Michael P. MorelandMarch 14, 2011 - 11:20am0 comments
The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse
Steven D. Smith
Harvard University Press, $26.95, 304 pp.
I moderated a panel at a recent conference on abortion at Princeton University that sought to bring voices from the prolife and prochoice sides together in the hope of finding common ground. Depending on whom you ask, the conference was either a fool’s errand or the beginning of a rapprochement in the abortion debate. More important, much of the conference was a reminder that, as Steven Smith argues in this splendid book, the quality of public debate on a range of important questions is “disappointingly shallow” because “the secular vocabulary within which public discourse is constrained to operate today is insufficient to convey our full set of normative convictions and commitments.”
Of course, there are many books about religion and politics. But for a topic that produces such regular paroxysms in our culture, there are few books addressing the question, How do we talk about how we talk about religion and politics? Part of the problem is that most books in this area are really about either religion or politics but not both. So there are good books about, say, the sociology of American religion that treat politics as the mapping of religious preferences onto the electorate. There are books in theology that advance arguments from within a religious tradition but are politically unsophisticated. And there are books in political philosophy that display a crude understanding of religion.
The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse is an exception...