Lost in Translation: On the Untranslatable and its Ethical Implications for Religious Pluralism

In recent years, there have been reports about increased religious discrimination in schools. As a way of acknowledging the importance of religion and faith communities in the public sphere and to propose a solution to the exclusion of religious citizens, the political philosopher Jürgen Habermas suggests an act of translation for which both secular and religious citizens are mutually responsible. What gets lost in Habermas's translation, this paper argues, is the condition that makes translation both necessary and (im)possible. Drawing on Walter Benjamin's notion of the mysterious untranslatable and the task of the translator, the paper approaches translation as an ethical process involving risk, asymmetry and uncertainty. Not knowing where this risk will lead, the paper takes the ethical ambivalence at play in Jacques Derrida's notion of the untranslatable and explores this in relation to religious difference in education. It argues that the untranslatable needs to be acknowledged in terms of a respect for difference and a limit to narration, if students with religious convictions are not to be further violated in schools.
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9752.2009.00662.x
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Stephen Dobson (2012). The Pedagogue as Translator in the Classroom. Journal of Philosophy of Education 46 (2):271-286.

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