Original Research

Religion and modernity in a secular city: A public theology of différance

Johann-Albrecht Meylahn
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 67, No 3 | a961 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v67i3.961 | © 2011 Johann-Albrecht Meylahn | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 September 2010 | Published: 20 July 2011

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Johann-Albrecht Meylahn, Department Practical Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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Seeking the good often authorises and legitimises certain forms of violence: violence that defines the state (Benjamin’s law-founding violence) by the exclusion of others and the violence that coerces or binds (religare) the public into a common understanding of the good at the exclusion of other interpretations of that good (Benjamin’s law-maintaining violence). The secular modern state has never been without religion functioning as religare. The modern state, often seen as a peacemaker, is founded on these two forms of ‘legitimate’ violence against what is other or different, just as the peace, prosperity and good of the state is sought through the elimination of the different and a unification of the state under the banner of a ‘common’ good. This ‘legitimate’ violence will always produce the counter-violence of difference (i.e. excluded others) seeking a legitimate place within the common space of the republic (Benjamin’s divine violence). With the rise of religious fundamentalism, institutionalised religion has been allowed to return to the public debate. Is the call for this return one that further sanctions legitimate violence by eating and sharing the fruit of knowledge of good and evil? Is the call the church is hearing one that seeks to clarify and clearly define the good that will bind us (religare) into a stronger and more prosperous and peaceful city – onward Christian soldiers marching as to war? Or is there another calling, one that requires us to be Disciples of Christ – with the Cross of Jesus going on before – entering the space of violence beyond the knowledge of good and evil as peacemakers? In this article, I sought to understand this ‘peacemaking’ space by bringing into dialogue Žižek’s interpretation of Christianity with Derrida’s interpretation of hospitality.


Ethics; Beyond good and evil; Différance; Secular City; Democracy


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