Religion as a Conversation Starter: What Liberal Religious Political Advocates Add to the Debate About Religion’s Place in Legal and Political Discourse
35 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2012
Date Written: October 1, 2011
Whether citizens should be allowed to make reference to their religious beliefs or use religious language in public discourse and public decision-making (often referred to as “the question of pluralism”) has long been considered a question of central importance to the creation and execution of American law. While there is no shortage of answers to this question offered by legal theorists, philosophers, and theologians alike, one voice largely overlooked in this debate is the voice of a small group of individuals who, while writing extensively on the subject to a large audience, do so not from the academy, but rather from the world of liberal religious political advocacy. This Note seeks to introduce the views of several of this groups most prominent members — Rabbi David Saperstein, Reverend Jim Wallis, and Dr. Eboo Patel — into this largely theoretical discourse.
Part I briefly surveys the landscape of responses to the question of pluralism. Part II demonstrates how the views of these leaders of the so-called “religious left” fit into that landscape. It argues that they seek to occupy a middle ground between the various positions already offered by promoting an open, unmediated, and values-based discursive space in which all citizens speak to one another candidly, with reference to their comprehensive beliefs, whether religious or not, as a means of fostering active engagement on issues of common interest. Part III concludes by considering whether or not their approach is effective in practice. Ultimately, this Note seeks to add a new voice to the ever-important debate about religion’s place in law and politics. In so doing, it shows that these thinkers offer a robust challenge to Richard Rorty’s famous argument that “religion is a conversation stopper [in public debate].” Rather, they show that religion can often serve as a conversation starter instead.
Keywords: Religion, Philosophy, Rawls, Jim Wallis, David Saperstein, Eboo Patel
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