Freedom to Flourish: Is Religious Freedom Necessary for Peace, Prosperity, and Democracy

October 9, 2013

Today, questions about the nature and extent of religious freedom are more vital and controversial than ever, not only in established Western democracies but also in non-Western contexts in which religious groups are influential political actors, such as India, Tunisia, and Indonesia. To discuss these crucial questions, the Religious Freedom Project brought two of America’s most distinguished political and ethical thinkers together for an extensive—and often intense—discussion. This report is an edited transcript of the keynote address of RFP’s two-day capstone conference, "Freedom to Flourish: Is Religious Freedom for Peace, Prosperity, and Democracy?" Nicholas Wolterstorff, the Noah Porter Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Yale University, began the conversation with a wide-ranging lecture arguing that religious freedom—including its public dimensions—is a “natural right” rooted in our natural human capacities. Stephen Macedo, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics at Princeton University, responded by arguing that liberal democracy is a shared political project that requires citizens to find common ground. Following their remarks, RFP associate director Timothy Shah moderated a vigorous conversation between Wolterstorff and Macedo that also involved a large audience of students, scholars, and policy thinkers assembled in Georgetown’s historic Copley Hall.

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