Political Theology Today A forum for interdisciplinary and interreligious dialogue

Introducing Political Theology 16.6, on Religious Pluralism and Values in the Public Sphere

POL 16-6 Cover

This themed issue of Political Theology is devoted to a roundtable discussion of Religious Pluralism and Values in the Public Sphere by Lenn E. Goodman, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. His conversation partners are: Professor Alan Mittleman, Professor of Jewish Thought at the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York; Professor Jonathan Jacobs, Presidential Scholar and Chair of Philosophy at John Jay College, City University of New York; David Novak, the J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Professor of Religion, Philosophy, and Jewish Studies in the University of Toronto; Timothy P. Jackson, Professor of Christian Ethics at Candler School of Theology, Emory University; and Justin Latterell, Alonzo L. McDonald Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University and John Witte, Jr., Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law and Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University.

Goodman begins his study with a short statement of his thesis:

What I want to argue in this book is a simple thesis: that we humans, with all our differences in outlook and tradition, can respect one another and learn from one another’s ways, without sharing them or relinquishing the commitments we make our own. This is what I take to be pluralism.[1]

‘The question of this book’, Goodman continues, concerns ‘how we should cope, as individuals and communities, with the dazzling diversity we confront. The answer I have proposed is rooted in the ideal of openness. Openness does not mean relativism […] One can respect differences without abandoning one’s commitments’.[2] As Justin Latterell and John Witte Jr. observe in ‘Law, Religion, and Reason in a Constitutional Democracy: Goodman v. Rawls’, Goodman ‘makes clear that the diversity of religious and moral commitments in pluralistic societies is a resource to be tapped, not a problem to be solved’. While strongly held religious convictions are frequently regarded as private matters that are better left at home rather than taken into the public square, Goodman rejects wishful approaches that seek to deny or suppress religious values in order the better to promote a secular and, supposedly, impartial and ideology-free polity. He states: ‘Ironing out or burning away diversity is a fantasy that ends in tragedy. What social bodies need is a way of learning and profiting from differences – not denying, minimizing, trivializing, or romanticizing them’. Goodman is particularly critical of John Rawls’ political liberalism, which he rejects as ‘illiberal and impractical’ in its approach to religious doctrines.[3] It is Goodman’s engagement with Rawls which attracts the most comment from the roundtable participants. Should we let a thousand flowers bloom? Goodman is clear that tolerance has its limits. There are some things that should not be done. Pluralism is not relativism. We can be open-minded about many things, but not everything. He states:

Still, an open mind is not an empty head. Not every idea stands up to scrutiny, and not every way of life is tolerable. Some ideas are vicious; some practices hack away at life itself. Yet much that passes for pluralism today invites a suspension of moral or intellectual judgment. That is misguided charity. Only critical appropriation can make receptivity effectual even in relating to the values and traditions one might call one’s own. The alternative is superficiality, be it welcoming or hostile.[4]

I share Goodman’s conviction that ‘we humans, with all our differences in outlook and tradition, can respect one another and learn from one another’s ways, without sharing them or relinquishing the commitments we make our own’, and this conviction has informed my editorial engagement with Political Theology. Having been involved with the journal since its inception in 1999, the editing of this themed issue will be my final act as editor. In the intervening years Political Theology has grown from a small UK-based journal to one with an international readership and reputation. From its Christian beginnings, it now receives submissions from people of all faiths and none, and better reflects the many and various approaches to religion and politics. The journal exists to provide a public forum where one can encounter and discuss religiously and politically diverse views. Long may these open conversations continue.

 

Contents of this issue

Religious Pluralism and Values in the Public Sphere, by Lenn E. Goodman: An Appreciation and Critique’ (Alan Mittleman)—493

‘Religious Ideals and the Idea of Liberalism: Goodman’s Religious Pluralism and Values in the Public Sphere’ (Jonathan Jacobs)—502

‘Goodman versus Rawls: Politics, Philosophy, Theology’ (David Novak)—521

‘Liberal Integrity: Lenn Goodman’s Case for Democratic Virtue’ (Timothy P. Jackson)—532

‘Law, Religion, and Reason in a Constitutional Democracy: Goodman v. Rawls’ (Justin Latterell and John Witte, Jr.)—543

‘Roundtable Replies’ (Lenn E. Goodman)—560

Book Reviews—577

 

[1] Lenn E. Goodman, Religious Pluralism and Values in the Public Sphere, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 1-2

[2] Goodman, Religious Pluralism and Values in the Public Sphere, p. 193

[3] Goodman, Religious Pluralism and Values in the Public Sphere, p. 194

[4] Goodman, Religious Pluralism and Values in the Public Sphere, p. 194

 

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