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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

What’s Wrong with the New Genealogy of Religious Freedom?

luncheon colloquium

sunlit forest

David Decosimo
Boston University

Date: Thursday, November 2, 2017
Boisi Center, 24 Quincy Road
12-1:15 pm - WAIT LIST ONLY

RSVP required. Click here to register.


Abstract: The new genealogy of religious freedom contends that religious freedom is incoherent, systemically biased, oppressive, ideological – and necessarily so. Its critique deploys a methodology inherited from Nietzsche and targets a vision of religious freedom associated with “foundationalists” like Kant and Rawls. This talk calls both the methodology and the vision into question. NGRF’s genealogy proves self-destructive and incoherent. Its attack on foundationalist religious freedom is effective but presupposes – and targets – conceptions of freedom, neutrality, and power we needn’t endorse. For foundationalists and genealogists alike, these assumptions define religious freedom. They don’t have to. We can – and should – dispense with those assumptions without dispensing with religious freedom.

David Decosimo

David Decosimo works in theology, ethics, religion and politics, and philosophy and theory of religion, focusing especially on Christianity and Islam and on philosophical, theological, and theoretical questions surrounding relations among Christians, Muslims, Jews, and atheists. He has particular interests in pre-modern texts and figures, both on their own terms and as resources for philosophical and theological work that offers religious believers and non-believers alike new ways of imagining their relations to one another and fresh responses to the political and ethical challenges they face. 

His first book, Ethics as a Work of Charity: Thomas Aquinas and Pagan Virtue (Stanford, 2014) examines Aquinas’s account of whether non-Christians can lead  virtuous lives, offering a reinterpretation of Thomas’s moral theology and synthesis of philosophy and theology. His second book, Four Tasks of Christian Ethics which is nearing completion, offers a new way of understanding the history and work of Christian ethics and an account of how and why that work so often goes awry.

Prior to joining Boston University, he served on faculty at Loyola University Maryland. During 2014-15, he was William Scheide Research Fellow at the Center of Theological Inquiry, where he pursued work on his third book, No Lord but God: Domination in Christianity and Islam. In 2015, he will deliver a keynote lecture at the Thomas Instituut in Utrecht, in celebration of the institution’s 25th anniversary.

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In the News

In this essay, the first in a discussion series  hosted by The Immanent Frame, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and Winnifred Fallers Sullivan (also the series' co-editors) explore theologies of American exceptionalism as they impact American policies of religion, which often coincide with questions of religious tolerance and religious freedom. On November 2, David Decosimo will discuss the genealogy of understandings of relgious freedom in his luncheon lecture at the Boisi Center.