Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Between Rejection of Religion and World-Saving: Itineraries of Sociology and Postsecular Social Theory

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Between Rejection of Religion and World-Saving: Itineraries of Sociology and Postsecular Social Theory

Article excerpt

Initial Remarks

The presented essay discusses different kinds of knowledge and the associated ambiguities, as well as the influence of changes in knowledge on cultural changes. It also alludes to the dispute which inevitably arose together with the birth of a clearly differentiated system of secular scientific knowledge; the secular cultural and social sciences, and sociology in particular, played a central role here. I will also deal with the ambiguities that were used as arguments in this dispute. To mind comes at oncefrom a historical point of view-Christian sociology, as well as religious sociology, as opposed to the program of sociology and sociology of religion as its subdiscipline. Christian sociology and sociology of religion have never been synonymous, but they both show how sociology, as soon as it came into existence, became the target of attempts to subordinate it anew to theological reflection. This question is not merely historical, since certain circles still uphold this orientation.

Today, we can observe a reverse tendency-it consists in attempts to subordinate theological discourse to cognitive interests, which develop on the grounds of social theory in quite a peculiar fashion. I will discuss the encroachments of postmodernist social theory on the field of theology in more detail further on. I intend to focus on the contemporary trend that I call "postmodernist postsecularism." I am interested not only in the relationship between sociology and theology, as well as between social theory and theology, but also in the relationship between sociology and postmodernist social theory, which is ceasing to be a theory in the hitherto functioning epistemological sense, especially since it loses its explanatory function. In the article's title, I have used the metaphorical expression itineraries, since I intend to sketch out the roads and directions of the changes which are taking place in the types of knowledge discussed here.

In order to avoid ambiguity, which can easily arise when one begins to analyze the relationship between social sciences and theology, since this topic is tainted by differing outlooks, I wish to emphasize that my reflections are from a culturological point of view, and that I treat the presented perspectives of sociology, theology and social theory as different cultures of knowledge. I take a clearly judging stand, but only because I recognize the value of the autonomy of rational secular knowledge. Thus, my standpoint is close to that of Karl Mannheim, who debated with theologians about the crisis of modernity during World War II, but also stated clearly that fusion of the sociological perspective with the theological perspective would start an entirely new epoch, marked by the rejection of sociology as a secularized branch of knowledge about the mechanisms of shaping historical reality, precluding a religious approach to anything supernatural (Mannheim 1947:116).

Mannheim was referring to the tradition of Christian theology. Currently there seem to be no signs of such a cultural turning point; although numerous enclaves of fundamentalism exist, the principle of autonomous secular knowledge predominates. However, as I intend to show, new phenomena are appearing-phenomena which do not match existing terms. To avoid any other ambiguity, I also wish to emphasize that I recognize the value of theology-both in its intellectual, cultural dimension and in its spiritual dimension. My standpoint is close to that of Niklas Luhmann, who accepted the multiple perspectives of human knowledge and cognition, and who consequently proposed observation from multiple perspectives, e.g. of theology by sociology or of sociology by theology (Hahn 1994: 19). On the other hand, I have little esteem for postmodernist social theory which rejects sociology, uses an ambiguous discourse and dons a robe of theological language, mixing science with doctrines, ideology with praxis.

Alluding to Harrison C. …

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