From "Turkish Daily News”, June 10, 2008
Secularism, Islam and democracy became the main topics of a series of panels at Bilgi University last week drawing top names from the world's political science and philosophy departments.
The meeting was co-hosted by Rome-based think tank, Reset's "Dialogues on Civilizations" which takes place annually in an effort to promote a network of cultural, intellectual and academic relationships for mutual understanding and interaction among democratic intellectuals and opinion makers belonging to different geo-political and cultural areas of the “East” and the “West.”
The list of distinguished guests and panelists included world-renowned philosopher and author, Jürgen Habermas, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Yale University, Andrew March, scholar and professor at Boston College known for his work on Islam and Democracy, David Rasmussen, Islamic thinker and author, Abdlmajid Charfi, Agos editor-in-chief, Etyen Mahçupyan, and Murat Belge among many others.
Below is an excerpt of the speech given by Habermas, a German philosopher and sociologist in the tradition of critical theory and American pragmatism. His work has focused on the foundations of social theory and epistemology, the analysis of advanced capitalistic societies and democracy, the rule of law in a critical social-evolutionary context, and contemporary politics. The paper he presented was first prepared for the annual Nexus lecture at the University of Tilburg, The Netherlands, March 15, 2007, titled: “What do we mean by ‘post-secular' society?”
"Whether or not we consider the application of the predicate “post-secular” appropriate for a description of West European societies, one can be convinced, for philosophical reasons, that religious communities owe their persisting influence to an obstinate survival of pre-Modern modes of thought – a fact, that begs an empirical explanation. From the viewpoint of secularism, the substance of faith is scientifically discredited either way. On this side the status of religious traditions as not being worth of any serious concern provokes a polemical attitude against religious persons and organizations who still lay claim to a significant public role.
In the use of terms I distinguish between “secular” and “secularist”. Unlike the indifferent stance of a secular or unbelieving person, who relates agnostically to religious validity claims, secularists tend to adopt a polemical stance toward religious doctrines that maintain a public influence despite the fact that their claims cannot be scientifically justified. Today, secularism is often based on “hard” naturalism, i.e., one based on scientistic assumptions. Unlike the case of cultural relativism, this time I need not comment on the philosophical background. For what interests me in the present context is the question whether a secularist devaluation of religion, if it were one day to be shared by the vast majority of secular citizens, is at all compatible with that post-secular balance between shared citizenship and cultural difference I have outlined. Or would the secularistic mindset of a relevant portion of the citizenry be just as appetizing for the normative self-understanding of a post-secular society as the fundamentalism of a mass of religious citizens in fact is? This question touches on deeper roots of the present unease than the “multiculturalist drama”. Which kind of problem do we face?
It is to the credit of the secularists that they, too, insist on the indispensability of including all citizens as equals in civil society. Because a democratic order cannot simply be imposed on those who are its authors, the constitutional state confronts its citizens with the demanding expectations of an ethics of citizenship that reaches beyond mere obedience to the law. Religious citizens and communities must not only superficially adjust to the constitutional order. They are expected to appropriate the secular legitimation of constitutional principles under the very premises of their own faith. It is a well-known fact that the Catholic Church first pinned its colors to the mast of liberalism and democracy with the Second Vaticanum in 1965. And in Germany, the Protestant churches did not act differently. Many Muslim communities still have this painful learning process before them. Certainly, the insight is also growing in the Islamic world that today an historical-hermeneutic approach to the Koran's doctrine is required. But the discussion on a desired Euro-Islam makes us once more aware of the fact that it is the religious communities that will themselves decide whether they can recognize in a reformed faith their “true faith”.
Without doubt, the domain of a state which controls the means of legitimate coercion may not be opened to the strife between various religious communities, as otherwise the government could become the executive arm of a religious majority that imposes its will on the opposition. In a constitutional state, all norms that can be legally pushed through must be formulated and publicly justified in a language that all the citizens understand. Yet the state's neutrality does not preclude the permissibility of religious utterances within the political public sphere as long as the institutionalized decision-making process at the parliamentary, court, governmental and administrative levels remains clearly separated from the informal flows of political communication and opinion formation among the broader public of citizens. The “separation of church and state” calls for a filter between these two spheres – a filter through which only “translated”, i.e., secular contributions may pass from the confused din of voices in the public sphere onto the formal agendas of state institutions."
from Habermas Forum