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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

The Public Life of Love

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

On October 28, Connecticut College religious studies and American studies professor David Kyuman Kim joined the Boisi Center for a lunch event to discuss his book in progress, The Public Life of Love, which examines the status of love in public discourse. Drawing on a wide variety of sources from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Confucian philosophy, Kim’s project explores how love is evoked in political life. Love can take many different forms, from the love between parent and child to the love enacted by prophetic public figures like Abraham Joshua Heschel. Love does not always have to be uplifting or simply affirming, but can also be challenging, as in the case of appeals for human rights and justice, which remind us of our ethical accountability to all people.

In situations of great oppression, public expressions of love can even appear, paradoxically, somewhat un-loving. Asked for his opinion on a group like ISIS that appears to not only neglect love, but to even represent the complete absence of love, Kim contested the premise, arguing that it is overly simplistic to view ISIS as representing principled lovelessness. Kim did not rule out the possibility that love could be expressed in a violent way.

One of Kim’s goals is to confront improper appeals to love, and in so doing, to stake a public claim about the sort of politics that flows from enactments of public love. To illustrate what he has in mind, Kim brought up the example of a speech Glenn Beck gave at the “Restoring Honor” rally in 2010. Kim understood Beck’s speech to have demonized people of color, queer people, and others perceived as threatening “American values.” The speech ended, however, with an insistence that the conservative movement is grounded in love—a claim Kim disputed.

The event closed with a question about how one can find love in a world that sometimes seems loveless. Kim suggested that love can be found in the everyday, in something as significant as a massive rally or as subtle as a handshake.