A Faith-Friendly Form of Rawls's Public Reason ? Barack Obama's Civic Faith and the Challenge of Religion in Deliberative Politics (American Political Thought, Spring 2018)

Through a case study of Barack Obama, this article evaluates the "inclusive" form of public reason that John Rawls developed in his later writings to accommodate religion. Rawls anticipated recent attempts in liberal theory and practice to
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   American Political Thought   , Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring 2018): pp. 304-336  A aith!rien"l# orm o$ %a&l'' Pu*lic %ea'on+ arac- *ama'/iic aith an" the /hallenge o$ %eligion in eli*eratie Politic' A*'tract: Through a case study of Barack Obama, this article evaluates the“inclusive” form of public reason that John Rawls developed in his laterwritings to accommodate religion Rawls anticipated recent attempts inliberal theory and practice to reopen liberalism to religion, and Obamacontributes to this e!ort through his engagement with the civic role of "hristianity in #merica$s reform movements Opening liberalism to religionmay lead us to three conclusions that challenge even this more “inclusive”form of public reason% &i' translation from religious to secular reasons maynot be the most productive way to accommodate religion in democracy( &ii'it may be di!icult to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptablereligious contributions without recourse to their underlying theologicalperspectives( and &iii' a more modest “constitutional consensus” may do amore e!ective )ob of accommodating religion in democracy than the“overlapping consensus” that Rawls and Obama recommend  Author n$o: *iorgi #reshid+e #ssistant rofessor-epartment of *overnment"laremont .c/enna "ollege  Ac-no&le"gment' % The author wishes to thank #riel 0elfer, .arco aoli, Justin -yer, 1orraine 2mith angle, as well as the anonymous reviewers, fortheir instructive comments, criticisms and suggestions 1  3n the 4eld of academic political theory, the complaint that liberalism“marginali+es” religion is directed primarily at the in5uential teaching of “public reason” associated with John Rawls 3n olitical 1iberalism Rawlsproposed that democratic deliberation should be conducted without relianceon controversial truth claims, with citi+ens drawing on a fund of “public”principles or “reasons” that are already “widely shared” in the politicalculture and constitute society$s “overlapping consensus” &Rawls 6778a, 669:668, 69;' <or a while, academic reactions to Rawls$s position could beneatly divided into two camps% the e=clusivists argued &partly followingRawls$s idea of the “duty of civility”' that public reason en)oins us to refrainfrom e=plicitly religious )usti4cations in democratic deliberation &Rorty>???( #udi 6777( .acedo >??;', while the inclusivists countered that in ademocracy citi+ens should be able to appeal to their comprehensivedoctrines &religious or nonreligious' without restrictions &@eithman >??;,6776( @olterstor! >??;b( Aberle 6776( @aldron >??, 67>6( 2tout 6778'But as 2imone "hambers notes, the e=clusivist:inclusivist dichotomy nolonger captures the comple=ity of views in this literature &"hambers 67>7,>C' Aspecially since 0abermas intervened in this debate, the proposals fora religious:sensitive ethics of democratic citi+enship have become morenumerous and more nuanced &0abermas 677C( "ooke 677;, 67>>( 1afont 2  677?' Broadly speaking, an “emerging consensus” is discernable inscholarship that calls for accommodating religious reasons &either throughtranslation or through convergence', although most liberal theorists aim todo so without )ettisoning the broader theoretical framework of publicreason liberalism &.arch 67>, 6' >  This article advances the debate by evaluating the inclusive form of public reason that 0abermas, "hambers, Je!rey 2tout, and others havecalled for in light of a particular strand of scholarship on deliberativedemocracy Often described as the “deliberative turn,” recent studies of deliberation emphasi+e the need to accommodate passion, partiality,rhetoric, and religious appeal as legitimate forms of reason:giving indemocracy &*arsten 677C( /rause 677D( .ou!e >???( Eack 677C( Eoung6777( Ferilli 67>6,' 6  Gnlike public reason approaches, these deliberativeframeworks neither assume the e=istence of an underlying agreement onpolitical principles &and modes of reasoning', nor prioriti+e the goal of reaching an overlapping consensus through the eschewal of controversialtruth claims in deliberation 3n Bryan *arsten$s words, this alternativeapproach does not view deliberation “as a means of constructing anauthoritative and unitary public standard of reasonableness” &>?>:>?6', andopts for a more “intuitive” view that by drawing on “particular and personalforms of knowledge and emotion,” persuasive speech “can draw citi+ens 1  .arch cites Aberle 6776, @aldron 67>6, "hambers 67>7, among others, asinclusivists 2  <or an overview, see *arsten &67>>' 3  into e=ercising their capacity for )udgment” &*arsten 677C, >?>:>?6, >;9'2imilarly, .aeve "ooke has characteri+ed deliberation as “an unconstrainede=change of arguments that HI always potentially leads to a transformationof preferences,” without guaranteeing that it will result in a consensus&"ooke 6777, ?9D' These studies open a new window into how we think about moral con5ict, persuasion, and political change in democracy, andthey set the stage for rethinking some of the leading assumptions in liberaltheory about the role of religion in deliberative politics3 bring these strands of scholarship together through a case study of Barack Obama 3n his Reading Obama, James /loppenberg interpretsObama as a political thinker whose approach to deliberation is shaped bythe debates between John Rawls and his communitarian critics that werereaching their peak when Obama was a student at 0arvard 1aw 2chool&/loppenberg 67>7, >7;( see also >8C:>8;, >C>'   2imilarly, writing fromdiametrically opposed sides of this liberal:communitarian debate, both2tephen .acedo and .ichael 2andel have discerned in Obama an attemptto articulate “a faith:friendly form of public reason” 9  @hile he is not apolitical theorist, there is a methodological advantage in engaging Obama$sre5ections on religion and democracy% Obama reveals both the appeal andthe practical limit of the Rawlsian framework of public reason by providing 3  #ccording to /loppenberg &67>7', Obama “is a civic republican, committed toa revised version of Rawls$s principles of )ustice as applied to law and politics,”which Obama has blended with #merican pragmatism, >>; 0older andeterson &67>6' also see Obama as a “hybrid of civic republican and pragmatictraditions,” ;6 4  2andel &677?', >> and .acedo &unpublished manuscript' 4  us with a case study of an attempt to balance its reKuirements withcommunitarian insights and civic concerns 3n the 4rst section of thearticle, 3 show that Obama concedes a great deal to these communitariancriticisms, and reaches conclusions similar to those of 2tout, 2andel andother critics% he is wary that secular hostility to religious discourse canimpoverish our political culture, and e=acerbate religious polari+ationinstead of neutrali+ing it 8  Le=t, in the second section, 3 return to Rawls,and show that even as Obama echoes constructive e!orts in scholarship todevelop faith:friendly forms of public reason, his appropriation of Rawls$stranslation proviso highlights how such e!orts presuppose rationalism asthe ultimate ground for arbitrating truth in public debate Obama desires arationali+ed religion, one that accepts theological humility and the authorityof secular reason, even though it is unclear whether even he himself canmeet this threshold of rationalism in politics This approach, as we will see,will make it impossible to genuinely accommodate religious pluralism inpractice3n the third section, 3 employ Obama$s account of reform movementsin #merican history to evaluate the inclusive view of public reason that 5  Throughout this article, 3 use the terms “secularism” and “liberal secularism”to designate a cultural and political e=pectation that democratic deliberationshould be conducted without reliance on religious principles and ideas Thus,what 3 mean by these terms is more than mere separation of church and state&ie, the idea that o!icial government policy may not be entangled withreligion', but rather the view that both public o!icials as well as citi+ens arereKuired by democratic pluralism to support laws and public policies only onnon:religious grounds 5
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