State University of New York Press

SUNY series, Religion and American Public Life

William Dean

Published by: State University of New York Press

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Reclaiming Narrative for Public Theology

This book furthers the development of American public theology by arguing for the importance of narrative to a theological interpretation of the nation’s social and political life. In contrast to both sectarian theologies that oppose a diverse public life and liberal theologies that have lost their distinctiveness, narrative public theology seeks an engaged yet critical role consistent with the separation of church and state and respectful of the multireligious character of the United States. Mary Doak argues for a public theology that focuses on the narrative imagination through which we envision our current circumstances and our hopes for the future. This theology sees both our national stories and our religious ones as resources that can contribute to a public and pluralistic conversation about the direction of society. Doak highlights arguments from Paul Ricoeur, Johann Baptist Metz, William Dean, Stanley Hauerwas, Franklin Gamwell, and Ronald Thiemann that can both contribute to and challenge a narrative public theology. She also proposes a model of public theology using narratives from Abraham Lincoln, Virgil Elizondo, and Delores Williams.

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Rediscovering America's Sacred Ground

Public Religion and Pursuit of the Good in a Pluralistic America

Returning to the ideas of John Locke and the Founders themselves, Barbara A. McGraw examines the debate about the role of religion in American public life and unravels the confounded rhetoric on all sides. She reveals that no group has been standing on proper ground and that all sides have misused terminology (religion/secular), dichotomies (public/private), and concepts (separation of church and state) in ways that have little relevance to the original intentions of the Founders. She rediscovers a theology underlying the founding documents of the nation that is neither anyone’s particular religion nor one requiring religion. Instead, it justifies freedom of conscience for all and provides a two-tiered public forum—a civic public forum and a conscientious public forum—for the debate itself and the actions that debate inspires. America’s Sacred Ground—this theology and its public forum—determines the meaning of freedom and the ways in which Americans can pursue “the good”: good government, good communities, good families, good relations between individuals, and good individuals from a plurality of perspectives. By exploring our past, McGraw answers the critical question, Who are we as a people and what do we stand for?

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