Michael Kessler is Associate Director of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Government, and an Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center. He works in Ethics (theological, philosophical, and political approaches), political theory, and the nexus of law, politics, and religion. Kessler received his...
The program in Law, Religion, and Values supports teaching, research, and scholarly conferences that explore how religion and values legitimate, shape, and conflict with global political, cultural, and legal systems in transnational and comparative perspective.
Future of Political Theologies
The Berkley Center’s Future of Political Theologies project maps and analyzes historic and contemporary understandings of political engagement across Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The Berkley Center project engages political theologies not merely as a set of theoretical concepts, but as religious beliefs and principles that ground political action within contemporary geo-political struggles. The Project brings together leading thinkers and practitioners within each tradition – as well as secular counterparts – to examine the contested intersection between religious conviction and the political arena.
While the supposed secularization of society under the forces of late-modern global capitalism has reconfigured some of the relationships between religious practice and political legitimacy, religion remains a powerful, ubiquitous force within politics. Religious actors and institutions have increasingly gained political influence, marshaling religious arguments to justify their political and legal stances and activities. Religious worldviews inspire both beneficent actions and terrible violence which reveals that religion is an ambiguous force with the potential to be an emancipatory force or an iron cage of unreasonable conviction. Religiously-inspired global events urgently frame the need to understand how religious belief inspires and legitimates political activity.
This project assesses the main trends and challenges for Christian, Jewish, and Islamic political theologies today, an inquiry made urgent by the enduring and shifting intersection of religion and politics. Political theologies are, traditionally, the way humans construct visions of society, order, and justice related to their most comprehensive views about the nature of reality, human nature, the cosmos, and divinity. While these descriptive and normative enterprises have undergone profound transformations in the modern world, the connections between the political realm and theological visions of reality remain tightly connected. On the one hand, fully assessing political theory and action requires understanding the normative and descriptive horizons within which political actors make choices. On the other hand, fully understanding the continuing power of religion can only be accomplished in light of the way religion shapes society and motivates political action. In the contemporary context of globalization and the resurgence of political forms of religion, these issues deserve close and sustained attention by scholars of religion and politics.
The prevailing answers will have a decisive impact on the future of democracy in the United States and around the world. How they are answered – by political and religious leaders, and by scholars – will shape the prospects for social peace and political stability for decades to come.
The "Future of Political Theologies" project will explore these questions through:
- A conference of leading scholars that culminates in a book
- A series of one-on-one debates that feature leading thinkers
- Lectures by political and religious leaders
- Web-based resources that track debates within and across religious traditions
- New graduate and undergraduate courses
December 14, 2009
Clergy Beyond Borders held a conference at American University on the topic of "Human Rights in Christianity, Islam and Judaism" on December 14th. This conference brought together imams, ministers and rabbis -- along with other scholars in Christianity, Islam and Judaism -- to discuss religious...
April 7, 2009
The 1960 presidential election, won ultimately by John F. Kennedy, was one of the closest and most contentious in American history. From the outset, Kennedy saw the religion issue as the single most important obstacle on his road to the White House. At this event Shaun Casey presented his new...
April 2, 2009
The Berkley Center hosted a symposium which addressed the future possibilities and challenges facing the rechristened White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Panelists E.J. Dionne, Ira C. Lupu, Melissa Rogers, and Stanley Carlson-Thies addressed issues related to...
March 18, 2009
On Wednesday, March 18, 2009, the Berkley Center and Georgetown's Public Policy Institute sponsored a conversation between non-profit leader and Washington Post 'On Faith' columnist Tim Shriver and Georgetown faculty member E.J. Dionne. They discussed the role of faith in their lives as they...
January 29, 2009
David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, Jr. discussed the lasting impact of Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Realism on American political and theological ideas with public radio host Krista Tippett. They addressed how Christian Realism presents an enduring option for many aspects of our political life, from...
October 15, 2008
This event was the inaugural conference of the Berkley Center's project on The Future of Political Theologies, which inquires about the meaning of religion's role in politics, especially about the enduring way that human reflection continues in the modern West to seek legitimacy for political and...
March 12, 2008
Two leading contemporary thinkers, Mark Lilla from Columbia University and the Berkley Center’s José Casanova, explored the problems of political theologies in a conversation on the issues raised in Lilla’s recent book, The Stillborn God. In his book, Lilla challenges his...
March 9, 2008
In this event sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Abdolkarim Souroush and Paul Heck addressed the various issues facing the Islamic political tradition in the modern age. This Islamic political tradition represents a rich array of dialogue on the welfare of...
March 22, 2006
Professor Jacob Howland, McFarlin Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tulsa, presented chapters drawn from his book Kierkegaard and Socrates (Cambridge University Press, 2006). The colloquium began with commentary by Eugen Nagy, Ph.D. candidate at the Catholic University of America....
November 6, 2005
At this event, Maurizio Viroli challenged popular opinion labelling Nicolo Machiavelli, the author of The Prince (a primer in Realpolitik), as an anti-Christian writer and argued that Machiavelli's approach to religion was much more complex than we realize. While Machiavelli's works have been...