Democratic Religion from Locke to Obama
Faith and the Civic Life of Democracy
Debating or making speeches, American politicians invariably cite tenets of Christian faith—even as they unfailingly defend the liberal principles of tolerance and religious neutrality that underpin a pluralistic democracy. How these seemingly contradictory impulses can coexist—and whether this undermines the religious tradition that makes a liberal democracy possible—are the pressing questions that Giorgi Areshidze grapples with in this exploration of the civic role of religion in American political life.
The early modern Enlightenment political philosophy of John Locke has been deeply influential—if often misunderstood and sometimes contested—in shaping both the theoretical and practical contours of contemporary debates and anxieties about religion in a liberal society. Areshidze demonstrates that Locke anticipated a great theological transformation of Christianity in light of modern rationalism, one that would make Christianity into a tolerant religion compatible with liberal political principles. Locke's experiment, as this book shows, has succeeded in important respects, but at a tremendous cost—by demanding a certain theological skepticism about revealed religion that could ultimately undermine the public concern for religious or theological truth altogether.
“In this short, elegant, and important book, Giorgi Areshidze examines the justification of religion in contemporary American life.”
—Perspectives on Politics
“This book makes an important and provocative point in an extraordinarily wide-ranging and thorough yet concise and elegant manner.”
—Review of PoliticsSee all reviews...
“This is a genuinely important book, both as a brilliant, original, intellectually stimulating, and engaging study of the theme of religion and liberal democracy and as an exemplar of how political science may investigate the issue of religion and politics with balance, respect, and humanity. On the one hand, it offers singularly lucid, penetrating, and convincing analyses of the question of religion and liberalism in such foundational liberal democratic theorists as Locke, the American Founders, Tocqueville, Rawls, and Habermas. On the other hand, this book broadens and deepens the conventional scholarly discourse on the theme of religion and liberal democracy by offering dazzling analyses of the speeches and writings of such political figures as Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, and by demonstrating these political actors to be genuine political thinkers, whose reflections on religion and democracy are rigorous, learned, and incisive.”
—Peter J. Ahrensdorf, James Sprunt Professor of Political Science, Davidson College
“Can liberalism really be neutral toward religion? In Democratic Religion from Locke to Obama, Giorgi Areshidze contends that it cannot. Areshidze elegantly explores the practical effects of liberal democracys philosophical roots and insightfully uncovers the theological foundations of some of America’s leading statesmen. In doing so, he offers a provocative challenge to Rawlsian liberalism and those who believe that the liberal state is and should be neutral toward religion. ”
—Vincent Phillip Muñoz, author of God and the Founders: Madison, Washington, and Jefferson
“With clarity and insight, Areshidze explores the tension between Enlightenment efforts to foster religious toleration and the competing need to cultivate moderately robust religious beliefs in a liberal self-governing republic. Although Tocqueville warns that simple ideas, even when wrong, tend to be the most compelling, Areshidze argues persuasively that modern men and women flourish when they move uneasily between these competing and irreconcilable claims. A wonderful book!”
—Jean M. Yarbrough, author of Theodore Roosevelt and the American Political TraditionSee fewer reviews...
Democratic Religion from Locke to Obama evaluates these results in light of the role of religion in American political development, particularly as this role has been further defined in the work of political philosopher John Rawls. In the political theologies of Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and Barack Obama, Areshidze shows how, while working under Locke’s influence, all of these thinkers draw upon religion, including traditional revealed Christian ideas, in their efforts to reshape America’s moral consciousness—especially on the question of racial equality—in ways that might have surprised Locke.
Finally, drawing on Alexis de Tocqueville’s encounter with the Lockean experiment in America, this book suggests that the dissonance between how tolerant we want religion to be and what we expect it to accomplish in our civic life is a consequence of the liberal transformation of religion. By reminding us of this religious transformation, Tocqueville’s “political science” may explain some of the deepest spiritual and civic anxieties that continue to beset American democracy.