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Franklin I. Gamwell / Democracy with Religious Freedom: Habermas’s Revision of Rawls and Their Common Problem

May 27, 2016 - 1:15pm
Event Sponsor: 
McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society and Department of Political Science
Franklin Gamwell

Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls both affirm modern constitutional liberalism as democracy with religious freedom. Without addressing the difference between his postmetaphysical account and Rawls’s political liberalism, Habermas formulates a friendly amendment to Rawls’s proposal: the supposed demand of public reason expressed in Rawls’s proviso on political advocacy should be replaced with an “institutional translation proviso,” such that only secular reasons count in “formal proceedings within political bodies.” This essay argues: (1) Habermas’s amendment does not result in a coherent theory of democracy with religious freedom; (2) notwithstanding the difference between Habermas’s postmetaphysical account and Rawls’s political liberalism, the two thinkers share a common problem, namely, the assumption or implication that religious convictions cannot be the object of public reason; and (3) a better solution consists in the recognition that religious convictions or comprehensive doctrines answer a rational question, so that democracy is properly constituted as politics by the way of full and free discourse or by the way of reason.


Franklin Gamwell studies ethical and political theory in relation to Christian theology and to the philosophy of religions. His work is centered particularly on twentieth-century thinkers. His books include The Divine Good: Modern Moral Theory and the Necessity of GodThe Meaning of Religious Freedom: Modern Politics and the Democratic ResolutionDemocracy on Purpose: Justice and the Reality of GodPolitics as a Christian Vocation: Faith and Democracy Today; and Existence and the Good: Metaphysical Necessity in Morals and Politics.  His numerous articles and essays have appeared in the Journal of Law and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Process Studies, and The Christian Century, among other places.  Prof. Gamwell took his B.A from Yale, his B.D. from Union Theological Seminary, and his M.A. and Ph.D from the University of Chicago.  He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.



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