Modernity in religion: A response to Constantin Fasolt's "history and religion in the modern age"

History and Theory 45 (4):93–103 (2006)
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Abstract

Contrary to Constantin Fasolt, I argue that it is no longer useful to think of religion as an anomaly in the modern age. Here is Fasolt’s main argument: humankind suffers from a radical rift between the self and the world. The chief function of religion is to mitigate or cope with this fracture by means of dogmas and rituals that reconcile the self to the world. In the past, religion successfully fulfilled this job. But in modernity, it fails to, and it fails because religion is no longer plausible. Historical, confessional religions, then, are no longer doing what they are supposed to do; yet the need for religion is still very much with us. Fasolt’s account would be a tragic tale, if not for his claim that there is a new religion for the modern age, a religion that fulfills the true reconciling function of religion. That new religion is the reading and writing of history. Indeed, for Fasolt, reading history is religiously redemptive, and writing history is a sacred act. The historian, it turns out, is the priest in modernity. In my response, I challenge both Fasolt’s remedy and its justification . Indeed, I reject both his romantic view of past religion as the peaceful reconciler, as well as his pessimistic view of present religion as the maker of “enemies” among modern people. In the end, I argue that the way Fasolt employs his categories—“alienation,” “salvation,” “religion,” “history”—is too vague to do much useful work. They are significant categories and they deserve our attention. But in my view, the story Fasolt tells is both too grim and too cheerful

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