This book is the English translation, slightly edited and updated, of a volume published in Italy by Queriniana in 2019. I am delighted that it can now see the light of day in a language comprehensible to almost all members of the scholarly community involved in the study of religion and especially of its modern tribulations. It will thus better serve the task of ‘aggiornamento’ for which it was designed and written. None of this could have happened without the consent of the Italian publisher and the support of Kurt Appel, to whom I am glad to renew here the expression of my esteem and friendship.
If The Post-Secular City exists, it is thanks to Rosino Gibellini’s foresight, obstinacy and patience. It took me a long time to decide to write it and an even longer time to give it its final form. Eventually, my attempts to lighten the burden by sharing it with others (first with Ulrike Spohn and then with Matteo Bortolini – with the latter, in particular, the human and intellectual debt is huge) did not relieve me of the strain of writing it and the responsibility to bring it to a close.
I have the impression that, with the changes taking place in the world of research, it will be increasingly difficult in the future to invest money, time and energy in a project as ambitious as the one underlying this volume. If I was able to carry it out, it is because I had behind me the support of an institution – the Fondazione Bruno Kessler – which still believes, as its official motto states, that the “Future can only be Built on Knowledge”. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank, besides FBK as a whole, the staff of the Centre for Religious Studies where I work, and in particular the three directors (Antonio Autiero, Alberto Bondolfi, and Marco Ventura) who, over the last ten years, have first suggested and then allowed me to dedicate myself with the utmost commitment to such an exciting but insidious topic as secularization. Isabella Masè, the former secretary of the Centre, is a woman of many talents whom I have been able to rely on even in the most difficult moments.
Writing some of the book’s chapters would have been much more arduous without the selfless help of Claudio Ferlan (who supervised the introduction with his both friendly and relentless eye), Boris Rähme (to whom I owe important insights that have trickled into the conclusion), Joe Paul Kroll (whose unpublished doctoral thesis enabled me to find my way through Hans Blumenberg’s labyrinth), Micha Knuth (who has a knowledge of Marcel Gauchet’s work that only a German doctoral student can have).
Over the years, the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen in Vienna has become more than just a scientific community of reference for me. The feeling of belonging to an extended family is the result of the benevolence of people like Ludger Hagedorn, Mary Kemle-Gussnig, Luisa Wascher, Marion Gollner and Ana Mohoric, who have made my periodic stays at the IWM unforgettable. I am especially grateful to Ana, whose biblical patience went so far as to gracefully endure my philosophical disquisitions at the dinner table. Peter Kleyhons, Matthew Ratcliffe, Kurt Appel and Jakob Deibl, and all the young members of the research platform RaT (Religion and Transformation in Contemporary Society) are another reason why Vienna feels like a second home for me.
For long-term intellectual support I owe a debt impossible to quantify to Charles Taylor, David Martin, Hans Joas, Jürgen Habermas, José Casanova, Hartmut Rosa, Martha Nussbaum, Charles Larmore, Ulrike Spohn, Rajeev Bhargava, George Levine, Tony Carroll, Jean-Claude Monod, Ulf Bohmann, Gesche Keding, Fiona Ellis, David McPherson, Katya Nemenko, Marthe Kerkwijk, Enzo Pace, Alessandro Minelli, Mauro Piras, Enrico Donaggio, René Capovin, Italo Testa, Ferruccio Andolfi, Stefano Cardini, Barbara Carnevali, Marcello Neri, Ilaria Biano, Francesca Magni, Dimitri D’Andrea, Paolo Pombeni, Alessandro Ferrara, Lucio Cortella, Massimo Rospocher, Maurizio Cau, Fernanda Alfieri, Andrea Felis, Enrico Piergiacomi, Sergio Berardini.
A penultimate and grateful thought goes to my mother and father, to whom I have been wanting to explain what secularization is, more or less since I was fourteen and announced to them with the solemnity of a teenager that I was done with the parish. When my energy was at its lowest and despondency was just around the corner, even the memory of this unspoken commitment curbed my desire to raise the white flag. The last thank you, however, is due to Cecilia and Andrea, who stoically put up with my perfectionism and my dedication to what is nowadays such an old-fashioned activity: the life of the mind. I have promised them that this is the last time I will force them to endure such a tour de force. The truth, however, is that – as I see things in my sui generis Platonism – the fulfilment of this promise is not entirely up to me.
The book is dedicated to the memory of Davide Zordan. Come to think of it, it is a miracle that I was able to finish it without his support and wisdom. His premature death was not only a human misfortune with incalculable costs, but also a minor intellectual catastrophe for Italian Catholic theology and for the research centre where I work. Despite my best efforts, I cannot say that the result lives up to his intelligence. But an unforgettable aspect of Davide’s personality was his talent for understanding people and smiling benevolently at their always oversized projects. That way of being understood all the way through is one of the things I miss most about him today.