community organizing between Athens and Jerusalem

Mark Readhead weaves the more philosophical arguments of my book We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For into his recent Polity article entitled “Reasoning between Athens and Jerusalem.” I won’t do justice to Readhead’s complex and subtle position here, but a quick précis would go something like this: Habermas advocates “post-secular public reasoning,” in which both religious believers and non-theists (liberals, scientific naturalists, Kantians, Marxists) open themselves up to real mutual learning. “Secular and religious citizens must meet in their public use of reason at eye level. For a democratic process the contributions of one side are no less important than those of the other side.” But Habermas develops this ideal in ways that actually require the religious to “translate” their views into secular terms while not troubling the secular very much. Furthermore, the philosophical dialogues that Habermas envisions can’t build real solidarity among people who disagree about foundational matters. In accounts of faith-based community organizing by Jeffrey Stout and others, Readhead finds more genuine and promising examples of dialogue that is connected to work and relationships:

Contra Habermas, the actors whom Stout describes promote not an impersonal democratic process, but very personal democratic experiences fuelled by passion. Organizers plan intimate “one-on-one conversations, neighborhood walks, and house meetings,” as well as broader assemblies of diverse constituencies. All of these activities illustrate an under-resourced and under-appreciated genre of politics that Levine has called open-ended politics. Open-ended politics have no predetermined goals. Instead, citizens decide what to do as they work together.


This entry was posted in philosophy, Uncategorized on by .

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.