Theology and the Danish Politics of Offense
370 Dwinelle Hall
Noreen Khawaja, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Yale University
The 2005 Danish “Cartoons Crisis” – as it has come to be known – set off a wave of protests and debates around the globe. The phenomenon was widely framed as a conflict between the freedom of speech, on the one hand, and the right not to be offended, on the other. Scholars have challenged this frame for its fundamental misapprehension of Muslim attitudes toward the depiction of the Prophet. This paper critically examines the Danish side of the story, arguing that Danish satirical culture should not only be understood in the context of an anti-religious tradition of Enlightenment criticism, but also in terms of a prominent Danish theological tradition within Lutheran Christianity, which emphasizes the “scandalous” nature of the Christian message. Often referred to as “dialectical” theology, this tradition had a profound impact on Danish politics and culture in the long twentieth century, and it emphasized that offense is not just an inevitable feature of a plural society, but a value––that is, a core principle of religious life. Understanding this theology better will shed light on contemporary debates about secularism, free speech, and the meaning of religious offense, beginning with the Danish context.
Noreen Khawaja is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University. Her research interests lie in nineteenth- and twentieth-century European intellectual history, focusing on the shifting status of religious ideas in modern Western culture. Her work examines problems of conversion, authenticity, criticism, and orthodoxy in European religion and philosophy. She has recently completed a book on existentialism, The Religion of Existence: Asceticism in Philosophy from Kierkegaard to Sartre (University of Chicago Press, 2016)