Drawing on Kant's influential 1784 essay "What is Enlightenment", this panel takes Kant's thematic of public freedom and private obedience to ask the ethnographic question: what are the spaces and degrees of freedom and restraint in numerous contemporary religious movements, and what work do they do?
Immanuel Kant's essay "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment," (1784) has had an oversized impact. It argued that the then-current moment was not an "Enlightened Age," but rather an "Age of Enlightenment," where human beings were beginning "an exit from self-incurred immaturity." Foucault would later identify this essay as the first moments of a still unfolding and relevant modernist, immanent, and non-teleological ethic of critique What is striking about Kant's paper is that it argues not for complete intellectual freedom, or even a freedom of conscience in one's private life, but rather for freedom to engage in public debate, in tandem with 'private' obedience, meaning submission to authority in the execution of one's quotidian duties. Just as striking as that while government and medicine are given as examples, Kant spends most of his time thinking through the play of freedom and obedience by reference to religion and clergy. If Enlightenment is an ethic and not an age, comprised of a play between unfettered thought and corporal submission, in what ways can we speak of 'religious' enlightenment? Conversely, what might it mean for religious institutions to critique enlightenment principles, or to be described by others as anti-enlightenment? This panel asks this question by investigating spaces and degrees of freedom and restraint in numerous contemporary religious settings. Moving beyond unhelpful oppositions of faith and reason, we ask how institutional authority and free thought are understood from different religious perspectives.