Beyond Secularist Supersessionism: Risk, Religion and Technology

Authors

  • Niels Henrik Gregersen Copenhagen University

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/ecot.2006.11.2.137

Keywords:

Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, risk, Martin Luther, Blaise Pascal, John Wesley

Abstract

Influential sociologists such as Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens are well known for contrasting a ‘pre-modern’ surrender to divine fate, a ‘modern’ will to control, and a ‘late-modern’ risk-awareness. This grand narrative, however, is both simplistic and misleading. For risks are often hybrids of natural threats and cultural choices. Accordingly, late-modern societies continue to concern themselves with external dangers (such as tsunamis) while relying on technological assistance for coping with the subsequent crises; both ‘premodern’ and ‘modern’ approaches to risks are with us today. Moreover, Beck and Giddens fail to see that self-reflexive religions continue to nourish a risk-willingness among citizens in hypercomplex societies. Risk-awareness in fact emerged in the horizon of Renaissance lifestyles and Reformation theology. As soon as the religious securities offered by law and church regulations were abandoned, ‘trust’ in face of uncertain futures became the new central value within the religious system. In early modernity, salvation was understood as the ‘attunement’ of human freedom to a divine providence that itself was perceived as a source of contingency. The article thus points to some of the religious resources for risk-awareness in the theologies of Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Blaise Pascal. In a more constructive vein, it is argued that risks tend to cross the boundaries between natural conditions and technological interventions. Acknowledging this hybridity of risks, it is argued that technological risk assessments should take into account the qualitative features of risks. For, after all, the question, what a risk is, cannot be separated from the question, for whom the risk constitutes a serious threat.

Author Biography

Niels Henrik Gregersen, Copenhagen University

Faculty of Theology, Copenhagen University

References

Beck, Ulrich 1999 World Risk Society (Cambridge: Polity Press).

2000 ‘Risk Society Revisited: Theory, Politics and Research Programmes’, in Barbara Adam et al. (eds.), The Risk Society and Beyond: Critical Issues for Social Theory (London: SAGE Publications): 211-29.

Bernstein, Peter L. [1996] 1998 Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (New York: John Wiley & Sons).

Castel, R. 1991 ‘From Dangerousness to Risk’, in G. Burchell, C. Gordon and P. Miller (eds.), The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (London: Harvester/Wheatsheaf): 281-98.

Douglas, Mary, and Aron Wildavsky 1982 Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers (London: Routledge).

Giddens, Anthony 1990 The Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge: Polity Press).

Gigerenzer, Gerd, et al. 1989 The Empire of Chance: How Probability Changed Science and Everyday Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Gigerenzer, Gerd 2002 Reckoning with Risk: Learning to Live with Uncertainty (London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press).

Gregersen, Niels Henrik 1998 ‘The Idea of Creation and the Theory of Autopoietic Processes’, Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 33.3: 333-67.

2003 ‘Risk and Religion: Toward a Theology of Risk Taking’, Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 38.2: 355-76.

2005a ‘The Value of Risk-Taking: Human Evolution and the Love of God’, in Charles L. Harper, Jr (ed.), Spiritual Information: 100 Perspectives on Science and Religion; Essays in Honor of Sir John Templeton’s 90th Birthday (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press): 484-89.

2005b ‘Risk and Religious Certainty: Conflict or Coalition?’, Politik 8.1: 22-32. Hájek, Alan

2004 ‘Pascal’s Wager’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy <http.//plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager>.

Latour, Bruno [1993] 1997 We Have Never Been Modern (trans. Catherine Porter; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Luhmann, Niklas [1986] 1989 Ecological Communication (trans. John Bednarz, Jr; Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

1990 ‘Risiko und Gefahr’, in Soziologische Aufklärung 5. Konstruktivistische Perspektiven (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag).

1991 Soziologie des Risikos (Berlin: W. de Gruyter).

[1992] 1999 Observations on Modernity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press).

Luther, Martin 1956 ‘The Sermon on the Mount’, in Luther’s Works, XXI (ed. Jaroslav Pelikan; St Louis: Concordia Publishing House).

Pascal, Blaise 1997 Pensées II (ed. Michel Le Guern; Paris: Gallimard).

Rammstedt, O. 1992 ‘Risiko’, in Joachim Ritter and Karlfried Gründer (eds.), Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie (Basel: Schwabe & Co): VIII, 1045-55.

Rescher, Nicholas 1983 Risk: a Philosophical Introduction to the Theory of Risk Evaluation and Management (Washington, DC: University of America Press).

Scott, Peter Manley 2004 ‘We Have Never Been Gods: Transcendence, Contingency and the Affirmation of Hybridity’, Ecotheology 9.2: 199-220.

Taylor, Charles [1989] 1992 Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

2000 ‘Religion Heute: Der Ort der Religion in der modernen Gesellschaft’, Transit 19: 84-104.

Wesley, John 1991 John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology (ed. Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heizenrater; Nashville: Abington Press).

Wright, Robert 2000 Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (New York: Pantheon Books).

Young, Lawrence A. (ed.) 1997 Rational Choice Theory and Religion: Summary and Assessment (New York: Routledge).

Published

2006-06-24

How to Cite

Gregersen, N. H. (2006). Beyond Secularist Supersessionism: Risk, Religion and Technology. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 11(2), 137–158. https://doi.org/10.1558/ecot.2006.11.2.137

Issue

Section

Articles