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Questioning the Presence of the Past

How Genuine Is the Contemporary Revival of Antique Horizons of Existential Meaning?

Thomas Kriza


This paper questions the contemporary turn towards horizons of existential meaning going back to antiquity especially in the shape of a turn to religion by pointing to crucial differences between antique conceptions of thought and their modern revivals. Pierre Hadot and Michel Foucault interpret antique thought as spiritual exercises to perfect human existence, exposing an inherent existential relevance and connection to a peculiar conception of truth. I argue that because of these ties to a truth claim deeply alien to the modern scientific world-view, antique horizons of existential meaning cannot be revived within modern frames of thought. Their contemporary presence is more likely the expression of the deeply ambivalent modern relationship to premodern horizons of existential meaning, rather than a genuine revival.

Cécile Laborde

Paul Billingham


In Chapter 5 of Liberalism’s Religion, Cécile Laborde considers the freedom and autonomy of religious associations within liberal democratic societies. This paper evaluates her central arguments in that chapter. First, I argue that Laborde makes things too easy for herself in dismissing controversies over the state’s legitimate jurisdictional authority. Second, I argue that Laborde’s view of when associations’ ‘coherence interests’ justify exemptions is too narrow. Third, I consider how we might develop an account of judicial deference to associations’ ‘competence interests’.

Zofia Stemplowska


Theorists of liberalism put forward diverse conditions for what makes a state just and legitimate. In what follows I examine Cécile Laborde’s suggestion that a just and legitimate liberal state may have an established religion. Such a state may take the form of what she calls Divinitia: a state with some symbolic recognition of religion, conservative laws in matters of bioethics including abortion, religious accommodation from general laws, and religious references in public debate. I argue that Laborde’s requirement that public justification of policies by public officials is conducted in terms of accessible reasons either rules out too many or too few policies. I then suggest that not only justice but also the legitimacy of states can be ensured only if concern for justice has a greater role to play in the selection of state policies than Laborde suggests. We have good reasons to doubt that Divinita would qualify as just and legitimate.

Theory of Religious Cycles

Tradition, Modernity, and the Bahá’í Faith


Mikhail Sergeev

In Theory of Religious Cycles: Tradition, Modernity and the Bahá’í Faith Mikhail Sergeev offers a new interpretation of the Soviet period of Russian history as a phase within the religious evolution of humankind by developing a theory of religious cycles, which he applies to modernity and to all the major world faiths of Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.

Sergeev argues that in the course of its evolution religion passes through six common phases—formative, orthodox, classical, reformist, critical, and post-critical. Modernity, which was started by the European Enlightenment, represents the critical phase of Christianity, a systemic crisis that could be overcome with the appearance of new religious movements such as the Bahá’í Faith, which offers a spiritual extension of the modern worldview.