From CIISN paper – Jose Casanova and deprivatized public religion

Casanova‟s analysis of deprivatized public religion takes on the poles of Weber’s phenomenological and Durkheim‟s integrationist theses. Religion transcends conventional private / public distinctions and simultaneously frees and integrates people in a transsocial reality. The individual is placed between the invisible religious belief of the self and formal associational denominationalism. This is the spatial dimension of religious belief in which my own doctoral work is positioned. In doing this Casanova wishes to recast the role that religions play in political processes and any place that they might have in a notionally-constituted public sphere. What he proposes is an analysis of religion in public life where public religion is not coextensive with the political or societal communities. This is an analysis of disestablishment, a decoupling, of national Catholic churches from the political communities within which they developed for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This arises, at least in broad terms, from the dissociation of states from established churches.Casanova’s move of religions out of its coextensive position with political communities allows for a public religion which is:

Characterized by the public intervention of religion in the undifferentiated public sphere of civil society. (217)

In this, Casanova echoes Seyla Benhabib’s synthesis of a “radical proceduralist discursive model of the public sphere” with her critique of the privatisation of gender. Benhabib’s synthesis is a critique of a Habermasian liberal social-contract tradition. There is a fundamental ambiguity about what is the concern of the private in this orthodox liberal model of the public realm. Within this ambiguity, there is a wish to establish a separation of church and state. This is facilitated by the principle of non-interference seen to be present in many other parts of such a differentiated society. In Benhabib’s terms:

Along with the decline of subsistence-type household economies and the eventual emergence of national markets, a parallel development establishing the privacy of economic markets takes place. (91)

Alongside this is the tendency toward believing that the private sphere was considered outside the realm of justice, arising from tensions between the patriarchal authority of the father in the home on the one hand and developing conceptions of equality in the political realm on the other. The confinement in the liberal conception of a public religion to the private world seeks the diminishment of the intersubjective and the moral. Moral reasoning takes place, and is increasingly confined within, the private home. This liberal model of distinctions between the private and the public seeks the sequestration of belief to the home and also to the private individual home. In the same way as theorists like Benhabib can criticise capitalism for situating the world of women in private, religion is3similarly situated. The sequestration of religion to the private as distinct from public becomes an ever-increasing imperative for liberal representations of the public sphere. For Casanova, it is only those public religions at the level of civil society that are consistent with modern differentiated structures, e.g. polity, media, informal economies. It is the constitution of what being public is that matters to my argument for this paper. The “voluntary acceptance of disestablishment by the Catholic Church” and the acceptance of the legitimacy of modern forms of secularization mean that the institution enters the public realm anew. But it does so as a church moving from being “a state-oriented to a society-oriented institution” (220).

The Catholic Church in Ireland has lost its state orientation and finds itself taking part in a struggle for dominance in a more crowded society-oriented public space. In these spaces, the institution is failing but the ACP might be seen as an attempt to reclaim some of this struggle. Casanova states that such a process of moving from state- to society-oriented action means a rejection of the confinement to the private sphere. The privatized role assigned to them by traditional representations of liberal democracy is insufficient. It is particularly insufficient in the Irish context.

Public interventions of religion in the public sphere…can on longer be viewed simply as antimodern religious critiques of modernity…In other words, they are immanent critiques of particular forms of modernity from a modern religious point of view. (221-2)

This of course does not preclude intervention by national Catholic Churches and the Vatican state in the affairs of any progressive Catholic groups. Such interventions (as we have seen in the 1997 letter to the Irish Bishops recently revealed) are attempts to regain control over situations that are accepting of the structure of the world as it is. This is not a reversal of processes of secularization and it would be wrong to conclude from what I have said so far that what we see now in Ireland is some kind of counter-secularization process. The Church’s place in Irish political and civil life has changed profoundly. However, the dynamics of this change are not what we might expect were we to apply orthodox liberal notions of the confinement of religious belief to the private sphere. Unlike other representations of the secular and sacred that we are inured to, the sequestration of the religious to the private realm is both analytically unhelpful and not reflected in experience.