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Using God-Talk in a Secular Society: Time for a New Conversation on Public Issues?

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image of International Journal of Public Theology

AbstractThe role that religious language should play in the ‘public square’ has long been a matter of debate. As Rawls, Rorty, Audi and others have long argued, albeit with subtle variations, discussion on public issues must be truly ‘public’ and therefore employ vocabulary, principles and reasoning which are intelligible to any reasonable person and based on public canons of validity. But does this argument do justice to religious voices? Can the growing number of such voices clamouring for the right to be heard continue to be ignored? Does excluding conviction-based language from public debate lessen the quality of that debate and the potential to find effective solutions to policy challenges? Drawing upon recent work by Jonathan Chaplin, Rowan Williams, Roger Trigg and Michael Sandel, this article examines the current state of scholarship on the question of language in public discourse, and concludes that the case for ‘confessional candour’ to be accepted in such discourse is overwhelming and could have a positive effect on policy outcomes. A prerequisite to this, however—at least within the context of New Zealand—will be a fresh debate about the meaning and scope of the term ‘secularism’.

Affiliations: 1: University of Otago New Zealand, URL:


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