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San Jose State University
Humanities Department
Program in Comparative Religious Studies
RELS 162:
Religion and Political
...
Introduction to the Course and to
the Assignment
Course Description
In this course, we will examine how religion is a majo...
The Assignment
 Class divided into 7 groups of 4-5 students tasked
with reading a book selected from a list
 Each Group ...
The Presentations
1. Introduction to “America’s Sacred Ground”
- Prof. Jeff Danese
2. Republican Gomorrah - Group 1
3. Per...
Presentation #1: Introduction to
“America’s Sacred Ground”
Primary text books for the course:
 McGraw & Formicola (Eds). ...
A Place to Start…
 Barbara A. McGraw and
“America’s Sacred Ground”
 Problem: current polarized public debate
 Solution:...
Building the Good Society
 Traditional Christian political theory:
 Premised on sinful nature of humans that
required re...
Protestant Reformation
John Locke (1632-1704) - secular or religious
philosopher?
 Priesthood of believers
 Traditional ...
John Locke’s Political Theology
 Limited government and church
 Relies on goodwill of common folk
 “social contract”
 ...
Roger Williams’ Influence
Martha Nussbaum argues in her recent book, From Disgust to
Humanity (Oxford, 2010) and in her up...
Martha Nussbaum
on Puritan Orthodoxy and Roger Williams’ influence
on freedom on conscience (speech, 2006)
Good Society as Free for ALL, not a
“Free-for-all”
 Aiming for the True and the Good
 Important Assumption or Moral Grou...
First Core Principle:
Freedom of Conscience
 Whose freedom of conscience is to be heard
in the Public Forum?
 Is the Uni...
Examples
“…neither pagan, nor Mohometan, nor Jew ought
to be excluded from the civil rights of the
commonwealth because of...
More Examples
“Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of
America is not, in any sense, founded on the
Christian r...
Beyond even Locke’s Inclusiveness
“Locke denies tolerance to those…who deny the existence of a
god…it was a great thing to...
Second Core Principle:
Equal Dignity
 Because liberty alone would eventually be co-opted
by “factions” in a constant “sta...
The Two-Tiered Public Forum
 In her Taking Religious Pluralism
Seriously, Barbara McGraw formalizes
the Public Forum into...
1. The Civic Public Forum
Regarding the legitimate authority and actions of
government, politics, law enforcement, and the...
2. The Conscientious Public Forum
Regarding the individual and collective duties in
“communities of conscience” - not priv...
Moral Virtue as Public Duty
 All do not have to believe in the political theology of
America’s Sacred Ground - but all sh...
Renouncing the Current Debate’s
False Dichotomy and False Choice
 The current polarized political discourse
undermines th...
False and Destructive Dichotomy
 Media and politicians’ portrayal of “secular left” and
“religious right” obscures other ...
Separation of Church and State
 Religious right seeks to present the image of a
monolithic “Christianity” that minimizes ...
False Choices
 Moral absolutism vs. moral relativism
 Inevitable clash of worldviews, conflict
 Pluralism does NOT mean...
Americans are more tolerant than
the loudest religious voices would
suggest….
Conclusion
1. Religious right and secular left both entrenched;
reified positions, narrow reasoning.
2. Standoff glorifies...
Concerns and Challenges
 What role for empirical evidence?
 What about the party crashers?
 How to address the dominati...
Resources for Further Reading
 Frank Lambert, Religion in Amerian Politics: A Short History
(Princeton, 2008)
 Mark Noll...
Internet Resources
 http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/religion.html U.S. Library of Congress on-line
exhibit of docume...
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Rels 162.Religion And Politics In The U.S

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This (30-slide) powerpoint presentation was the introduction to a course on Religion and Political Controversy in the U.S. Largely based on Barbara McGraw\'s "Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously" (2005), it outlines the historical origins of the American political theology behind the Constitution, frames the stakes and issues, and introduces the controversies that my students wrestled with throughout the course.

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  • General Introduction:
    “Welcome to our class project. My name is Jeff Danese and it has been my privilege to teach this course on Religion and Political Controversy in America here at San Jose State University Spring Semester of 2010. Though my academic training has mostly in American Religions, Spirituality, and Cognitive Sciences and not in Political Science, the course fell to me with just a week or two of advanced notice, when senior faculty took on other university responsibilities. So the course has been an educational experience for me as I discovered along with my students the importance of recognizing the religious dimension to what are often presented as legal or political controversies - and the historical changes that have shaped the struggles of Americans as the lines between church and state shift and get redefined to fit the needs of successive generations. I also rediscovered with a renewed urgency in these troubled times, what an unprecedented and unique experiment our country is, with its Enlightenment ideals of rational discourse, its Revolution against Europe’s old aristocracy and old Church, its Constitution, and its separation of church and state - and the importance of the stakes involved in this, our American experiment…
  • Most of the courses I teach rely on a historical frame to the issues and problems involved and indeed, much of my academic training has been in the History of Ideas, History of Religions, and Historiography. Also, with this course, which purposely engages controversial issues that, along with the study of comparative religions, often challenge the deepest beliefs and assumptions of students, I wanted to make the best attempt at impartiality, to downplay my own biases and political perspectives, and to set a tone of respect throughout the course, so that students could find for themselves the points of respect, shared values, or even useful ideas in traditions and perspectives with which they are unfamiliar. I take it as my ethical responsibility as an educator to present the best knowledge from my discipline and to clearly distinguish it from less widely accepted knowledge in my academic discipline, as well as knowledge or ideas from other disciplines (with which I may be less familiar) as well as my own personal views or biases. So, while we touch on some very difficult and seemingly intractable controversies like gay marriage, abortion, ecology, and terrorism, I do not take it as my job to resolve these issues in this course, but ideally to present my students with the information, perspective, and theoretical tools with which they can understand the stakes involved, the language used to frame the issues in public discourse, and the tools to resolve them on their own, in their own way. But in order to demonstrate their ability to apply the information, tools, and most importantly, the scholarly criteria of impartiality, fairness, and respect to such issues, I needed an assignment that would demonstrate their mastery…
  • …and that was the genesis of this project. The class was divided up into seven groups with the ultimate goal of sharing the fruits of their work with other students via iTunes U. They would select a book from a list of new books representing new scholarship ranging from the very academic to the very partisan and develop a controversial issue dealt with in the book into a video presentation to include any forms of media, such as powerpoint slides, news clips, reviews of books, lectures, etc.
  • Here is an overview of the Groups’ presentations. My own presentations will, like bookends, frame the entire project by providing an introduction to the course materials as a place to start, and then, finally, summarize the project and assignments with a conclusion. We hope that these presentations will be informative, alert fellow students and citizens to some important issues and processes that impact our nation, provide a fair overview of the stakes involved and popular frames or discourses that shape the public debates, some analysis and considerations that may help informed citizens reach a more informed opinion of their own, and finally some quality and objective resources for further investigation. So much for an overview of the project, now we can get along to the first presentation, my own introduction to the course materials and a historical explanation of America’s unique experimentation with political philosophy or, more properly perhaps, with political theology….
  • Welcome, everyone to Presentation Number One, an Introduction to America’s Sacred Ground with me, your host, and instructor of RELS 162 : Religion and Political Controversy in America, Jeff Danese, here at San Jose State University, Spring Semester, 2010. This presentation will introduce you to the primary text books that I selected for the course, the reasons for my choices, my hopes for the course, and to a historically-based understanding of what the founding fathers intended with their limited democratic experiment with their constitutionally-based young republic that has become our United States of America today. After laying out a particular conception of American political theology, I will ask some obvious questions that suggest many directions that a focused inquiry could take, alert you, the viewer, to the false choices and seemingly intractable moral conflicts that popular media and public discourse perpetuate that contribute in no small part to the political gridlock that we can see in just about every local and state government around the country, and finally offer some excellent resources that meet the highest academic standards for viewers to pursue in both print form as well as on the internet.
  • Previous instructors for this course used and are personal friends with Barbara McGraw, Director of the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism and Professor of Social Ethics, Law, and Public Life at Saint Mary's College in East Bay, near San Francisco - who, along with Renee Formicola - Professor of Political Science at Seton Hall University - edited the first of our course text books: Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously: Spiritual Politics on America’s Sacred Ground. With so little time to research and review texts for the course, I followed suit, and added another more standard text book in its’ fourth edition, entitled Religion and Politics in America: Faith, Culture, and Strategic Choices by Robert Booth Fowler, et al. Fowler is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and has numerous awards and published works to his credit. The first book represents a polemical solution to a contemporary problem, framed in generally fair historical context, that provides a place to begin - an understanding of the U.S. Constitution that takes into account the religious controversies, political necessities, and compelling Enlightenment ideas at the time of the birth of our Nation. As her title suggests, McGraw’s “Sacred Ground” is an idealized portrayal of American political theology as the founding fathers intended it to be and is prioritized as a solution to the current problem of polarized, uncompromising public discourse. As such, this sort of partisan scholarship can seem a bit overbearing to students who rightfully question authority and are quick to exercise their critical skills, and though the great advantage of such polemics is the practical solutions they offer to important problems of our times, I balanced it with Fowler’s text which represents the standard scholarly mandate to define useful terms and ideas, describe related processes ad events, and to organize the relevant information into chapters that present a comprehensive overview of the issues, groups, special terms, questions, concerns, and theoretical perspectives that constitute the subject area of Religion and Politics in America. Such standard text books can offer a wealth of objective disciplinary knowledge, yet can have the disappointing weakness of venturing no practical solutions. Each project has its place, and, to be fair, we can not dismiss McGraw’s project - though it may seem premature to us here at the outset of the course, because we do not yet have anything to compare it to. It is, as I suggest here, just a place to start….
  • From the establishment of Christianity in 380 CE and the fall of the Roman Empire through the conflicts between Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor, and Pope Gregory VII during the 11th century up until the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th century, that is, for well over a thousand years, traditional Western political theory relied on the mutual support and alliance between church and state as the basis for political legitimacy. Speaking generally, because some scholars might take issue with such an unqualified distinction here, Martin Luther along with John Calvin and his Puritan followers in New England favored the social stability offered by traditional top-down state authority with a democratized “congregational” church ‘purified’ of slavish sacramentalism and ‘popish’ hierarchy. They took for granted the traditional Christian psychology of a flawed human nature due to original sin and the need for social constraint and coercion as necessary. But in England, an alternative view of human psychology was developed by John Locke that is widely considered by scholars to have paved the way for modern liberalism, separation of church and state, religious tolerance, and the social contract - all of which exerted profound influence on the framers of the U.S. Constitution as well as America’s first theologian, Jonathan Edwards, whose book, Religious Affections, is widely viewed as the theological justification for the First Great Awakening leading up to the Revolutionary War and the inception of the American evangelical tradition.
  • Some readers might bristle at McGraw’s appropriation of Locke as a political theologian instead of the Enlightenment philosopher that he is usually portrayed as, and yet, he was a self-identified Puritan, his parents were both Puritans, he supported the Glorious Revolution, opposed Catholic James II, and played a part in the coup that brought the Calvinist William and Mary of the Netherlands to the throne of England. Considering much recent scholarship in the history of science and religion that shines new light on the complicated yet profound influence of religious ideas on the science of Sir Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, Galileo, Rene Descartes, and many other so-called fathers of the scientific revolution, McGraw’s portrayal (more fully elaborated in her earlier book, Rediscovering America’s Sacred Ground (Suny, 2003)) can not be considered radical at all. Indeed, Locke’s deep religious convictions go a long way in explaining the force and and creativity of his arguments and the integrity with which he pursued his political convictions. His training as a surgeon, membership in the Royal Society, and familiarity with natural philosophy put him in a strategic position to transpose the language of natural law to that of moral law (inalienable rights) and to yoke the legitimacy of science to that of religion, just as state and church had been during the Medieval Period. Just as any individual, with the use of reason and discipline could discern God’s revelation in nature through the mathematical precision and consistency of laws, so also could any individual by reason and intuition discover God’s revelation in the Bible through his own conscience. So traditional political top-down coercive authority would necessarily stifle God’s revelation, located as it was now in the individual through conscience and not by traditional institutions through enforcement.
  • Locke saw the traditional hierarchical authority of church and state as dominating and abusive - and worse, it was inconsistent with God’s unfolding plan for the world. Because God’s relationship and communications are with individual human beings through conscience and not with organizations like the traditional Church, it was the responsibility of government to protect people’s inalienable rights based on a “social contract.” On the one hand, the government would protect individuals from coercive domination by any state apparatus – including by any church authority, and on the other hand individuals would form “spontaneous societies” where their consciences could find free expression and God’s unfolding plan for the good society would evolve providentially. The founding fathers were all profoundly influenced and guided by Locke’s vision, but it was not an easy sell to everyone….
  • In New England, where Puritans had established their own Reformed Theology, disagreement and conflicts of conscience such as that between Ann Hutchinson and John Winthrop, with Baptists, with Quakers, and most notably, with Roger Williams – were often resolved with banishment, pressure to recant, or even death. John Winthrop famously wrote, “A democracy is among most civil nations accounted the meanest and worst of all forms of government” while John Cotton said, “Democracy? – I do not conceive that ever God did ordain it as a fit government either for church or commonwealth.” But classical notions of democracy were not what either John Calvin, John Locke, or the founding fathers had in mind. They advocated for a “mixed government” of checks and balances on power, so that it could not be concentrated in any one branch or government, nor by any single political “faction,” nor by any single church. On this final point, the New England Puritans were in disagreement. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts did not completely disestablish their Congregational Church until as late as the 1840’s. So, I am in agreement with Martha Nussbaum that Roger Williams deserves more credit than he often gets for fighting for and articulating the American tradition of separation of church and state. The following clip is from a speech she gave on this very point…
  • So while historical recognition of the founding fathers’ ideas of government can be traced back to John Calvin via Jonathan Locke and Roger Williams, what is important for us to understand, and one of the main points that Barbara McGraw makes in our text is that America’s political philosophy does indeed rest on the religious ideals of the Protestant Reformation and that the American political theology that undergirds our Constitution assumed the expression of individual conscience, the enactment of religious commitments and revelation – in public, in civic discourse, and moral debates – not out of self-interested benefit, “…to provide a moral and political contest that ensures that the people have the political ability and opportunity to build the good society,” as she writes on p. 10.
  • McGraw emphasizes two core principles that should guide public discussions in the Public Forum: Freedom of Conscience and Equal Dignity. But his brings up the question as to what sorts or voices are to be tolerated in moral discussions in the Public Forum? What religious language should dominate the Forum, frame the issues, or have the most influence? Today, many politically-active Christians and Conservative Christian groups often make the argument that America is a “Christian” country to justify the priority of Protestant Christian morality in the Public Forum. In keeping with the goals of this course to map out the contours of the arguments without advocating one position over another, I will simply here point out that such arguments have some merit in that clearly the founding fathers broadly prioritized the basic cultural foundations of Protestant Christianity (personal virtue, hard work, public morality, individual freedom, etc.) but the Deist beliefs of many of the founding fathers are not consistent with conservative definitions of what it means to be a “Christian” today. Other strategies for making such an argument point to the period of the mid-nineteenth century when Benevolent Societies and the major denominations consolidated American culture into what can be referred to as the Protestant Establishment. But for the purposes of this course, we must understand that, as with all historical narratives, such arguments are usually motivated by and reflect the political and/or social agendas of people and groups today. And to wit, those agendas are often the result of unintended historical changes and arbitrary sociocultural influences on individuals and institutions….
    For one of the most thorough examinations of the issue, see The Search for Christian America (1989) by Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, and George M. Marsden.
  • …Just like arguments against America as a “Christian” nation…. The agendas of so-called secular humanists engender a sanitized version of the U.S. Constitution that relies on quotes such as these that demonstrate the broad-mindedness of Jonathan Locke and the founding fathers.
  • George Washington himself penned much of the language of the Treaty of Tripoli and is an often-referred-to quote in support of such arguments from the far left.
  • While Locke himself may have drawn the line at atheists, such quotes as this one by Richard Henry Lee indicate that at least some of the founding fathers were willing to extend freedom of conscience even to those whose moral practices and civic discourse were not based on a belief in a supreme God at all. So while McGraw is fair in pointing out that the broad-mindedness of the founding fathers is probably under-acknowledged today generally, what I would like to point out is that the argument itself is based on a false premise that religion and reason are irreconcilable and mutually exclusive. Though it is beyond the scope of this presentation, the “Warfare Model” of the relationship between science and religion can be traced to historical narratives of the late 1800’s that, as mentioned earlier in this presentation, obscure the complex and deep relationships between the two as well as the limitations of both. McGraw’s central point in our text is that the U.S. Constitution establishes America as “Sacred Ground.” She blurs the commonplace and widely-accepted (false) distinction between science and religion so that we might reclaim the religious sentiment that itself makes plurality itself possible.
  • It is difficult for religious believers to imagine a moral community without some sort of metaphysical commitment whether a belief in God – however it may be defined, or a “divine architect” as the founding fathers often said, or cosmic intelligence or principle. And likewise, atheists can point to many a case of hypocrisy and scandal on the part of religious leaders to underscore that faith alone is not sufficient for a moral life. This debate is for a philosophy class – but here, it must be recognized that the guarantee of equal protection and equal rights was envisioned by the founding fathers as a safeguard against tyranny and oppression. Locke argued that an impartial judiciary was the necessary arbiter of the “Social Contract” – to insure that individuals would be respected and their rights upheld against other powerful individuals and organizations.
  • Both Nussbaum, in her study of Western Philosophy in general, and in her recent book and in her lecture on the video clip, based on Roger Williams’ thought in particular - as well as McGraw and many other scholars find it necessary to divide the Public Forum into two parts: one intended, like Locke’s judiciary, to impartially carry out the administration of government, and the second intended to be the place of public discourse regarding moral and religious issues as they relate to the public good, to building the good society.
  • One irony that McGraw points out – along with several other authors in her edited text – is that, though religious voices have been raised throughout American history in defense of these two core principles (amongst Quakers, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, and many others) – mostly for fear as minority religions that they would be attacked – today, religious voices are more commonly raised against these principles. But this is, as many people point out, an aggressive and imperialistic move on the part of conservative believers to assert their religious views over others. As religious studies scholar, Charles Kimball notes in his widely acclaimed book, When Religion Becomes Evil (Harper Collins, 2002), religion is quite necessary for personal and social well-being, but it becomes “evil” when adherents follow their leaders with blind obedience and when they make absolute truth claims that exclude or minimize the truth claims of other religious groups. If “My Religion” is the only “True” religion then why should I take anything other religious people say seriously? But can there be honest interreligious dialogue without absolute truth claims? Must religious believers check their orthodoxies at the door before entering the realm of public discourse?
  • Rita Gross, Scholar of Buddhism, in Chapter 11 of McGraw’s book, entitled “Buddhist Contributions to the Civic and Conscientious Public Forums,” writes that the absence of absolute truth claims “…in the Civic Public Forum does not involve their disappearance but the recognition of their relativity, which does not change anything about them. It only recognizes what was always the case” (emphasis hers). The incomplete, limited, and hence relative nature of human knowledge that only allows us to “see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor 13) can be found in all of the world’s wisdom traditions, though some (like Hinduism and Buddhism) emphasize it more than others.
    Many conservative scholars, such as James A. Herrick in “The Making of the New Spirituality” (Intervarsity, 2003); Stephen L. Carter in “The Culture of Disbelief” (Basic Books, 1993), and Mark Lilla in “The Stillborn God” (Knopf, 2007) make various arguments that modern liberal democracy is anti-religious, that it denigrates religious faith, and corrodes the basis of morality.
    I find merit and value on both sides of this divide, but will here offer another perspective. As Stephen Prothero emphasizes in his “Religious Literacy” (Harper 2007), Americans are hopelessly ignorant of not only others’ religious traditions – but also their own! From a Religious Studies perspective and generally from a educational perspective, meaningful religious or moral debate in either Public Forum is impossible without some basic understanding of the major doctrines, moral worldviews, and histories of the world’s major religious traditions. This fact alone, I believe, goes a long way in explaining the problems with public religious discourse today.
  • It is clear now, to me, that such conservative scholars are often engaging in polemical discourse against extremist actions and organizations, but what they have in common is their alarm at the enormous changes affecting all of us in today’s globalized techno-culture as I like to call it. The stakes are indeed high. With political paralysis often seen in our federal and state governments, with either declining or changing public morality, corporate-dominated media that emphasizes inflammatory rhetoric over practical news, population migrations, pluralism, environmental degradation, and precarious global economies many people sense an insecurity previously relegated to the poor or otherwise disenfranchised. Are these changes good or bad? Who gets to decide?
    It is also clear to me now that the founding fathers not only expected public discourse regarding morality, religion, religious practice, and public governance, but that they also expected citizens to take their freedom seriously as the unique and historically unprecedented eventuality that is America. They saw freedom as a contractual relationship with providence, with history – no matter Who or What guides it and whatever people may choose to call It – and the responsibility of citizens is to cultivate virtue, demonstrate morality, and to recognize their own place in the struggle to create a “more just and perfect order…”
  • So McGraw’s model for a two-tired Public Forum carves out a middle ground between the Civic Public Forum where the administrative language of rights, contracts, legal precedent, and equality substitute for overt religious terms associated with any particular religious orthodoxy on the one hand, and the personal ethnic- group- or church-based communities of faith and conscience on the other. It is clear, that for a democracy of any sort, mixed or direct, to address the urgent and essential questions posed earlier some public debate that allows the increasingly plural voices of our rich and diverse faith communities to compete on their own terms must occur. McGraw refers to this as the Conscientious Public Forum, but where do we find such a place…?
  • What we often see and read in the popular media are inflamed rhetorical performances about are anything but respectful or educational. And this, my friends is the real crux of the matter: that we actually have NO Conscientious Public Forum for the resolution of moral conflicts. Therefore, mutually exclusive truth claims compete for legal recognition in the courts and for public recognition on the campaign trails of political candidates – both areas of the Civic Public Forum where, on McGraw’s view they do not belong.
  • The absence of practical and respectful religious and moral public discourse is itself the complex legacy of secularization that includes industrialization and corporate domination of the American economy, immigration and increasing ethnic and religious diversity, and court battles since the 19th century that have rolled back the overt signs of the Protestant Establishment in American public life. As many scholars of American Religious History have pointed out, secularization in American society forced sincere religious practice into two directions: one is the personal and private world of family, leisure, and spirituality - and the other is the world of compromise, combination, and ultimately…confusion. This second trend is easiest to find in the sanitized-yet-universal religious terms of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Transcendentalism, but also in William Herberg’s book, Protestant, Catholic, Jew (1955), and more recently in the evolution of Evangelical Protestant Christianity into mega-churches and political organizations that exploit moral controversies in order to consolidate and mobilize a conservative religious alliance.
  • These two unintended historical trends have diminished the Conscientious Public Forum that the founding fathers expected would allow God’s plan for America and for humanity to unfold. The distorted religious messages that we often hear may be sincere – they can certainly be passionate and compelling, but I think that, because they are often organized around political goals, they compromise the integrity of their own religious traditions, their own most sacred religious values and the intentions of the founding fathers to insure the freedom of Americans against the domination and inevitable oppression from any political faction or religious orthodoxy. By denigrating the respectful and even-minded discourse permitted by moral relativism, they prioritize and enforce their own morally absolutist authority. By emphasizing moral conflict and religious differences they create a paradigm of warfare where the “clash of civilizations” is as natural as Darwin’s survival of the fittest. And by emphasizing ethnic and cultural differences they ignore vast areas of public morality with which all might find agreement. The choices offered by fundamentalist and militant religious movements are incompatible with America’s Civic Public Forum. As Karen Armstrong has noted in many of her talks and books, but especially in The Battle for God (Knopf, 2000), the issue should be seen not as interreligious conflict between religious traditions, but intrareligious conflict – between militant or fundamentalist forms of religion born of the failures of modernity in the 20th century and traditional religion that emphasizes the golden rule and tolerance. And while McGraw’s call to reclaim America’s Sacred Ground confronts us with the violence, confusion, disrespect, and falsity that passes today as religious and moral discourse, it is not exactly clear how to proceed.
  • One place to start is to recognize that most Americans (70%) and even most Evangelical Christians and Catholics do not buy into the absolute truth claims that religious leaders use to justify their moral and political positions. Check out this news report on the 2008 Pew Charitable Trust poll on religion in America….
  • Moral conflicts like gay rights, gay marriage, abortion, and school prayer seem intractable because they are used again and again and again to mobilize people for political purposes. If these are the only moral issues of our times, how are we supposed to think about the profligate manipulation of financial markets by Wall Street executives? Is the power wielded by corporate money and lobbyists in Washington and on campaign trails not a moral issue? Are poverty, discrimination, and hate crimes not moral issues? If conservative religious leaders would stop competing for a slice of the Civic Public Forum – and recognize that by sacrificing their own most sacred values of trust, love, and tolerance for votes and a few calls from the White House, they diminish the Conscientious Public Forum where their guidance and influence is most effective. As McGraw writes on p. 253, “…that way the conversation can move past the issue of which competing worldview will prevail and toward the question of how can Americans all live together considering that they have different views without undermining the fundamental framework and principles that make these conversations possible in the first place” (emphasis mine). She calls on religious minorities to make their voices heard in the Public Forum and for religious leaders to develop “theologies of tolerance” much like the authors in her book on Hinduism and Buddhism describe.
  • For the purposes of this course, McGraws model of American political theology gives us a framework for asking questions and prioritizing issues that is indeed prescriptive or normative – that is, she is telling us how America’s Sacred Ground is supposed to or should work. As such, I hope it is a good way to start out this series of presentations, but there are other questions and issues like the ones here that may also be important as my students research and struggle to understand their particular topics.
  • What follows here are just some of the best and most scholarly-recognized print and internet resources for further study.
  • Thanks for your attention. I hope this presentation has been useful and that you go on to consider some of my students’ presentations.
  • Transcript of "Rels 162.Religion And Politics In The U.S"

    1. 1. San Jose State University Humanities Department Program in Comparative Religious Studies RELS 162: Religion and Political Controversy Professor Jeffrey W. Danese Spring Semester 2010
    2. 2. Introduction to the Course and to the Assignment Course Description In this course, we will examine how religion is a major force in contemporary conflicts in America, and how religion plays a role in the ongoing political life of the United States. The course addresses the role of institutional religions and personal religious practice in shaping public debates. Religious pluralism in the US and the history of recent and contemporary events will provide us with the contexts for examining these and related “contemporary problems (e.g. ecology, abortion, war, gender, sexuality and race) as interpreted by a diverse range of American ethno-religious groups” (SJSU course catalogue).
    3. 3. The Assignment  Class divided into 7 groups of 4-5 students tasked with reading a book selected from a list  Each Group to select controversial topic related to the book, and develop a 15 minute video pod cast that complies with university accessibility standards and to be posted to SJSU’s iTunes U web site  Based on instructor-provided format; to outline the topic, the stakes, to ask questions, and provide an overview of scholarly perspectives and resources for further reading
    4. 4. The Presentations 1. Introduction to “America’s Sacred Ground” - Prof. Jeff Danese 2. Republican Gomorrah - Group 1 3. Persp’s on Race, Ethnicity, and Rel - Group 2 4. What’s the Matter With Kansas? - Group 3 5. American Fascists - Group 4 6. Terror in the Name of God - Group 5 7. God in the White House - Group 6 8. God and Race in America - Group 7 9. Summary and Conclusion - Prof. Jeff Danese
    5. 5. Presentation #1: Introduction to “America’s Sacred Ground” Primary text books for the course:  McGraw & Formicola (Eds). (2005) Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously: Spiritual Politics on America’s Sacred Ground, Baylor University Press.  Fowler, Hertzke, Olson, & Dulk. (2010). Religion and Politics in America: Faith, Culture, and Strategic Choices, 4th Ed. Westview Press.
    6. 6. A Place to Start…  Barbara A. McGraw and “America’s Sacred Ground”  Problem: current polarized public debate  Solution: rediscovery of founding fathers’ idea for American political system 2 Texts: Polemics and practical solutions and/or Objectivity and comprehensiveness ??
    7. 7. Building the Good Society  Traditional Christian political theory:  Premised on sinful nature of humans that required restraint, uniformity, coercion.  Church’s moral order enforced by state  State’s authority supported by church  Top-Down
    8. 8. Protestant Reformation John Locke (1632-1704) - secular or religious philosopher?  Priesthood of believers  Traditional top-down system corrupt  God revealed to individuals through revelation, insight, nature, and reason.  Government’s duty is to protect individual conscience, inalienable rights.  The true and the good emerges from the ground-up.  McGraw sees Locke as a religious philosopher, though most historians do not.
    9. 9. John Locke’s Political Theology  Limited government and church  Relies on goodwill of common folk  “social contract”  “spontaneous societies”  voluntary participation ensures living by the courage of one’s convictions.  Understood “rights” as “natural” - from God  Freedom of conscience, speech, thought, association, etc. - all necessary conditions for individuals to create the Good Society.
    10. 10. Roger Williams’ Influence Martha Nussbaum argues in her recent book, From Disgust to Humanity (Oxford, 2010) and in her upcoming book, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton, 2010) that Roger Williams (1603-1683) is at least as important as Locke in articulating the ideas of the American Constitutional tradition. “…sixthly it is the will and command of God…the permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish or anti-Christian consciences and worships be extended to all men and all countries.” -- The Bloody Tenent of Persecution for Cause or Conscience, 1644 “Your Selves pretend liberty of conscience, but alas! - it is but Self, the Great God Self - only to your Selves.” -- letter to governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut
    11. 11. Martha Nussbaum on Puritan Orthodoxy and Roger Williams’ influence on freedom on conscience (speech, 2006)
    12. 12. Good Society as Free for ALL, not a “Free-for-all”  Aiming for the True and the Good  Important Assumption or Moral Grounding  Founding fathers assumed that the “pursuit of happiness” was not merely self-interest  Liberty understood as precondition for expressing one’s conscience publicly  This Public Forum makes the Good Society possible
    13. 13. First Core Principle: Freedom of Conscience  Whose freedom of conscience is to be heard in the Public Forum?  Is the United States a “Christian” country? - Depends….  Arguments for depend on extremely broad and ahistorical definitions of the term, “christian” and are most often made in support of a political agenda.  Arguments against depend on particular de- contextualized quotes from key figures and assume an extreme form of secularity.
    14. 14. Examples “…neither pagan, nor Mohometan, nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion.” -- John Lock, Letter Concerning Toleration, 1690 “The insertion [of Jesus Christ in the preamble] was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindoo, and the Infidel of every denomination.” -- Thomas Jefferson, “Autobiography,” 1821.
    15. 15. More Examples “Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen, …it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” -- from the Treaty of Tripoli, 1797 “I fully agree with the Presbyterians, that true freedom embraces the Mahomitan and the Gentoo as well as the Christian religion.” -- Richard Henry Lee, “To James Madison,” 1784
    16. 16. Beyond even Locke’s Inclusiveness “Locke denies tolerance to those…who deny the existence of a god…it was a great thing to go so far…but where he stopped we may go on.” -- Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on Religion,” 1776. “It is true, we are not disposed to differ much, at present, about religion, but when we are making a constitution, it is to be hoped, for ages and millions yet unborn….” -- Richard Henry Lee, Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican, 1777  Other founding fathers dissented from this broad of inclusion in the Conscientious Public Forum, but these and other quotes indicate a far more expansive consideration on their part than is generally acknowledged today.
    17. 17. Second Core Principle: Equal Dignity  Because liberty alone would eventually be co-opted by “factions” in a constant “state of war,” an impartial means of resolving disputes was necessary.  A judiciary and legal system based on the equal dignity of every human being was the basis of the “social contract” - the price for disallowing people to take the law into their own hands.  “All men (sic) are created equal…”  Each is made in the image of God.
    18. 18. The Two-Tiered Public Forum  In her Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously, Barbara McGraw formalizes the Public Forum into two parts: 1. Government’s legitimate actions and responsibilities to protect and maintain the freedom and dignity of citizens in the Public Forum. 2. The religious, moral, and ethical discussions about the True and the Good
    19. 19. 1. The Civic Public Forum Regarding the legitimate authority and actions of government, politics, law enforcement, and the judiciary, based on two principles: 1. No Harm: all citizens are free in beliefs and activities as long as they do no harm to others. 2. Consistency: like a reversed golden rule, we can not deny to another what we do not deny to ourselves. No hypocrisy. “Only those moral values that are compatible with the Civic Public Forum principles are legitimate contributions in the Civic Public Forum for law and government enforcement.” (McGraw, p. 15)
    20. 20. 2. The Conscientious Public Forum Regarding the individual and collective duties in “communities of conscience” - not private but a necessarily public practice of persuasion and voluntary acceptance of moral standards 1. The duty to discern what conscience directs - beyond one’s own self-interest. 2. The duty to participate, demonstrate, discourse publicly - with honesty and respect.
    21. 21. Moral Virtue as Public Duty  All do not have to believe in the political theology of America’s Sacred Ground - but all should recognize that it is what makes the discussion possible in the first place.  Freedom is not for one’s individual happiness, but for the happiness of everyone.  Moral development and the cultivation of virtue are necessary to fulfill the purpose of the nation: to create the Good Society.  “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty and happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.” -- James Madison, Speech in Virginia Ratifying Convention, 1788.
    22. 22. Renouncing the Current Debate’s False Dichotomy and False Choice  The current polarized political discourse undermines the framework, purpose, and principles of our nation.  “Liberals” against “conservatives” connotes a trial between two “sides” with voters as jury in a zero-sum competition.  NOT what the founding fathers or Locke envisioned.  Should be broad discussions, debates, exchanging ideas, seeking understanding in a cooperative effort
    23. 23. False and Destructive Dichotomy  Media and politicians’ portrayal of “secular left” and “religious right” obscures other voices and the founders’ intent.  Secularists can not explain references to God, the divine, prayer, etc.  Religionists can not explain references to other religions, reservations about religion, etc.  …because both are distorted extremes, both sides have lost sight of America’s Sacred Ground.
    24. 24. Separation of Church and State  Religious right seeks to present the image of a monolithic “Christianity” that minimizes historical, doctrinal, denominational differences.  Secular left seeks to keep the entire Public Forum free from any and all religious and moral language.  …BOTH are wrong and either would entail a return to the top-down political worldview that the founders repudiated.  They separated church and state for religious reasons!  Not Religion vs. Secularism but Domination vs. Liberty
    25. 25. False Choices  Moral absolutism vs. moral relativism  Inevitable clash of worldviews, conflict  Pluralism does NOT mean moral relativism
    26. 26. Americans are more tolerant than the loudest religious voices would suggest….
    27. 27. Conclusion 1. Religious right and secular left both entrenched; reified positions, narrow reasoning. 2. Standoff glorifies the conflict, “culture wars”  … therefore both sides need to rediscover America’s Sacred Ground  … and ALL of the world’s wisdom traditions have ideas to offer  … and ALL ethnic, religious, and ideological communities of conscience need to participate and to be heard.
    28. 28. Concerns and Challenges  What role for empirical evidence?  What about the party crashers?  How to address the dominating role of the media?  Freedom of speech and hate speech?  Corporate influence on elections?  Individual rights compared to capabilities or opportunities?  How to get minority faiths to participate more in the Conscientious Public Forum?
    29. 29. Resources for Further Reading  Frank Lambert, Religion in Amerian Politics: A Short History (Princeton, 2008)  Mark Noll & Luke El Harlow, Eds., Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the Present (Oxford, 2007)  Martin Marty, Pilgrims in Their Own Land: 500 Years of Religion in America (Little, Brown, 1984)  Diana L. Eck, A New Religious America: How a ‘Christian Country’ Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation (Harper, 2002)  Djupe, Paul A. and Laura R. Olson. Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics. New York: Facts On File, 2003.  Schultz, Jeffrey D., John G. West, Jr. and Iain MacLean, Eds. Encyclopedia of Religion in American Politics. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1999.
    30. 30. Internet Resources  http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/religion.html U.S. Library of Congress on-line exhibit of documents and music from the Library's collections. Religion and the Founding of the American Republic explores the role religion played in the founding of the American colonies, in the shaping of early American life and politics, and in forming the American Republic.  http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/category/religion-american-politics/ The Immanent Frame: Secularism, Religion, and the Public Sphere is the title of this collaborative blog space hosted by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC)  http://pewforum.org/ The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has some of the best research, survey data, and reviews available anywhere. Good news articles and well- organized site.  http://www.religioustolerance.org/ Very good and candid explanations of terms, media discourses on many topics involving religion. The layout is a bit plodding with many advertisements, but very clear, direct, unbiased, and fair-minded.  http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/ From Vanderbilt University, this is the non-profit First Amendment Center’s Web site, featuring comprehensive research coverage of key issues and topics, daily news, a unique First Amendment Library and guest analyses by respected legal specialists.
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