The value of religious commitments in a pluralistic society

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Democratic theory, Deliberative democracy, Political autonomy, Religious thought, Religious commitments, Pluralistic society

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Philosophy


The aim of my dissertation is to argue that religion often makes valuable contributions to liberal democracies in ways that heretofore have gone unnoticed or unacknowledged by many recent political theorists, including Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson and Robert Audi. Those theorists make it clear that all policies must be justified from a reciprocal perspective--that is, the reasons for any particular policy have to be reasons that others can accept as a justification for that policy. And since religious rationales fail to meet mutually acceptable standards for reciprocity, many political theorists argue that policies based on religious commitments cannot be justified to all citizens in a pluralist democracy.

So the obvious question is this: does a commitment to reasoning reciprocally in a secular society require religious citizens to refrain from supporting policies inspired by religious sentiments? The essential thesis of this dissertation is that there is room for religious commitments in a pluralistic society. What is more, I argue that religion actually makes valuable contributions to liberal democracies.

Social justice sometimes requires a level of self-sacrifice that democracies cannot demand of their citizens. For instance, no society could demand the public excellences of the Salvation Army or the social good that black churches have significantly provided for by inspiring its members to pursue active political participation. Yet, if anything is clear, it is clear that no society should assume a stance of neutrality or indifference with respect to such examples. This is especially so when there are compelling reasons to think that we would not have that good otherwise. Accordingly, if we take a commitment to encouraging citizens to engage in activities that help realize social goods seriously, then we need to acknowledge that there is a way in which religion can make a difference for the better. Drawing upon the idea of inspiration, this dissertation points out that religious institutions--more so than others--have been a conduit for self-sacrifice. And selfless behavior on behalf of others has been deemed a virtue by almost every society.


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