Sloterdijk, ‘In the Shadow of Mount Sinai’, part 3

Continuing some posts on Sloterdijk’s recent text:In the Shadow of Mount Sinai: A Footnote on the Origins and Changing Forms of Total Membership (2016). See posts 1 and 2 above.


So, religion is an essential component of the Sloterdijkian version of Mitsein. Religion is that which provides an immunological envelope that enables humans to survive and flourish. (The contrast with the Girardian sacred is here most evident).

However, as far as Sloterdijk is concerned, there are two different expressions of religion in history that have led to two different modes of Mitsein.

Neither approach is exactly to be lauded: both are premised on systems of control-by-fear. However, they are different in their effects: where the first is a ‘phobocracy’, the second is an ‘auto-phobacracy’ (p.46), and for Sloterdijk the latter is more pernicious in its psychopolitical effect, and leads to more violence.

  1. Syncretistic religion

Syncretistic religion is the standard technique of successful empires throughout history as they have handled defeated and treaty-amalgamated religious groups following a religion that is not their own. Its objective is to secure a peaceable working arrangement amongst sovereign and vassal by means of ‘a liberating amalgamation of foreign worlds of peoples and gods’ (pp.19-20).

Syncretistic religion functions on a day-to-day level via ‘diplomats’ (p.20), those who are trained to recognise similar functions of divinities underneath the array of different gods that are worshiped across the empire. This diplomatic work is what enables different people groups to approach one another in the form of ‘ecumenism’ (p.20), whilst simultaneously ensuring the maintenance of peace in the empire (p.46). We are here on the same ground as the ‘diplomat’ of modes of existence.

The great innovation of this school of thought lies in the discovery that with inter-culturally sustainable gods, the inner and the outer converge: what one had taken for a foreign god is revealed, upon closer inspection, as a different guise of one’s own deity. (p.20)

This syncretistic process is exactly what is described by Jan Assmann in his ‘translation’ tables and picked up in the wonderful fifth lecture of Latour’s Face à Gaïa.

  1. Boundaried religion

The second form of religion in the world is ‘boundaried religion’, whose objective is to secure its own existence and perpetuation in history via a process of ‘withdrawing to what is its own’ (p.21).

Some of the functions of ‘boundaried religion’ include:

  • It will defend (to the death) the ‘singularity’ of an ‘untranslatable god’ (p.21).
  • It will likely incorporate some kind of ban on images, which is a cynical move intended to withdraw God from the risks of self-justification in the agora (p.22).
  • It will promulgate that idea that to forsake this deity is to ‘go under amid multiplicity’ (p.21), with the corresponding doctrine that ‘whoever mixes themselves is eliminated and whoever translates falls from grace’ (p.23).
  • It is prepared to enter into a ‘great contest’ (p.21), no doubt agonstic, with other ethnic groupings that follow different gods.
  • It demands the total adhesion of its members to the boundaries it stipulates, even to the extent of demanding some kind of total adhesion of being: it reaches for ‘the entire existence of its members’ (p.52).
  • It will likely incorporate some kind of ban on images, which is a cynical move intended to withdraw God from the risks of self-justification in the agora (p.22).

It is no surprise, then, that this second avatar of religion refuses to participate in Assmannian translation tables (p.21).

So far, Sloterdijk’s methodology has held in tact: he has described two forms of religion in terms of the immunological-compositional effects, rather than in specifics of monotheistic doctrine. We are soon to enter into the shadow of Sinai, however.


3 thoughts on “Sloterdijk, ‘In the Shadow of Mount Sinai’, part 3

  1. To me it does not sound as two kinds of religions but as two kinds of views. There is the view from the side of “doing buisness” which somehow sees “externally” and wants a situation that does not become physically intolerable. And there is the view from inside, the view of religious fervor that sounds like the second. (I think that Romans even though they were big syncretists they were also very sensitive when it came to the proper order of roman traditional religion)
    I have not read Sloterdijk so I can only pose a question: I think that Latour is sensitive to religious fervor. Is Sloterdijk sensitive to it?
    I ask this in the same sense that Eliot (as I understand him) says somewhere that it is rare to meet strong poetic sensitivity and strong religious sensitivity in the same person.
    I am eager to hear your presentation of what Sloterdijk found in the shadows of Sinai.

    I would also be very interested in how Jewish rabbies respond to Sloterdijk and Assmann. Perhaps there would be signs for the presence of a category mistake (“no what you speak about is not what we value! you do not understand us!”). How does one distinguish a category mistake in the sense of AIME from “psychological defence mechanisms due to insufficient critical examination”? (How is the experience of “insufficient critical examination of one’s assumptions” – for example in Mezirow’s sense in adult education- accounted for in AIME? The closest I can find is “being under the spell of black magic”, a [MET] being that has taken us for a target and now does not let go?)


    1. I thought again of the last remark I made. I remembered for example that protestants comming to Greece in order to re-christianise (!) it, were finding people making fun or complaining about the Orthodox priests and their morals, people appreciating the high moral values of protestants (of greek protestants also), but the big majority of the people had not the least intention to abandon Orthodoxy (to the amazement of the missionaries). For the moderns their lives were “short, miserable and dirty” but for them there was (I think) a grace (in the sense of the grace of a ballet dancer) that they did not want to abandon. A grace that was expressed with very little and lowly things, by people who did not have much to show with respect to “cognitive arcitecture”.
      So, not wanting to “rationally examine” one’s assumptions (especially when one knows that one’s own rhetorical prowness is quite limited) is not necesserily a sign of the spell of “black magic”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s