The Meaning of Religious Freedom

Modern Politics and the Democratic Resolution

By Franklin I. Gamwell

Subjects: Philosophy Of The Social Sciences
Series: SUNY series in Religious Studies
Paperback : 9780791423905, 251 pages, February 1995
Hardcover : 9780791423899, 251 pages, February 1995

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Table of contents


Part 1. The Modern Political Problematic

1. Introduction
2. The Terms of the Problematic


Human Activity
Religion and Politics
The Present Purpose


Part 2. Nonrational Resolutions

3. The Privatist View: John Rawls


Religious Freedom and the Political Conception of Justice
The Privatist View: A Critique


4. The Partisan View: John Courtney Murray


Religious Freedom and Articles of Peace
The Partisan View: A Critique


5. The Pluralist View: Kent Greenawalt


Religious Freedom and the Reliance of Citizens
The Pluralist View: A Critique


Part 3. The Public View

6. The Enlightenment Rationale: Sidney E. Mead


The Essentials of Religion
The Conflict of Opinions


7. The Rationality of Comprehensive Convictions


The Necessity of Comprehensive Convictions
The Full Debate
The First Amendment


Part 4. The Democratic Resolution

8. Religious Freedom and Democratic Discourse


Political Discourse and Democratic Discourse
Political Discourse and Democratic Constitution
Political Discourse and Practical Politics


9. Religious Freedom and Democratic Civility


Religious Adherence and Democratic Decision
Religious Adherence and the Democratic Constitution
Religious Adherence and Democratic Civility


Epilogue: Religion and Modernity

Appendix: On the Comprehensive Order of Reflection
Human Activity and the Comprehensive Question
The Criterion of Comprehensive Reflection

Works Cited


This is the most thorough philosophical analysis available of the principle of religious freedom. It draws on the thought of philosophers and political theorists (Rawls, Habermas, Murray, Rorty, Greenawalt, and Mead) rather than on the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.


The endorsement of religious freedom in the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States represents a modern revolution in the relation between politics and religion. In American politics there has been continual disagreement about the meaning of this constitutional principle, and widely-held views of religious freedom include much philosophical confusion. This book shows how a plurality of religious convictions can be politically united only by a free debate among different religious convictions.

The author demonstrates that religious freedom is a coherent political principle, and that this principle is the defining democratic commitment because all other political principles should be subject to assessment by the same free debate characterizing religious freedom. This book identifies the meaning of an authentically democratic constitution and the civility required of democratic citizens.

Franklin I. Gamwell is Professor of Religious Ethics at the University of Chicago. He is the author Beyond Preference: Liberal Theories of Independent Associations and The Divine Good: Modern Moral Theory and the Necessity of God, and is co-editor of Existence and Actuality: Conversations with Charles Hartshorne and Economic Life: Process Interpretations and Critical Responses.


"It is the most thorough theoretical examination of the subject that is available today. The author takes up the best, most reliable interpretations of the issues with which he is dealing, compares and contrasts them after elucidating them carefully, and provides a conclusion that is careful, sound, and convincing. It is a conclusion that registers most fully within an intellectual context that is informed by the thought of Habermas, Rawls, Rorty, Murray, Greenwalt, and Mead." — Walter H. Capps, University of California, Santa Barbara