Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Jeffrey Stout: The Folly of Secularism

9/9/2008--The most recent issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion—September, 2008—brings a short piece by Jeffrey Stout titled in part “Presidential Address”. So, I guess he is the current or past President of the organization. The rest of the title is “The Folly of Secularism” and in it Stout criticizes secularists for trying to exclude religion from the public square. Stout treats Richard Rorty, Mark Lilla, Sam Harris and people like that as representative of the views of secularists about religion. Stout even states baldly that “[s]ecularism comes in many forms, but what they all have in common is the aim of minimizing the influence of religion as such.”

Stout’s perspective seems remarkably out-of-date for so influential and accomplished an academic. As readers of this blog know well, there is a renaissance of religiously tinged secularism going on. What about Jurgen Habermas (Between Naturalism and Religion), Susan Neiman (Moral Clarity) and James C. Edwards (The Plain Sense of Things), who are describing a secularism open to religious insights? What about scientists like Simon Conway Morris (Life’s Solution) and Stuart Kauffman (Reinventing the Sacred) who are expressing openness to the transcendent?

I intend to contact Stout and try to enter into dialogue with him about Hallowed Secularism. It would be helpful if the people with the most to gain from rapprochement between religion and secularism, like Stout, would recognize the beginnings of new trends in secularism. It is by no means the case that all secularism aims to minimize the influence of religion.

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