Spinoza’s True Religion: The Modern Origins of a Contemporary Floating Signifier
Abstract. It is my aim in this paper to demonstrate that the notion of true religion, in the wake of Spinoza’s Tractatus, is a floating signifier. A floating signifier is a signifier with a changing signification. What makes true religion a particularly interesting floating signifier is its theological-political constellation, its particular history – both before and after Spinoza’s usage of the term in the TTP – and its tremendous conceptually malleability. While this undoubtedly has continued relevance today, the goal of this contribution is to locate the ambiguities at play in the floating signifier of true religion as well as to trace the transformation of true religion into a floating signifier. In part 1, I establish that the formal purpose of true religion is a means to guarantee a stable or peaceful political community constituted by plurality. In part 2, I turn to the meaning of true religion, focussing on three significant ambiguities in the notion as developed by Spinoza. In part 3, I turn to the reception history of the TTP to illustrate several of the competing concerns of the floating signifier of true religion, and second consider some of the contemporary implications of each of these ambiguities.
Keywords: Spinoza, TTP, True Religion, Floating Signifier, Theological-political, Atheism