Powers of DistinctionOn Religion and Modernity

Powers of DistinctionOn Religion and Modernity

Nancy Levene

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780226507361

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Powers of Distinction is an account of the elemental character of religion and modernity, a conceptual history that aims to clarify the commitments involved in these terms. Deep in their operating systems, it argues, are dualisms of opposition and identity that cannot be reconciled with the forms of life they ostensibly support. There is a missing position, neither non-dualism nor multiplication but a second dualism constitutive of mutual relation--relation that risks contestation and even violence but also supports modernity’s most innovative ideals: democracy, criticism, and interpretation. In readings from Abraham to the present, Powers of Distinction recovers this dualism in its difference from its shadow partners. From Abraham we get the biblical call to give up tribal belonging for a promised land of covenantal relation. But modernity, inclusive of this call, is also the principle that critiques the promise as what divides self from other, us from them. Drawing on a long tradition of thinkers and scholars even as it breaks new ground, this book offers 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.