American Civil Religion in the Age of Obama: An Interview with Philip S. Gorski

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Over at the Immanent Frame:

JB: This leads to an interesting question: who’s going to take up the mantle of theology? In your essay in The Post-Secular in Question, you ask, “What’s the role of sociology?” Your answer is that it could be a moral science that recovers the idea of “the good.” What would that moral sociology look like? Is there a relationship that you see between the creation of a civil religion and the creation of a sociology that’s more concerned with the good?

PG: That would certainly be a hope of mine, and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately, whether there’s a limited kind of moral realism that we could defend, and that we might actually be able to contribute to through social science or at least through academic reflection of some kind or another? My suspicion is that there is; I just don’t know what the scope of it is. It would have to be premised on some understanding of human flourishing—that human beings are put together biologically, neurologically, in a certain way—that they have certain kinds of capacities or propensities—that their flourishing and well-being in general involves the development and cultivation of these propensities and capacities. Of course I’m simply channeling a lot of research that’s being done in neighboring fields. There’s recent work in positive psychology, for example, which is starting to get a great deal of attention by people like Jonathan Haidt and Marty Seligman. There’s a neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics tradition that people like Martha Nussbaum and Richard Kraut have revived and defended in recent years. Even some folks like Amartya Sen have tried to make a basis for a different way of thinking about economics and development policy. So the question is, “How do you develop a theory of the human good which doesn’t become a kind of hardened dogma, a sort of a one-size-fits-all understanding of what a life well-lived is going to mean?”

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