Faith in (Prophetic) Philosophy beyond the Boundaries of “Good” and “Bad” Religion

  • Joe Bartzel
Keywords: Al-Qaeda, Cornel West, Faisal Devji, global war on terror, Max Horkheimer, pragmatism, terrorism


Max Horkheimer concludes Eclipse of Reason with a call for “faith in philosophy.” He contends that the purpose of philosophy is to translate the suffering of martyrs into a broadly understandable idiom through which to express a critique of instrumental reason and its destructive potential. Horkheimer concludes Eclipse of Reason having offered scant details of how this translation project should work. Moreover, if readers take seriously Horkheimer’s insistence upon philosophy as an object of faith, then his project risks being saddled with an untenable distinction between “good” and “bad” religion. I describe an avenue whereby the details of Horkheimer’s translation project might be fleshed out, including freeing it from the good/bad distinction that threatens to undermine its feasibility. I contend that the figure of the Hebrew prophet serves as a model of the individual who critiques oppressive social systems, and I argue that Cornel West’s description of cultural workers as critical organic catalysts offers a model for such critique in a modern Western context. Given some surprising parallels between Horkheimer’s thought and Al-Qaeda members’ self-descriptions— in particular, regarding the power and importance of suffering—I contend that the realization of Horkheimer’s philosophical project offers a promising avenue for nonviolent engagement with religious extremism in the era of the Global War on Terror.

Author Biography

Joe Bartzel

PhD Candidate
Indiana University, Department of Religious Studies
107 S Indiana Ave, Bloomington, IN , USA 47405


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How to Cite
Bartzel, J. (2015). Faith in (Prophetic) Philosophy beyond the Boundaries of “Good” and “Bad” Religion. Stasis, 3(2). Retrieved from