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The John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy

The Theoretical Foundations of the Relationship between Politics and Religion in Liberal Democracy

May 31 - June 2, 1985



  1. The Founders' Intentions: What were the intentions and expectations of the great early modern philosophers who conceived of the separation of religion and politics? What institutional arrangements and intellectual changes did they think were necessary to effect this separation? What did they hope would be the effects on religion? On politics?

  2. The State without Religion: What has been the effect on the modern liberal state, in America in particular, of being separate from religion? Has it fulfilled its founders' intentions as a humane and tolerant community bonded together by mutual respect? Has it become the "cold monster" Nietzsche decried? Or has it been compelled to establish its own civil religion? Does it remain endangered by religious intolerance and fanaticism?

  3. Religion without the State: What has been the effect on the churches, in America in particular, of being separate from the State? Have they been purified of worldly ambition and artificial irrationality and renewed by true charity and inwardness? Have they lost vitality and been reduced to a lowest common denominator of watery civil religion? Or do they continue to pose a danger to public and private liberty and to prudent policy-making?

  4. The Secularization of Theology: To what extent has the intellectual core of religion, the interpretation of scripture itself, been secularized through historical criticism or turned into a handmaiden of modern secular political ideologies? Does scripture still have any authority? To what extent have fundamentalisms developed in exaggerated reaction to modern politics? Can authentic and sober theology obey its own spiritual imperatives in these cross currents?

  5. The Sacralization of the Profane: Has the secularization of both state and theology been matched by a discovery of the sacred in other realms of human life from art through sex to sports and environmentalism? Can these new versions of the sacred deepen the spiritual life of modern men and women and compensate for whatever losses arise from separation?

Summary Discussion

Conference Schedule

Friday, May 31

10:00am - 12:00 noon

Session One

Hillel Fradkin
Emil Fackenheim

2:30 - 4:30pm

Session Two

Richard Neuhaus
George Marsden

Saturday, June 1

10:00am - 12:00 noon

Session Three

Ernest Fortin
Martin Marty

2:30 - 4:30pm

Session Four

Robert Alter
Henry Higuera

Sunday, June 2

10:00am - 12:00 noon

Session Five

Werner Dannhauser
Wilson C.McWilliams

2:30 - 4:30pm

Session Six

General Discussion

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Revised: January 2nd, 2000