Jean Franco: The Second Coming

The Second Coming: Religion as Entertainment

Abstract: Everywhere secularism is in retreat. Not only are fundamentalists on the rise but also many competing brands of spirituality are now widely disseminated through media, film, best selling fiction and television. While most orthodox religions have always used ritual and performance, telecommunications and televisual effects are transforming religion into religiosity.

"The return of religion" has become an issue. Meeting in Capri in 1994, a group of European philosophers among them Derrida, Gadamer and Vattimo, debated the "return of religion" and the separation of philosophy (reason) from faith. In this paper I want to raise several issues that the philosophers ignored- 1) for instance, the poverty of secular language in dealing with deeply traumatic events such as violent death, disappearance and the desacralization of the body in a market society, 2) the positive contribution of religions to grassroots education, particularly where the state fails, and even, in the case of Afro- Americans, religion as a force for emancipation and human dignity, 3) the articulation of religious fundamentalisms with late capitalism where unbounded marketing co-exists with restrictive moral codes and family values and in which "fee-for-service" religions are not uncommon. These latter mark a transition from religion to religiosity as the 'mysteries' of religion- God, angels, miracles- begin to invade entertainment media at all levels from rock to television series, from cinema to everyday language. Does this mean that religion has been democratized as Carlos Mosivais (perhaps ironically) suggests or does the pervasive religiosity shift attention from other questions that might account for the return of religion- the future viewed as decline, the bankruptcy of the political, the end of secular utopias?


Jean Franco is the winner of the PEN 1996 award for lifetime contribution to the dissemination of Latin American literature in English and has been recognized by the Chilean and Venezuelan governments for advanced scholarship on Latin American literature in the United States. She has served as president of the Latin American Studies Association in Great Britain and of the Latin American Studies Association in the US. She is currently Professor Emeritus at Columbia University. Her most recent books include: Critical Passions: Selected Essays, edited by Mary Louise Pratt and Kathleen Newman (1999) and The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City. Latin America and the Cold War (2002).