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Full Access From the Sacristy to the Public Square The Public Character of Theology

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From the Sacristy to the Public Square The Public Character of Theology

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AbstractThis article is a study of the public role of Christian theology in contemporary democratic societies. It focuses on the role of theologians as intellectuals in the public square, as defenders of values like justice, democracy and peace. After a brief reflection on Brazilian experiences of the presence of Christians in public debates, it discusses the role of intellectuals such as Habermas, Bourdieu, Said, Bauman and others.

1. FN0*) Translated from Brazilian Portuguese by Thia Cooper.
2. FN11) ‘Logo’ is a Portuguese word, meaning ‘immediate’, ‘imminent’, ‘at once’ (translator’s note).
3. FN22) On the relation between public and private in religion, see José Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).
4. FN33) Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. William Rehg (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1996), p. 360 (original italics).
5. FN44) Seyla Benhabib, ‘Toward a Deliberative Model of Democratic Legitimacy’, in Seyla Benhabib, ed., Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 70.
6. FN55) The media is understood here as a set of ambivalent institutions; on the one hand, through the dissemination of information enabling the growth of knowledge and dialogue between citizens, but on the other hand, this dissemination may be reduced to misinformation or entertainment. See Jürgen Habermas, ‘O caos da esfera pública’, Folha de São Paulo (13 August 2006), <> [accessed 1 January 2011].
7. FN66) See especially Rawls’ theory of justice in which religious reasons are to be kept out of public debate. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1971; revised 1999); John Rawls, Political Liberalism (Columbia: Columbia University Press, 1993; expanded 1996); John Rawls, ‘The Idea of Public Reason Revisited’, University of Chicago Law Review, 64 (1997), 765–807; John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, ed. Erin Kelly (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2001).
8. FN77) Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, ‘Deliberative Democracy Beyond Process’, Journal of Political Philosophy, 10:2 (2002), 153–74 at 154.
9. FN88) After five years of fiery discussion the draft was archived and a new one is to be presented; mostly due to pressure from Christian churches.
10. FN99) See Rudolf von Sinner, ‘Brazil: From Liberation Theology to a Theology of Citizenship as Public Theology’, International Journal of Public Theology, 1:3–4 (2007), 338–63.
11. FN1010) For more information see <> [accessed on 10 October 2011].
12. FN1111) ‘Fale’, Portuguese for ‘talk’, is a social evangelical movement led by university students and professors inspired by the Latin American Integral Mission Theology.
13. FN1212) The text was taken from <>, which is no longer online. To learn more about FALE, see <> [accessed 1 October 2011].
14. FN1313) For a comprehensive view of the intellectuals see Barbara A. Misztal, Intellectuals and the Public Good: Creativity and Civil Courage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Pierre Bourdieu, Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996); Edward W. Said, Representations of the Intellectual: The Reith Lectures (New York: Vintage Books, 1996); Zygmunt Bauman, Legislators and Interpreters: On Modernity, Post-Modernity and Intellectuals (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987) and Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, vol. 2: The Intellectuals (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).
15. FN1414) Thus: ‘One of the most important characteristics of any group that is developing towards dominance is its struggle to assimilate and to conquer ‘ideologically’ the traditional intellectuals, but this assimilation and conquest is made quicker and more efficacious the more the group in question succeeds in simultaneously elaborating its own organic intellectuals’ (Quinton Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, ed. and trans., Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971, 10th reprint), p. 10).
16. FN1515) Bourdieu, The Rules of Art, pp. 129–30 (original italics).
17. FN1616) I leave aside the problems in the description of the intellectual as ‘enclosed’ in his/her ‘own world’. See, for example, the following statement: ‘Although initially Bourdieu saw intellectuals’ gestures of political commitment as moves in a self-contained game, later he himself was ‘eager to take place in the greatest tradition of public intellectuals like Zola and Sartre’’ (Misztal, citing Robbins, Intellectuals and the Public Good, p. 27).
18. FN1717) Bauman, Legislators and Interpreters, pp. 4–5.
19. FN1818) Ibid., p. 5.
20. FN1919) Júlio P. T. Zabatiero, ‘De mestra a intérprete: a teologia no mundo acadêmico. Reflexões em diálogo com Habermas e Rorty’, in Maria Carmelita de Freitas, ed., Teologia e Sociedade: Relevância e Funções (São Paulo: Paulinas, 2006), pp. 327–47.
21. FN2020) A similar position is defended by Julien, in an interview in the magazine CULT: “In the era of globalization, intellectual engagement is not an extreme position in search of radical principles, which leads to the antagonism of positions. It is to reveal the process by which what seems bad, or worse, what shapes otherness closing depths unexplored or invisible to the discovery of a cooperative and possible fertility. And, yet, in an inverse and complementary movement, to stimulate the variation of thought, rearranging the possibilities of dissent in a way that works to find consensus, in which thought, if not questioned, is always threatened with falling asleep and withering” <> [accessed on 2 February 2011].
22. FN2121) Gordon D. Kaufman, In Face of Mystery: A constructive theology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), p. 31.
23. FN2222) Misztal, citing Perrin, Intellectuals and the Public Good, p. 33.
24. FN2323) Two volumes exemplify the effort to build pluralist theologies: Luiza E. Tomita, José M. Vigil and Marcelo Barros, eds, Teologia latino-americana pluralista da libertação (São Paulo: Paulinas, 2006) and Luiza E. Tomita, José M. Vigil and Marcelo Barros, eds, Teologia pluralista libertadora intercontinental (São Paulo: Paulinas, 2008).
25. FN2424) Edward W. Said, Representations of the Intellectual: The Reith Lectures (New York: Vintage Books, 1996), pp. 11–12.
26. FN2525) Richard Rorty, Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 289.
27. FN2626) Michel Foucault, ‘Intellectual and Power’, in D. F. Bouchard, ed., Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), pp. 207–208.
28. FN2727) For public theology, universal principles should be understood as universalizing principles and concepts, not as a priori metaphysical universals.

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Affiliations: 1: Faculdade Unida Vitória Brazil, URL:


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