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A Pre-History of Post-Truth: Evangelical and Liberal Understandings of Worldview in the Cold War Era

April 11, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

The starting point of much contemporary thinking about religion and politics is that we are confronted with irreducible disagreements between different ethical and religious worldviews. Some scholars have argued that the first step to reconciliation between worldviews might be to abandon absolute claims to truth. This conclusion would appear to be the labor of secular observers of contemporary culture wars, who might feel with this insight to have achieved a location above fray. Yet, as I will argue, this conclusion is neither necessarily liberal nor secular. It arose already amongst Protestant fundamentalists in the early twentieth century. They developed the notion of the irreconcilability, not to compromise with secular worldviews, but to dodge the scientific arrows aimed at their own “Christian worldview” by seculatists. Responding to the Second World War and the Cold War, liberal intellectuals, such as Sidney Hook and Daniel Bell, drew quite opposite conclusions about worldview. They attacked the very notion of worldview and came up with the plan for an “end of ideology” in the interest of promoting US-style pluralistic liberalism in post-totalitarian Europe. In my lecture, which draws from a book project on the history of Weltanschauung/worldview, I will discuss the politics of worldview in the 1940s and 1950s and ask what relevance they have for our contemporary discussion of post-truth politics.

Todd Weir is Professor of History of Christianity and Modern Culture at the University of Groningen. Prior to his move to the Netherlands in 2016, Todd taught history for nine years at Queen’s University Belfast. He published a study on Secularism and Religion in Nineteenth Century Germany: The Rise of the Fourth Confession in 2014 with Cambridge University Press. His next major research project will be a transnational history of the term “worldview” from 1790 to the present. Todd is pleased to return to Columbia University, where he received his PhD in History in 2005.


April 11, 2017
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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Knox Hall, Room 509
606 West 122nd St
New York, NY 10027 United States
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