Keynote address: David Novak, J. Richard & Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies and Professor of Religion and Philosophy, University of Toronto
How are we to understand the relationship between religion and the free society? On the one hand, it might seem that religion was necessary to the rise of freedom in the modern world. Free societies emerged first in nations that had been influenced for generations by biblical religion. Moreover, the biblical claim that each human being is created in the image and likeness of God may be a necessary foundation of the belief in the dignity of each individual, on which the free society is based. On the other hand, religion has sometimes been a tool of oppression, and many of the intellectual architects of modern free societies understood themselves as limiting the role of religion in politics, seeking to establish political communities based primarily or exclusively on reason and rational self-interest. Moving beyond the origins of free societies, we encounter the question, how does religion relate to free societies once they have come into existence? Does the modern free society undermine religion, or does it open a space in which religion can flourish? How should the defenders of the free society think about religion’s place within it? Conversely, how should religious believers think about their place in the free society?
Seeking to address these important questions, the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions and the Association for the Study of Free Institutions are pleased to announce a conference entitled “Religious Particularity and Moral Universality: Faith, Reason, and Natural Law.” The program includes scholars from a variety of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. We seek to address a number of questions. What are the foundations of and the requirements of the natural law? What does natural law teach us about the role of religion in the free society? What is the state of contemporary Jewish-Christian relations? What contributions can Judaism and Christianity make to the free society? How have Jewish thinkers responded to modernity and its understanding of freedom? Finally, what challenges does religion face in the modern free society, and what challenges do such societies face in trying to maintain a proper relation to the religious traditions and communities that exist within them?