Theology and Politics: A Match Made in Heaven or Hell?

Charles E. Test, M.D. '37 Distinguished Lectures Series

April 23, 2013
Elshtain series poster

Jean Bethke ElshtainLaura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics, University of Chicago
Author of Sovereignty: God, State, and Self (Basic Books, 2008); Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power In A Violent World (Basic Books, 2004); and (with Robert P. George) The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, And Morals (Spense, 2006)

Theology and politics make for a heady mix. This has always been so. Some have wanted to erase religion altogether from civic discourse; others want the language of civic life to be of a sacral nature and guided by theological principles. But that is not possible in late modern Western democracy. Looking at our current situation, it makes best sense if one opposes current trends in order to carve out the space for what one has on offer. After the introductory discussion is settled, I will turn to two great icons of Western culture, namely, Harry Potter and The Dark Knight. I hope to show that placing Augustine in the company of these iconic figures helps us to better understand Augustine and, in turn, to find a more complex layer of meaning to The Dark Knight and Harry Potter.

Jean Bethke Elshtain is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics, Divinity School, The University of Chicago, with appointments in Political Science and the Committee on International Relations. She is also a Visiting Distinguished Professor of Religion and Politics at Baylor University.  She joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts/Amherst where she taught from 1973 to 1988. She joined the faculty of Vanderbilt University in 1988 as the first woman to hold an endowed professorship in the history of that institution. She was appointed to her current position at the University of Chicago in 1995. She has been a visiting professor at Oberlin College, Yale University, Harvard University, and held the Leavey Chair in the Foundations of American Freedom, Georgetown University.

Her books include Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social and Political Thought; Meditations on Modern Political Thought; Women and War; Democracy on Trial (a New York Times “notable book” for 1995); Real Politics: At the Center of Everyday Life; Augustine and the Limits of Politics; Who are We? Critical Reflections, Hopeful Possibilities (recipient of the Theologos Award for Best AcademicBook 2000 by the Association of Theological Booksellers); Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy (honored by the Society of Midland Authors in 2002); Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World (named one of the best non-fiction books of 2003 by Publishers Weekly); and Sovereignty: God, State, and Self (her Gifford Lectures, published 2008).  In addition, Professor Elshtain has edited numerous books. She writes frequently for journals of civic opinion and lectures widely in the United States and abroad on themes of democracy, ethical dilemmas, religion and politics, and international relations.

She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; a Guggenheim Fellow; a Fellow at the Bellagio Center of the Rockefeller Foundation; holder of the Maguire Chair in Ethics at the Library of Congress; and a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, where she also served on the Board of Trustees. She has been a Phi Beta Kappa Lecturer and in 2002 she received the Goodnow Award, the highest award bestowed by the American Political Science Association for distinguished service to the profession. She has served on the Boards of the National Humanities Center and the National Endowment for Democracy, and currently she is a member of the Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Scholars Council of the Library of Congress. In 2006, she delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, joining such previous Gifford Lecturers as William James, Hannah Arendt, Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr. In 2008, she was appointed to the President’s Council on Bioethics.

A graduate of Colorado State University (A.B., 1963), Professor Elshtain went on to earn a Master's degree in history as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow before turning to the study of politics. She received her Ph.D. from Brandeis University in Politics in 1973.

*The second and third lectures in this series have been cancelled. We apologize for any inconvenience.


Lecture One: Everybody Wants to Be a Critic


Lewis Library 120

Photo Album:

  • Elshtain lectures
  • Elshtain lectures
  • Elshtain lectures