The Role of Religious Reasons in the Public Sphere: A debate between John Rawls and Nicholas Wolterstorff
This thesis has the goal of finding the proper place of religious reasons in a pluralistic liberal democracy in the debate between two liberal political philosophers, John Rawls and Nicholas Wolterstorff. According to Rawls, who is concerned with the legitimacy of binding laws in a liberal democratic society and the stability of such a society without oppressing citizens, free and equal citizens naturally and inevitably disagree on their moral, philosophical, and religious comprehensive doctrines. Thus, we should look for social unity in a shared political basis, which is independent from all these doctrines. Binding laws are legitimate if they can be supported by public reasons drawn from this political basis. Therefore, citizens have the moral duty to use public reasons, and avoid using religious reasons and other nonpublic reasons, to justify binding laws. Wolterstorff, however, is skeptical of the existence of such a shared political basis and worries that the restraint on using religious reasons puts an unfair and unnecessary burden on religious citizens who may have all their beliefs shaped by their religion. Thus, he argues that liberalism entails that citizens should be free to use whatever reasons they have in support of binding laws. In this work, I will explain Rawls’s views (the exclusive, inclusive, and wide views) and Wolterstorff’s views (the consocial position and the equal political voice view) as well as examine strengths and weaknesses in their arguments. Then, I will argue that Rawls’s wide view, according to which citizens are free to use religious reason in public political deliberations with the proviso of supplementing it with proper public reason in due course, is the best among these views to create a balance between the neutrality of the state, and thus social peace and stability, in a pluralistic democratic society, on the one hand, and freedom to exercise one’s religion and freedom of speech, on the other.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
CommitteeO'Hagan, Emer; Jenkins, Ria; Hibbert,, Neil; Howe, Leslie A.
Copyright DateJuly 2018
the wide view