Latour argues from the difficulty of imagining not discussing religion in an ethnography of the moderns to the necessity of discussing it – which amounts to an argument in favour of conceptual conservatism. Further, this argument from lack of imaginable alternatives is purely negative and abstract. It argues that we must “speak of” religion and include it in the inquiry, but gives no positive reason to think that religion is to be considered a separate mode. Latour simply passes from the need to inventory the modes of existence to the necessity of speaking about religion, to the presupposion that religion is a mode. It must be recalled that for Latour society is not a mode, nor is the economy, nor even philosophy, but religion is self-evidently a mode. However, this is not obvious to everyone, and I think the vast majority of those who read the book will find this chapter very unsatisfying.
An alternative account can be found by comparing Badiou’s truth-procedures and Latour’s (and AIME’s) modes of veridiction. Badiou’s hypothesis is that religion is like philosophy: not a truth-procedure (not a mode), but a general conception of truth . The existence of this alternative hypothesis as to how religion should be classified and analysed, shows that treating religion as a mode without further argument, is not the only imaginable analysis, but just one hypothesis amongst many possible. It is by no means self-evident, without consulting its practitioners and representatives, that religion is to be regarded as a mode on the same plane as any other mode, rather than an overarching understanding containing all modes.
This is perhaps an example of the shared blindness of a highly motivated team working together on a close reading. Alternative interpretations tend to be exluded, or not even perceived as requiring discussion. Thus, Latour briefly raises the question of the status of religion for the inquiry, and proceeds to elaborate the hypothesis that religion is a mode, without examining alternative accounts. One possible hypothesis is that religion is better analysed as a sub-mode of a more general mode or group of modes. Another is that religion, like philosophy, is an overarching meta-mode, englobing all modes. – this is Badiou’s hypothesis. In each case the specific difference of religion is maintained, but analysed differently. In Latour’s own terms, only conducting an anthropological inquiry can decide which hypothesis is verified.
Alain Badiou proposes a system of modes of veridiction, called by him “truth-procedures”, that underpins his alternative analysis of religion as domain but not mode. For Badiou religion is not a truth-procedure, but this is not a self-evident presupposition of his inquiry. It is a conceptual decision that Badiou motivates and gives arguments for. Bruno Latour, however, does not motivate, and seems incapable of motivating, his own conceptual decision, and makes of it a boundary condition for participating in his collective endeavour. If we take Badiou’s truth-procedures to be equivalent to Latour’s modes of veridiction, then Badiou’s argument is that religion is like philosophy in that it is not a mode, but provides a general conception of truth as instantiated in the different modes. cf: An Interview with Alain Badiou. As the chapter on religion in Latour’s book is widely perceived to be problematic it is interesting to confront its theses with a rival analysis. The point is not that Badiou’s account is true and Latour’s false, but that it is by no means self-evident that religion is a mode, as equally plausible rival interpretations exist.
Another alternative analysis is that of Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly in ALL THINGS SHINING., where they argue for the need to return to polytheism, to “lure back the gods”, to “become receptive to a modern pantheon of gods” (222). In effect, they argue that REL is both an overarching meta-mode (corresponding to the ontological pluralism of values, modes, and beings), and one specific mode, that they include under a more general grouping of sub-modes that they call “poiesis” (which corresponds to MET).
Dreyfus and Kelly argue for a renewed sense of the sacred in terms of a pluralist sensibility to multiple values as embodied in a modern pantheon of “gods”, ranging from emblematic figures (Roger Federer, Marilyn Monroe , Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King) to works of literature. This polytheism includes the beings of REL, treated as a sub-mode, under the more general mode of MET. Their analysis is thus different from both Latour’s and Badiou’s but convergent with at least some branches of psychoanalysis. REL as mode is merely one possible hypothesis and not necessarily the most plausible, nor even the most faithful description of contemporary Western society.
My feeling is that religion is not a mode, but a complex phenomenon calling for different levels of analysis. This complexity is responsible for the hesitation and disagreement that can be observed over the status of religion. As sensitivity to a multiplicity of values or modes of existence religion is a meta-mode, as receptivity to the passages of a multiplicity of different sorts of beings it is a sub-mode of poiesis, as specific understanding of being it is a mode.Latour just posits that it is a mode, without considering these alternatives, and with no real argument.
I think not enough work has been done on comparing Latour’s veridictive modes with Badiou’s truth procedures. For example, Latour combines “love” and religion in one mode, but this is incoherent (unless you are presupposing the Christian “God is Love” or some such creedal slogan). Badiou separates love and religion, and argues that love is a truth procedure but that religion is not a truth procedure (in Latourese, religion is not a mode). For Badiou, religion is not on the same plane as the truth procedures , rather it is a general conception of truth in rivality with philosophy. This comparison of religion and philosophy is very interesting, and should be addressed by Latour as he is also very vague and contradictory about the status of philosophy in his INQUIRY.