Between Habermas and Taylor: Understanding Terrorism in Modernity

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The media coverage of the War on Terror has produced some unfortunate side effects, one of which is the internalization of an irrational fear and antagonism towards Muslims and their culture. Terrorists, obviously, are not representative of an entire people group; yet, understanding this does not prevent human imagination from transforming chimerical fears into real judgments. The ever-growing negativity against Muslims, as reflected in Trump’s campaign or various nationalist movements in the EU, only further exacerbates the nihilistic sense of irreconcilability between the ideologues of secular democracy in the West and the extreme ‘fundamentalism’ of Islamic State terrorists- that peace by means of war is the only way forward. While secularism and fundamentalism appear to be at odds, the brand of secularism paraded about by Trump suggests the two concepts are not all that disparate. In this paper I explore the relationship between secularism and fundamentalism by framing the debate between Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor on the place of religion in public discourse within the context of terrorism. I present and evaluate Habermas and Taylor’s two differing views of secularization and explain how these views help us better understand terrorism as a uniquely modern phenomenon.

I will begin by summarizing the main ideas behind both Habermas and Taylor’s interpretations of modernity and how they understand the role of discourse in ‘secular democracy’. Following this, I explicate the role religion plays in both Habermas and Taylor’s understanding of democracy. For Habermas, democracy requires that political discourse be framed within secular reason; and ‘religious reason’, if it is admitted in public discourse, be translated into secular language. How Habermas defines religious reason in opposition to secular reason informs his view on terrorism, which is described as a violent reaction against pluralism. I then explain how Habermas understands terrorism as a phenomenon that is a consequence of the breakdown of democratic discourse. This breakdown can be interpreted as either the cause or effect of fundamentalism.[1] I argue Habermas’ conception of deliberative democracy is limited in how it can positively respond to phenomena like terrorism.

Where Habermas’ thought reaches a limit is where Taylor’s can offer a more constructive way of understanding and responding to terrorism. The second half of this paper consists of an exploration of Taylor’s conception of ‘secularism’ as an unconscious framework underlying an unwavering belief in secular values. The uncompromising adherence to deliberative democracy grounded on secular reason in the West is a cause for concern for Taylor. This adherence to secular reason exposes democratic societies as self-enclosed communities that are as fundamentalist as its terrorist enemies at home or abroad. The relationship between secularism and fundamentalism can thus be understood as an endlessly circular one where both necessitate the existence of the other. I conclude by suggesting violence towards the ‘Islamic other’ has become a necessary phenomenon the West must sustain in order to perpetuate a myth of modern progress.

1. Habermas: The Importance of Communicative Action for Democracy

Both Habermas and Taylor view modernity as an unfinished project.[2] For Habermas, modernity is an unfinished project because it is not so much a doctrine as it is a conversation; it does not constitute a totalizing system but is the expression of the ever-continuing process of deliberation.[3] Nevertheless, this does not mean a deliberative democracy is without a fixed ground. How democracy is expressed may change over time but it will always be founded upon secular reason. For Habermas, modernity is characterized by the freedom for individuals to mutually participate, via discourse and the free use of their reason, in the process of authoring the principles their community will live by. [4] This democratic ideal rests upon Habermas’ theory of ‘communicative action’, which asserts that inherent to every speech act is an implicit orientation towards consensus. In other words, every act of communication presupposes the possibility of reaching an agreement.[5] This constitutes, for Habermas, what is both universal and rational because the communicative act is common to all and the ‘background consensus’ that it implies applies to everyone regardless of cultural differences.

Without this communicative rationality, politics would regress back into the uncritical and sacral state of affairs characterized by the adherence to metasocial values.[6] Politics based on communicative action implies the use of reason and the capacity for self-criticism to arrive at a consensus despite fundamental differences between participants. In other words, the failure of communicative action implies the simultaneous inability to confront the challenges of pluralism. In a democracy the people are the authors of their constitution, which is why it is crucial for citizens to participate in public discourse; whereas, in something like a theocracy people have no part in contributing to the laws that will govern their lives since these laws originate from a divine or absolute source.[7] The distinction Habermas makes between ‘secular’ democracy and ‘religious’ fundamentalism informs how he understands the increased presence of terrorism in recent years as a result of the breakdown of deliberative discourse.

1.2 Habermas’ View on Religion in Public Discourse

Habermas argues that religious language needs to be either suspended from public discourse or translated because it refers to the values of a specific cultural background that requires indoctrination by an ‘other-worldly’, or ‘sacred’ experience. He describes this sacred worldview as one that “owes its legitimizing force to the fact that it draws its power to convince from its own roots. It is rooted, independently of politics.”[8] As opposed to religious reason, secular reason doesn’t require a specialized background experience or indoctrination to be able to understand a secular argument. Habermas argues that the secular is itself neutral in regards to a multiplicity of different worldviews; it is ‘secular’ as opposed to ‘religious’ because it does not privilege any particular background perspective. This is why political discourse needs to be grounded in secular reason; because it is neutral, people from different backgrounds can debate on an issue and come to a consensus on that topic of debate.

What makes religion a special case for Habermas is that its inclusion in the public sphere requires an ‘extra-lingual’ translation. For example, an argument by a feminist would still be grounded in the politics of this world, but any religious argument would not, and this becomes a divisive difference for Habermas. Reason that is rooted in this world can be understood mutually with others on the basis of a shared experience of this world. Religion requires an extra step of translation because of its adherence to the sacred and passively accepted experience of a world beyond. The inability to distance one’s self from one’s own belief system greatly hinders the communicative process. Critical distance enables one to consider a perspective and possibility other than one’s own; this is a necessary step in the process of deliberation.

1.3 Habermas’ View on Fundamentalism Applied to Terrorism

For Habermas, the breakdown of communication in public discourse results in the disruption of the democratic process. When citizens from different backgrounds come together and are not able to come to a mutual agreement on an issue, political progress stagnates and the possibility of coercion increases. However, despite the occasional deadlocks in parliamentary procedures, the fact that deliberation nonetheless persists reflects the rationality at the basis of the communicative act, the expectation that a consensus is right around the corner. Taylor notes, “Democracy obliges us to show much more solidarity and much more commitment to one another in our joint political project than was demanded by the hierarchical and authoritarian societies of yesteryear.”[9] The key idea here is that in democracy, solidarity and commitment are between participants and towards a common good for those participants involved, whereas in authoritarian regimes, solidarity and commitment are towards pre-given ideals that are non-negotiable. The inability to see past one’s own background beliefs suggests that one is only capable of looking backwards, tethered to a past that perpetually colors the present.[10] But is this not the case for both seculars and fundamentalists?

Habermas asserts that fundamentalism is a panicked response to the plurality in modernity.[11] This response can be interpreted as the expression of a self-enclosed attitude that is not open to accepting the growing relativism in a globalized world. From the pre-historical era of humanity up until recent history, adherence to sacral otherworldly experience was the prevailing and dominant worldview. As the capacity for self-doubt, self-criticism- distancing oneself from passively accepted presuppositions- and the use of reason (and critiques of its limits) were developed people began to break free from divinely inspired authority. This ‘enlightenment’ is typically attributed to European history, and along with it, the birthplace of modernity. But to the chagrin of enthusiastic moderns, not all the world has bought into Western interpretations of fraternity, equality and liberty. The follow-up question “for who?” is pertinent here.

f the democratization or modernization of the Middle East seems like a Sisyphean process perhaps it is because a square peg does not fit into a triangular hole; but I suppose with enough excess force, it could be made to fit- at least according to the logic of advanced capitalism. Thus it is not surprising that in the parts of the world yet to be colonized by the ‘progress’ of the West, there arises a natural aversion towards feeling forced to adapt to, what seems to them, an external and invasive force intending to uproot their traditions and history. Some of these ‘pre-secular’ cultures today are represented by a “political theology [that] attempts to ‘preserve metasocial connotations for…state authority”[12], but this closes them off from discourse with the rest of the global community. Habermas thinks that democracy has become our only viable option, precisely because only democracy provides the possibility of establishing a common ground upon which differences can be understood on an equal level. However, can conflicts rooted in religious reason- let alone extremist beliefs- be mediated by and through secular terms?

According to Habermas, fundamentalism arises in opposition to modern ideals because it is a distinctly and uniquely modern phenomenon. Habermas describes it as

a stubborn attitude that insists on the political imposition of its own convictions and reasons…[ignores] the epistemic situation of a pluralistic society and insists- even to the point of violence- on the universally binding character and political acceptance of their doctrine.[13]

 The ‘epistemic situation’ refers to the challenge for religion to adapt its own position relative to other worldviews without relativizing its own dogmatic core.[14] The further modern values become globalized, the more these religious regimes are under threat of becoming ‘equal’ to other worldviews, losing their sense of historical and traditional particularity. As the modern world caves in around them, their hold on absolute self-certainty begins to collapse, which can provoke a defensive reaction that reinforces their fundamentalism.

For Habermas, terrorism, understood as an extreme strain of fundamentalism, is a violent reaction against the project of modernity, and a traumatic disruption to the democratic process. However, terrorists can be of the secular variety as well. For Taylor, modernity as the unquestioned and self-evident background frame of secular hegemony has become a form of fundamentalism itself, closed off to ‘transcendence’ and other possible ways of being. Secular reason becomes assumed as the norm and is imposed upon discourse within the global community. Because of this, Taylor likewise interprets terrorism as a reaction against modernity, but understands it as a symptom of a larger ‘pathology’ within modernity, which is the sacralization of secularism itself that reflects the return of fundamentalism with secularism.[15]

2. Taylor’s View on Secularization and the Possibility of Transcendence

By excluding religion from public discourse based on the principle that discourse must be couched in secular reason, democratic societies undermine their core values- inclusion and freedom, or fraternity and liberty.[16] What results is the privileging of one worldview (the secular) over another (the religious), which for Taylor goes against one of the core values of modernity, namely- ‘fraternity’, that all people groups are included in the process of world-building.[17] The main argument for Taylor on this point is that, in being closed-off to the religious, the secular itself adheres to a “quasi-sacred” character. The traces of the sacred retained within the secular mindset is explained by Taylor through what he calls the ‘myth of enlightenment’.[18]

2.1 The Myth of Enlightenment and the Fetishization of Secular Reason

What Taylor describes as the myth of enlightenment is “the understanding of Enlightenment as an absolute, unmitigated step forward,”[19] the belief that humanity has liberated itself from a prior condition (typically equated with religion) that had impeded its development. Taylor refers to the different variations on the myth of enlightenment- sentiments like ‘God is dead’- as “subtraction stories.”[20] These “master narratives” socialize people into uncritically accepting secularism as the norm, and as an ideal that has rendered obsolete the archaic belief systems of religion. This is reflected in mantras such as ‘the separation between church and state’ or ‘science has disproven religion’. Taylor’s analysis of this phenomenon, which he terms the ‘immanent frame’, is rich and complex. It emphasizes the facticity of human existence- the historical ‘situatedness’ that no person can escape from- that unconsciously conditions man’s actions and thoughts. What Taylor suggests is the myth of enlightenment- the belief in ‘reason alone’- bears no essential difference from how Habermas qualifies the religious as that which “owes its legitimizing force to the fact that it draws its power to convince from its own roots.”[21]

‘Secularization’, understood in this sacral way, constitutes a pre-given context of sentimentality that reinforces a strong resistance to transcendence, or openness to other possible ways of being. Modern man suffers from secular near-sightedness, unable to see past his own secular presuppositions. In international politics this near-sightedness is reflected in how often nations cannot see past the interests of their own borders, resulting in more austere border controls and immigration laws while simultaneously perpetuating an ever-growing xenophobia and exacerbating a migrant crisis. Or in the case of the U.S., its repeated intervention in other nations’ conflicts shows how pretentiously arrogant this unwavering faith in the secular process has become. The internalization of subtraction stories simultaneously perpetuates the normalization of an oppositional perspective and binary distinction between the West and the ‘Islamic other’. Secular reason has become not simply normative but oppressive- perhaps even moving a step right of fundamentalism considering its influence on a global scale on both neoliberal and neoconservative policies.

Taylor sees this as a fetishization of ‘secularism’ that reflects “a deep feature of life in modern democracies”; namely, that there needs to exist ‘one master formula’ by which the masses identify themselves and through which they form a bond as a unified people.[22] Understood this way, ideals of democracy such as human rights and equality has taken on a “quasi-sacred status, for to alter or undermine them can seem to threaten the very basis of unity without which a democratic state cannot function.”[23]

2.2 Political Discourse Based on Secular Reason Further Marginalizes the Islamic World from the West

Taylor suggests that from a Muslim’s perspective “there is a widespread feeling of Islam being demeaned or presented as something backward” by Western media. Intentional or not, the proliferation of an ‘Islamic myth’ in Western culture alongside the effects of globalism forces an entire culture into an alienated status that inhibits its freedom of expression, simultaneously preventing the possibility of their own ‘modernization’, or one free from negative outsider influence. The refusal of IS terrorists to take part in a deliberative democratic process should neither perplex nor insult modern liberals when it is modernity itself that is responsible for the creation of a hostile environment from which something like ISIL can come into existence. Secular discourse, understood in Habermasian terms, cannot admit of Islamic reasoning- whether orthodox or extreme- because the secular itself is closed off towards any transcendence beyond what is grounded in reason; its basis of rationale is found in itself. It is this basis that aids and abets the prevailing modern pathos that continues to alienate the Islamic world from the global community. “This builds up to extremely powerful emotions, which can then because of the idea of identity rejection lead to vengeance and action against the West by attacking it.”[24]

However, Taylor argues that inherent to this immanence is also the possibility for transcendence; that secularization “allows of both readings, without compelling us to either.”[25] This is the phenomenon that he alludes to as the “middle condition [that] allows us to understand better belief and unbelief as lived conditions, not just as theories or sets of beliefs subscribed to.”[26] This notion of a possibility of transcendence within immanence provides the basis for a potential ‘leap of faith’; to go either in the direction of a ‘closed off’ attitude towards what does not cohere to one’s presuppositions, or an openness to alterity that holds the promise of the possibility for discourse.

2.3 Taylor’s Conception of Secularization as a ‘Middle Condition’ Latent with Possibility

This possibility of transcendence within immanence on the basis of a neutral ground of discourse forms Taylor’s understanding of secularization.[27] This ‘neutral’, and I add- shifting, ground upon which public discourse must take place does not privilege any one form of rationality over another. I understand it as ‘shifting’ because it has to constantly negotiate between separate immanent frames, such as between the secular and religious; shifting, so discourse does not privilege or stagnate on one fixed position or perspective. There always seems to be a tendency towards inertia and sedimentation in one’s own frame of reference- the regression back to the familiarity of our pre-given traditions, a ‘default’ stance, be it secular or religious. This is the main critique against Habermas’ insistence for public discourse rooted in secular reason: if the secular model is the only option, then discourse becomes anchored, static and limited in how it can manifest. When this is the case, discourse merely reflects the values of the background frame from which it was constituted. Discourse becomes stuck in a cycle of a ‘repetition of the same’ where outcomes are always pre-determined, for they can ever only be secular. The problem becomes hermeneutic in nature; if religious language requires translation into a secular framework, what secular baggage or assumptions are tainting a supposedly unbiased understanding of the non-secular position? The unconscious tendency towards reductive translations of non-secular traditions and cultural forms of discourse into a secular paradigm exposes a gravitational pull towards fundamentalism at the heart of Western democracies.

With Muslims’ traditions and cultural values threatened by the expansion of secularism, it is not unexpected that the perceived antagonism against Islam would be met with resistance, and if necessary, with force.[28] This is not to say though, that citizens in the Middle East are not welcoming of Big Macs or Nike apparel; the desire to participate and share in a global culture goes together with the desire for improved quality of life and freedom of choice.[29] Perhaps any distrust or fear of Western imperialism is warranted given the degree of continued outsider military presence in the region.

Taylor envisions any possibility of a solution to this conflict as necessarily having to require the suspension of secular reason in favor of a radical neutrality inclusive of religious language and rationale: “Without the invention or recovery of other kinds of Islam- which incidentally would be much more justifiable in terms of the actual Koran and the hadith– we are not going to be able to…do anything but a series of rampant defensive maneuvers.”[30] Taylor describes these defensive maneuvers as counter-productive- for example, “going against the money trail” to cut off funds that enables terrorism to persist does not end their ideology, nor alleviate any remaining sense of retributive justice that some Muslims may have against the West. Military campaigns become nothing more than stop-gap bandages that do more harm than good in the long run; a shift of emphasis in how funds are allocated is required to balance military intervention with infrastructural aid. Helping locals develop, build and sustain infrastructure such as health and education are longer-term solutions towards dispelling extremist ideology. Cutting off terrorists’ financial sources is one thing, providing a sustainable alternative to their ideology is another.

What Taylor has in mind here is exactly what he means when he describes secularization as having within it the possibility of transcendence, or openness to alterity. In other words, what is required in this situation is not recourse to political discourse on the basis of secular reason, or the continued exclusion of religious language, but the activation of the secular pathos that there is not any privileged frame of reference; and to embrace a secular rationale in the sense that Taylor describes- as that which is without ideological limits or boundaries. Rather than the bored and nihilistic strategy of the intervention and imposition of Western ideals, a possibility towards a resolution requires going against the modern impulse and recognize, not a ‘higher’ reason but a different one- which in this case would be ‘neutral’. ‘Neutral’ does not suggest the “withdrawing from all differences to some higher ground”; rather, it means the ability to negotiate through differences while simultaneously discovering common ground that has yet to identified as either ‘this’ or ‘that’, either ‘secular’ or ‘religious’.[31] This echoes the notion of modernity as an incomplete project- modernity is not defined by enlightenment ideals; rather, modernity is about the struggle with these ideals within the context of difference and plurality. Taylor’s suggestion concerns the possibility of recovering kinds of Islam within the pre-existing framework of its own rich cultural history. Where our responsibility lies is not in political intervention per se, but that we “broadcast less contempt and blanket condemnation of Islam”, and that we shift the tenor of our secular rhetoric that is always so apt to unconsciously marginalize what does not have its own space in our language or modern frame of life.[32]

3. Conclusion: the Democratic Process as Temporal and Contingent Upon the Openness to Transcendence

The myth of secular reason has become internalized into the modern unconscious; it informs a way of being that is undifferentiated from the ground of its being- it retains elements of the sacred. If modernity is understood as the propagation of the self-evident universality of secular reason that foregrounds all communication, in the West, then this raises the question: are there not different modernities, as there are different uses of reason from societies of differing historical narratives? The fulfillment of modernity, contingent upon the possibility of communication between nations and coming to a consensus on policies, depends on the possibility of actually being able to take a distanced and critical stance from one’s presuppositions, which includes suspending embedded sentiments such as the perceived authority of secular reason.

Again, the main point of contention between Habermas and Taylor is over how the ‘neutral language’ from which differences are mediated is to be understood; for Habermas this neutrality should be grounded on secular reason, while for Taylor this neutrality should be radically ungrounded but constantly shifting between positions. Because of Habermas’ insistence on the use of secular reason, this way of understanding public discourse comes to a limit when it is confronted with, not simply religion, but with fundamentalist ideology and practice.[33] While, indeed, the terrorism that is currently disrupting the democratic interests in the West stems from a fundamentalist perspective, this fundamentalism is motivated towards violence because it has become marginalized as the other other. If fundamentalism is a reaction against modernity, then this does not preclude the possibility that it is on the side of modernity, the secular West, where the instigation of violence is first committed. Furthermore, this violence is intimately related to a colonializing mentality that projects and imposes its own image, its secular democratic ideals, upon the global community. This is not discourse if the other side is not met halfway in the discussion; rather, this is the imposition of the assumed authority of one’s background frame of reference. Clearly, coercive forces are at play that subvert the democratic ideals Habermas strives to encourage and uphold in the public sphere; however, the question has to be raised as to whether or not the adherence to secular reason in discourse does not merely propagate the larger problem of Western hegemony and its provocation of violent reactions from the ‘underdeveloped’ members of the global community. To assuage this growing hostility of fundamentalist regimes against the secularism of the West, the West would be well served to understand that secularization is just another immanent frame, one option among many others.[34]

The marginalization of the Islamic world by the West has reduced it to the structural ‘other’ against which the West continues to justify the interminable delay of the deliberative process. This exacerbates two main problems pertaining to the logic of communicative action grounded on secular reason- time and difference; or, deferral and objectification. The notion that consensus is ‘right around the corner’ induces the deferral of responsibility in the ‘now’, inhibiting one from connecting with an interlocutor in the present. The interlocutor is treated as an object and as a means towards consensus rather than a political subject. Inherent to the possibility of coming to a consensus, is also the possibility of never reaching one- the psychoanalytic understanding of unconsciously repressing an inadmissible idea suggests that there are differences that require more than simply discourse to bridge. While not entirely inadmissible, religious reason, and in particular fundamentalism continues to be a challenge for secular democracy. The difficulty is finding ways of coexisting with others who have traditions different from our own.

In the end, there is an unbridgeable difference between different frames of immanence. Ultimately, there is no absolute ground of discourse, other than difference itself. It is the tension between respective others that constitutes the ground; the ground itself is conflict. But taking our cue from Taylor, what is inherent to this shifting (un)ground is the possibility for transcendence, of choosing to look past one’s self-interest. If both sides can accomplish this move of transcendence, then what we experience is not ‘mutual agreement’, but the beginning of an intersubjective relationship. The possibility of this mutual transcendence that moves away from self-interest cannot be directed or intentioned by any pre-planned idealism or adherence to tradition; in a way it must almost be accidental, ignorant of the other’s intentions; perhaps unconditional. It is what amounts to a ‘teleological suspension of the ethical’, to borrow from Kierkegaard. One does not know what the other side of this ‘now’ moment will bring. This ‘now’ moment is the ‘middle condition’ that we perpetually and continually live that constitutes the possibility of whether we choose to remain static and transfixed before the seductive allure of our own nature, or whether we can break from our pre-given conditions and confront the unknown frontier of what is ‘other’. Even if political discourse can unfold within such a moment- where hospitality leaves open the possibility for mutual transcendence with, rather than mere tolerance for the other- this does not necessarily imply the end of tension and conflict. Perhaps time holds the promise of an eventual consensus, but it depends on how we live with one another in the meantime.


[1] While the inhibiting of pubic discourse in democratic states can be found to be due to other reasons such as economic coercion, I will use fundamentalism as my main example throughout this paper. However, it can be argued that economic coercion is part and parcel of the fundamentalism I will be discussing.

[2] Would this imply that the completion of modernity entail that phenomena such as terrorism be ‘complete’ as well? It will be important to keep this relationship between terrorism and modern ideals in mind throughout this paper.

[3] D’ Entrèves, Maurizio Passerin, and Seyla Benhabib, eds. 1997. Habermas and the Unfinished Project of Modernity: Critical Essays on The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press., p. 59.

[4] It will be important to keep in mind that the use of this term will always be used in distinction to the sentiment of pre-modern religious authority. This conception of the ‘religious’ will be explained further below.

[5] Borradori, Giovanna. 2004.Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press., p. 60.

[6] The sacred refers to a ‘demonic and orgiastic’ experience during primeval time where no differentiation between the forces of nature and the elements within nature, such as man, is experienced.

[7] While it is outside the scope of this paper to discuss this, I would just like to make note of the problem of economic coercion and the negative influence of market forces upon the level of citizen participation in public discourse. Habermas notes that “under the constraint of economic imperatives that increasingly hold sway over private spheres of life, individuals, intimidated, withdraw more and more into the bubble of their private interests. Willingness to engage in collective action…fades under the perceived force of systemic imperatives.” Butler, Judith, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, Cornel West, and Craig Calhoun. 2011. The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere. Edited by Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen. New York: Columbia University Press., p. 16.

[8] Ibid., p. 17. My emphasis.

[9] Butler, p. 44.

[10] ‘Present’ in both the sense of presence and time.

[11] Borradori, p. 18.

[12] Butler, p. 24.

[13] Borradori, p. 31.

[14] Ibid., p. 72.

[15] It is important to remember that there is a difference between terrorism and fundamentalism. My understanding of terrorism in this paper relates it as a violent reaction against modernity; whereas fundamentalism can be crudely understood as a more passive-aggressive reaction against what does not conform to one’s own particular worldview.

[16] Of course, such ideals always come with qualifications. Freedom always requires some forms of regulation to keep ‘one’ freedom from encroaching another’s freedom.

[17] Butler, p. 35.

[18] Ibid., p. 52.

[19] Ibid., p. 52.

[20] Taylor, Charles. 2007. A Secular Age. 1st edition. Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press., p. 573.

[21] Butler, p. 17. My emphasis.

[22] Butler, p. 42.

[23] Ibid., p. 46.

[24] Laitinen, Arto, and Nicholas H. Smith, eds. 2002.Perspectives on the Philosophy of Charles Taylor. Helsinki: Societas Philosophica Fennica., p. 167.

[25] Taylor, p. 550. Taylor has a very complex and nuanced understanding of secularity. He differentiates between three kinds of secularity: in terms of public space being emptied of references to the Divine, in terms of the waning of religious belief and practice, and in terms of a larger context by which plurality is experienced. It is this last kind of secularity that I am concerned with here.

[26] Ibid., pp. 6-8.

[27] Taylor’s understanding of secularism here is different from the secularism he critiques in the preceding sections. This ‘secular difference’ can be understood as either a prevailing framework of Western ideals or a radical neutrality that is not grounded in any tradition, secular or otherwise.

[28] There is a bit of irony in the growing nationalism and xenophobia in European countries as a response to the ramifications of terrorism, as if European traditions and values were the ones being threatened by a supposedly growing Islamic threat. The cycle of violence spins on.

[29] Of course, what kind of ramifications sharing in the logic of late capitalism has on things like climate change and other issues that have local affects is a whole other can of worms. Also, the degree to which secularism and globalism are similar is another issue of interest entirely.

[30] Laitinen, p. 168.

[31] Laitinen, p. 170. Such a possibility would also avoid the pitfalls of identity politics.

[32] This would of course raise another question concerning the political role of Western nations in relation to the Middle East, which is not within the scope of this paper to explore. If the secular and religious are radically at odds with one another, how does our understanding of deliberation need to adapt to bridge the difference in a way that does not privilege one side or the other?

[33] While in the U.S., fundamentalist Christians co-exist in a secular society and are not driven towards violence, the crucial mitigating factor here is that fundamentalism that thrives in the West is simultaneously abated by the economic benefits and quality of life that are the privileges that come with living in the ‘first world’.

[34] It is necessary to understand the complex nuance behind the term ‘fundamentalist’, typically used in negative relation to ‘modern’ or ‘secular’. Too often it is used in rhetoric to otherize and further marginalize its subject. We would do well to keep in mind the use of the term as a symptom of modernity, that ‘fundamentalism’ does not negatively connote a backwards perspective on life but is an extension of secular modernity itself.

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