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The Politics of Religion In Samuel Holdheim's Thought

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This paper offers a thorough description and analysis of Samuel Holdheim's distinction between the religious and the political, one that begins to analyze the different meanings of religion, Mosaic religion, Judaism, tradition, and interpretation in his thought. Holdheim erects a protective barrier to thwart religious critique and interpretation. This protective strategy shields religious ideals from the turmoil and complexity of political discourse and action. Yet Holdheim's understanding of the religious is a political interpretation of religion (even according to Holdheim's own view of religious and political discourse). To put this another way, there cannot be religious interpretation in Holdheim's schema. The human interpretive act is always a political one. Holdheim's biblical exegesis reveals a severely constricted view of the religious as a necessary and eternal promise by God to all human beings, and a view of the political as the realm of human free response to this covenantal promise. What many of us might want to label 'religious activity' (the human response to a divine initiative) is not counted as such in Holdheim's thought. Biblical interpretation is always political, in Holdheim's view, and must be to safeguard the timeless purity of religious truth. Even Holdheim plays the game of the politics of religion.


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