This article is a contribution to the revival of `virtue ethics'. If we regard human rights as a crucial development in the establishment of global institutions of justice and equality, then we need to explore the obligations that correspond to such rights. It is argued that cosmopolitan virtue a respect for other cultures and an ironic stance towards one's own culture spells out this obligation side of the human rights movement. Cosmopolitanism of course can assume very different forms. The article (...) traces various cosmopolitan ethics from the Greeks, Roman Stoics and Christian philosophers. Contemporary cosmopolitanism needs to be ironic to function usefully in hybrid global cultures, but it is open to the charge of being culturally `flat' and elitist. These criticisms are examined through the confrontation between Maurizio Viroli and Martha Nussbaum. While American patriotism is not a promising foundation for ironic cosmopolitanism, the republican tradition of virtue does offer a viable method of developing cosmopolitanism. Ironic cosmopolitan care for other cultures is founded on the commonalities of social existence, of which there are two central components: ontological vulnerability and political precariousness. (shrink)
In traditional societies, knowledge is organized in hierarchical chains through which authority is legitimated by custom. Because the majority of the population is illiterate, sacred knowledge is conveyed orally and ritualistically, but the ultimate source of religious authority is typically invested in the Book. The hadith are a good example of traditional practice. These chains of Islamic knowledge were also characteristically local, consensual and lay, unlike in Christianity, with its emergent ecclesiastical bureaucracies, episcopal structures and ordained priests. In one sense, (...) Islam has no church. While there are important institutional differences between the world religions, network society opens up significant challenges to traditional authority, rapidly increasing the flow of religious knowledge and commodities. With global flows of knowledge on the Internet, power is no longer embodied and the person is simply a switchpoint in the information flow. The logic of networking is that control cannot be concentrated for long at any single point in the system; knowledge, which is by definition only temporary, is democratically produced at an infinite number of sites. In this Andy Warhol world, every human can, in principle, have their own site. While the Chinese Communist Party and several Middle Eastern states attempt to control this flow, their efforts are only partially successful. The result is that traditional forms of religious authority are constantly disrupted and challenged, but at the same time the Internet creates new opportunities for evangelism, religious instruction and piety. The outcome of these processes is, however, unknown and unknowable. There is a need, therefore, to invent a new theory of authority that is post-Weberian in reconstructing the conventional format of charisma, tradition and legal rationalism. (shrink)
This volume explores the sociological legacy of the late Pierre Bourdieu through an examination of the intellectual division between his reception in the world of French social sciences and his reception in the Anglophone world.
The Huntington thesis of the clash of cultures and American foreign policy analysis are both aspects of the legacy of Carl Schmitt's distinction between friend and foe. This article explores Schmitt's political theology as the theoretical basis of modern politics in terms of the concepts of state sovereignty and the idea of a permanent emergency. Within this Schmittian framework, the analysis of Islam as presented by writers such as Huntington, Fukuyama and Barber is critically analysed. Their analysis of fundamentalism and (...) political Islam fails to grasp the complexity and diversity of modern Islam. The article concludes by examining a number of social and economic processes that make the political division between friend and foe untenable. (shrink)
This article makes a contribution to the on-going debates about universalism and cultural relativism from the perspective of sociology. We argue that bioethics has a universal range because it relates to three shared human characteristics,—human vulnerability, institutional precariousness and scarcity of resources. These three components of our argument provide support for a related notion of ‘weak foundationalism’ that emphasizes the universality and interrelatedness of human experience, rather than their cultural differences. After presenting a theoretical position on vulnerability and human rights, (...) we draw on recent criticism of this approach in order to paint a more nuanced picture. We conclude that the dichotomy between universalism and cultural relativism has some conceptual merit, but it also has obvious limitations when we consider the political economy of health and its impact on social inequality. (shrink)
A global transformation of modes of religious authority has been taking place at an increasing pace in recent years. The social and political implications of the growing dominance of neo-scripturalist discourses on Islam have been particularly noticeable after 11 September 2001. This evolution of religiosity, which is mediated by mass media and new media technology, creates the conditions of existence of a post-Weberian and post-Durkheimian order. In this new social context, legitimacy can be more easily disconnected from the institutionalized framework (...) of religious and political authority. Both in Muslim countries and in Western democracies, the attempt by Islamic activists to make the Shari’a relevant in contemporary settings creates new opportunities and challenges for legal pluralism. At the same time, the multiplication of Muslim voices claiming to be able to interpret the sacred texts, particularly in virtual communities, creates an increasingly inchoate ‘noise’ about Islamic orthodoxy. In the context of an exponential increase in the global possibilities for religious identification and expression, the growth of neo-scripturalist interpretations of Islam reflects a quest for parsimony and stability. (shrink)
In recent years, sociologists have been much concerned with the nature of communication and its consequences, but little attention, even in the sociology of religion, has been given to the idea of communication between human society and other worlds. Divine communication is sociologically interesting as a communication puzzle: authentic religious communication tends to be ineffable and hence it requires considerable intellectual work by experts to translate it into the effable domain. The ineffability of religious inspiration is associated with hierarchical structures (...) in societies with high illiteracy, because the untutored laity cannot readily interpret such messages expertly. The arrival of an information society and extensive literacy presupposes some degree of democratization and in particular an emphasis on — to conjure up a word strangely missing from modern English — effability. This transition from the hierarchical/ineffable to the horizontal/ effable implies a profound change in systems of authority in society and hence a transformation of the relationships between formal and popular religion. (shrink)
Jean-Francois Lyotard is often considered to be the father of postmodernism. Here leading experts in the field of cultural and philosophical studies, including Barry Smart, John O' Neill and Victor J. Seidler, tackle many of the questions still being asked about this controversial figure.
Religion was one of the most important issues for early sociology, as is amply demonstrated by the work of Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. This set draws together the formative works on this subject, including key works in social anthropology. The collection includes a volume of important early essays, and an original introduction by the editor.