Political theory after the "return of religion:" Radical democracy as religious affirmation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Frederick Beizer


Derrida, Jacques, Laclau, Ernesto, Ward, Graham, Democracy, Secularism, Philosophy of religion

Subject Categories



The dissertation presents a constructive proposal for re-envisioning the relationship between the religious and the political in light of the conceptual displacement of normative secularism. The first chapter briefly outlines the way what I call "normative secularism" has provided the legitimation of modern western political theory and how it has been conceptually called into question by the global politicization of religious identity (i.e., the "return of religion)." This conceptual displacement requires that the relation of the political and the religious be reconceptualized, which is the aim of the rest of the dissertation.

The second chapter presents the alternative conceptualization outlined by theologian Graham Ward, who advances a metaphysical and theological model in which the social analogically participates in the Being of God. The chapter argues that Ward's metaphysical proposal is flawed, leading either to violent identitarian conflict or theocracy. Chapters three and four present the political theorist Ernesto Laclau's conception of "radical democracy" as an alternative, arguing that he develops a concept of universality which provides the basis for reconceiving the structuring of the social without falling into the dangers which appear in Ward's proposal. Significant emphasis is given to Laclau's theory as a form of political ontology. Chapters five and six demonstrate the continuity of Laclau's thought with that of philosopher Jacques Derrida, arguing that Derrida outlines a conception of democracy (the "democracy to come") which may itself be described as a form of religious affirmation. The chapters identify the religious aspect of Derrida's work with an affirmation of an experience of phenomenological disruption.

The dissertation concludes by arguing that Laclau's own theory of radical democracy, given its structural similarities with Derrida's theory of democracy, may itself be understood as a form of religious affirmation. What emerges from these considerations is a vision of the social in which the religious and the political emerge as co-implicated and irreducibly intertwined, rather than as discreet, separable segments of the social.


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