Powers of Distinction
On Religion and Modernity
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In this major new work, philosopher of religion Nancy Levene examines the elemental character of religion and modernity. Deep in their operating systems, she argues, are dualisms of opposition and identity that cannot be reconciled with the forms of life they ostensibly support. These dualisms are dead ends, but they conceal a richer position—another kind of dualism constitutive of mutual relation. This dualism is difficult to distinguish and its concept of relation difficult to commit to. It risks contention and even violence. But it is also the indispensable support for modernity’s most innovative ideals: democracy, criticism, and interpretation.
In readings from Abraham to the present, Levene recovers this richer dualism in its difference from the alternatives—other dualisms, nondualism, multiplication. From Abraham we get the biblical call to give up tribal belonging for a promised land of covenantal relation. Yet modernity, inclusive of this call, is also the principle that critiques the promise when it divides self from other, us from them.
Drawing on a long tradition of thinkers and scholars even as she breaks new ground, Levene offers here nothing less than a new way of understanding modernity as an ethical claim about our world, a philosophy of the powers of distinction to include rather than to divide.