Over the course of the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries, an interior private notion of religion gained wide public recognition. It then spread through settler colonial contexts around the world. It has since been criticized for its abstract, immaterial nature as well as its irrelevance to traditions beyond the European context. However, such critiques obscure the contradiction between religion’s definition as a matter of interior privacy and its public visibility in various printed publications. Timothy Stanley responds by re-evaluating the cultural impact of the exterior forms in which religious texts were printed, such as pamphlets, broadsheets, books, and journals. He also applies that evidence to critical studies of religion shaped by the crisis of representation in the human sciences. While Jacques Derrida is oft-cited as a progenitor of that crisis, the opposite case is made. Additionally, Stanley draws on Derrida’s thought to reframe the relation between a religious text’s internal hermeneutic interests and its external forms. In sum, this book provides a new model of how people printed religion in ways that can be compared to other material cultures around the world.
Timothy Stanley is senior lecturer in the School of Humanities, Creative Industries, and Social Sciences at the University of Newcastle.
About the Author
Timothy Stanley draws our attention to an aspect of religion that is widely overlooked: whenever reading the Bible is central to religion, both the individual’s interior states and their community’s ability to form itself as an entity in the world depend upon the publication, manufacture, distribution, reception, and survival of printed materials. This means that a material information culture has to be included in the way that the concept of 'religion' is theorized. In sustained debate with Kant, Habermas, and especially Derrida, Printing Religion after Enlightenment clarifies the dialectical relationship between the faith of the private individual and the materiality of the public sphere—without giving up either one.
This book deftly follows the modern movement from the historical printing of religious texts in Europe, and their distribution in various colonial contexts, to the privatization of religion, while powerfully illuminating, through the materiality of faith, how the concept of religion changes through the means of its communication. By bridging gaps between the material and the theoretical, as well as the inner and outer worlds of texts, Stanley draws deeply and insightfully from contemporary philosophical debates—most centrally involving Jacques Derrida and the crisis of representation—in order to assist readers in rethinking the category of religion altogether.
Timothy Stanley’s book brings historical detail and theoretical sophistication to ongoing investigations into the genealogy of religion and the creation of publics in modernity. Through a groundbreaking historical study of religious print in Australia and a fascinating engagement with Derrida and other thinkers, this book shows the complex interactions between material culture and the ideological construction of a concept of religion. Stanley’s argument is a significant scholarly achievement.
The modern history of religion is far more complex than we think. In Printing Religion, Stanley shows how the material history of printed books in Europe and Australia deconstructs the stereotypical public/private distinction. In doing so, he opens up new ways to think about the history and theory of religion, as well as to see how Derrida’s work on language, writing, and religion continues to matter. A splendid achievement!
In this lively and engaging study, Stanley shows that the modern view of religion as a private and subjective phenomenon fails to take account of the extensive role of the book in modern religious life. Since books are by their nature public, religion too must belong in some sense to the public sphere. Drawing on Habermas and Derrida amongst many others, Printing Religion not only throws new light on the historical interface between religion and book culture in the modern world, but also shows that debates about the nature of religion as such are often misconstrued. This is a valuable discussion that will provoke much comment.