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
March 6th 2019 – Religion and Its Publics and Professor Larycia Hawkins hosted a brown bag lunch to remember and reflect on the Rwandan Genocide, which began 25 years ago on Easter day. The conversation—The Politics of Forgiveness: Religion and Post-Genocide Rwanda—was led by Christophe Mbonyingabo, founder and Executive Director of CARSA Rwanda (Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance). CARSA began reconciliation and peace efforts officially in 2004, and along with multiple programs, aims to reconcile survivors and perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. An internationally acclaimed documentary features the work of CARSA and the hard-fought nature of forgiveness and life post-conflict, including the role of religion in reconciliation efforts. The conversation included comparative questions about other countries attempting to reconcile large populations, especially along racial lines, and explored the ways CARSA, as a Christian organization, functions in the Rwandan context, as well as the potential of such efforts being scaled and mapped onto other conflict zones across the globe.
February 6th – David Clough (Professor of Theological Ethics, University of Chester) delivered a moving and provocative lecture about why Christians in particular have powerful reasons to care about the well-being of nonhuman animals. Drawing on his landmark two-part monograph, On Animals (2012 and 2018), Clough outlined current trends in the treatment of nonhuman animals, considered the place of animal ethics in ethical life more generally, and offered a compact account of Christian thinking on creation and reconciliation as a backdrop for Christian animal ethics. There followed an articulation of the ethical stance that Clough believes that Christians should adopt – one that aims at a decisive reduction in the human consumption of animal products and which aims to change the current farming structures.
December 6th – Leah Daughtry gave a talk on religion in politics, and politics in religion, at the University of Virginia. Daughtry, former Chief Executive Officer of the Democratic National Convention, spoke of the importance of engaging across boundaries to achieve broader sociopolitical aims rather than getting caught up in partisan politics. In her talk, the fifth generation pastor elucidated how her deep religious training, knowledge, and leadership experience led her to politics, and how she has been inspired by her faith to become a “disrupter” of injustice and inequality in American society. At the same time, she stressed that the Democratic Party, including secular representatives and strands, needs to speak to the diverse faith traditions of its members, taking seriously how faith motivates politics across party lines.
Nov 8th 2018 – Russell Moore, leading evangelical critic of the close alignment of white evangelicals with President Donald Trump, delivered the Luce Lecture on Religion in Public at UVA. In his lecture, Dr Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, cited cynicism rather than secularism as a major problem for his faith. He said many wonder whether it has become “just another badge of tribal belonging,” and called for a refocusing on God and the cross at the center of American Evangelicalism. Watch the full video here:
October 22nd, 2018 – Religion and Its Publics co-sponsored an interdisciplinary conference to investigate the rise of the Alt-Right and its complex relationship with religion. Held at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, and broadcast live on C-SPAN, it featured three panels to explore the historical roots of the movement, the current state of affairs, and future trends. A recap of the event can be found here.
Full video of the conference, broken into three panels, is available here: Christianity and the Alt-Right in the past, Christianity and the Alt-Right in the present, and Christianity and the Alt-Right in the future.