Sloterdijk, ‘In the Shadow of Mount Sinai’, part 2

In light of the previous post, the objective of Sloterdijk’s text thus becomes: (A) to explain the origin and maintenance of religion in history, (B) such as to demonstrate why some religion has become violent and other religion has not.

Sloterdijk wishes to avoid the following twin explanations in the study of religion:

  • Platonic: world religions are outworkings of ethnic archetypes (p.13).
  • Romantic: world religions are outworkings of ‘spirits of peoples’ (p.13).

In other words, Sloterdijk wants to avoid explanations for the origin and maintenance of religion in history that posit some factor outside of or apart from the agency wielded by the practioners of that religion themselves: thus, he advocates ‘the abandonment of popular concepts based on essentialist or even metaphysical foundations’ (p.16).

By contrast, Sloterdijk will prefer to take a more ethnological or anthropological approach, or what he calls ‘ethnoplastic’ approach. Here, religion is understood as a ‘mechanism’ (p.16) wielded by its own practioners for their own purposes and survival, showcasing their ‘mythopoetic and theopoetic talents’ (p.17). An immunology if you like.

To explain this, Sloterdijk embraces a Durkheimian explanation of religion as a function of living together or being together that he calls ‘group synthesis’ (p.8). This is the Heideggerian Mitsein. He is prepared to accept that religion is not just one way of developing Mitsein, but rather it is the essential way. In fact, there can be no Mitsein without religion. Thus, Sloterdijk acknowledges that religion is an indispensable, primordial building block for hominization and for the stabilisation of all human society.

The assumption of a people existing completely without religion would amount to the paradoxical assertion that there can be stabilized collectives which dispense with all connecting media and do not become acquainted with any symbolic bond, shared history or firm normative commitments (p.9). Such a thing would be logistically impossible.

Next post here.

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