Rethinking Secularism—with Raimon Panikkar

  • Fred Dallmayr
Part of the Culture and Religion in International Relations book series (CRIR)


For a long time, Western society has been defined as secular and modernization has tended to be equated with secularization. Today, however, these notions are suddenly contested. More than a century after Nietzsche’s proclamation of the “death of God,” Gilles Kepel speaks alarmingly of “the revenge of God,” while Mark Juergensmeyer points to the prospect of a “new cold war” inspired by religious motives—a prospect that is often far from “cold” or speculative.1 Having emerged not long ago from European domination, Algeria has been plunged into a bloody nightmare pitting against each other religious “fundamentalists” and a “secular” military and business elite. On a lesser scale, similar feuds are brewing throughout North Africa and the Middle East—incipiently even extending to Turkey, which Kemal Pascha had supposedly made “safe” for secularism. Taking note of the brewing turmoil, many Western observers are wont to adopt a superior, condescending stance (not far from colonial conceit), blaming the conflicts on cultural and economic backwardness. Though comforting, this stance ignores, however, the emergence of similar troubles in the West, especially the rise of a militant religious “Right” bent on salvaging traditional faith from the inroads of secular democracy. Observers with a somewhat longer memory will recall the deep fissures afflicting many Western societies during the nineteenth century, especially the agonies of the so-called culture struggle (Kulturkampf) dividing these societies along religious versus secular lines.


Traditional Faith Religious Motive Business Elite Secular World Study Comparative Politics 
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    See Gilles Kepel, The Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World, trans. Alan Braley (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994)Google Scholar
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    Gerhard Lenski, The Religious Factor (New York: Doubleday 1961), p. 3. Extending this assessment beyond the confines of sociology, Rodney Stark and William S. Bainbridge reached a similar conclusion: “At least since the Enlightenment, most Western intellectuals have anticipated the death of religion. … The most illustrious figures in sociology, anthropology, and psychology have unanimously expressed confidence that their children, or surely their grandchildren, would live to see the dawn of a new era in which, to paraphrase Freud, the infantile illusions of religion would be outgrown.” See The Future of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 1. Compare alsoGoogle Scholar
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    Panikkar, Worship and Secular Man, pp. 42, 47, 49–52. Offering a personal reflection he adds: “For me secularization represents the regaining of the sacramental structure of reality, the new awareness that real full human life is worship, because it is the very expression of the mystery of existence. Man is priest of the world, of the cosmic sacrament and we are closer today to accepting this truth also: that he is the prophet of this universe of ours, the celebrant of the sacrament of life and the ambassador of the realm of the spirit” (pp. 92–93). Regarding the “cosmotheandric” perspective see also Panikkar, The Cosmothe-andric Experience, ed. Scott Eastham (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993). As an aside, one may perhaps prefer to regard the three models of heteronomy autonomy, and ontonomy more as ideal types than strictly as historical worldviews. Compare in this context alsoGoogle Scholar
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© Fred R. Dallmayr 2002

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  • Fred Dallmayr

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