Rawls and Religion

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The treatment of religion in the philosophy of John Rawls has been a focus of much writing.

This writings have generally fallen into two categories:

  1. Religious thinkers looking to at the intersection of Rawls’ secular theory of justice and religious social teaching about justice.

  2. Discussions the role Rawls gives to religious doctrines in his later arguments for political liberalism and public reason.

There will be a substantial review of the above literature as the project proceeds.

However, this project is not about those discussions. Instead, with the posthumous publication of Rawls’ senior thesis A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith and his much later personal essay "On My Religion" (2010) we can find insights into both the early religious views of Rawls as well as his personal view of religion in his later life. These insights illuminate both the religious roots of his theory of justice and the respectful tension that Rawls had with religion.

By better understanding these lesser known writings on religion, one will have a better understanding of the arguments made in his two most major works A Theory of Justice (1999) and Political Liberalism (1996).

Both Samuel Freeman (2007) and Daniel Dombrowski (2011) distinguish between doing Rawlsian political philosophy or applied philosophy, which they view themselves as doing, and detailed analysis of Rawls and his writings (which both have also done much of). Dombrowski, in particular notes that he is not doing an exegesis of the writing of Rawls. Instead, he is extending a philosophical school of thought.

This project, while by a Rawlsian, is different from Dombrowki’s in that sense. This is an exegesis of Rawls’s work, in particular his senior theology thesis and his major later works.

The significance of such a project is not only to bring clarification to what are some of the most important 20th century writings in moral and political philosophy, but also to give a fuller basis for the exercise of Rawlsian political philosophy.

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