Lungs (New Liberal American Religion)


For an inkling of what a New Liberal Religion might possibly look like after a generation of bone-crushing religious conservatism, check out this “room for debate” in the NYT. At least that’s what I’m calling it, New Liberal Religion. New Liberal Religion doubles down on the Old Liberal Religion. It would be religion open to the world and open to people, working along and opening out to the edge or the seam of a community to bring people in. It’s discourse would be one whose frame of reference is presentist, not historicist. New Liberal Religion would be flat, a nodal form, a new media format moving across the surface of culture, not against the tide. What kind of organ is new liberal religion? Not a heart whose circulatory system is internal to the body of culture, but rather a lung that brings air into the body from outside.

The “room for debate” at the NYT is about religion more generally in the west, but reflects upon the particular forms of modern Judaism and modern Christianity, i.e. two modern traditions that are already 200 + years old. I have no idea how the discussion would play out for Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, nor do I have any idea how it works in places like China, India, the Middle East, or, for that matter, Europe where the dynamics are different. That is to say that this is a very American dynamic.

As for Judaism, there’s still a lot of fallout from the PEW study of American Jewish identity. Daniel Gordis has a recent piece at the Jewish Review of Books lamenting the collapse of Conservative Judaism. For Gordis, what’s good for Judaism is the authority of peoplehood and history. He seems to have no patience with the present. What I find more interesting is a nice piece on so-called Jewish outliers at the Times of Israel. It adds a particular Jewish profile to the general points about contemporary religion, providing a Jewish outline to the face of a new liberal religion.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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2 Responses to Lungs (New Liberal American Religion)

  1. Jon Awbrey says:

    How did it come about that modifiers like conservative, fundamentalist, and neo- now mean something like “the very negation of”?

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