Before the original position: The neo-orthodox theology of the young John Rawls

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Abstract

This paper examines a remarkable document that has escaped critical attention within the vast literature on John Rawls, religion, and liberalism: Rawls's undergraduate thesis, "A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith: An Interpretation Based on the Concept of Community" (1942). The thesis shows the extent to which a once regnant version of Protestant theology has retreated into seminaries and divinity schools where it now also meets resistance. Ironically, the young Rawls rejected social contract liberalism for reasons that anticipate many of the claims later made against him by secular and religious critics. The thesis and Rawls's late unpublished remarks on religion and World War II offer a new dimension to his intellectual biography. They show the significance of his humanist response to the moral impossibility of political theology. Moreover, they also reveal a kind of Rawlsian piety marginalized by contemporary debates over religion and liberalism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-206
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Religious Ethics
Volume35
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies

Keywords

  • Community
  • John Rawls
  • Liberalism
  • Political theology
  • Public reason
  • Religion

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