Sloterdijk, ‘In the Shadow of Mount Sinai’, part 1

Peter Sloterdijk’s recent text, In the Shadow of Mount Sinai: A Footnote on the Origins and Changing Forms of Total Membership (2016), is an important appendix to and even recalibration of much of his previous work on globalising religion, particularly as found in the Spheres trilogy and in God’s Zeal. I’ll be offering a few posts on this interesting new text in the days to follow, with particular reference to Latour’s Face à Gaïa (suggesting as well a somewhat subterranean dialogue with certain ideas of René Girard).


Sloterdijk begins the text by registering complaints that had been made about You Must Change your Life (2013) and God’s Zeal (2009), namely: ‘the allegation that I had indiscriminately ascribed to the monotheistic ‘scriptural religions’ (namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam) an intrinsic or, put differently, an irremovable violent component’ (p.3). The complaint made against Sloterdijk, therefore, and that he here willingly registers, is that he has confused the irenic originary purposes of these religions with their contemporary iterations.

The objective of this new text, then, will be to understand in a more integral way the link between religion and violence.

To do so (bearing in mind the complaints made against him), Sloterdijk agrees to shift his methodology somewhat. First of all, he will forgo the potentially polemical discourse of ‘monotheisms’. Why? Because Sloterdijk now sees that ‘monotheism’ is not actually very useful as a heuristic concept and, indeed, should be rejected: the religion that breeds violence (and that needs to be diagnosed in this text) is not concerned with defending ‘the numerical word one’, so much as with ensuring a ‘non-mixing contract and non-translation oath’ (p.23). What will be analysed in this text, then, are the boundarying forces that exist between people-ground and people-group. With this shift to a purer form of immanence, then, we can immediately see that we’re in the real of the Schmittian political theology espoused by Latour in his own recent work.

And so, instead of analysis in terms of ‘monotheisms’, Sloterdijk proposes instead the greater clarity offered by the concept of ‘zeal’. This shifted methodology allows a slightly different formulation of the link between religion and violence: it enables him instead ‘to focus on the phenomenon of zealous and potentially violently manifested motivation with reference to certain religious norms without addressing again the logical construction of the one-God faith’ (pp.4-5).

Thus, the phenomenon that is diagnosed as causing religious violence is broadened from ‘monotheism’ (without further nuance) to the way in which religious zealots construct a system for themselves that breeds violence. This diagnosis is in the realm of spherology/ immunology. Sloterdijk describes this new object of analysis in the following formula: it is ‘the form and the intensity of the absorption of faith practisers by the system of norms to which they subordinate their existence’ (p.6).

More to follow.


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