The senior fellows of the Religion and Its Publics project met for the third time in Washington, DC in late March to continue their years-long discussion about religion and public life, with particular attention directed toward the nature and purpose of public theology. Throughout the weekend, the fellows discussed methods for shaping potential publics that may be receptive to the work of public theologians.
General check-ins and opening remarks on Friday over dinner were followed by a day of critical conversations. Saturday morning’s discussion covered Amy Allen’s book The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory, which investigates the narrative of progress underlying critical theory and evaluates the concept of progress as a political ideal in concrete and particular situations. For Saturday’s second session, the senior fellows discussed Prof. Chuck Mathewes and Prof. Paul Jones’ piece for the Political Theology Network, “Futures for Public Theology.” Themes from the first and second sessions carried into the third, which centered on Mathewes’ working paper “An Almost-Chosen People: The Prospects and Perils of Public Theology in the Contemporary United States.” The senior fellows offered a number of possible revisions, and suggested that the paper might be extended into a larger work or modified for a more “popular” (public) audience.
The annual meeting concluded on Sunday morning with a forward-looking brainstorming session. The fellows discussed various ways to expand the project’s scope, including by developing an innovative publication platform steered by new and promising voices in public theology.
Report by Shelly Tilton
Date: March 22-24, 2019