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Religion in the Democratic Public Sphere: Paul Blanshard and American Catholicism


April 9, 2015
4:15 pm - 5:30 pm
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Bldg 200, Rm 307

Lecture by David Hollinger (UC Berkeley). Part of a three-part series on Science, Religion, and Democracy. Co-sponsored by the Program in History and Philosophy of Science, the Department of Religious Studies, the Political Theory Workshop, and the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society.

Hollinger will address the question of the Christian religion’s relation to democracy as illuminated by the particular (and almost never discussed) case of Paul Blanshard, whose best-selling book of 1949, American Freedom and Catholic Power, was praised by Einstein and Dewey and many secular intellectuals but was successfully classified as bigotry by Catholic opponents of Blanshard and is so described in most treatments right down to the present day. Hollinger will argue that the post-Vatican II outlook on Catholicism’s relation to democratic political culture is actually very much like Blanshard’s, and that the key figure in that Vatican II articulation, the Jesuit theorist John Courtney Murray (drafter of Kennedy’s great speech on church-separation in 1960, pivotal for his election), gradually came around to accept much of Blanshard’s perspective even though he was loath to admit it. Hollinger will argue that Blanshard’s so-called “bigotry” largely amounts to an example of the kind of robust public discussion of religion that has been proscribed in our day, so that when contemporary politicians invite people to vote for them because they would govern in relation to their religious faith we are prevented from asking them skeptical questions about their religious ideas for fear of being seen as biased. Hollinger suggest that we obtain a better model for discussion of religion in the democratic public sphere by appreciating this case study.

 David Hollinger is the Preston Hotchkis Professor Emeritus of American History at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned his B.A. from La Verne College in 1963, and his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley in 1970. His reasearch focuses on America after 1607 and intellect. His book titles include After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberlaism in Modern American History and Cosmopolitanism and Solidarity: Studies in Ethnoracial, Religious, and Professional Affiliation in the United States.