Religious and Secular Dynamics of Social Thought

– Good afternoon. Good day, whichever time zone you are. And welcome everybody to the second in a series of conversations on global religious and secular dynamics. Welcome everybody, and especially welcome Hans Joas, Professor Hans Joas, who of course is a preeminent, distinguished, German sociologist and social theorist.

It is a pleasure to have you with us today, for this conversation. Before we begin our conversation, let me go over a few of the rules. This webinar is being recorded, and eventually in a few days it will be put on our website, the Berkley Center website.

If you are registered for the conversation today, you will receive an email notifying you that the webinar is already on the website. Otherwise, you can check in a few days on the Berkley Center website and you will find it there. We will have a conversation of around 50, 55 minutes,

Going over different aspects of Hans Joas’s life work, and afterward, we will have time for Q&A with the audience, about 20, 25 minutes, so please do prepare your questions. There is a question and answer at the bottom of your screen. You should open it and write your question,

Write your name, and please indicate your affiliation. We will try to answer as many questions as possible. So without further ado, I am Jose Casanova. I am a professor in the departments of sociology and religious studies at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion,

Peace, and World Affairs, which is sponsoring this series. But also is being co-sponsored by Reset (indistinct) USA. So, welcome everybody, welcome Hans. It’s a pleasure to have you. We will cover your life work, beginning with your early work and going to your most recent work. So let’s begin with your early work.

Your first major work was the book on George Herbert Mead. Which made you famous. It became the definitive work on George Herbert Mead. The subtitle it had when it was published in English by MIT Press was: A Contemporary Reexamination of His Thought. It was the least well-known of the major pragmatists,

Along with John Dewey, William James, Silas Peirce. There had been not yet any systematic interpretation of his work; your interpretation became the definitive one. Later, you wrote a second book on pragmatism and social theory, where you expanded the analysis to other pragmatists, into your parasocial theory.

You’ve become the main interpreter of American pragmatism, and interlocutor between American pragmatism and German and European social thought. So what attracted you to American pragmatism to the point that you indicated that you fell in love with American pragmatism, so please elaborate how did you fall in love with American pragmatism?

– Well, first of all Jose, let me say what a pleasure it is to see you, and to hear all your flattering remarks, about my early writings. Yes, I mean, I said, I wrote it someplace, I’d written it someplace, that I fell in love with pragmatism, and at first,

Particularly, with the work of George Herbert Mead. I could also have said that for me, it was a kind of revelation. Now why? I think the shortest way to explain that is to refer to the German, original German title of the book on Mead, which was: Practical Intersubjectivity.

I experienced Mead as a kind of transformation of something that was of profound importance for myself, namely the Christian idea of neighborly love, or of compassion, of understanding others. Now in Mead, you find this idea transformed into something you could almost say naturalistic.

I mean, he doesn’t remain on the moral level in that sense. It would be good, too, but he studies the empirical processes in which infants, children, human beings in general, develop the ability to see the world not just through their own eyes, but also through the eyes of others,

To put it somewhat metaphorically. And I still think this is an extremely important thing on both levels, on the empirical and on the moral level, and I’m rather radical with regard to that, in the sense of we as social scientists, or maybe we as historians, really should try to understand other human beings,

And we can understand all other human beings, even those who commit the most abhorrent deeds, so to speak. So that was the starting point. Now, in an atmosphere, I would say in Germany, in which all thinking about human intersubjectivity was kind of dominated by Jurgen Habermas’s idea about rational argumentative discourse.

So for me, Mead also was a kind of alternative in that sense; I mean there is a clear similarity or parallelism here to Habermas, but it’s also a kind of alternative because Habermas has this extremely strong emphasis on the rational and linguistic dimension, whereas in Mead, human intersubjectivity is much more corporeal.

It’s not necessarily on the rational, and not on the argumentative level, and even on the linguistic level. I mean, here are other ways of expressing yourself than the rational, argumentative one, like, let’s say the poetic forms of expression. So in this first phase, I would say, I mean,

The idea was to change from an exclusive focus on rational intersubjectivity to a more practical and corporeal way of thinking. But that, of course, then led me to discover that in the works of the pragmatists, this idea of intersubjectivity is not really the absolutely crucial one.

That such a central figure like William James, you could say, didn’t have so much to say about intersubjectivity, but he’s considered, and rightly so, as one of the most important pragmatists. So I realized that Mead’s thinking about intersubjectivity is, has a more basic, underlying level also,

And for that, I used the term: creativity. It is a specific understanding of the creative dimension of human action on which the ideas of intersubjectivity are based. – So Hans, if I may connect on this point, indeed, you are not only an authoritative interpreter of American pragmatism,

But one could say you are a major pragmatist social thinker in your own right. You’ve mentioned the creativity of action. This was the title of your next major work, and obviously this work was written in critical dialog with Habermas and his theory of communicative action. But also in critical dialog with the sociologist

Talcott Parsons, and his work: The Structure of Social Action. In a way, you are trying to expand the theory of social action beyond both Habermas and Parsons. And then you wrote another major work, a major work: The Genesis of Values. That continues the very same theoretical trajectory,

Trying to understand: where do values come from? But similarly, the personal commitment to specific values. In a way, it was a way of questioning theories of value decisionism, in the Bavarian tradition, but also the Parsonian emphasis on values being embedded in social systems, through which individuals are socialized and somehow accept those values.

You put the emphasis on the contingent historicity of both. The emergence of values in a particular social-historical context, and the personal commitment to these values. So can you explain this attempt to develop a theory of social action around these two key concepts, the creativity of action and the genesis of values?

– As I said, I mean, let’s say in terms of intellectual history, the book The Creativity of Action, was indeed an attempt not to write about the American pragmatists in historical terms, so to speak, but systematically on what the relevance of their work for contemporary social theory is.

And it makes sense to compare pragmatism and my own attempt in that sense, both to Parsons and to Habermas. Now, in Parsons, one could say, and I’m mostly referring to his first book, which I personally consider his best one, namely The Structure of Social Action from 1937,

That in a certain sense, the notion of value was the crucial term for Parsons, for his critique of what he called utilitarianism, and what we today might call rational action approaches or something like that, but although value was so crucial for him as a concept, he had nothing to say

About the historical emergence of values. And now it makes sense, as you did in your question, to distinguish between the historical processes in which certain values emerge, and the processes in which a person develops his or her commitment to a value. But even in the historical processes,

When values first come into being, so to speak, such the same processes in which individuals develop their commitment are at work. I mean, if nobody ever had had the idea, where would the values ever come from? So, I realized that one has to clearly go beyond Parsons,

On this very basic level, and as I already said with regard to Habermas, I think Habermas is, so to speak, two things: a moral philosopher and political theorist, on the one hand, and particularly in the book on the theory of communicative action, a sociological theorist.

But the two goals are not identical with each other. It can be that too much interest in the normative dimension, too much interest in rationality draws your attention away from the, let’s say, from the phenomenal character of human action, so for me I try to distinguish

The two problem areas more than he did. Now, we certainly don’t have the time to develop the details of such a theory of action that focuses on creativity, but I want to say one thing about the connection between the two books you mentioned, namely The Creativity of Action and The Genesis of Values.

When you study creative processes, I think what you cannot abstract from is something like the passive dimension in creative processes. I mean, you may have a problem, so to speak, that you would like to solve, but it doesn’t help to make the decision to solve a problem. You have to have the idea

That helps you to solve the problem. And this idea, although it may come from somewhere in your own person, you experience something that is coming to you, that is given to you, as in terms like inspiration and so on, huh? You are not really the master of the creative process.

That’s true for all creative processes. Even those, let’s say, in the area of what Habermas would call: instrumental action. As an engineer who has a technical problem to solve. But that idea of passivity is also the bridge between my book on action theory and these basic ideas about the emergence of value commitments,

Because the fact is when you’re honest to yourself, that you realize for you, certain things are self-evidently good or self-evidently evil. You do not really feel the need to develop a complex rational argument in favor of that. Let’s say, an example I often use in German discussions,

That the Holocaust is evil, is not something that you have found out after long processes of reasoning, it seems self-evident to you that this is the case, and if somebody asks you for a justification for this assumption, you find this a strange person, who asks such a question.

So that’s true for all of us, I would say. All of us who have any value commitment, and there is no human being without value commitments, have come to this feeling that something is self-evidently good in processes that also have very strongly this passive dimension. I mean, the German tradition, for example,

The theologian (indistinct) used terms like: you have been captivated or seized by something. That you then articulate in quasi-rational statements or propositional statements of character. I consider this to be good, or justifiable, and so on. So that is the connection between the two, and The Genesis of Values book, of course,

Is an elaboration of this idea. Namely the attempt to offer a rich kind of analogy of human experiences, out of which such a commitment emerges. – And you expanded this argument with a historic (indistinct) over the emergence of values in history, particularly in your next major work,

On The Sacredness of the Human Person, which had the subtitle: A New Affirmative Theory of Human Rights. And this work can be viewed also as an alternative theory of negative, Nietzschean and Foucaultian genealogies of values. It makes also, or marks also, actually, the beginning of your interest on the notion of religion

As self-transcendence as an experience of being seized or captivated by something external to the self, and also we’ll get into this notion of religion and self-transcendence in a moment, but also it is the beginning of a new phase in your work, focusing on global theories of religion,

Or the global history of religion, actually, and moral universalism. So, this work, can you explain or can you give a summary of this work, the Sacredness of the Human Person? And the role it plays in your further theoretical development? – I mean, for sociologists, so to speak,

Perhaps the easiest way to start is Emile Durkheim. And of his very famous Sociology of Religion, in which I think he analyzes connective processes, in which the participants develop an emotional commitment to something that he calls the sacred. Now, we should not forget that the analysis

Of what at the time was called primitive religion, was not his only contribution, but that he was also deeply interested in contemporary types of sacralization, let’s say, in the history of modern nationalism. I mean, obviously, historical sociologists have to explain why an emotional commitment to the nation,

That may go so far that people are willing to sacrifice their lives for the national flag, for example, has not been there in human history all the time, but that it emerged at some point. And Durkheim also already had, I think, the ingenious idea that we can analyze the history

Of human rights, along this line of a growing sacralization of the individual, or as I prefer to say, of the human person. I prefer to say person, because sacralization of the individual can easily be misunderstood as the self-sacralization of individuals, eh? People who think they are the only thing that is sacred,

For them, in the world, but what we mean when we talk about human rights and ideas about universal human dignity, is something different, of course. Namely that we attribute this dignity to all human beings, whatever they have done in the sense of, you know, even, let’s say,

A murderer who has tortured his victims must not be tortured by the state, or by other people in general. So that’s the basic idea here, that we have to understand the history of human rights, as a history in which such ideas about universal human dignity have become captivating.

So we cannot write this history on the level of history of ideas, as such, but we have to write it on the level of collective processes of experience in which this becomes something that then is articulated also in theories. But the theories, so to speak, are not constitutive for what happens later.

– And this is actually what you show in your book, The Sacredness of the Human Person, which the book was actually based on the Berkley public lectures that you gave here at Georgetown. And it was publishes subsequently by Georgetown University press.

Can you elaborate a little more on the way in which you link the first proclamation of human rights around the time of the American and French Revolutions, with the anti-slavery movement, and in similar ways, the way you link the second United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the experience of the Holocaust.

So there seems to be, in your theory, a linkage between the notion of the positive affirmation of the sacredness of the human person, and the negative experience of violence and oppression. Can you elaborate on this link? – Yes, I just realized that I did not really respond

To one element of your previous question, namely, what you said about a non-Nietzschean, non-Foucaultian approach, so to speak, and maybe before I answer this question, I just add very few sentences. Namely that what I share with Nietzsche, so to speak, is the insight that such processes are contingent,

They happen, that they are not determined by old, previous history, so to speak. But, in Nietzsche and Foucault, and that’s what they call genealogical, but in Nietzsche and Foucault, the idea is that as soon as people recognize how contingent the existing values are, and how contingent their own commitment to values is,

These values somehow lose captivating force. And I dispute that, and that is why I call my own approach following some ideas from Paul (indistinct), affirmative genealogy, namely: although I see the historical contingency of these processes, remembering these processes might actually strengthen our commitment to them.

I mean, you mentioned the, and I came to this period. Last question now: you know, I’m fully aware of the fact that let’s say if the Holocaust hadn’t happened, and if I were not a German, maybe my interest in the history of human rights would not be so passionate.

But this insight that if things had been different, I would be different, doesn’t destroy the energy, so to speak, I put into this research endeavor. Now, actually it is true what you said. Although my explanation of the innovations of the late 18th century is a little bit different,

But in principle, what I have to look for, if I follow the methodology as I’ve briefly described it, is of course changes in the experiential context of people. That is why the abolitionist movement plays an important role in my argument, but not for the 18th century, but for the 19th century, yeah?

The important point for the 18th century, in my eyes, is first that we should get rid of the myth that the French Revolution invented the basic ideas of human rights. It is indeed true that the American Revolution preceded and influenced the French Revolution, and I follow 19th century thinkers

Who already had the idea that although the topic of religious freedom was not crucial in the context of the American Revolution, let’s say basic logical structure of human rights, is a result of the struggle for religious freedom, not just for yourself, but for all human beings.

So it’s easy to ask for freedom for yourself. But it’s a complex thing to act in favor of the same right for people whose religious or other convictions you do not share. – So this is, however, the link with your new interest and new focus of your work, for roughly the last 15,

20 years, on the global history of religion, and the emergence and trajectories of moral universalism. I have to admit that probably the seminar that we both co-directed, the so-called Young European and American Scholars Seminar on Religion and Globalization was a turning point also for me, because I was already given up,

To a certain extent, on my interest in secularization, thinking that nothing new would be said, everything had been said already. And it was this participation in this seminar, first in (indistinct) and then in North Carolina, with very, very bright, young scholars that awakened in me once again the interest

In the study of global religious dynamics. So, if we look at your works of the last 15 years, beginning with your work in collaboration with Robert Bellah, your work on: do we need religion? Where you explain your theory of religion, itself, in standards; your work on faith as option,

In which you put both religion and secularity as options for modern individuals. In particularly your two major, recent works. First, the work that was published first in German, in 2017, and that will appear very soon, at the end of the year, in Oxford University Press, with a title: The Power of the Sacred.

And then the work, (unintelligible muttering), which is going to be published also by Suhrkamp, a German publisher, at the end of the year, with the title: (speaking German). Or: Under the Spell of Freedom. Basically, in this later work, you revisit the relation between religion and freedom, as postulated by Hegel,

By looking at some 20th century thinkers that have written about this relationship. So it’s a lot of work, but all of it can somehow be put under the heading: dynamics of sacralization, and de-sacralization. Can you explain what you mean by these dynamics of sacralization and de-sacralization?

– Jose, I’m of course happy to hear that the seminar we taught together, where you clearly influenced me a lot, also, that I also exerted some influence on you, and on your further intellectual development. Maybe I can just go back to what I said with regard to Durkheim, namely, I said:

I think Durkheim is an important author for, let’s say, the dynamics of new sacralizations. I used nation and person as possible examples. Now, if we think that new sacralizations are possible, we should certainly get rid of historical narratives that describe world history in the sense of an ongoing weakening of sacredness.

And I mean, I would have much, much more to say about Max Weber’s narrative of disenchantment. So I’m simplifying things at the moment, but at least in the reception of Weber, one could say, for the moment, the narrative of disenchantment is interpreted in that sense. And I think that’s totally wrong.

There are always processes of de-sacralization, that is true, but there are also always processes of sacralization, and some people say of the migration of the sacred, or of the migration or the transfer of the holy, and I mean, there are different terminologies. So, unexpected processes of that kind, I mean,

Nobody really predicted the rise of German Nazism, for example, and the cult-like forms connected to it, in the history of the 20th century. Now, let’s say for normative reasons, since I consider myself a moral universalist, what interests me most is not just any process of sacralization, so to speak,

But the long history of moral universalism. And what you mentioned with regard to Robert Bellah and our work together, including you, on the Axial Age, is of course work on what one could consider the first historical emergence of moral universalism. I mean, and one can even turn Karl Jaspers’s

Controversial claim that there was such a thing as an Axial Age into a question, so to speak. I don’t need all the implications of his claim for my argument, like simultaneity between let’s say China and the Middle East or something like that, but one can turn it into the question:

Where did moral universalism come into being? When did it come into being? Why did it come into being? And so on. So that interests me a lot, and I would have a lot to say about that, but of course that is just, let’s say, the first breakthrough of the idea

That there is empirically and normatively such a thing as mankind. That when I think about the justifiability of my action, the highest criterion is not: is it good for me, my family, my tribe, my people, my nation, my religious community? But is it good for all human beings, including maybe

Future generations that have not even been born ye? And after this Axial Age, or whether you call it Axial Age or not, but after this first breakthrough, of course, you have to study the processes in which such ideas became canonized, for example. How these processes of canonization into acts

With political power, because canonization always implies some power, at least within the religious community, but maybe much farther than that, and beyond its limits, so for me, the studies about the Axial Age, the two books I’ve actually written about the history of human rights, and still unpublished lectures

I gave in Wiemar as so-called Friedrich Nietzsche Fellow, on Gandhi and others, and Martin Luther King, in the 20th century, as extremely important, and rich articulations of the ethos of moral universalism. And why did they emerge and why did they be successful, so to speak?

All this is connected in this idea of a global genealogy of moral universalism, and in this global genealogy of moral universalism that nobody can write in a sense of a complete history of that, yeah? You can only reconstruct crucial points of that. History, I think, is the alternative

To the Weberian narrative of disenchantment, and since you mentioned Hegel, and since Hegel plays an important role in my most recent book that will come out in December in German, and Hegel’s narrative according to which somehow the world history of religion leads to Christianity, and Christianity somehow, particularly in its

Protestant version, leads to modern political freedom, I think that’s a myth and perhaps nobody would defend it as this myth today, but it is still extremely influential in the minds of people and even some leading intellectual figures. – Since you’ve been referring to Max Weber,

You serve actually as the director of the Max Weber Kolleg in Erfurt, for several years, and now you serve as the distinguished Ernst Troeltsch Professor at Humboldt University in Berlin. One could say in your later work, you have become much closer to Ernst Troeltsch and more critical of Max Weber.

And somehow this is related with your interest in historicism, and the problems for moral relativism with historicism, usually presents. Actually, the (indistinct) rift, written in your honor, at your 60th anniversary, a collection of essays to which I also contributed, had the title in German: Between Pragmatism and Historicism.

These being the two intellectual traditions within which one can say your own work is somehow related. So can you tell us more about your relation to Ernst Troeltsch, your interest, late interest in the work of Ernst Troeltsch, and also to a certain extent to answer those who argue that historicism leads,

Necessarily, to moral relativism? – It’s funny what you say, that I was the Max Weber Professor for nine years, and now I have been the Ernst Troeltsch Professor for six years. It’s funny, for those people who know that Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch lived in one and the same house

For many years, in Heidelberg, and were very close together in a certain sense- (audio distorting) Had a major conflict in 1915 and nobody knows exactly why their friendship ended then. Now for me, as for most sociologists, and I would say for most people, at least non-theologians,

For a long time, Troeltsch was just a kind of version of the Weberian thinking, and you could, in the secondary literature, you can find many descriptions that say, let’s say Max Weber was this extremely also polemical author with clear, and sharp statements. And Troeltsch was milder and in that sense more liberal,

And so on. But in principle, they seem to have said the same thing. Now, I dispute that, and for me, I would say in my life, he is the second author, after the student, or this encounter with George Herbert Mead in my student days, he’s the second author

Who I experienced as a kind of revelation. Namely, I think in very fundamental ways what he has done differs from Max Weber and differs from Max Weber in crucial respects. Now, one could elaborate all that, with regard to many topics. Maybe I just mentioned the two 1,000-page books that Troeltsch published.

One is a kind of 1,000-page history of Christianity. But certainly not written in the spirit of a history of disenchantment, secularization and so on. But with an interest in the question: how can Christianity remain vital? How can it be justified intellectually, in the present, but also what has to change,

Organizationally, to make it vital again if it is in a kind of crisis? Now, you were referring to the other main book, one could say, a book that is practically unknown in the English-speaking world, because it has never been translated into English, Historicism and Its Problems.

It is fortunate that I know the translator. He has just finished the translation, so it, and I have written the preface to the American edition, so I will come out in English, and I personally think this will change many things, so to speak, also in the perception of Max Weber.

Now, with regard to historicism, I mean, Weber is famous for making a very strict distinction you could say, between empirical study and the clarification of evaluative questions. And he does that with a lot of emphasis, so to speak, that nothing follows out of your empirical studies.

You have to reflect on your own values, so to speak, and you have to decide in favor of your own values that then have an existential meaning for you, and of course, everything you do, empirically, is somehow driven by your values. Now, in Troeltsch, I think, I personally think

He’s much more sophisticated at that point. Namely that when we reflect on the values we already feel committed to, we necessarily get into the empirical realm. I mean, I have to ask the question: where do my values come from, in an autobiographical sense, and in a historical sense?

So I cannot so clearly mark and make a distinction here between the two, but there is a connection. Now, the idea of a history of moral universalism is also the way out of the dilemma that you are alluding to when you say: how can you be a historicist, without becoming a relativist?

I mean, what Troeltsch was thinking, and what other of my main heroes, so to speak, like Paul (indistinct) certainly, also, have had in their minds is that I am, I’m acting in a present, on the basis of a past, and in anticipation of a future.

And when I see myself as such a potential actor in a present, I reconstruct history as having led to the situation in which I now find myself. And I draw from history, as I said before when I explained this term, affirmative genealogy, a certain strength for my commitment to values.

This is not an uncritical, selective attitude to history, but it is an awareness that I was not born with my values. That I cannot speak about my values without getting into the terrain of narration, so to speak. I have to explain to people why I find certain things

Deeply convincing, and as soon as I do that, they can argue with me, both about on the narrative level, let’s say they can say: the last time, you told me a different story about yourself. Or last time, you described German history in a different way and so on.

And they can argue with me on the normative level and say: no, I dispute the, what you derive from your experience, or what you derive from historical fact, but there is an intertwinement of our reasoning about history, and our reasoning about our values. – So coming now to our final question.

One of the like motifs, precisely, of your work, has been the relation between the sacred and violence. Between the positive experience of faith as self-transcendence, and what you call its perverted brother of the traumatic experience of violence. If we can bring this in relation to contemporary developments, in 1795,

On your first trip to the United States, when you were digging in American libraries in search of the key to your interpretation of the work of George Herbert Mead, on the one hand, you encountered both, the promise and achievements of American democracy, which are so crucial in understanding the philosophy

Of American pragmatism, but also its perverted manifestation in massive poverty and social inequality, racism, criminality, violence, and social decay. For over 20 years, you’ve been coming regularly, every year as a visiting professor to the department of sociology and to the committee on social thought at the University of Chicago.

How do you see, in this relation, the contemporary intertwinement of the disastrous American response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the widespread societal support for the Black Lives Matter movement? – First, my interest in violence, yes, but it has not mostly been an interest, let’s say, in individual violence, crime.

But in macro violence, eh? War, and the Holocaust. And what I found, the really challenging thing, in connection with my work about religion and experience and so on, is that perpetrators of violence sometimes enjoy the violence they commit. And so I’ve written a theory in one of my two books on war

About this fact; that’s what I call the perverted brother. Namely, that when what is characteristic for religious experience and for the experience that leads to all sorts of value commitments, including secular values, is what I call self-transcendence. Namely that you feel captivated by something that draws you beyond the boundaries of yourself,

Something similar happens in acts of violence. But similar only in the sense of that. In other respects, it is radically different, of course. While you may open yourself to the other, in let’s say, positive experiences like love, the boundaries of yourself are opened by others, using force against your will.

And that leads us to recognizing strange parallels between let’s say the need we feel when we had an ecstatic experience, namely, to articulate it and to share it with others. And our inability to talk about traumatic events in our life, and the long and slow process

That we have to go through to become able to articulate these experiences. Now, so that was the first part of your question on violence. Now, my experience of the US and particularly one could say in connection with your question of the South Side in Chicago, it is true

That when I and my wife first arrived there, in 1975, we could hardly believe what we saw. I mean, the degree of poverty. The, the, yeah, the way, the whole situation was broken, so to speak, we could hardly believe that. And I could talk for hours about the intensity

And the shocking character of this. I mean, given the fact that we came and I would call myself and my wife something like ardent defenders of the social democratic welfare state, I could hardly believe that this is true. And of course, at the time, and with a somewhat idealized

Image of American democracy in mind, I thought this is a problem that exists right now, but this is such a great country, they will certainly be able to solve that problem in the coming years. Now I must say, that this was not true. Although things constantly change, I mean,

The character of specific street changes, the University of Chicago may buy some buildings, adjacent to the campus, so to speak, in principle, not much has changed. And even under President Obama, to be honest, I’m very disappointed in this regard, not much has changed. So I certainly experienced the current Black Lives Matter

Movement as perhaps, nobody knows that yet, a crucial step forward in that regard. Although, I would also like to add that the mechanisms for the long term, let’s say suppression, of the urban poor in the United States, and of the Black urban poor, are probably more complex

Than the mere term “racism” is able to express. – So Hans, thank you so much for all these insights and ideas. We can now move to the question and answer period. We have about 25 minutes. Let me begin with a question from Professor Bill Barbary

From Catholic University of America, who says: Hi, Hans. Here is my question for you today. In light of your comments about affirmative genealogy, and your own historical and existential location, I wonder how you think your development of critical alternatives to Habermas and Weber has been saved

By the fact that in contrast to these two thinkers, you are not unmusical when it comes to religion. – Yeah, let’s say, as a religious person, in an extremely secularized environment, I mean me being Catholic, living in Berlin, to put it concretely, of course,

If you are not, let’s say, excluded from secular dominated intellectual discourse, you are constantly confronted with the question: but how? Why are you a believer? Where does your faith come from? And so on. And so I’m used to answer these questions, so to speak, on an autobiographical level.

Now, I will not get into that, but the abstract conclusion from that is: nobody in a highly individualized culture can answer this question by simply referring to his or her childhood background. You definitely have to say that you, in your own life, had certain experiences that either, let’s say, strengthened your original commitment,

Or that brought you to such a strong commitment. And this structure, how do we speak about the origin of our basic commitments? That is exactly that, what I defended methodologically a few minutes ago. Now I am saying: but this is not only true for religious people.

It is true for people with a strong emotional commitment to secular values as well. They cannot say: I came to my commitment to, let’s say, a secular understanding of human rights just through reasoning. They have to admit that something happened in their lives that made them so intensely committed.

And so I derive from the fact that I have a religious biography a kind of structure of possible argumentation for our value commitments, and this possible argumentation for value commitments is different from Habermasian, rational argument about cognitive, and he would say normative, validity claims. – There is a related question coming from

Sergio Gader, a Jesuit and PHD student at the Hochschule für Philosophie in Munich. And he asks: would you elaborate on the connection between transcendence and the absolute or the sacred, and the normativity of values, in the sense and the relationship you find between religion and morality

And whether there has been an evolution in your perspective on this relationship in your recent work? – Okay, that’s a complex question, or a complex of questions, I would say. Maybe first I say: please bear in mind that in my terminology that may be a little bit unfortunate,

But I will not change my terminology now, after decades, so to speak. There is a difference between self-transcendence and transcendence. Self-transcendence, for me, is a descriptive psychological term, applied to the processes in which people have the experience that something draws them beyond the boundaries of their self.

Transcendence is a kind of metaphysical term, namely a sharp distinction between the mundane and something different, called the transcendent. That is not given in the whole course of human history, but that like moral universalism and in the certain connection with moral universalism, emerged at certain points and in history,

Like in the Axial Age. Now with regard to norms, I make a rather strict distinction between values and norms; values for me, are attractive. Norms are restrictive. Now, we certainly derive restrictive norms from our values. My favorite example to illustrate that is, even if I’m purely, let’s say, attracted by somebody.

Like, in love and friendship. Something restrictive follows from this attraction. Nobody can say: I have a very close commitment to this friendship, now my friend is sick; I don’t care. But if I do care, something follows from that. I will not do certain things I might have enjoyed.

Because I will visit this friend, help this friend, or whatever. So we derive normative restrictive things from our values. But the values are not the only and exclusive source of normativity; I follow Piaget and others, Mead, for example, in also thinking that the structures of action, themselves, have normative implications,

Like the rules of fairness and so on. So, there is a very complex interplay of values and norms in our individual lives, and in history. So ideas about transcendence in the metaphysical sense, for example, probably lead to ideas about humanity in the sense of mankind and moral universalism,

But how exactly we translate these ideas about the reference point, mankind, into specific moral or legal norms, depends on many intervening processes that I cannot spell out within a second. – A related question comes from Paolo Costa, from the Bruno Kessler Foundation in Trento, Italy. Namely: do you see the COVID-19 pandemic

As a collective limit experience, that could lead to the genesis of new values? – Yeah, Paolo, this is a very good question. I recently said in an interview that what is so striking about this pandemic is that in one crucial respect, it differs from other societal crises.

In general, I assume that a societal crisis, let’s say a major depression, a war, collapse of a regime and so on, in a sense that brings people closer together. At least, particular groups of people. I mean, not denying that there may be very hostile relationships among different groups,

But within those groups, people come closer together. They identify with each other in such a difficult situation. Now, in this pandemic, what is lacking is exactly the opportunity to come closer together. One could put that in the literal sense, so it makes us more lonely. And not more collective.

And I really do not know, and I do not want to make unfounded predictions, what the result of a crisis is that isolates people in the corporeal sense, from each other instead of producing a kind of enthusiastic public. In that sense, I’m also less optimistic than others,

Who think that this crisis is, might be, a turning point in the direction of more solidarity. But actually, I do not know, and it is probably too early to judge. And we have to bear in mind that the societal conditions differ very much from country to country.

I mentioned before, speaking about the South Side in Chicago, that I’m an ardent defender of the welfare state. I think that the current crisis also, I mean, at least for me, strengthens the commitment to the welfare state; the crisis is much less dramatic under conditions of a welfare state than it is

If the welfare state is as weak as it is in the US. – Then we have a very broad question from Andrew Condon. Do you feel that in this time of technological, digital socialization, the notion of transculturalism faces some impact on the adoption of intersubjectivity as a theory?

– Again, I’m not totally sure that I understand the question. But I certainly think that, under present conditions, we do not live in one culture, exclusively. But that our contact with people from other cultures and the availability of elements from other cultures has become much stronger and that affects intersubjectivity,

But in the sense of a greater challenge, so to speak. I mean, it’s certainly easier to understand people, with whom you share many cultural features than people who you first experience as being very far from your own cultural background. On the other hand, that is exactly what may make these encounters more fascinating.

– So, Hans, my dear friend, I would like to thank you very, very much, for your willingness to participate in this conversation, which for me, really, really was fascinating. And I would also like to thank the entire audience, everybody who came and participated in the webinar, for their interest.

Thank you so much to everybody. And at this point, I would like to announce that the next conversation, our third conversation in our series on global religious and secular dynamics is scheduled for August 16th, again, a Thursday at the same time, at 12:30, with the Turkish French sociologist Nilufer Gole.

We will be discussing her work on Islam (indistinct) in Turkey, in France, and throughout Europe. So, I hope to welcome many of you to this webinar. Thank you so much and goodbye.

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