are pu=
blished every few years
in the mass media as a result of a Gallup poll that asks Americans th=
e rather innocuous
question "Do you believe in God?" and that well over ninety percent o=
f those polled will
respond, and have historically responded, with an innocuous "Yes". H=
owever, it would
probably not be a great shock to find similar percentages of the "fai=
thful" in prison cell
blocks and on Death Row. So what does this line of reasoning really =
tell us? =20
Rather than trying to find the percentage of people who believe =
in a doctrine or
a positive statement to measure the effect of a theoretical idea on t=
he masses, more
importance should be placed on the ways in which that idea has inform=
communicated with, and mutated an original, and for our purposes, re=
ligious concept.=20
People rarely stop believing in a concept like God merely because the=
y have been
presented with a doctrine that opposes it or evidence that attempts t=
o prove a sacred
event did not actually happen. The point should be not to find out =
whether people think
God exists or not and then compare the results to similar polls condu=
cted over the years,
but rather to learn how people think about God, about religion, and w=
hat part religion
plays in all aspects of their lives. Therefore, we should be able to=
look at several issues,
including the dynamics of the ever enlarging public sphere and the ev=
er shrinking private
sphere to see how the concepts of religion and secularity have change=
d over time.


Perhaps the most fundamental development in the discourse on rel=
igion in the
West, and in most other discourses as well, is the notion that all th=
at exists can be
transformed and reduced to studied things. This complicated developm=
ent was the
result of a host of intellectual innovations produced in the Renaissa=
nce and carried over
and modified in the Enlightenment, most importantly for our purpose h=
ere was the
ascendancy of the modern notion of scientific objectivity and the sch=
ematization of all
the aspects of existence into a positive and verifiable matrix. In t=
he West, there was a
move away from the nihilism and asceticism of reformed Christianity t=
oward doctrines of
Man, Science, and most importantly, Progress. Progress presupposes a=
n end, or at
least movement to an end, Science becomes the means, and Man becomes =
the ultimate
subject-hero of the story. The only problem being that, beyond the =
utopian notions of
earthly paradise in the nineteenth century, there was no consciously =
denouement to the great epic; Progress, thus comes to be its own end,=
for its own sake.
The modern definition of religion, as a hermetically sealed cate=
gory of doctrines
and practices within a larger context, is in opposition to the pre-m=
odern view of religion
as the context, an all-encompassing attitude, inner conviction, or wa=
y of life. In pre-
modern times the word "religion", in its modern sense, is virtually i=
mpossible primarily
because, in a world that makes religion possible, there exist multipl=
e spheres of reality,
e.g. public and private, Church and State, etc. "Religion", as a sph=
ere, presupposes
other spheres of existence over and against that which it is defined.=
In modernity, to
define or state something in its positivity implies that which is not=
it, or not of the same
essence. Because this is a particularity of a post-Enlightenment wor=
ld, the uncritical
usage of the concept with its the implied meaning will render an inac=
curate depiction of
life in non-contemporary societies. As the changes that occurred in =
the meanings of
religion are many, what follows is a brief outline of some of the gen=
eral changes in
emphasis. =20
In ancient Roman times, the concept of religion, or religio, ha=
d both an objective
and subjective meaning. The objective side, which is similar, but no=
t exactly the same
as the Enlightenment view, is typified by Lucretius who speaks of rel=
igion in the sense
of the external and noticeable aspects, i.e. rituals and prayers. Th=
e subjective side ,
typified by Cicero, religion is thought of as the inner attitude in h=
umanity towards the
gods, that which is common and generic to all peoples. In general us=
age however, the
word can be understood as having both conceptions overlaid in a singl=
e instance.
Initially, the early Christians adopted the first view, in its =
plural sense, primarily
because they still existed in a time where their faith and world view=
were competing
against other groups and there was a need to differentiate between a =
Christian and a
pagan. It is this conceptualization that will be picked up later wit=
h the Enlightenment, but
with some major historical modifications. In the latter days of the =
Roman Empire, there
arose an important new distinction which departed from the standard s=
ubjective usage:=20
what was that aspect of life which was common to all humanity now cam=
e to have, as
a qualifying agent, the notion of truth and falseness. "The new noti=
on of boundaries is
beginning to take shape: a religio of one set of people, clearly and =
radically distinct from
the religiones of outsiders." Important to note is that by religio, =
the usage of this era
implies not so much that Christianity is a distinct religion among re=
ligions, but that the
Christian way is the true form of the one religion of humanity. In f=
act, the term
'Christianity', as a system, is not even in use yet. In short, relig=
ion, for the early Fathers
had meant many different things such as piety, rituals, faith, obedie=
nce, attitude, etc., and
it was objective in the sense that the Christian variations of these =
aspects was
differentiated against their pagan counterparts, but retained the sub=
jectivity of the pre-
Christian era view that religion, as an attitude or world view that r=
egarded all life as
emanating from the gods, was universal. After the establishment of C=
hristian religion the
discourse on the subject is virtually dropped for nearly a thousand y=
Not until the Renaissance is the topic of religion, as an object=
of concern, given
serious attention again. At this point it is the term 'Christian', a=
s an adjective, which is
the focus of inquiry. While religion, in its most universally subjec=
tive and Platonic ideal
sense is still the accepted notion, there arises a sense of varying =
shades of genuineness
of religious conviction and subsequently the ability to evaluate and =
rank the various
shadings. But, at this point still, the usage of 'Christian' was use=
d primarily in reference
to things pertaining to Christ, not to Christians or to the instituti=
ons of Christianity. Even
during the Reformation, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, et al. use the notio=
n of 'Christian religio'=20
not to designate a particular set of beliefs, but, to indicate a sens=
e of inner piety.
The validity of this is borne out by such facts as that when [Zw=
ingli] was first
translated into English, Christiana religio was rendered not as =
'the Christian religion',
an as yet unfamiliar concept,...but [as] 'Christian religion', w=
hich is very different. So
strong have modern prejudices become that one is at first perhap=
s prone to treat the
absence of the article as simply quaint, a curious sixteenth-cen=
tury syntax; rather
than recognizing that those involved were talking about somethin=
g different.
With the complex intellectual changes that took place in the Enl=
ightenment and
after, there is a definite break in the meaning of the term religion =
=66rom its classical and
Renaissance usage. Instead of viewing society as an essentially harm=
onious whole,
subjected to God's natural order with man functioning as a tool or pa=
rticipant, there
evolves the view of society as an amalgamation of parts or spheres. =
This conception is
made possible by the trend towards the universalization of objectivit=
y and the
schematization of the observable externals of everyday life. The mos=
t dramatic=20
separation or fracturing of existence was the emergence of the public=
/private dichotomy
and its subsequent effect on the debate over religion.
One major innovation of the Enlightenment was to divide itself f=
rom the rest of
history. According to Foucault, this was not the first time this had=
been attempted, but
this tradition was radically altered with Kant's particular conceptio=
n of the present. In
previous philosophical traditions the=20
"present may be represented as belonging to a certain era of the=
world, distinct from
others through some inherent characteristics, or separated from =
the others by some
dramatic event...The present may be interrogated in an attempt t=
o decipher in it the
heralding signs of a forthcoming event...[or] the present may al=
so be analyzed as a
point of transition toward the dawning of a new world."

However, for Kant, the present Enlightenment was not so much a fruiti=
on of a teleology
nor a bold step on the road to the future, but rather a way out. Wha=
t was important was
not how the present was linked in similarity to the past and future, =
but how the present
is different from all preceding epochs: =20
"Kant indicates right away that the 'way out' that characterizes=
Enlightenment is a
process that releases us from the status of 'immaturity'. And b=
y 'immaturity,' he
means a certain state of our will that makes us accept someone =
else's authority to
lead us in areas where the use of reason is called for."

So maturity, for Kant, is worked out to be the ability to use the art=
of reason in an
unhindered fashion, in public, without influence or constraint from a=
nother. This aspect
of free public intercourse is, however, also juxtaposed against a spa=
ce of strict
obedience to the laws and the temporal authorities. The question sho=
uld be then, what=20
constitutes the limit of publicly reasoned social criticism and how d=
oes this, in turn,
impinge upon religion and the state apparatus. "The rationality of c=
riticism, according
to Kant, consists in the fact that the statuses and passions of those=
involved have
nothing to do with judging the truth of an argument. The validity of=
any judgement
requires that one abstract oneself from all empirical interests." R=
ational criticism, in
turn, cannot have any relation with religion, because religio has fin=
ally been reduced by
Kant to its most minimalist definition yet: belief. And since belief=
has nothing to do with
objectively obtained knowledge, it in turn cannot be a rational basis=
for public discourse.=20
"It could not, for this reason, provide an institutional basis for a =
common morality--still
less a public language of rational criticism. More aggressively, Hob=
bes contended that
institutionalized religion--but not the prince--was a vested interest=
, and that consequently
it had to be subordinated to the monarch."
Religion is now thought of as beliefs and doctrines based not on=
procedures but on opinion. The schematic of society is now thought o=
f as consisting of
a public sphere of debate based solely on the knowledge obtained thro=
ugh these
scientific procedures, while opinion is now contained wholly the priv=
ate sphere. Since
religion is now minimalized to doctrines and practices of varying sor=
ts, and since they
are symbols of personal beliefs and opinions that cannot be proven tr=
ue or false using
scientific methods, the sense of universal subjectivity is reduced to=
private subjectivity
in a world where the power of the state is expanding by leaps and bou=
nds. From the
classical notions of piety, faith, and inner convictions we have posi=
tive rituals and
doctrines; instead of religio and Christian religio we have 'the' rel=
igions of the world and
'the' or 'a' Christian religion. What are now less important and pri=
vate are people's moral
aptitudes and the inner convictions and sense of holiness from which =
they are derived;=20
what are more important and public is observable practices and object=
ive methodologies
which lead to new moral aptitudes based on the discoveries made by sc=
ience. Because
they are observable in the external world and to the extent that the =
methodologies tend
to assimilate the whole world to themselves, these new scientific pri=
nciples become
universalized and take the form of 'natural religion', especially in =
the Deist movement.
The role that Christians played in their own marginalization can=
not be avoided.=20
First, and perhaps the most subtly important, is the tendency to defe=
nd one's own
philosophical or religious position using the terms of one's opponent=
s. =20
The intellectualizing of the concept 'religion' was part of the =
emerging claim of the
mind to understand the universe and assert its domination; but i=
t was part, also, of
a response to the strident claims of many religious groups to re=
fute each other.=20
When one is setting forth one's own faith, one speaks of somethi=
ng deep, personal,
and transcendentally oriented. If one uses the term 'religion' =
then, this is what one
spontaneously means. If, on the other hand, one is rejecting wh=
at other people set
forth...then one necessarily conceptualizes it in terms of its o=
utward manifestations,
since these are all that is available. One's own 'religion' may=
be piety and faith...An
alien 'religion' is a system of beliefs or rituals... =20

Besides this acquiescence rooted in semantics, there is also, si=
nce the
establishment of the Enlightenment, liberalism, and in the aftershock=
s of the French
Revolution, an acquiescence that is rooted in the desire to be 'norma=
l'. That is, because
of the changes that were taking place in society, and because people =
have the desire
for stability, there was a tendency, on the part of Christians, to as=
similate their Christian
views to what they perceived to be the new order. Alexis de Tocquevi=
lle, describing the
mentality of France's post-Revolution Christians, makes this point:=
Those who retained their belief in the doctrines of the Church b=
ecame afraid of being
alone in their allegiance and, dreading isolation more than the =
stigma of heresy,
professed to share the sentiments of the majority. So what was =
in reality the opinion
of only a part (though a large one) of the nation came to be reg=
arded as the will of
all and for this reason seemed irresistible even to those who ha=
d given it this false
appearance. =20
This desire to mold Christian religion in the image of the exist=
ing social realities
could, at first glance, be seen as something historically rooted in n=
ot only France's, but
Europe's history as well. According to the modern French sociologist=
, Jacques Ellul,=20
The...error is that of proclaiming that today things are differ=
ent, or indeed that there
was another side to the Christian history...Christians [need not=
] accept all the attacks
on the church's past and then make the rejoinder: 'Yes, but see =
how things have
changed today.' Yesterday the church was against the poor, today=
it favors socialism,
communism, and immigrant workers. Yesterday it sponsored monarc=
hy, today it is
for democracy. Yesterday it supported patronage, today it favor=
s the unions.=20
Yesterday it claimed to have absolute truth and was dogmatic, to=
day it lets people
believe what they like. Yesterday it championed a fierce and rig=
id sexual morality,
today it is for abortion, homosexuality, etc....The church has s=
imply adopted
wholesale the ideas and manners of modern society as it did thos=
e of past

Besides slightly overgeneralizing, this view ignores the role religio=
n played in society
"yesterday" and today. Yesterday, the Church may have supported patr=
onage and
feudalism, but these institutions arose within the universality of Ca=
tholic Christian faith
and church. Today, the Church may support labor unions and democracy=
, but these
institutions have grown up largely in a universally liberal society w=
ith very different moral
assumptions. Yesterday, these institutions, Church and political app=
arati, engaged in a
conditional relationship of support. Today, the relationship between=
the Church and
other social institutions is at best tenuous and at worst completely =


During that phase of European intellectual innovation known as the En=
lightenment, religio
undergoes a radical transformation from a subjective universality to =
a conceptualization,
an objective category, a particular mode of thought. The new scienti=
fic study of
religion(s) is now called theology. As a concept, religion takes on =
the form of a concrete
body of specialized knowledge of God and his revealed doctrines; and=
now as a
particular segment of society, religion, or more concretely, the "Ch=
urch", as that web of
social institutions that captures, contains, and deploys religious kn=
owledge, is thought
of as serving a mere functional role in society. As we will see in M=
ontesquieu, for
example, the Church and its religion, as the depository of moral legi=
slation, serves the
purpose of guaranteeing the stability of the political order, which i=
s now seen as
emanating from outside religion.
If it be recalled, this relationship is the inverse conception =
of that of the Byzantine
Empire and the Catholic kingdoms of antiquity. For them, the adminis=
trative apparatus
served God's purposes, as in the Byzantine imperial conception of the=
Emperor who,
having sworn an oath to facilitate the spread of the Gospel to the wo=
rld, appeared as
God's chosen temporal leader. This tradition begins at the birth of =
the Christian Roman
Empire with Constantine, and is chronicled by the historian Eusebius,=
who refers to the
new emperor as "God's friend" and as the tool with which God will pro=
tect the Christians
and expand their domination. This conception was later modified as t=
he concept of the
Byzantine Empire became temporally universalized along with the notio=
n of universal
Christianity. For many centuries, until the establishment of the Car=
olingian Holy Roman
Empire in Europe, there was one faith, one church, and one empire.
For the Enlightenment theorists, especially those that continue =
to profess their
Christian religion, the state is not seen as an instrument of God or =
as serving God's will,
but, quite the opposite, his religion(s) serve the state. Religion i=
s some thing that insures
the survival of the political apparatus, whether it is Montesquieu's =
"spirit of the laws" or
the later Rousseau's "general will". It should also not be forgotten=
that the Church and
its Christians themselves participated in this transformative process=
by, for the most part,
willingly adopting this new paradigm in their own discourse for, and =
against, the
Enlightenment. Even the sort of Christian critique of the Enlightenm=
ent, typified by
Joseph de Maistre and the earlier Rousseau of the Discourses, adopt t=
he innovative
conceptual baggage that now necessarily encumbers the discussion of r=
To understand the Enlightenment views of religion and to underst=
and the tradition
that will offer up Durkheim, one must have some knowledge of what mad=
e this possible
in the first place. The Encyclopedists represent one of the earlier =
scientific attempts to
organize human knowledge into a coherent body with an assertion of pr=
inciples and
doctrines. In his introduction to Diderot's 1751 work, Jean Le Rond =
D'Alembert has this
to say about the objective of the Encyclopedia:
The work whose first volume we are presenting today has two aims=
. As an
Encyclopedia, it is to set forth as well as possible the order a=
nd connection of the
parts of human knowledge. As a Reasoned Dictionary of the Scien=
ces, Arts, and
Trades, it is to contain the general principles that form the ba=
sis of each science and
each art...

This statement presupposes that knowledge in general is external to h=
understanding at that some natural order of things exists and is self=
-evident. On this
natural order, D'Alembert goes on to assert that
The fact of our existence is the first thing taught us by our se=
nsations and, indeed,
is inseparable from them. From this it follows that our first re=
flective ideas must be
concerned with ourselves...The second thing taught us by our sen=
sations is the
existence of external objects, among which we must include our o=
wn bodies...These
innumerable external objects produce a powerful and continued ef=
fect upon us which
binds us to them so forcefully that, after an instant when our r=
eflective ideas turn our
consciousness inward, we are forced outside again by the sensati=
ons that besiege
us on all sides...The multiplicity of these sensations, the cons=
istency that we note in
their evidence, the degrees of difference we observe in them and=
the involuntary
reactions that they cause us to experience...all of these things=
produce an irresistible
impulse in us to affirm that the objects we relate to these sens=
ations, and which
appear to us to be their cause, actually exist.

This, however, does not explain how we know the essences of external =
objects and their
relations to us and to each other in the first place. Where religion=
fits into this schematic
is quite logical and scientific, but not universal. There is a syste=
m to human knowledge
and the keys to unlocking the mysteries of man, nature, God, etc. are=
to be found within
the various "sciences":
The science of God, called Theology, has two branches: Natural T=
heology has only
such knowledge of God as reason unaided produces...Revealed Theo=
logy draws a
much more perfect knowledge of that Supreme Being from sacred hi=
story...It seems
to us that science, considered as belonging to reason ought not =
to be divided into
Theology and Philosophy as it has been by him [Bacon]. For Reve=
aled Theology is
simply reason applied to revealed facts.

But whoever, before this time, assumed that what was revealed was a "=
Theology, by the author's own words being a science, presupposes an i=
systematization that did not exist before. The point here is not to =
debate the various
intellectual and philosophical nuances and problematics of this syste=
matic methodology
but, to stress that there is a difference in the mode of conceptualiz=
ation of the universe.=20
One contemplates the world in light of the various philosophical trut=
hs handed down by
God, seeing one's self as a participant within this order, the other =
contemplates the world
in light of various philosophical truths "discovered" through the aid=
of human reason,
seeing one's self as an observer from without the natural order.
In Turgot, there is a similar conception of man's relationship t=
o external objects
and the relations of these objects to man and to themselves, but he g=
oes on to
describe a notion of universal history:
Possessor of the treasure-house of signs, which he has had the a=
bility to multiply
almost to infinity, he can assure himself of the possession of a=
ll his acquired ideas,
communicate them to other men, and transmit them to his successo=
rs as a heritage
which is always being augmented. A continual combination of thi=
s progress with the
passions, and with the events they have caused, constitutes the =
history of the human
race. Thus Universal History encompasses a consideration of the=
advances of the human race, and the elaboration of the causes wh=
ich have
contributed to it...To unveil the influence of general and neces=
sary causes, that of
particular causes and the free actions of great men, and the rel=
ation of all this to the
very constitution of man; to reveal the springs and mechanisms o=
f moral causes
through their effects - that is what History is in the eyes of a=

For Turgot, as for D'Alembert, there are essentially two spheres of r=
eality: man's own
existence and a separate world of wild, untamed, mysterious and possi=
bly hostile
externalities containing essences and relationships (and presumably p=
eoples) which must
be conquered, catalogued, and managed. The emphasis on the universal=
ity of not only
History but the methodology as well, presents problems similar to tho=
se mentioned of
D'Alembert. It is one thing that the mode of analysis wrought by the=
Enlightenment is
an innovation, but that this innovation subsequently replicates itsel=
f throughout history
by the transhistorical use of historical concepts, is quite another. =
The body of human
knowledge and understanding having been constructed, with religion no=
w occupying its
logical place within this framework, it is necessary to look at some =
of the uses of religion
in the writings of political theorists to see how the previously sket=
ched philosophical
framework is applied. =20
Emmanuel Siey=8As, writing on the plight of the third estate in =
France, speaks not
so much of religion as a concept, but as a societal phenomenon instit=
politically as simply "the Church." For Siey=8As, there are four "pu=
blic services" which have
a stranglehold on society and conspire to thwart the efforts of the l=
ower caste: army, law,
bureaucracy, and Church. Since the Church and its religion comprise =
not only a
segment of the general framework but are also seen as vested interest=
s, they are targets
for criticism:
Some occasionally express surprise at hearing complaints about a=
'aristocracy composed of the army, the Church, and the law.' The=
y insist that this is
only a figure of speech; yet the phrase must be understood stric=
tly. If the States-
General is the interpreter of the general will, and correspondin=
gly has the right to
make laws, it is this capacity, without doubt, that makes it a t=
rue aristocracy: whereas
we know it at present is simply a clerico-nobil=A1-judicial asse=
mbly. Add to this
appalling truth the fact that, in one way or another, all depart=
ments of the executive
have fallen into the hands of the cast that provides the Church,=
the law and the
army...The usurpation is total; in every sense of the word, they=

This view is indicative of the changing conception of religion and al=
so the extent to which
the Church and its followers see themselves and participate in this w=
ay, and thus
participate in their own marginalization.
In the Baron De Montesquieu, though an avowed Christian, there a=
re several
interesting ways in which his use of religion parallels that of his p=
olitical contemporaries.=20
In his chapter titled "Of Laws in Relation to Religion Considered in =
Itself, and in Its
Doctrines," religion, for the most part is considered as functional e=
ntity which is separate
=66rom the political order and can either guarantee or undermine its =
stability. His sense of
a non-unitary dual relationship between the secular and religious rea=
lms is evident early
I shall examine, therefore, the several religions of the world, =
in relation only to the
good they produce in civil society...As in this work I am not a =
divine but a political
writer, I may here advance things which are not otherwise true, =
than as they
correspond with a worldly manner of thinking, not as considered =
in their relation to
truths of a more sublime nature.

It is hard to imagine a Christian theorist of an earlier age being ab=
le to so successfully
rationalize the ability to state ideas that can somehow be true for p=
olitics but that are not
also true to the principles of a "more sublime nature." More subtly,=
it can be noticed how
his use of "worldly manner" can be equated more with the notion of se=
cularism in the
modern sense, than in the classical way which saw the world certainly=
as "worldly" but,
also still under the yoke of religio.=20
There is in Montesquieu the notion not only of the ability to ha=
ve or not have
religion, but also of a plurality of religions, e.g. "Mahommedan reli=
gion," while
Christianity itself is divided into Protestant and Catholic religions=
(Protestant religion
being further subdivided into Calvinist religion and Lutheran religio=
n). He goes on to
explain how each of the Christian religions became suitable to the va=
rious peoples of
Europe according to their political arrangements: the northern Europe=
ans, because of
their "spirit of liberty and independence" chose the Protestant relig=
ion while the
southerners, with no such mentality preferred the Catholic.
The assumption that the world is divided into two realms, religi=
ous and secular,
is never more prevalent in Montesquieu than in his short discourse on=
the relationship
of religious laws to moral (non-religious) laws and of religion to ci=
vil authority in general:
Of the Connection between the moral Laws and those of Religion--=
In a country so
unfortunate as to have a religion that God as not revealed, it i=
s necessary for it to be
agreeable to morality; because even a false religion is the best=
security we can have
of the probity of men...As both religion and the civil laws ough=
t to have a peculiar
tendency to render men good citizens, it is evident that when on=
e of these deviates
from this end, the tendency of the other ought to be strengthene=
d. The less severity
there is in religion, the more there ought to be in the civil la=

In the utopian traditions of nineteenth century thinkers such as=
Fourier and Saint-
Simon and in the positivism of Auguste Comte there is a tendency eith=
er to deny the
importance of religion if it is being associated exclusively with a p=
articular creed
(Christian, Islamic, Jewish, etc.), or to consider it as an all-encom=
passing idea composed
of a central principle or doctrine which in turn organizes and harmon=
izes all the aspects
of life.
History, in Saint-Simon's view, is composed of struggle and prog=
ress; it is divided
into various epochs, which he refers to as organic and critical perio=
ds. They are organic
in their universality, in that each period is marked by an organizing=
principle that governs
all life, e.g. Christianity in the Middle Ages, and becomes critical =
when the founding
principle begins to fail in its ability to harmonize society. Saint-=
Simon speaks of religion
not as a thing, or an aspect of a larger society, but as the social r=
eality itself as well as
the beliefs that make it possible; not only the organization of the C=
hurch, for example,
but the overriding principles of Catholicism constitute completely th=
e epoch preceding
the modern one. =20
We have explained how the terms organic epochs and critical epoc=
hs must be
interpreted and have said that paganism up to the time of Socrat=
es and Christianity
up to the age of Luther constituted two organic states...The fun=
damental basis of the
societies of antiquity was slavery. For these people, war was t=
he only way of
furnishing themselves with slaves and, consequently, with the ma=
terial needs of
life...The dominant thought of these people and their everyday a=
im was war. All of
their passions and feelings responded to the war cry, and their =
strongest emotions
sprang out of love for the fatherland and hatred for the foreign=
er...A common passion
animated all hearts, a common idea directed them, a common thoug=
ht impelled them
to devotion...Later Christianity, its way paved by the Socratic =
school, destroyed
slavery, and at the price of untold heartbreak the precepts of t=
he Gospel, applied to
politics under the name of Catholicism, gave society a new organ=
ization in harmony
with its need.

Saint-Simon is not critical of religion at all, in fact he embraces i=
t as an all-encompassing
universality, much like his predecessors in antiquity, but with sever=
al important
modifications, most notably that religion, while universal in appeal,=
is ultimately contained
within a given time period, thus we move from one religion to another=
as we move
through history. =20
Yes, gentlemen, we have come here to expose ourselves to this [V=
oltairian] sarcasm
and scorn...we come to proclaim that mankind has a religious fut=
ure; that the religion
of the future will be greater and more powerful than all those i=
n the past: that it will,
like those which preceded it, be the synthesis of all conception=
s of mankind and,
moreover, of all modes of being. Not only will it dominate the =
political order, but the
political order will be totally a religious institution...Let us=
add finally that this religion
will embrace the entire world because the law of God is universa=

The Saint-Simonian notion of doctrine or principle as the foundation =
for organizing
society can be seen as an innovation upon the classical notion of uni=
versality of religio,
primarily because this involves presuppositions (organization, societ=
y, synthesis of parts,
etc.) that were non-existent, at least in modern form, in antiquity.
For Auguste Comte religion is, on one hand, a doctrine, a moral =
power on whose
behalf society is organized to insure its continued influence and exi=
stence; on the other
hand, religion is also the system that situates the principle in the =
first place.
During the gradual accomplishment of this great philosophical wo=
rk, a new moral
power will arise spontaneously through the West, which...will la=
y down a definite
basis for the reorganization of society. It will offer a genera=
l system of education for
the adoption of all civilized nations, and by this means will su=
pply in every
department of public and private life fixed principles of judgme=
nt and of
conduct...The primary object, then, of positivism is twofold: to=
generalize our
scientific conceptions, and to systematize the art of social lif=
e...The object of all true
philosophy is to frame a system that will comprehend human life =
under every aspect,
social as well as individual...This conception is already adopte=
d by all true thinkers.=20
All must now acknowledge that the positive spirit tends necessar=
ily towards the
formation of a comprehensive and durable system in which every p=
ractical as well
as speculative subject shall be included.

While it may be easy to notice the element of universality in Comte a=
nd Saint-Simon and
be convinced of a return to the antiquated conception, there is an im=
portant distinction
between the two universal views. For Positive religio the doctrine i=
s central and political,
while in Christian religio doctrine is neither central nor political =
in and of itself. Faith
within a subjective world view is not a rule, but an attitude from wh=
ich the rules (politics
and doctrines) will flow and derive their legitimacy; in positivism, =
the politics and the
doctrine derive their legitimacy from their own existence.
Comte, then, sees religion as doctrine that stands outside of pr=
actical human
action (like Montesquieu, certain types of religions fit certain type=
s of social realities);
when practical life no longer is able to be organized by and for the =
principle (and it's
clergy) a new principle must arise which will reorganize the practica=
l aspects of life to a
higher degree. Principle is religion and, for Comte, religion is Pos=
Up through Auguste Comte the concept of religion has undergone numero=
us and varied
mutations. From the subjective world view of Christian antiquity, re=
ligion has, during and
after encountering the Enlightenment, become conceptualized as both p=
lural ('the'
religions or 'a' religion) and as an objective category of specialize=
d knowledge within a
larger framework. Also, as society is thought of in terms of systems=
and functions,
religion itself is system of positive rites and doctrines.
With the changes and innovations that made positivism possible, =
it could be
suggested, albeit superficially, that the doctrine, or "positive spir=
it" according to Comte,
comes very close to the notion of religio in its classical and univer=
sal sense. It is
suggested similarly, by modern Christian critics, that secularism, ra=
tionality, and science
have assumed the role of Christianity as state religion. Both views =
are inaccurate
because the difference between positive religion or secular humanisti=
c liberalism and
classical Christian religion is that for the former, doctrine (e.g. "=
order and progress") is
the principle which organizes and imprints itself upon society and up=
on all of its
members. The doctrine is both the ideal and the action, or at least =
suggests the action
to be undertaken; the doctrine is at once its own means and end. Fur=
thermore, in that
space that exists between the conceptualization and the realization o=
f doctrine, that is,
the space where actions are carried out, there exists a network of po=
wer relationships
peculiar to this conceptualization which did not exist in antiquity.
This is not to say that there were no overriding principles in t=
he Byzantine Empire,
for instance. The notion that Christ died on the cross for the sins =
of the many is perhaps
the paramount "doctrine" of Christian religion and therefore, the Byz=
antine Empire, but
this doctrine implies other doctrines, not actions. The doctrine is =
not an organizing
principle used continuously to achieve its own realization, as is the=
case for positivism.=20
For modern religion, emphasis is on doing and becoming, for Christian=
religion there was
only being, without means or end. The Byzantine imperial apparatus w=
as a tool, in
Constantine's eyes, for the mission of spreading the Gospel. Tool an=
d principle were
separate entities; furthermore, tools were not used to achieve realiz=
ation of a doctrine
which was already achieved. The purpose of the tool was to make wide=
ly known what
was already self-evident and complete. There was no end, in the prog=
ressivist sense,
to be realized. For positive religion, tool and doctrine are one and=
the same, so there
is a certain circularity in the definition of each.
Emile Durkheim, whose conceptualizations about modern society dr=
aw heavily on
Comte and Saint-Simon, gives a very modern and sophisticated analysis=
to the
"elementary" forms of religious life. The Enlightenment authors ment=
ioned before offered
up a notion of religion as a system composed of rites and beliefs whi=
ch is in some way
separate or distinct from the secular morality of the general public =
(positivism being the
exception which universalized the secular as the religious). Since t=
hese systems are
based on personal beliefs and/or particular group beliefs and practic=
es and that their
truthfulness cannot be proven in a positive or scientific way, they a=
re assumed to reside
in the private sphere of existence.
As a system of beliefs and rites, the quest for religious phenom=
ena, for Durkheim,
must make use of semiotics.
It is not that we dream of arriving at once at the profound char=
acteristics which really
explain religion...But that which is necessary and possible, is =
to indicate a certain
number of external and easily recognizable signs, which will ena=
ble us to recognize
religious phenomena wherever they are met with, and which will d=
eter us from
confounding them with others.

Before this search may begin, Durkheim tells us, we must cast aside a=
ll preconceived
notions about what religion is and is not.
...it is necessary to begin by freeing the mind of every preconc=
eived idea...Leaving
aside all conceptions of religion in general, let us consider th=
e various religions in
their concrete reality, and attempt to disengage that which they=
have in common; for
religion cannot be defined except by the characteristics which =
are found wherever
religion itself is found...we shall make use of the religious sy=
stems that we can know,
those of the present and those of the past...

The problem with this view is that the divorcing of what the "religio=
us systems" have in
common from all that surrounds them presupposes that one can know wha=
t religion is
without a conception of religion. Durkheim does not explain how, sinc=
e religious
phenomena (and only religious phenomena) are signposts for religious =
systems, one can
proceed at all without a definition or some method of differentiating=
between religious
and secular phenomena (and, for that matter, why it is so important t=
o do that in the first
place). In addition, since Durkheim attempts to use his method on ot=
her cultures outside
of Europe and outside of his own time, there is the problem of applyi=
ng his very historical
methods in a transhistorical fashion.
In the definition of religion, Durkheim does very well at critic=
izing certain accepted
contemporary conceptions, such as the phenomenon known as the "supern=
however, the framework for his discourse is problematic, especially i=
n light of his
preliminary remarks on eradicating presuppositions. The most importa=
nt assumption is
the ability to classify religion as a thing composed of other smaller=
things (beliefs and
rites). Moreover, Durkheim attempts to, having delineated what relig=
ion is in a positive
sense, attempt to differentiate it against what it is not, e.g. magic=
Here is how a line of demarcation can be traced between these tw=
o domains [magic
and religion]. The really religious beliefs are always common to=
a determined
group...They are not merely received individually by all the mem=
bers of this
group...The individuals which compose it feel themselves united =
to each other by the
simple fact that they have a common faith...It is quite another =
matter with magic. To
be sure, the belief in magic is always more or less general...an=
d there are even
peoples where it has as many adherents as the real religion. But=
it does not result
in binding together those who adhere to it or uniting them into =
a group leading a
common life.

I am not sure what he means by "really religious beliefs", unless he =
is trying to avoid
confusing them with the "sort of religious" or the "not really religi=
ous." However, the main
point is to notice how the preconceived positivist notion of religion=
-as-system as well as
the Enlightenment notion of a religious/non-religious dichotomy is at=
play in Durkheim.=20


The point has not been to refute Durkheim, or any of his predecessors=
, but rather to
demonstrate that there has been, over the course of time, a process a=
t work that involves
gradually changing conceptions from antiquity into new and innovative=
ideas. This in
turn will hopefully demonstrate that a "sociology of religion", espec=
ially when analyzing
non-Western cultures like Islam, becomes problematized by making the =
historical and
particular into the transhistorical and the common.


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Jean Le Rond D'Alembert Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of =
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