NEWTON, Mass. — This March, Libby Professor Cathleen Kaveny sees publication of two new books about religion in public life, Prophecy without Contempt: Religious Discourse in the Public Square (Harvard University Press), and A Culture of Engagement: Law, Religion, and Morality (Georgetown University Press).
Prophecy Without Contempt: Religious Discourse in the Public Square
Published by Harvard University Press
464 pp. $49.95
American culture warriors have plenty to argue about, but battles over such issues as abortion and torture have as much to do with rhetorical style as moral substance. Kaveny reframes the debate about religion in the public square by focusing on a powerful stream of religious discourse in American political speech: the Biblical rhetoric of prophetic indictment.
Throughout American history, reformers of all political persuasions and for all manner of causes—abolitionists, defenders of slavery, prohibitionists, and civil rights leaders—have echoed the thundering condemnations of the Hebrew prophets in decrying what they see as social evils. Rooted in the denunciations of Puritan sermons, prophetic rhetoric has evolved to match the politics of an increasingly pluralistic society. To employ prophetic indictment in political speech is to claim to speak from a position of unassailable authority—whether God, reason, or common sense—in order to accuse opponents of violating a fundamental law.
The fiery rhetoric of prophetic indictment operates very differently from the cooler language of practical deliberation and policy analysis. Kaveny contends that prophetic indictment is a form of “moral chemotherapy”: it can be strong medicine against moral cancers threatening the body politic, but administered injudiciously, it can do more harm than good. Kaveny draws upon a wide array of sources to develop criteria for the constructive use of prophetic indictment. In modern times, Martin Luther King Jr. exemplifies the use of prophetic rhetoric to facilitate reform and reconciliation rather than revenge.
“Cathleen Kaveny has given us a book that brings us closer to both the rhetoric and the reality of American politics. In our history, commitment is not incompatible with civility, and Prophecy without Contempt shows how we might recover that possibility for the future.”—Robin Lovin, Southern Methodist University
“Through solid historical insights and careful moral reasoning, Kaveny gives her readers something that has become increasingly rare: a strong religious voice that points not to a shouted dialogue of the deaf, but to integrity, community, healing, and ways of getting along. It is an important book for the times.”—Mark Noll, University of Notre Dame
More: Harvard University Press Website
A Culture of Engagement: Law, Religion, and Morality
Published by Georgetown University Press
ISBN: 9781626163034 (1626163030)
320 pp. $64.95
Religious traditions in the United States are characterized by ongoing tension between assimilation to the broader culture, as typified by mainline Protestant churches, and defiant rejection of cultural incursions, as witnessed by more sectarian movements such as Mormonism and Hassidism. However, legal theorist and Catholic theologian Cathleen Kaveny contends there is a third possibility—a culture of engagement—that accommodates and respects tradition. It also recognizes the need to interact with culture to remain relevant and to offer critiques of social, political, legal, and economic practices.
Kaveny suggests that rather than avoid the crisscross of the religious and secular spheres of life, we should use this conflict as an opportunity to come together and to encounter, challenge, contribute to, and correct one another. Focusing on five broad areas of interest—Law as a Teacher, Religious Liberty and Its Limits, Conversations about Culture, Conversations about Belief, and Cases and Controversies—Kaveny demonstrates how thoughtful and purposeful engagement can contribute to rich, constructive, and difficult discussions between moral and cultural traditions.
This provocative collection of Kaveny’s articles from Commonweal magazine, substantially revised and updated from their initial publication, provides astonishing insight into a range of hot-button issues like abortion, assisted suicide, government-sponsored torture, contraception, the Ashley Treatment, capital punishment, and the role of religious faith in a pluralistic society. At turns masterful, insightful, and inspirational, A Culture of Engagement is a welcome reminder of what can be gained when a diversity of experiences and beliefs is brought to bear on American public life.
“Cathy Kaveny is, simultaneously, one of our country’s most important religious intellectuals and one of our most rigorous legal scholars. She writes with great care and understanding, but also with passion and an uncommon humanity. A Culture of Engagement is a superb introduction to her thought. No matter where you stand, she will challenge you, and inspire you, too.”—EJ Dionne Jr., Senior Fellow, Brookings Institute
“This is a bold and brilliant engagement with the fundamental questions of faith, freedom, and family—crisply written, cogently argued, and constructively casuistic. Building on her earlier masterwork, Law’s Virtues, Cathleen Kaveny now shows us even more clearly how the law can teach us how to live a life of virtue as communicants and citizens in a world of ever-growing complexity.”—John Witte, Jr., Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law, McDonald Distinguished Professor, Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University
Cathleen Kaveny is Darald and Juliet Libby Professor at Boston College, a position that includes appointments in both the department of theology and the law school. She holds a joint PhD/JD from Yale University and is the author of Law’s Virtues: Fostering Autonomy and Solidarity in American Society (GUP, 2012). The author of many columns and articles for Newsweek, the Washington Post, Commonweal, and other publications, she appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in 2012.
Professor Kaveny is available for lectures or to the media to comment on the current election cycle, issues of rhetorical style and moral substance.