Book: The Relational Dynamics of Enchantment and Sacralization
Chapter: 6. Recomposing Religion: Radical Agnosticism and Transformative Speech
Bruno Latour argues that modern thought drastically misunderstands the religious in at least two ways: by assuming that religions are constituted by “beliefs,” and by assuming that religious language is meant to transmit information (the content of “beliefs”). These characterizations are based on what Latour calls the “modernist settlement,” the result of which is a view of the world as strictly bifurcated between nature and culture. This chapter develops an understanding of religious practice that follows Latour’s departure from this modernist position and can instead let religions speak for themselves. It explores the implications of the rejection of “belief in belief”—the idea that so-called primitive or superstitious religious ideas are held by their adherents in ways that modern social sciences take to be unreflective or simply backward. It also examines Latour’s claim that religious speech is not primarily about transmitting informational content but instead aims at the transformation of its audience as well as its speakers. Lastly, it argues that in order to take these claims seriously it is imperative that we understand the religious in terms of its immanent, material constituents—nonhuman as well as human. This not only involves reconceiving religion on its own; it also entails resituating religious speech and practice within a more broadly democratic political sphere in which critical, secular perspectives are not strictly opposed to religious ones. Rethinking religions along these lines allows us to compose a prospective future for the philosophy of religion in which religious life may by accounted for in all its multiform reality.