Romantic polytheism or bust

June 24, 2004

Having pushed for the removal of religion from academic life for a long while, philosopher Richard Rorty has recently changed his mind. He now suggests that the religious instinct in human beings is likely to prove ineradicable and that what we ought to be striving for is 'a religion of democracy', or what he calls 'romantic polytheism'. Romantic because it honours the transcendental instincts we cannot shake; and polytheistic because it allows many spiritualities and religious practices to co-exist. However, Rorty still has a caveat. Those who wish to retain the religious label and still be intellectually acceptable will have to:

"...get along without personal immortality, providential interventions, the efficacy of sacraments, the Virgin Birth, the Risen Christ, the Covenant of Abraham, the authority of the Koran, and a lot of other things which many theists are loath to do without."

In yesterday's CASE symposium on the place of specific worldviews in the teaching and research life of a secular campus, Trevor Cairney and I suggested that a more radical pluralism would be far better, where those with such beliefs were still given room to operate within the academic context, but without the assumed naturalistic worldview. It seems to us imperious to suggest that such views could not be part of acceptable academic discourse.

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