Political Liberalism, Religion, and the Prophetic Tradition

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Of late a literature has developed with a more negative view of the role of religion in promoting citizenship. This literature reflects three main themes. First, concern about the spillover of illiberal values into public life due to socialization infused with patriarchy. Second, a concern for individual autonomy due to uncritical adherence to inherited beliefs and minimal exposure to a broad range of alternative views. Third, a concern for the cultivation of democratic values due to a kind of radical sectarianism that places them at risk. Arguments that advance these themes have focused on religious groups that are fundamentalist and isolationist. While most authors note that not all religious groups are like this, the overall effect of this literature has been to permit fundamentalist and isolationist groups to stand for religion generally via assumptions that they differ from other groups merely in being more extreme and via the failure to consider the educational implications of alternative religious orientations.

In this dissertation I argue the following claims regarding this negative view of the civic importance of religion: 1) it does not provide a convincing account of the relationship between private associations and civic virtue; 2) it ignores the broad acceptance of "free faith" by most religions (a commitment related to autonomy); 3) it ignores religious traditions that emphasize civic responsibility, tolerance and social justice as articles of faith (commitments related to democratic character and democratic governance).

This dissertation explores a religious orientation whose educational implications for civic virtue differ quite significantly from isolationists and fundamentalists: the prophetic Christian tradition. I assert that the strand of faith encountered within the prophetic tradition necessarily implicates involvement within the political dimension of life in all its aspects - cultural, economic, and governmental; and that it sustains a vision of citizenship that constitutes a religious vocation for believers qua citizens that is broadly compatible with and supportive of central liberal democratic values - namely reciprocity, mutual respect, tolerance, and justice.