Is there a conversation around political theology (as concept, field, method, or however you understand it) from the past twenty years that continues to fascinate you?
I am still very interested in the general question how religious believers ought to conduct themselves with respect to political engagement in the public square in secular, pluralistic societies. We have not found a successful approach that balances the many legitimate concerns. Two decades ago, John Rawls’s notion of public reason was heavily criticized for requiring herculean translation efforts on the part of believers, while secularists could essentially speak their own natural language. Today, the relevant discussion has moved from seminar rooms to court rooms. Believers press their cases in the courts, arguing that their right to religious liberty protects individual and corporate objects to covering contraception, facilitating same-sex weddings. I think that we are at an impasse today because the discussion is too focused on rights. I would like to see people ask, from within their own religious and moral frameworks: “What do I owe my fellow citizens whose conscience reaches different conclusions than my own?”
What conversations working with the concept of political theology do you find most fruitful today?
I find myself increasingly interested in questions of comparative religious law and comparative political theology. I think comparatively examining how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam understand the nature of law and political obligations is a fascinating task. I am particularly interested in questions of secularism, especially how “secularity” is understood differently in societies that were dominated by different religious traditions.
Where do you hope to see discussions of political theology in 20 years?
I work in both a law school and in a theology department. I would like to see the discussions of law and religion, which are centered mainly in law schools, more integrated with the discussions in political theology centered in departments of religious studies and theology. On the one hand, the law and religion discussions sorely need the nuance, insight, and historical perspective of scholars trained in religious traditions. On the other hand, the discussions in political theology, in my view, would benefit from considering the more concrete and specific issues raised by the lawyers, especially when it comes to the nitty-gritty questions of how we should live together.