University of Chicago
Religion, Ideology, Faction: Hume and the Sources of Social Conflict
Discussant: Kirsty Montgomery
Location: Pick 319
In my dissertation I engage a trope commonly employed by theorists of modern secularism. This trope holds that religion, when admitted into the realm of the political, necessarily carries with it the danger of violent social conflict. Consequently, the trope continues, religion must be kept separate from the public sphere to remove the inevitable threat of religious war that accompanies a publicly-engaged religion. According to these theorists, this solution to the problem of religious violence emerged during the Enlightenment. My dissertation critiques the claimed pedigree of this trope through a close reading of David Hume’s The History of England. In that text Hume directly addressed both the question of how religious commitments, institutions, and groups contribute to and cause violent social conflict and the ways in which a religious establishment can help to constitute moral subjects and civil peace. My examination of Hume demonstrates that one of the great Enlightenment critics of religion did not see religion in general as a danger to civil order, but only religion when it exhibited certain factional features, which Hume specified as superstition and enthusiasm. This project thus calls the Enlightenment pedigree of secular modernity into question while also offering helpful perspective on what particular factors can make religion dangerous to good social order.
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