iStock-507845190.jpg

Deliberative Religion

Religion's persistent visibility in political life has renewed scholarly debate. My contribution evaluates the capacity of religious discourse to create deliberative democratic spaces vital to tolerant civil societies.

Edited Works

Religion after Secularization in Australia. Edited. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015. Religion’s persistent and new visibility in political life has prompted a significant global debate. One of its key features concerns the nature and impact of secularization. This book intervenes in two ways. Firstly, it provides summative accounts of the history, culture and legal interactions that have informed Australia’s unique example. Secondly, it critically analyzes secular political theory concerning the public sphere, deliberative politics and democratic practices. The compendium aims to propel the debate in new directions and promote urgently needed public understanding. My own contribution focused on hermeneutics in deliberative democracies.

Something therein that loves a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun, And makes gaps even two can pass abreast... Before I built a wall I’d ask to know, What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offense.
— Robert Frost, Mending Wall

Essays

The Pragmatist Question of Sovereignty.” Political Theology vol. 20 no. 2 (2019): In press. In Democracy and Tradition, Jeffrey Stout asks Christian political theologians if they can discern God's activity in modern democratic cultures. In so doing they might "acknowledge the sovereignty of God while transcending both resentment of, and absorption into, the secular." As Stout recognizes, the question of sovereignty is relevant not only to Christian, but also Jewish and Islamic thought. However, interreligious comparisons remain undeveloped in his work. In response, the following essay coordinates Stout’s pragmatism with developments in comparative theology. It then evaluates both the Jewish messianism of Gershom Scholem alongside Islamic sovereignty (hakimayyah) in the thought of Sayyid Qutb. While their viewpoints differ in considerable respects, they nonetheless provide key test cases for Stout’s questions concerning divine sovereignty. In sum, the paper opens new avenues for religious deliberations in democratic traditions.

Introduction: On Unity, Liberty and Charity.” Political Theology vol. 20 no. 2 (2019): In press. Political theology has multiple provenances. One less cited is the seventeenth century irenic dictum: “and we would all embrace a mutual unity in things necessary; in things non necessary liberty; in all things charity.” While aimed at ecumenical peace, this call for mutual unity implied a deliberative context that went beyond sectarian Christian concerns. Liberty and charity were as conducive to a comprehensive church as more modest laws of toleration. My claim is that this dictum’s themes are extemporized in recent pragmatist thought.

"Bonhoeffer's Anti-Judaism." Political Theology vol. 17 no. 3 (2016): 297-305. On July 2, 2000, Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority, deferred action on the petition to have Dietrich Bonhoeffer named a righteous gentile. My contention is that critics of this decision conceal a more pernicious difficulty that arises in Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran legacy. David Nirenberg's recent Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, demonstrates the history and development of such categories with particular attention to Luther. What goes unnoticed is the ongoing operations of anti-Judaism in later theologians such as Bonhoeffer. Although Bonhoeffer may not have been anti-Semitic, the degree to which his theology remained bound to centuries old anti-Judaism is another matter. 

"Utopia and the Public Sphere." In Religion after Secularization in Australia, 191-210. Edited by Timothy Stanley. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015. Although the question of religion did not feature prominently in Jürgen Habermas’s early political theory, his more recent work has continuously addressed the topic. This later interest in religion is grounded in what one commentator in a volume on The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, cited as the urgent need to integrate religious voices in the workings of public reason in order to avoid social disharmony and to thwart potential violence. However, the following paper argues that the hermeneutic procedures Habermas develops for the public sphere cannot bear the weight that his later understanding of religion demands of them. Such an insight validates Paul Ricoeur’s earlier argument that Habermas’s “depth hermeneutics,” were themselves utopic in nature. It is from this vantage point that a return to Ricoeur's thought is justified, through which a more productive understanding of the public potential of religious discourse can be understood.

"Karl Barth and Jürgen Habermas: Transcendental Aporias of Global Civil Society." Political Theology. vol. 9 no. 4 (2008): 477-502. Currently, religion and globalization seem to be working towards opposite ends. As Mark Juergensmeyer has noted, while religiously invoked terrorism fragments society, the Internet, cell phones and the media industry foster the formation of an increasingly global social fabric. But religion is not a single faceted phenomenon. As much as there are prophets of violence such as Osama bin Laden, there are prophets of peace and reconciliation such as Bishop Desmond Tutu. How a civil society might be configured in relation to the inherent ambiguity surrounding religious traditions remains difficult to discern. How might Christian traditions make a positive contribution to this context? To answer this question I will articulate a dialogue between Jürgen Habermas's theory of civil society and the political theology of Karl Barth.

"From Habermas to Barth and Back Again." Journal of Church and State. vol. 48 no. 1 (2006): 101-126. What role does religious transcendence play in liberal democracies? In Jürgen Habermas’s early political theory of the bourgeois public sphere, religion was downplayed if not dismissed completely. In the past several years however, he has developed a greater interest in religion. Habermas seems to like the positive solidarity-forming effects religion can have on communities that mediate in a public sphere between private individuals and state authority. However, in light of continuing terrorist activity, he is deeply critical of any sort of other worldly transcendence that is too open to violent cooption. Nonetheless, Habermas relates his renewal of a critically engaged public sphere of debate to universalized rational procedures which he discusses in light of a philosophical notion of “detranscendentalization.” However, if it is the case that the solidarity of communities is being eroded by the influences of mass media and free market globalization as Habermas claims, then a further reflection on the way religious communities form around shared transcendent beliefs is required. Are his detranscendentalized rational procedures of critical debate adequate in inspiring the critical power communities need to solidify themselves against state authority? It is in light of this question that I develop the thought of Karl Barth.


Presentations

"Supplementing Arendt." Paper presented at The American Academy of Religion Annual Conference, Boston, Massachusetts, November 18-21, 2017. 

"Suspending the Political: Sovereignty in Scholem, Barth and Qutb." Paper presented at The American Academy of Religion Annual Conference, Baltimore, Maryland, November 23-26, 2013.  

"Bonhoeffer and the Judaism Question." Paper presented at the Annual Australian Bonhoeffer Conference, Kincumber, Australia, November 15-16, 2013.

"Religion in Public: A Theory of Metaphor." Paper presented at the Political Religion in Secular Australia Symposium, Newcastle, Australia, July 22-23, 2013.

"Religion in Political Life." Public presentation at the New Institute Public Forum, Newcastle Civic Hall, May 22, 2013.

"Theology between Religion and Politics." Morpeth Public Lecture, Newcastle, Australia, May 29, 2012.

"Karl Barth and Jürgen Habermas: Christianity and Global Civil Society." Paper presented at the American Academy of Religion Annual Conference, Washington, D.C., November 18-21, 2006.


Funding

2012-13, Religion in Political Life Research Program (AUD$100,000), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle


Public Media

  • "Opinion: State of Religion in Politics," Opinion Editorial, The Newcastle Herald, May 20, 2013.

  • "On Pope Benedict XVI Resignation," Radio Interview on ABC's The Wire and TV Interview on Newcastle's NBN Network, February 12, 2013.

  • "Fundamental Concerns on Mosque," Interview for The Newcastle Herald, December 10, 2010.

  • "Religion in American Politics." Radio panel interview on BBC Radio’s Greater Manchester program Sunday Breakfast, November 7, 2004.