Religious Voices in Public Places grew out of a conference at the University of Leeds in 2003. It makes an important contribution to continuing debates about religion and contemporary liberalism. Acknowledging that John Rawls provides the paradigmatic model for articulating modern liberal ideals, the authors take [End Page 203] his work as a starting point; yet through critical engagement with his work, they move the discussion about liberal ideals forward in new directions. Although they recognize that the United States has long stood as the classical instance of a liberal polity, they widen their attention to other liberal nations that have different ways of relating to the religious sphere.
The book is helpfully divided into four parts dealing with philosophical views, theological views, public policy issues, and national contexts. Each section investigates the proper role of religious voices in an increasingly global and pluralistic political environment. While the authors bring different perspectives to this principle concern, they all tend to agree that religious voices contribute to public discourse and that liberal democracy does not require their exclusion. “Indeed,” as Linda Hogan writes in the introduction, “running throughout the volume is an affinity for approaches that believe that the route to a durable political culture lies in serious and systematic engagement with different, and even opposing, comprehensive doctrines” (7).
The essays in the section on philosophical views engage critically with John Rawls. Nicholas Wolterstorff and Raymond Plant each argue that Rawls’s version of public reason requires a degree of moral consensus that is both unrealistic and illiberal. Rawls’s view of public reason, they argue, stacks the deck in favor of particular (liberal) assumptions, making its ideals of freedom and equality a sham. In turn, Maureen Junker-Kenny looks for a more adequate conception of public reasoning in the discourse ethics of Jürgen Habermas. In the section on theological views, Luke Bretherton, P. Travis Kroeker, and Robert Gascoigne mine the Christian tradition for resources that engage pluralistic societies in ways that neither retreat into particularistic enclaves nor jettison Christianity’s distinctive faith for the sake of intelligibility. In their various ways, they call into question the prevailing view that religious convictions are a threat to a pluralistic society that values freedom, equality, and solidarity. In the section on public policy, Nigel Biggar, Paul Weithman, and Linda Hogan examine these questions through the lens of physician-assisted suicide, religion in public education, and international human rights; they make cogent arguments for including religious perspectives, in all their complexity and multiplicity, in the political life and public discourse of liberal democratic societies. The last section, on particular national contexts, makes it clear that there is more than one way for liberal societies to deal with religious voices. Peter Sedgwick examines the role of the Anglican Church in English public life; Brian Stiltner and Steven Michels study the role of religion in US political campaigns; and Jocelyne Cesari compares the way different liberal democratic polities in the West have responded to the expanding role of Islam in their societies.
This fine volume of essays demonstrates that the discussion about religion and public life is moving beyond the stale binary categories of secular liberalism [End Page 204] and religious traditionalism. These essays exemplify and contribute to the more interesting discussion that is beginning to take place as we leave behind simplistic models in favor of more nuanced, rich, and realistic assessments of public discourse and political decision making in an increasingly diverse yet interdependent social environment. Nigel Biggar and Linda Hogan are to be thanked and commended for bringing this volume to fruition.