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Nature's Immanence and the Political Necessity of Religion

Mon, December 17, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cambridge 1

Abstract

Rousseau is credited with inventing the term and concept civil religion. Yet in the previous
century, Spinoza had already called for an ecumenical public religion to convey the basic moral values
and principles of justice of a modern pluralist democratic nation, one that also enshrined freedom of
conscience at its core. Spinoza’s aim was to appeal to the heart as well as to the head of the public at
large. He may have influenced Rousseau’s later conception.
The virtue of Spinoza’s model is its pluralist vision of the modern democratic polity and its
reliance upon a naturalistic and immanentist account of human nature in which symbolic practices and
beliefs have a positive role in instituting and maintaining civic and national life. Moreover, Spinoza’s
conception of human nature is now being supported by evidence from discoveries in the brain sciences.
In this paper, I propose a revised model of American civil religion, inspired by Spinoza's model,
to enhance public ceremonies and rituals to convey more of the historical and constitutional sources of
our basic values as the American nation.

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