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Hegelian Religion

Religion Studies

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Feb 13, 2011, 7:04am Top

Hello, I have been wondering for a while if Hegelian thought (that is, Right Hegelianism, not the Left-Hegelianism of Feuerbach, Marx and Kojève) could ever accept the rise of a new universal world religion. All pre-modern universal religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, e.g.) could never in fact be actually universal because of the lack of modern communications and transportation. They were all forced to remain in some geographically bound cultural area.

So why not argue that today any one of these established universal religions, thanks to both mass transportation and the modern media disseminating their followers and ideas, could now in fact become universal? Because, I think, that there is far too much water under the bridge for that. They are all far too tied to their particular histories and cultural identities and thus will be objectionable to most people outside of those particularities and identities.

Therefore, if there is no new Universal Religion then there will never in fact be an actual Universal World Religion. They will all be forever what they are today: squabbling particularities.

Now, to me, Hegelianism does not exclude the possibility of a new universal religion. For it, there is, and can never be, an 'absolut Vorstellung'. Christianity is not, and cannot rise to, Absolute Knowledge. Only Philosophy could achieve that. Unlike philosophy, religion is not Knowledge, it remains Vorstellung: an image of Knowledge. Secondly, I would argue that for Hegelianism the rise of a new universal religion is also not dialectically repugnant. Repetition, as Hegel himself notes, is often how the new enters the world. And lastly, Hegel's peculiar understanding of Spirit (as Movement) implies that any past fact or myth will be sublated by this endless movement in ways that cannot really ever be foretold or even controlled. Hegel, more than once, indicates that philosophy cannot control the World; it can only understand it.

If you are interested, I have fleshed out this argument here,


in a review of Hegel's "Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Vol. III: The Consummate Religion". Note that it is, as the reviews title says, only a thought experiment.


PS. If the link doesn't work, just go to my LT Profile page, click Reviews, and it will be in the left-handed column.

Edited: Feb 13, 2011, 7:38am Top

I think there are those who could argue that moralistic therapeutic deism might be able to take the place of a universal religion one day.

But myself, I don't quite see how a Universal Religion could be considered a religion. For a religion to be a religion, some of its claims pretty much have to be controversial. Mathematics makes claims about reality which transcend empirical experience and which structure our experience individually and communally (like a religion does), but it's not a religion because everyone just regards it as a fact that 2+2=4. Now, I suppose it could be argued that our uncontested knowledge could grow to include theistic claims alongside the multiplication tables, but theism alone does not constitute a religion; a religion requires a set of rituals and practices.

If religion is not Knowledge, how could it ever become universal?

Edited: Feb 13, 2011, 8:32am Top

Question: If religion is not Knowledge, how could it ever become universal?

Answer: It becomes Universal as Myth.

Perhaps I should elaborate:

For Hegel, religion never rises to philosophical knowledge. It can only be vorstellung, representation. Since there are no True religious representations of Philosophical Truth (although there are more and less adequate ones) a new universal religion is (in my opinion) not excluded by Hegelian philosophy.

Thus a truly universal religion would be one accepted by everyone except philosophers and those deeply influenced by philosophy.


(Edited for elaboration.)

Edited: Feb 13, 2011, 9:10am Top

What is the character of religion such that religious claims can be distinguished from philosophical knowledge, though? How can I know whether I'm doing philosophy or theology?

Feb 13, 2011, 9:30am Top

OK. A fair question. The right answer is that one has to study Hegel to see the answer. I say that this is so because, for Hegel, philosophical Knowledge must be 'scientific' and speculative at the same time. That is, it must be a System. In order to understand the System one has to re-step the path that led to it. Thus in the Preface to Hegel's first book, the "Phenomenology of Spirit", he tells us that it really is impossible to even write a Preface to Philosophy(!); one must trod the whole road oneself.

One could perhaps say that, for Hegel, since the vast majority of people will never trod that arduous philosophical path then the next best thing is religion. It presents an image of Truth to non-philosophers. And this is better than nothing at all. His 'Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion' in three volumes covers all this. For Hegel, Christianity was the most adequate representation of truth (thus it is called the Consummate Religion) - but even Christianity is not Knowledge.

To understand Hegel's System one should read his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, most especially in its final form, and to see his Systematic understanding of Religion one should read all three volumes of 'Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion' mentioned above.

I am sorry for being so vague but there is no quick way to understand Hegel, one has to read him. That is why my review focused only on a few chapters of Hegel's book and on an issue that, strictly speaking, is not Hegel's. (The issue in my review is the possibility, understood in Hegelian terms, of the rise of a new universal religion.) There is no adequate way to discuss Hegel's philosophy except in book length essays.


Feb 20, 2011, 1:30pm Top

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