Report of the Georgetown Symposium on Religion in American Public Life

March 1, 2011

Is the dominant American approach to religion, society, and the state worthy of emulation in other countries? The question is not purely academic; it has policy implications both for the American future and for U.S. efforts to promote religious freedom and democracy worldwide. It intersects with global controversies about international norms, national self-determination, proselytism, and the rights of religious communities.

To better understand these and related issues, in March 2011 Georgetown University brought together leading scholars and practitioners to discuss these issues. Three panels examined a variety of critical questions from the perspective of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, including: What is the proper role of religious ideas and actors in the political life of the nation? May religious individuals or religious communities make explicitly religious arguments, or religiously informed moral arguments, for laws and policies? Is the dominant American approach to religion, politics, and society worthy of emulation in other countries? What are the implications for U.S. foreign policy around issues of international religious freedom and proselytism? The conference keynote speaker was Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Colorado who discussed the promise of the American approach to religion’s place in the public sphere as well as challenges that the United States faces in its foreign policies, particularly with regard to international religious freedom. Other symposium speakers represented academia, the Council on Foreign Relations, and major faith groups.

The symposium was sponsored by the Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and made possible through the generous support of the Henry R. Luce Foundation’s Initiative on Religion and International Affairs. This event was the last in a three-year series of Luce-funded events on religion in contemporary world affairs; a listing of those events and sponsored publications can be found at the end of this report.

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