Complicating Religion in Public Reason
This dissertation performs an examination of the role played by religion – conceptually and semantically – in the debate over the best conception of public reason. The public reason debate has recently been revitalized by the emergence of a new form of public justification, the convergence model. Seeking to oust the standard consensus model, theorists of convergence argue that it solves for one of the chief problems facing public justification: the criticism it faced from religious citizens, who argued that the duty of civility prevented citizens from voting in accord with their deepest convictions. While convergence aimed to rectify this offense, it has done so even as it works with an unreliable and unsophisticated definition of religion. In this dissertation I introduce a more nuanced account of religion, building on the genealogical work of scholars from representing the perspective of Critical Religion, such as Talal Asad and Tomoko Masuzawa, and assess how such an account should revise the conclusions of the public reason debate. In including the work of Critical Religion scholars, I acknowledge the seriousness of a common challenge to their arguments, the Genetic Fallacy. To rebuff this challenge, I argue that incorporating genealogies of religion is an essential component of future work on the subject, given that without these orienting dimensions, efforts at defining religion will suffer from an untenable lack of constraints. Furthermore, the inclusion of more sophisticated understandings of religion opens up new avenues of criticisms of the convergence model. With essentializing accounts of religion revealed to be rooted in colonialist sensibilities, it becomes clear that no model can meaningfully claim to better for religion or religious citizens as a whole, de-stabilizing the otherwise core adjudicating element of the debate over public reason. Furthermore, the convergence model faces other challenges in its treatment of the Integrity Objection, its handling of the illiberal citizen, and in its protections for vulnerable citizens. On the grounds of this critique of the convergence model’s claim to be better for religion, and on the recognition that consensus is likely to face similar challenges, I conclude that the debate over public reason cannot be decided on the grounds of which is better for religion. Rather, the model which one favors depends primarily on the sort of ideal of government to which one is committed, either the Democratic or the Contractual ideal.