Genealogies of the Secular

The Making of Modern German Thought

Edited by Willem Styfhals & Stéphane Symons

Subjects: Philosophy, Religion, German Studies, Intellectual History
Series: SUNY series in Theology and Continental Thought
Hardcover : 9781438476391, 260 pages, November 2019
Paperback : 9781438476407, 260 pages, July 2020

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Table of contents

Willem Styfhals & Stephane Symons
Part I. Genealogy and Secularization: Conceptual Perspectives

Genealogy Trouble: Secularization and the Leveling of Theory
Kirk Wetters

"The God of Myth Is Not Dead"—Modernity and Its Cryptotheologies: A Jewish Perspective
Agata Bielik-Robson
Part II. Philosophy and the Secular: An Alternative History of the German Secularization Debate
The "Distance to Revelation" and the Difference between Divine and Worldly Order: Walter Benjamin's Critique of Secularization as Historical Development
Sigrid Weigel

Theology and Politics: Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger before, in, and after the Davos Debate
Jeffrey Andrew Barash

Is Progress a Category of Consolation? Kant, Blumenberg, and the Politics of the Moderns
Michael Foessel

Hannah Arendt, Secularization Theory, and the Politics of Secularism
Samuel Moyn
Part III. Jacob Taubes: Secularization, Heresy, and Democracy
Secularization and the Symbols of Democracy: Jacob Taubes's Critique of Carl Schmitt
Martin Treml

On the Symbolic Order of Modern Democracy
Jacob Taubes

In Paul's Mask: Jacob Taubes Reads Walter Benjamin
Sigrid Weigel
Part IV. Jan Assmann: a Late Voice in the German Secularization Debate

Secularization and Theologization: Introduction to Jan Assmann's Monotheism
Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins

Jan Assmann


Presents a historical and philosophical overview of the twentieth-century German debates on secularization and their significance for contemporary discussions about the relationship between theology and modernity.


While the concept of secularization is traditionally used to define the nature of modern culture, and sometimes to uncover the theological origins of secular modernity, its validity is being questioned ever more radically today. Genealogies of the Secular returns to the historical, intellectual, and philosophical roots of this concept in the twentieth-century German debates on religion and modernity, and presents a wide range of strategies that German thinkers have applied to apprehend the connection between religion and secularism. In fundamentally heterogeneous ways, these strategies all developed "genealogies of the secular" by tracing modern phenomena back to their religious or theological roots. This book aims to disclose the complex prehistory of the contemporary debates on political theology and postsecularism, and to show how prominent thinkers continue this German tradition today. It explores and assesses the classic theories of secularization that are epitomized in Carl Schmitt's writings on political theology, but also addresses German philosophers whose work has been rarely associated with secularization, including Walter Benjamin, Ernst Cassirer, Martin Heidegger, Immanuel Kant, and Hannah Arendt. Attention is also paid to two thinkers whose role in these discourses has not been fully explored yet: Jacob Taubes and Jan Assmann. By introducing their thinking on religion, politics, and secularization, the book also makes two of their own key texts available to an English-language readership.

Willem Styfhals is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven. Stéphane Symons is Associate Professor at the Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven.


"What makes the book so valuable pedagogically is the clarity and scope of its synthetic gestures about the dense questions congealing around the topic of secularization. It offers a pronouncement of central significance, emerging from some of the most important contemporary voices in these fields. The scholarship is internationally informed and engaged, even as it feels vibrant, immediate, and agenda setting. " — Ward Blanton, University of Kent, Canterbury