Habermas images (1)

I. Jürgen Habermas: Evolution of the Communicative Praxis

In the exquisite interpretation of Cassirer’s theory of symbols, Jürgen Habermas, in his text The Liberating Power of Symbols, explains in what way symbols trigger practice and action: “The world of symbolic forms extends from pictorial representation, via verbal expression, to forms of orienting knowledge, which in turn pave the way for practice.”[1] In the first half of the 1980s Habermas worked on his philosophy of communicative praxis and this approach brought a new theory of religion and a new aspect of a semiotic theory.[2] This theory concentrates to explain the evolutionary change from the symbolic actions of the significant language of rituals in pre-linguistic religious reality to the emergence of the comprehensive socio-economic and cultural sub-systems. He sees the communicative praxis as the dialectical interplay between the private and the public. The personhood or the life-world (inter and intra-personal communication) reflects its reality in the normative actions that set the value system through the validity claims, established and preserved in the social, political, cultural, and economic institutions. This evolutionary view on the humankind communicative praxis in Habermas’ work has taken into consideration two traditions: (1) the tradition of rationalization processes and reification, which he associates with the Enlightenment philosophy, modernity with the critique of metaphysics and modern arts, critical social-cultural philosophy from Marx and Weber to Lukacs; (2) and the tradition of social theory of communication that is founded on Durkheim’s theory of religion, communication theory of G.H. Mead, and semiotics of C. S. Peirce.[3]

In his study of religion, Habermas brings as necessary a combination between the semiotics, philosophy of language, and the communication theory. This new approach seems to work well for explaining the evolutionary process from the symbolically expressed actions of the religious collective consciousness in the pre-linguistic condition of humankind to the liberation and emancipation of the personhood.

The formation of the emancipated person in a social and political sense is achieved through the autonomy that is present in the governance of the person, where the set of convictions, or beliefs, even religious ideals are put in the perspective of the discourse ethics: the inter-subjective argumentation, where by which the main moral or ethical values exist in the practical reinforcement of social tolerance, solidarity, and humanity that are derived from the appropriation of the principle of universalizability. Habermas says: “For the justification of moral norms, the discourse principle takes the form of a universalization principle.” To Habermas, universalizability is the appropriation of the idea of equality and impartiality to all people to whom we perceive ourselves equal. [4] The idea of morality is in itself discursive (inter-subjective argumentation and justification of actions) in a way to re-affirms the personal view as justified by “all others,” who are equals, and in this sense others appear as the unlimited communication community.[5]

In the traditional theory of religion, the evolutionary approach usually represents the dawn of the academic study of religion. The most popular representatives were the British evolutionists E. B. Tylor and G. J. Frazer, who both focused on explaining human evolution as the journey from the “primitive” to the “scientific” mind. Both of these theories were highly criticized by modern scholars who pursued their research in the filed of the anthropology of religion. As James Thrower in his book Religion: The Classical Theories (1999) has presented, for Tylor and Frazer, religion as well as the primary forms of beliefs such as magic and animism represent a type of erroneous thinking, the “primitive” mind.[6] For example, the French thinker L. Lēvy-Bruhl argues that native peoples didn’t think about their world in an erroneous way, but they simply developed a different type of reasoning that prefers mystical participation to strictly logical reasoning.[7]

The traditional evolutionists argue that human knowledge evolves from the basic religious forms of beliefs to scientific reasoning, which, then, dismisses the old superstitious beliefs. The primary forms of beliefs are magic and animism, by which the world is explained as the interplay of the different supernatural powers that can be controlled or modified in some ways, using the magical formulas and ritualized actions in which a person becomes one with the spiritual power(s) or divine source (divination). In the next stage magic and animism become more and more obsolete, but religion appears as a new form of a belief that offers universal ideas of human origin, destiny, and the projection of the afterlife. In the stage of religion, humankind expresses its dependence on the will and grace of the god(s). The traditional evolutionists conclude that the final progression of knowledge comes with the full maturation and enlightenment through science.

In comparison to this view on evolution, Habermas concentrates on the social evolution that, in his point of view, begins with the notion of the sacred in association with the collective consciousness and then leads toward the personal autonomy by substituting the collective consciousness with new institutionalized social and political sub-structures, in which the humanization process is important because it preserves the idea of the human regard to ethics and morality as a universal solidarity in normative actions and validity claims. Accordingly, Habermas considers moral regard and the idea of solidarity as residues of the initial sacred power constituted in the collective consciousness. This unifying aspect of the sacred should be rescued as the semantic source of the religious consciousness, so that the experience of the transcendence could become open, and accessible by human communicative abilities. Habermas doesn’t think that science represents the final liberation of the humankind. He actually thinks that science in association with technological progression potentially alienates when becomes instrumental in application. The instrumental rationality is the biggest part of the modern scientific consciousness and it reflects to all sub-structural elements of the society. [8] Therefore, Habermas’s approach to the evolution of the humankind is radically different than simple application of the Darwinian evolutionary theory on the social world. Besides this, Tylor and Frazer didn’t in any way concentrate on the idea of collective consciousness. They would rather explain that religion emerged from different speculations about the death and experience of the dead body. This experience to them was a crucial trigger for evolving the concept of the spirit that the “primitive mind” then associated it with every living being, and it finally became an abstract concept of the existence of invisible spirit, and later became known as the concept God. Habermas comes close to the traditional evolutionary idea in the application of Weber’s idea of disenchantment to the different forms of religions of the world. Definitely, Habermas’ new attempt to reconstruct the evolutionary development of humankind also requires systematic research of the diverse religious forms and beliefs.

Habermas’ theory of communicative praxis combines the communication theory of G.H. Mead and modern semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce in order to support an idea that the “collective” consciousness of the pre-structured public mind in modern societies is a necessary condition for understanding the personhood. Habermas  accepts Peirce’s stand that all beliefs are framed by imposing semantic discourse onto them, and by this virtue beliefs are settled in the community presuming the existence of the ideal communication community—the concept of community which settles beliefs by accepting them as norms.

The ideal communication community represents to Peirce the “transcendent” form of the consensus. The consensus is achieved when the belief becomes a norm by assumption of those who are accepting a specific belief that is something that can be accepted by the persons lived in the past, are present now, and are going to be able to accept these ideas in the future. In this sense, the ideal communication community of Peirce is a very concept of Habermas’ “collective consciousness” that has been existent as the fact in the pre-linguistic society, and has been transformed in the modern society as the discourse and argumentation language that settles ideas, beliefs, and discourses socially as norms through the political consensus.

II. Evolution of Communicative Praxis and Types of Rationalization in World Religions

Besides these two important influences, still one should not forget that Habermas’ theory is developed in the discourse of the Frankfurt school with a focus on the critique of modern society. One can see this when Habermas discusses the critical aspects of modern civil society which function in the discourse of socio-political and economic developments of late capitalism as monopoly capitalism; problem of identity formation and preservation in modern structural society that is polarized between the different worldviews; critique of traditional metaphysics and rescue of rationalism; and the consequences of modern nihilism and subjectivism on the personhood.

Also, Habermas doesn’t define his method of research as the critical theory, but one can see the critical theories imports in his methodology.  The following concepts can be seen as strongly tied with the critical theory:  (1) the objective rationalism in methodology of investigation, (2) elements of dialectical thinking between the personhood (life-world) and societies’ super-structures, and (3) Habermas’ insistence that one should view the globalized world as the result of transformation of the Judeo-Christian worldview into the objective social and political norms and standards. Especially this Habermas’ stand seems to have as an intention to again revive the old Hegel’s idea of “the objective mind” and apply it to the contemporary configuration of the modern sub-structures of the social, political, and economic world. The main problem with this Habermas’s idea is the assumption that no other civilizations than Western have taken the course of secularization of religious ideas transforming them into the ethical values and norms, and no other culture has transformed the par exallance religious experience, the faith, into the further experiment of subjectivism which so important for the modernization processes that one can see in romanticism, or even later in the Avant-garde.[9]

Habermas comes to this point of understanding by taking into consideration Max Weber’s analysis of the world religions, especially differentiation between the Eastern and Western religions, and he outlines the comprehensive concepts of the world religions patterns as to their rationalization processes, attitudes toward the world, and evaluation of the world.[10] Habermas defines religion as the worldview and world order that “reflect some totality that is meaningful.”[11] Although all religions reflect the meaningful totality, there is a crucial differentiation between their objects of beliefs. Habermas analyzes the god creator as God of Action or a personal god that is dominant in the religions of the Book, and the God of Order or impersonal supreme deity that is common to Eastern religions of Hindu, Taoism, Confucianism, and even Buddhism. The Eastern religious consciousness perceives itself as being the vehicle of the supreme energy and by this position a believer has to work on the loosing one’s self and giving one’s self to the supreme by meditations or experiencing unification with “it” by the mystical insight. Consequently, Habermas divides religions on the theocentric (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and the cosmocentric (Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism) worldviews.

Habermas also accepts, but as well expands Weber’s concept of rationality. He definitely agrees with Weber that rationality of the religious ideas depends on the level of disenchantment from the magical, mythological, and divination aspects of religiosity. At the same time Habermas makes a distinction between the cognitive aspects of rationalization in religions, and ethical, which is inspired with the salvation principle. The cognitive rationalizations are the principle oriented, but they are not always in opposition to the magical, divination, or mythological practices and religiosity. Cognitive rationalization can achieve the diverse aspects of the mastery over the world, but the ethical rationalization is inspired by the salvation theory, which maintains the dualism between the world of appearances and the world transcending principle envisioned in the salvation.[12] The salvation principle, according to Habermas, has a pessimistic worldview, so world rejection is the dominant attitude in Judaism and Christianity, but also is shared with Hindusim, which also offers the path to salvation, although Hinduism is defined by Habermas as the cosmocentric religion. What is the difference between the ways of seeking salvation in religions of the Book and comoscentric religions of the East, especially Hinduism? Judaism and Christianity, or better to say religions of the Book, via the dominance of ethical commands and values require of believers to turn from asceticism and the private experiences to the mastery of the world, objectifying reality. Opposite to the process of objectification, cosmocentric Eastern religions, Hindusim specifically, requires rather passive mysticism of a believer, so the flight form the world is the desirable final goal such we can find in ideal of the sanyasin, the one who renounces the world by leaving everything he posses, including his family and seeking for moksa, final emancipation from the samsara cycle of the birth and rebirth.[13]

The religions of Confucianism, Taoism, and Greek philosophy, Habermas says, are not religions of the salvation. These religions lack the experience of the world that is divided on the real world of phenomenological appearances and the transcendent realm that is of the noumenal character. Obviously, Habermas refers to the Judeo-Christian worldview which perceives reality as effemeral, transient, and temporary, so the whole life is in anticipation of death. The living and the dead, Jews and Christians, equally expect the coming of the apocalyptic end of time which is signified by the second coming of the Messiah, where the natural world will be transferred into the new noumenal and ethical realm, for example, the lamb will coexist in peace and love with the lion and justice will be fulfilled on Earth. Consequently, Habermas sees the differentiation between cognitive and ethical rationalizations. The cognitive rationalization presents the world as the system of “forms and processes” that can be contemplated and grasped by the faculty of the mind.[14] Habermas disagrees with Weber that one should interpret Confucianism and Taoism as primarily ethically oriented religions where the rationalization processes didn’t succeed fully.[15] Weber interpreted the worldview of these two religions as the “ethics of unconditional affirmation” and “adjustment” to the authority, where actually the traditional forms of beliefs such as magic and animism overturned the possibility of final rationalization.[16] Habermas uses Joseph Needham’s field work about China and reconstructs in a new way the theory of cognitive rationalization. He states that it was not the ethical rationality that was dominant in China, rather cognitive one. Habermas supports his thesis by the fact that from the first century B.C.E. to 15th century C.E. the Chinese were more successful in “developing theoretical knowledge” and using this knowledge for practical purposes.[17] The point of this great knowledge is that was supervised by the authority of the local and dynastic rulers, so this knowledge didn’t develop the alternative worldview based on the theoretical insight independent from the cultural and religious constraints. Habermas interprets the Chinese example of rationalization as the “potential rationalization process” that was not developed as the dominant worldview. The salvation aspect of religiosity was missing for further development of the full rationalization.

The idea of rationalization and modernization processes is highly disputed in China, and there are views that are in strong opposition to Habermas’ interpretation, but also there are existent ideas that go along with Habermas’ concepts. Tong Shijun, in his book The Dialectics of Modernization (2000), compares Habermas’ theory to the discussions about the modernization processes in China that were popular among Chinese scholars from 1920-1940. He states that popular Chinese cultural thinker Lian Shuming in his book Eastern and Western Cultures and Their Philosophies (1921) stresses the point that Chinese culture would never move toward the reconstruction of institutions which would engage the modernization processes and reformation of the traditional Chinese society that was in its base feudal, unless imported from the West.[18]  This point supports Habermas’ analysis of the Chinese religions. On the other hand, in opposition to Shuming’s stand, Hu Shi argued that the Western modernization processes are developing in the stress crises where the biggest problems had occurred on the level of interpersonal relationships i.e., in Habermas’ terms, the subjective identity construction of the lifeworld and its imbalance with the objective social and political sub-structures. At that time, Hu Shi proposed that the West should be more introduced to the original aspects of Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism and should apply some Eastern models to the Western developments. Today many different ideas are present as the response to the problem of the rationalization processes. For example, Peter Berger doesn’t believe that the strong development of individualism is necessarily linked to the development of capitalism, because we can see strong capitalistic developments in Asia—Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and certainly China. The development of individualism as personal autonomy was one of the main tenants of Weber’s sociology, which became also one of the main concepts accepted by Habermas.[19]

Rudolf J. Siebert has developed the Critical Theory of Religion and one of his great inspiration has always been Habermas’s work.  Siebert defines the critical theory of religion as the rescuing potentials of the “traditional religious-metaphysical and mystical systems of interpretation and orientation that the practical communicative rationality underlying them and a corresponding universal communicative ethics, expressed, e.g., in the golden rule principle, intrinsic to all presently alive world religions.”[20]

Obviously, the modern critical theory of religion too, contests Habermas’ “conservative” view that only the Judeo-Christian worldview has engaged a complex secularization processes where the religious potentials are transformed into the social and political sub-structures. The new critical theory of religion wants to bring the multi-cultural perspective in a sense that all world religions have the enormous ethical potentials in their religious concepts and these potentials are transforming into the socio-economic structures.

The important value of Habermas’ investigation is that the religious potentials are already transformed into the secularized world. For example, Habermas refuses Horkheimer’s idea that morality with a sense of justice is only possible if it is derived from a concrete religion. This association with religion for Horkeheimer can vary from normal religious profession i.e., employing the whole range of religious experiences and ideas, to the negation of a religion and rebellion against it as atheism, or even the highly developed concept of inverse theology.

“Longing for the totally other” is a new form of a modern theological transcendence inspired by Karl Bath  and is conceptualized as a critical question in the works of W. Benjamin, T. Adorno, and M. Horkheimer where the “totally other” stands as a symbol for the universal solidarity and justice, which opposes to the “slaughter bench” of the history that is symbolized in the critical theorists referring to the horrific experiences of the Holocaust.[21]

Contrary to Horkheimer’s idea that religion is a necessary condition for the conceptualization of the universal ethical ideas, Habermas thinks that Horkheimer confuses the role of religion in modernity and that he still “insists on the kinship between religion and philosophy,” which is not a relevant issue any longer for the post-metaphysical thinking.[22]  Habermas builds his theory of religion in a way to show that the religious has already been transformed into the secular.

The linguification of the sacred transforms the authoritative sacred (absolute social or moral norms justified through the authority of God, myth, supernatural powers) into the rationalized forms that preserve moral values of justice and solidarity in the structures of institutionalized reality and in the communicative rationality, which necessary condition sets in the personal autonomy and speech acts.[23] The problem is that the institutions themselves are in the competition of one with each other, because they belong to the different aspects of modern superstructures such as economic, political, social, scientific, cultural, ethical, aesthetical, or religious realms.  In this sense, the only answer to the problems of competition between the worldviews and institutions is the discursive ethics. The new discursive ethics can be translated as the argumentation ethics.

In the modern world, Herbermas sees, also, a great gap between the public and the private spheres, between the religious and the secular, between the religious consciousness that reflect the transcendence of the highest human longings such as the prevalence of goodness over evil, humanity, compassion, and solidarity vs. instrumentalized rationality where a person sees himself/herself as the object and means that serves as one of the vehicles in the system of the objective world.

The domination of the secular is based in a political sense on the transformation of the particular or personal will via the procedural tools of modern political systems into the normative actions. The public sphere of civil society is maintained through the culture experts whose main agenda is to rationally explain natural and cultural phenomena putting themselves, most of the time, in contradiction to the religious consciousness and worldview.[24]

For example, one of the predominant psychological theories in the United States is behaviorism, which influences today the majority of clinical psychological practices. The main idea of behaviorism is that the human psyche should be explained and researched strictly scientifically, i.e., all human behavior is a responses to the past contingent set of conditions that engage in the brain a response as a reinforcement. Accordingly, behaviorism stays on the course that concepts such as the mind, the set of believes important to a person, ethical ideals such as freedom, compassion, and kindness, or religious concepts such as the soul, really do not exist objectively. All of these concepts are subjectively clothed expressions that are reinforced through the environment and maintained as culturally relevant. The reality of the human behavior is determined through the cause and effect connection between the conditioning and reinforcement.

Perhaps, the most radical view was expressed in the positivist philosophy of Harvard scholar B.F. Skinner who argues in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), that “freedom is a dangerous myth,” because freedom has a meaning similar to supreme quality or, even, sacred. Skinner thinks that what we “experience” as a free choice is actually a false feeling that our will is not determined, while actually it is. He thinks that the scientific reality shows that “free choice” is simply the response to the given conditions. In this example one can easily see that behavioral psychology stands in opposition to the traditional religious worldviews, which glorify the moral human dignity, the soul that transcends existent conditions, and ethical ideals of universal solidarity and humanity.

III. Semantics of Ethics

Norman Rockwell, Do Unto OthersFor Habermas’ theory of religion, the two most critical aspects are the secularization processes by means of the socio-political superstructure (change of the society structure and acceptance of the rational worldview that separates irrational thoughts and actions as unacceptable) and the transformation of religious ideas into the secular ethics and morality (recognition of personal autonomy and acceptance of the argumentation dialogue in achieving the normative values). Both aspects actually present the hegemony process of the secularization norms, which are not easy to define, describe, and analyze.

To outline this problem, the best example can be given by the Kantian idea of morality and ethics. Any discussion about morality always begins with examples of what we consider a good moral deed. The analysis of the moral action always includes the consideration of two important aspects: one aspect is that of inclinations and motives for an action, another is that of the consequences of the action. Immanuel Kant thinks that we cannot ever predict the consequences, but we can control only the thought process that results in an action. He thinks that every moral action is rationalized by virtue that requires the decision and choice, therefore, there is no moral action without prior thought that settles the will in one direction as a maxim that then appears as the principle upon which one really acts. In this sense, moral action is a fully cognitive process that follows the dictate of the imperative that is created in the consciousness itself. For any moral act the decision has to come out of the personal autonomy. The only imperative one’s mind follows is that, directed from the free will which constitutes a person and acts at the same time as the maxim, and is only acceptable as a moral act if it fulfills the moral law.

Now, the moral law is comprehensively defined in Kant’s Categorical Imperative: “But what sort of law can that be the thought of which must determine the will without reference to any expected effect, so that the will can be called absolutely good without qualification? Since I have deprived the will of every impulse that might arise for it from obeying any particular law, there is nothing left to serve the will as principle expect the universal conformity of its actions to law as such i.e., I should never act expect in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law.”[25]  Following this thought Kant later clarifies more specifically that the moral law is what we used to perceive through religion as the kingdom of ends: “By ‘kingdom’ I understand a system of different rational beings through common laws…. For all rational beings stand under the law that each of them should treat himself and all others never merely as a means but always at the same time as en end in himself. Hereby arises a systematic union of rational beings through common objective laws, i.e., a kingdom that may be called a kingdom of ends….” In the final instance, what Kant has done with defining the Categorical Imperative as a moral law (law that is acceptable to all people) is that he explained the Christian ideal of solidarity and human dignity as interdependent.  What was expressed in the simple idea of the Golden Rule, with the Kantian moral law now is presented as the rationally explained concept which serves to explain the connection between personal freedom and integrity. The Golden Rule summarizes the expression, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” and is based on Jesus’ original saying reported in the Gospel of Matthew, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (7.12). When comparing the religious expression to the Kantian Categorical Imperative one has to notice that both ideas correspond with the same message/meaning—the universal law is to act in a way that everybody treats everybody with respect and dignity, because everybody perceives themselves in this way, as beings of dignity, so they are ends in themselves and not only means to the others, and this equal treatment is perceived and understood as a value to all people, without exception. The only difference between these two expressions is that the religious one is commanded because of righteousness and authority, while the Kantian one is based on the internal input that appears to a person as the self-imposed authority.

This Kantian methodology of the rationalization of the religious commands via the concepts into the modern personal consciousness tremendously inspired J. Habermas. He thinks that on this level of comparison between the Christian Golden Rule and the Categorical Imperative one could explain the rationalization process only as a paradigm shift from the religious to the secular, where the religious moral rule is sublated on the higher level of personal understanding.  Habermas calls this methodology the reification theory that is present in the philosophy of the Enlightenment era, social philosophy of Marx, theory of religion in Weber, and Critical Theory of the Frankfurt school.

IV. Linguification of the Sacred

Mandalaimages (1)The transformation of the religious into the secular is a much deeper problem than it appears on the surface and Habermas precisely diagnoses the problem: the transformation of the religious into the secular actually denotes the transformation of the collective into the personal consciousness in an evolutionary sense. According to Habermas, religion is engaged as the main cohesive social force that is transformed by the powers of the ontogenetic and phylogenetic changes into the structural transformation of worldviews: secular and religious.

To explain this evolutionary transformation, Habermas is inspired with Durkheim’s theory of religion. He presents the beginning of this evolution as the formation of the sacred that powerfully stands in its pre-linguistic realm. Habermas says, in the modern world, where the individual personality, a worldview, and instituationalized normative rationality are in the conflict of powers and wills, what still has the value is the personalist intentionalism of morality, which appears to transform a personal will into the idea of universal solidarity and then acts proactively in society. This unchanging aspect of the universal solidarity as an ideal of humankind and its communal identity—recognition and acknowledgment of others–is equally important for the social aspect of the sacred in the past as it is for modern society.

Habermas thinks that all validity claims (values that are pertinent for personal and social worlds) relevant for modern societies and even one’s culture are established through the comprehensive process of the transformation from the symbolically mediated to normatively regulated actions. Habermas brings Durkehim’s concept of the sacred into the focus of his research. The sacred is one of the best points in the modern theory of religion which explains the true process of the socialization pattern, but still is missing the explanation of communicative action and linguification of the sacred.

According to Durkheim, the sacred stands in society as the main source of authority and it means all things that are “set apart” from the ordinary, personal interests, one’s passions, or desires.  This sacred is expressed as the will of the collective consciousness that represents its power through the set of symbolic actions or rituals that are of great importance for the identity of society, where society acts celebrating its own authority and power (great yearly ceremonies and celebrations). According to Habermas, these symbolically mediated actions are explained as salient symbols of the dominant religious tradition that can steer behavior and he wants to progress in research as to this aspect of religious symbolism.

The problem with the sacred is, as Durkheim put it, that the sacred authority, which is the expression of the collective consciousness, acts often in a way to express the terror and punishment toward acts of the followers of the group who oppose to the main commands, which are important to maintain the unity of the collective. Sometimes the arbitrariness of the punishment takes place and then the moments of crises appear. The negative sanctions filled with terror and punishment are the rites associated with the Taboo, and it is a common way to maintain the continuity of the community unified with the sacred symbols (Totem). Habermas gives credit to Durkheim on his unique interpretation of the sacred as the symbol of the domination of the collective consciousness in society. Habermas considers that what is really missing in Durkheim’s theory is the semantic analysis of how the religious potentials have been transformed from the symbolic to the normative actions, by which one can explain the need and necessity of separating religious from political or legislature powers, and the growth of the personal consciousness that is realized in the social surroundings by fulfilling the social roles (division of labor) and through interpersonal communication acquiring the set of responsibilities and freedoms that are equally relevant for the private and public spheres.

Habermas sees that there is a necessary fusion between Durkheim’s and Mead’s theories in order to explain the evolution of the social consciousness from the pre-linguistic realm of the sacred that is symbolically represented in the collective consciousness to the rational acceptance of the standard and moral idioms as the normative actions and validity claims:

[Quote] “Durkheim shares the social-evolutionary perspective with Mead. But he is unable to conceive the transition from forms of mechanical to forms of organic solidarity as a transformation of collective consciousness reconstructible from within; thus it remains unclear what entitles him to conceive of the changing form of social integration as a development toward rationality. The idea of a linguistification of the sacred is, to be sure, suggested by Drukheim, but it can be worked out only along the lines of a Meaden attempt at reconstruction. Mead does in fact definitely conceive of the communicative thawing of traditionally solid institutions based on sacred authority as a rationalization.” [Endquote](Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, vol. 2., Translation: Thomas McCarthy, Boston: Beacon Press, 1987, p. 91)

While Durkheim has given the explanation of how has emerged the idea of the universal solidarity explaining the social unity as the collective and symbolic act of all members, which relate to the sacred, Habermas thinks, George Herbert Mead was able to explain the very point of how the structural transformation of the life-world and personhood occurs in the objective world. Durkheim and Mead are similar in the idea that the social is prior to the private or to the individual personality. Every personality is pre-structured i.e., limited to the conditions of the social interactions and structures. Mead sees that the personal identity is the result of the comprehensive processes of socialization and the inter-personal relationship with others.

The communication act, first as a gesture and the speech act, represents the internalization of the objective environment. The communication begins with the conversation and the exchange of gestures, then moves on significant gestures, and finally forms through language symbolic meaning which is internalized in the person. Language through the processes of transformation of symbolic meaning is able to open semantic potentials that the person can use as the response to the systematized environment. What the person is learning through the socialization is to adequately act responding to the environment by accepting specific social roles that design behavior and actions. Also, this internalized world should become externalized through assimilation process, when the personhood associates with the external as a group.

The concept of time is inhabited in a person through the experience of the emergence situations, which require of a person immediate responses to the environment. An emergency situation gives to a person the sense of discontinuity, and, of course, by its virtue the continuity reaches the point of meaning in the inhabitation of the self as continuity in the social environment.

Habermas adopts Mead’s theory of communication as an important step of communicative praxis. The social evolution begins and ends with the semantic realm which unfolds, through social interaction and communication, the emancipation of the self in the autonomous rational reasoning through socially mediated argumentation, which final argument is humanized through the acceptance of morality as universal solidarity embedded in institutionalized forms of standards and norms.

Haberms still critically analyzes the modern self and its existence. Modern consciousness is born in the crisis of identity construction: on one hand the emancipation and recognition of the self requires acceptance of the social roles and playing them as games, but then universality of moral norms and validity claims settle the personhood giving it the meaningfulness in the domain of the public sphere unifying personhood with the group identity, on the other hand,  the self requires its authenticity that is derived from the subjectivity of the experience and, at the same time, circles the separateness of the self from the public and the collective.

However, Habermas sees in the religious the very source of humanity. As the sacred once represented the source of the collective consciousness that symbolically accepts the higher authority as the expression of the absolute, so in the modern time when some semantic potentials of religion are transferred into the secular norms and values, the religious still represents a challenge even to the modern atheist, because in its theological and reflexive thought religion calls for openness i.e., consciousness of transcendence, search for unconditional, ethics of compassion, and redemption.

In Habermas’ masterful text Transcendence from Within, Transcendence in this World (1992) Habermas sees that the universality of the religious is in openness for transcendence, but this transcendence is a semantic realm, where the linguistic condition opens a communicative act, which reflects the self, what was communicated, and the other in a perspective of understanding. Religious transcendence is too illocutionary for Habermas, because it is present with in-group community, shaping the basic validity claims as positive dogmatic or theological concepts relevant for this specific religious tradition. True transcendence should exist from these restrains, and save those linguistic potentials that are universally accepted.

Habermas as a methodological atheist sees in the transcendence the configuration of linguistic potentials that are important to form a proper understanding of the self and the community, even the ideal community, but he doesn’t see in the transcendence openness for truly supernatural or absolute. Both, the supernatural and absolute are comprehensive signification processes of the true linguistic condition that is sui genereis human and, therefore, intersubjective.

The lifeworld is a pool of forces where a personhood is pre-structured and already defined, but still through language and understanding can reach the point to really be and act in a sense of preserving one’s autonomy, but also acknowledging the others of the in-group structure as equals. This linguistic condition shows that it appropriates the self and the others as the autonomous integral beings by the power of a reflexive communicative act. That a personhood has a possibility of self-determination and self-cause is expressed in the ability of language to go beyond what is only communicated, or what is practical and purposive; language reflects the human condition and the human relationship emerges from the linguistic reality. The intelligible aspect of transcendence is actually the experience of going beyond what is known, given, or expressed for the sake of understanding the position of the self in the universe and bonding the self via linguistic condition with others. Habermas defines this important search as:

[Quote:]”The Logos of language founds the intersubjectivity of the lifeworld, in which we find ourselves already preunderstood, in order that we can encounter one another face to face as subjects. Indeed, we meet as subjects who impute to each other accountability, that is, the capability to guide our actions according to transcending validity medium of our communicative actions which are to be accounted for by us. Yet, this does not mean that the lifeworld would be at our disposal. As agents of communicative actions, we are exposed to a transcendence that is integrated in the linguistic conditions of reproduction without being delivered up to it. This conception can hardly be identified with the productivist illusion of a species that generates itself and which puts itself in the place of a disavowed Absolute. Linguistic intersubjectivity goes beyond the subjects with putting them in bondage. [End Quote] (Transcendence form Within, Transcendence in this World, in J. Habermas, ed. E. Mendieta, Religion and Rationality, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2002, p. 91)

Habermas’ linguistic intersubjectivity resides in every personhood and the transcendence as the sense for openness is integrated within a possibility of language itself.  These elements of understanding–the self and the community–is present in the linguified religious that should be rescued in modern society. The rescue of the religious potentials requires the process of communication in which it is possible to reach semantic openness of the self, the validity claims through which  the community is bounded. This communicative praxis can help to loosen the totalization of a crisis between the religious and the secular,  fundamentalism vs. openness of modern theology or endeavors of  ecumenism, cultic totalitarianism and open spirituality, closed worldviews and disenchanted openness of meaning.[26]

Habermas also acknowledges that the secularization processes began with the crisis of the religious consciousness. The crises of the religious consciousness can be defined as a compendium of doubts about what is common in society to be interpreted as the supernatural power(s) and its/their impact on the world.

For example, from the anthropological field work of E.E. Evans-Pritchard about the Azande, one could see that even in the basic and culturally isolated societies of the African tribes, a person might have such crises and have doubts about the sacred authority, but the person who experiences such crises cannot openly reflect to it. The Azande person who doubts is not able to present or define clearly the problem, and finally has no alternative system to the belief system that would support for a long time these thoughts.[27]  In this sense, the Azande society is not ready to publicly acknowledge such an experience and to openly deal with it.

Unlike indigenous societies, the crisis of the religious consciousness in modern society is a significant problem because it has the alternative theory or a system to which a person with the doubts can refer. Habermas stresses in his work that the Ancient Greek philosophers had established an intellectual and ideological tradition of the rationalism, anthropocentrism, and skepticism that formed a strong alternative to the religious and mythological consciousness.

Even under the influences of the Christian theological ideas, Western philosophy was never able to definitely dismiss the philosophical anthropocentrism, rationalism, or skepticism, so there was formed a strong metaphysical tradition that combined religious inspiration with the strong secular thought–the rationalism, idealism, and the theodicy argumentation.

For instance, it is enough to remember the continental rationalists and works of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibnitz.[28]  During the Enlightenment period in Europe and the U.S.A. the rationalism and anthropocentrism have been enriched with the secularized idea of the historical self-sufficiency and ideal of freedom that was derived from the interpretation of Christianity as emancipation theology. It is obvious that secularized ideas have served as the corrective to the strict Christian theocentric worldview.

It seems that in Western society the crisis of the religious consciousness is substantial for a modern man/woman because it leaves him/her to struggle for an individual set of rules, which are crucial for forming one’s identity. Whether one is religious or an atheist, both have to acknowledge the leap between strictly rationalized world explained through the facts via the diverse scientific entitlements (economy, medicine, biology, zoology, sociology, political science, positive history, etc.) and the world of the human potentials that is build upon the different value entitlements (culture, philosophy, religion, art, morality, ethics).

As Habermas suggests, the processes of the secularization of the religious ideas are specified and can be summarized in a way that in modern societies, religion undergoes the following changes:

  1. Demythologization of traditional religious semantic potentials – back away from the reification in a sense of literal interpretations of the original religious sources;
  2. Development of more open and philosophical theologies by which religious ideas are rationalized and interpreted in a more open way insisting on ethical and humanitarian contents rather than on extravagant and closed interpretations of religious potentials;
  3. Religious communities direct their existence as the moral, ethical, and spiritual resources for the individuals who make choices;
  4. Competitions between different religious paradigms, religions, and the secular sphere–religious worldviews is a common position of the religions that exist in the modern world;
  5. Definite split in the religious communities between liberalism and fundamentalism;
  6. Religious communities experience an essential change as to their role and status in community as voluntary organizations that are separated from the legal and political body of society/separation of the church and the state.

The semiotic theory of religion stresses that its methodology is capable of explaining humanity in a new way; where the relevant aspects of the modern world and the differences of the historically or culturally different worlds are not categorically juxtaposed, but put in the same perspective of the growth of dialog between cultures, religions, worldviews, and different socio-economic cultural units.

In the semiotic theory any aspect of the communicative action (personal thoughts, public observances, religious rituals, gestures, political speech, cannon, etc.) stands as a sign which necessarily underlies, as its signifier, the significant interaction between the subject matter that appears as the object to its interpreter, and implies the interpretation that is possible to become socially or culturally relevant. Of course, the most curious aspects of the communicative action are related to the analysis of the signs that are transcendent and unlimited in its appearance to the intepretant. In this sense, modern semiotics, from C.S. Peirce to J. Habermas and U. Eco always has reflected on diverse aspects of religion such as the different interpretations of the power of the sacred, supernatural being, transcendent realms, superhuman entities, and spirituality. In this regard, one of the most appealing questions of the modern Semiotic Theory of Religion is to analyze and explain the resources of the transcendent (unlimited semiosis) in modern, secularized, and critical to religion world, that can offer to contemporary men and women a meaning providing the space for the realization of their creative human potentials.

This article offers one of the sketches relevant for the Semiotic Theory of Religion, the theory that can outline the transformation of the religious into the secular sphere by means of the linguification process of the sacred.  This process is explained through the communicative praxis, a way where the rationalization processes map the journey from the realm of the collective and religious consciousness bound to external authority to the modern emancipated personhood that stands for defending the universal principles of solidarity, ethical values, and compassion through personal autonomy. The value of Habermas’ theory is in the attitude that the  preservation of the semantic potentials of the sacred and the religious, is crucial to prevent the humankind of becoming  instrumentalized by the powers of technology, ideology, scientific positivism, or the comprehensive systems of social, political, cultural, technological and economic sub-structures.

Habermas sees the religious potentials as being embedded in the functioning of the modern world and personhood. Only the preservation of the unlimited semiosis–a powerful way of a meaningful transcendence, which acts as a transformative creative power—the linguification of the sacred can release the space for conquering human nature that can resist to the vast inconsistency of human fallibility posited by complexity of complex social interactions between the public and private spheres, the multiple roles that one has to play balancing and dancing in the fiery circle of playing multitude of roles with a great danger for a person to become so instrumental and distant to true nature.

This authentic nature can be rescued from the fiery circle of covert and lost identity. A person who functions in a contemporary, highly organized society in time a new technological evolution with exponential technological advances  (transhumanism) is often trapped in the power of language games playing enhanced with the social role programing and modeling. A modern personhood lives in the split realm between the “public” and the “private” domains. This split causes a stressful life or a traumatic daily life management, where a person switches between the family expectations and professional or public  duties and responsibilities fulfillment. Habermas offers as a solution to these dramatic changes the linguification of the sacred process, where a person is able to develop a transcending space that enacts the essence of the religious per se.

Mandala 2images (1)The liguificaiton of the sacred means that all levels of the religious—beliefs, rituals, and their rationalized theological forms–shell and peel from the tattooed skin the old semantic potentials that cannot any longer survive the generational challenges and the test of the new scientifically rooted transhumanism time. The essence of the “new” religious consciousness is in a transfromative power of the sacred. This is where a person creates his/her own lifeworld. One’s “new” consciousness creates reality embodied through intra and inter personal system of communicative action. Habermas defines linguification of the sacred as the process of rescuing the universalistic religious semantic potentials. This the very “linguified” process of transcendence, where a person mirrors his/her lifeworld–the inner space of the emancipatory freedom as a conscious expression that is channeled through objectified and socially pre-established forms of the objective world. The sense of being whole, rather than split in role playing games is achieved not any longer through traditional religious forms, but becoming a “phoenix,” where the universalistic religious potentials embodied in the symbolic systems of the religious are transformed in a new form of a personalized expression, where freedom emancipates and sublates any type of alienation and instrumentalism.

The End

China Rises – City of Dreams (New York Times Television)


[1] Jürgen Habermas, The Liberating Power of Symbols: Philosophical Essays (Translation: Peter Dews), The MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2001. In “The Liberating Power of Symbols: Ernst Cassirer’s Humanistic Legacy and the Warburg Library,” p. 3.

[2] His new theories are presented in two volume books:  Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action: Reason and the Rationalization of Society (Translation: Thomas McCarthy), Beacon Press: Boston 1984.; ——–The Theory of Communicative Action: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason (Translated: Thomas McCarthy), Beacon Press: Boston, 1985. (Both book were first published in Germany by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main in 1981).  

[3] .” Rudolf J. Siebert, The Critical Theory of Religion: The Frankfurt School, The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Lanham, Maryland and London 2001, p. 268. “Habermas reconstructed the category of reification (619). Habermas’s reconstructed historical materialism aims at a new form of the negation of reification in terms of a theory of communicative praxis and of a universal communicative ethics, possibly one without redemption(620).”

[4] Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms (Translation: William Rehg), The MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2001., pp. 80-81.

[5]  Jürgen Habermas, Postmetaphysical Thinking  (Translation: William Mark Hohengarten), The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 188“The projection of the unlimited communication community is backed up by the structure of language itself. Just at the “I” of the “I think” occupies a key role for the philosophy of the subject, so the first person singular also occupies a key role in the successor to this philosophy, communication theory.”

[6] James Thrower, Religion: The Classical Theories, Georgetown University Press: Washington, D.D., 1999.,pp. 99-108 in chapter “Religion as Primitive Error.”

[7] Lucien Lēvi-Bruhl, How Natives Think, London: Allen & Unvwin, 1926.

[8] The technological development, Habermas thinks, is the result of scientific reasoning and the final stage of this reasoning  is in the “straight-line instrumentalism,” which is the opposite development to the communicative praxis, which main power is in emancipation of a person, rather than making of a person means for other purposes. See, J. Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests (Translation Jeremy Shapiro), Boston, Beacon Press, 1970, pp. 309-310.

[9] Habermas explains Judaism and Christianity as religions of mastery of the world, which main dimension of rationalization is ethical. For Habermas, the Western civilization is also influenced by the cognitive rationality of the Greek philosophy, which is the main source of the scientific development in the West. All of these concepts are derived in Habermas’ philosophy from Max Weber and his interpretation of the world religions. See: J. Habermas, The Communicative Action, vol. 3, Translation: Thomas McCarthy, Boston: Beacon Press, 1987, pp. 201-215. The concept of the faith as the personal  and private concept is an idea derived from Horkheimer who defines faith as the transcendental concept. See: ibidem, pp. 347-349.

[10] Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, vol. 1 Translation: Thomas McCarthy, Boston: Beacon Press, 1987., see “max Weber’s Theory of Rationalization pp. 102-243.

[11] Ibidem, p. 202

[12] ibidem., pp. 203-207

[13] ibidem. pp.204-211.

[14] Ibidem., pp. 208-211

[15] ibidem., p. 209, “This suggests that the rationalization potential of these traditions might have been studied first of all from the standpoint of cognitive and not of ethical rationalization — all the more so, as Greek philosophy, which shares with the cosmological ethic of the Chinese a world-affirming attitude, also advanced the rationalization of worldviews more in the direction of theoreticizaiton.”

[16] ibidem., p. 209.

[17] Ibidem., p. 209.

[18] Tong Shijung, The Dialectis of Modernization: Haberams and the Chinese Discourse of Modernization, Sydney: Wild Peony, The University of Sydney, East Asian Series No. 13, 2002, p. 168.

[19] P. Berger, Hsin-Huan, M. Hsiao (ed.), In Search of an East Asian Development Model, New Brunswick (USA) & Oxford (UK), New Jersey: Transaction books, 1988.

[20]  Rudolf J. Siebert developed the critical theory of religion summarizing points of the greatest disputes of the Frankfurt School. His critical theory of religion tries to mediate the views of the first generation of the Frankfurt School (Horkheimer, Adorno) and the third generation followers such as J. Habermas. Siebert defines critical theory of religion in the following way: “It is my thesis that more is to be rescued from the traditional religious-metaphysical and mystical systems of interpretation and orientation than the practical communicative rationality underlying them and a corresponding universal communicative ethics, expressed, e.g., in the golden rule, intrinsic to all presently alive world religions.” Rudolf J. Siebert, The Critical Theory of Religion: The Frankfurt School, The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Lanham, Maryland and London 2001, p. xi.

[21] http://www.rudolfjsiebert.org, 06/04/2006 Rudolf J. Siebert, The Critical Theory of Religion, pp. 1 &8. see parts “Causes” and  “Inverse Theology.”

[22] Jürgen Habermas, Justification and Application: Remarks on Discourse Ethics (Translation: Ciaran P. Cronin), The MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 1993., Habermas comments on Horkehimer praises that the dark writers of the bourgeoisie were impossible to derive from reason any fundamental argument against murder in the following way: “I have to admit that this remark irritates me now no less than it did almost four decades ago when I first read it. I have never been altogether convinced of the cogency of the skepticism concerning reason underlying Horkheimer’s ambivalence toward religion. The idea that it is vain to strive for unconditional meaning without God betrays not just a metaphysical need; the remark is itself and instance of the metaphysics that not only philosophers but even theologians themselves must today get along without.” In the essay “To Seek to Salvage an Unconditional meaning Without God is a Futile Undertaking: Reflections on a Remark of Max Horkheimer,” p. 134.

[23]Jürgen Habermas, Justification and Application: Remarks on Discourse Ethics (Translation: Ciaran P. Cronin), The MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 1993., Habermas explains the transformation of the religious into the secular in the following way: “In traditional societies, moral norms are indeed so closely bound up with religious worldviews and shared forms of life that individuals learn what it means to enjoy the status of membership in a community thus founded through identification with the contents of this established concrete ethical life. But in modern societies, moral norms must detach themselves from the concrete contents of the plurality of attitudes toward life that now manifest themselves; they are grounded solely in an abstract social identity that is henceforth circumscribed only buy the status of membership in some society, not in this or that particular society. This explains the two salient features of a secularized morality that has transcended the context of an overarching social ethos. A morality that rests only on the normative content of universal conditions of coexistence in a society (founded on mutual respect for persons) in general must be universalistic and egalitarian in respect of the validity and sphere of application of this norms; at the same time, it is formal and empty in the content of its norms.” Excerpt from the essay “Remarks on Discourse Ethics”, p. 47.

[24] Habermas defines civil society in the following way in his book Between Facts and Norms pp. 366-367: “What is mean by “civil society” today, in contrast to its usage in the Marxist tradition, no longer includes the economy as constituted by private law and steered trhough markets in labor, capital, and commodities. Rather, its institutional core comprises those nongovernmental and noneconomic connections and voluntary associations that anchor the communication structures of the public sphere in the society component of the lifeworld. Civil society is composed of those more or less spontaneously emergent associations, and movements that, attuned to how societal problems resonate in the private life spheres, distill and transmit such reactions in amplified from to the public sphere (…)  … the most conspicuous element of a public sphere dominated by mass media and large agencies, observed by market and opinion research, and inundated by the public relations work, propaganda, and advertising of political parties and groups.” J. Habermas, Between Facts and Norms, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2001.

[25] Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Translation: Hames W. Elingotn, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981. p. 59.

[26] Jürgen Habermas, Religion and Rationality (ed. Eduardo Mendieta), Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2002., pp. 67-95.

[27] E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, oracles and magic among the Azande, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1937, pp. 195-195: “There is no incentive to agnosticism. All their beliefs hang together, and were a Zande to give up faith in witch-dcotorhood, he would have to surrender equally his faith in witchcraft and oracles (…) In this web of belief, every strand depends upon every other strand, and a Zande cannot get out of its meshes because it is the only world he knows. The web is not an external structure in which he is enclosed. It is the texture of his thought and he cannot think that his thought is wrong.” (. . . ) “Nevertheless, (Zande) beliefs are not absolutely set but are variable and fluctuating to allow for different situations and to permit empirical observations and even doubts.”

[28] Jurgen Habermas, Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays, (translation by Eilliam Mark Hohengarten), The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 1992.


The End

Copyright, Rajka Rush, 2006


Author’s Note: Back to the Backdoor Academia/Scholarship in Free Time

I am working on the next article, “Secrets of the Numinous Mind,” that will compare J. Habermas’ concept of the linguification of the sacred along with C. S. Peirce’s, and U. Eco’s unlimited  semiosis with the bicameral theory of the mind developed by Julian Jaynes, and evolutionary concepts of the mystical/numinous/altered experiences explained by Michael Persinger and his famous experiments, where by which Persinger induced “the god like” experiences using  the famous “God Helmet,” the transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) machine. It is fascinating to see how the philosophical abstract arguments can be deepened and enhanced by comparing them to more scientific oriented research.

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