From the Director
You might say that we exist to wrestle with a question as old as humanity: How does God want human society to look?
As Mark Lilla has demonstrated in his brilliant book The Stillborn God (2007), that question, framed in just that way, made perfect sense to pretty much every human society until the series of events Lilla describes as "The Great Separation." By this he means the purposeful effort, first undertaken in Europe, to separate the question "what does God want?" from the question "what constitutes a rightly ordered human society?" Beginning with Thomas Hobbes, and in part a reaction to numerous disastrous wars of religion, many of Europe's finest thinkers concluded that social peace was impossible as long as religious belief was treated as foundational for political community. Thus a "great separation" between "religion" and "politics" was purposefully initiated. For the first time in human history, a society attempted to construct a stable social order not on the basis of shared religious beliefs but by bracketing off religious beliefs into the private sphere, and setting up the public sphere on a purely "secular" basis. Our own American constitutional order is one result of the great separation. Read the Constitution and you will see it. We stand on the near side of "the Great Separation."
And yet religion continues to affect public life in just about every society, including our own. People of serious religious faith cannot help but bring their religious convictions—or at least the moral implications of those convictions—into their thinking about public life. Christians are among those who do so—sometimes well, and sometimes badly. And I am among those who would argue that the real problem is not the bringing to bear of religious convictions on public life, but any effort to institutionalize a formal partnership between church and state. But this very distinction is among those issues at the intersection of theology and public life that need to be discussed!
All events of the Center for Theology and Public Life are intended either to demonstrate the constructive engagement of theology with contemporary public life, or to step back and offer second-order reflections on that engagement. All resources offered on this page or in the events we organize aim at advancing this always important conversation.
Thanks for dropping by—I hope to see you at a CTPL event or to meet you in some other venue!
Dr. David P. Gushee
Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics
Director, Center for Theology and Public Life