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Beyond Church and State
Democracy, Secularism, and Conversion


  • Date Published: June 2013
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107026094

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About the Authors
  • Secularism is often imagined in Thomas Jefferson's words as 'a wall of separation between Church and State'. This book moves past that standard picture to argue that secularism is a process that reshapes both religion and politics. Borrowing a term from religious traditions, the book goes further to argue that this process should be understood as a process of conversion. Matthew Scherer studies Saint Augustine, John Locke, John Rawls, Henri Bergson and Stanley Cavell to present a more accurate picture of what secularism is, what it does, and how it can be reimagined to be more conducive to genuine democracy.

    • Pathbreaking reinterpretation of modern secularism
    • Interdisciplinary approach to studying the role of religion in public life
    • Contains original studies of Augustine, Locke, Bergson, Rawls and Cavell
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'A brilliant contribution to the study of secularity, offering a new perspective on what has become a tired debate about political-religious separation. In inviting readers to rethink secularism as a 'religious' conversion - as rooted in the past and yet ruptured from it - Matthew Scherer has written a thought-provoking book of great originality. Beyond Church and State is essential reading for anyone who wishes to engage in serious public discussion on the topic.' Talal Asad, City University of New York, and author of Formations of the Secular

    'This important book insightfully and fruitfully rethinks both political theology and political theory by developing two generative ideas. The first idea is that the figure of 'conversion' is best understood not as a movement from one fixed identity to another but as a process of change in the 'crystalline structure' of life … The second idea is that 'secularism' is best understood not as a concept naming a clear and solid distinction between 'religion' and 'politics' but as a figure denoting a process of conversion … To reconceive both the trope of conversion and the meaning of secularism as a concept, Scherer offers illuminating readings of Augustine Bergson and Cavell, on the one hand, and of Locke and Rawls on the other … These readings are original, provocative, and compelling. They yield an incredibly suggestive intervention into contemporary debates. Few scholars approach political theology so creatively.' George Shulman, New York University

    'The past twenty-five years have witnessed an explosion of studies undermining philosophical and historical analyses that posit fixed distinctions between church and state resulting in a wholly secular 'public reason' … Scherer provides exciting and original reasons for this skepticism about secularity … Summing up: recommended.' E. J. Eisenach, Choice

    'This original book contributes to the debate about secularism as an ongoing process that delimits both religious and political life … [It] is an important book marked by profound creativity. Scholars working on secularism in all its disguises should welcome it as an important and imaginative contribution to the ongoing debate about the relationship between religion and politics in a world of deep pluralism.' Lars Tønder, Perspectives on Politics

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2013
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107026094
    • length: 256 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 155 x 17 mm
    • weight: 0.45kg
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: beyond the separation of church and state: secularism as conversion
    1. The authorized narrative and crystalline structure of conversion in Augustine's Confessions
    2. Toleration and conversion in Locke's letters: it is 'above all things necessary to distinguish'
    3. The crystalline structure of conversion: Henri Bergson's Two Sources
    4. Saint John (Rawls), the miracle of secular reason
    5. The wish for a better life: Stanley Cavell's critique of the social contract
    Conclusion: from Supernovas into The Deep: secularism as conversion, a conversion of secularism

  • Author

    Matthew Scherer, George Mason University, Virginia
    Matthew Scherer is Assistant Professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University.

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