Specifying Religion as a Mode of Existence

Continuing the general bent of this blog, which is towards a clarification of Bruno Latour’s concept of religion as a mode of existence [REL].

Having identified the empirical site that ‘gives’ it (amatory speech), the logistics by which it functions (reprise), and the value that it institutes (being brought-into-presence), it is now possible to clarify religion as a mode of existence itself. Finally, then, [REL] is being encountered. As Latour himself puts it, he will attempt ‘with the tiny flame of personal love to rekindle the fires of religion’ (Latour, Rejoicing, or the Torments of Religious Speech, English edition, p.126).

In shifting up from the empirical site to the mode of existence, a series of ‘specifications’ of the latter can be drawn up. This term is employed within the Inquiry with a nod to its usage in project management, where ‘specifications’ are the calibrations of the project that are agreed by all the stakeholders (cf. Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, p.182). Religion defined according to its specifications will therefore operate in the midst of the ‘common world’ and will proceed by means of fully diplomatic arrangements. (The contrast is intended, of course, with the epistemological reductionism characteristic of the Modern constitution, which defers from diplomatic procedures. In fact, I feel this is an altogether superior definition of what Latour means by ‘diplomacy’, which is not so much to do with the technical methodology of the platform via which we can contribute, so much it is to do with a gut reaction by which we ‘recognise’ the value that is veridicted by a mode of existence via experience).

As would be expected, the specifications of [REL] are precisely those given by its empirical site.

First, the value it institutes is the same. To undergo an experience of [REL] is to undergo an experience of being brought-into-presence. In the case of the amatory speech, being brought-into-presence was binary and limited (being restricted to the love relationship between two people). In the case of [REL], this value has a much expanded signification. It entails not only being brought close to one other person, but being brought-into-presence within an entire collective (Cf. Inquiry, p.300). Suitably amplified, it might even usher in ‘a virtual people of the saved and the newly close who elude all borders’ (Cf. Inquiry, p.148). Latour describes this collective as ‘a sacred nation’ (Cf. Inquiry, p.161) and frequently conveys its meaning via Pentecost-type imagery (which proliferates throughout his writing on religion and is grabbed from Serres’ Le Parasite).


Second, the mechanism by which [REL] functions is the same. The collective generated by a religious experience is brought-into-being by means of words of reprise. In fact, ‘religion is reprise par excellence, the ceaseless renewal of speech by speech itself’ (Cf. Inquiry, p.306). This means that the experience of [REL] will always be characterised by a rejection of in-form-ational transfer and a celebration of speech that seeks to take up an original utterance in a new way in the present moment.


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