SPSA in New Orleans

As I mentioned earlier, I will be presenting a paper for the Southern Political Science Association this Saturday in New Orleans, LA.  This will be at the Hotel InterContinental, and so if you’re in the area please come on.

My panel is called “Philosophy, Rhetoric, and the Common Good,” and you can check it out by going here and clicking “browse the program” and then clicking on “Saturday.”  I’m at 1:15.  To get at philosophy and the common good, I examine a dispute among early American Presbyterians about natural law and religious freedom.  The paper overlaps with the political discussions we’ve had here, and it shines a clear light on the old-guard disciplinarian and Presbyterian view of “the two kingdoms.”  Here is the abstract:

The relation of church and state in American constitutional order is stilled a vexed topic. What is the relation of morality and freedom, and what is the relation of religion (or the idea of revelation) to both? This was as difficult and as open a question in the early days of the Republic as it is now, and the attempted answers were often surprising. In this paper, I look at the controversy between Samuel Brown Wylie and William Findley, both Irish Covenanter Presbyterian immigrants to the United States during the Revolutionary era, and whose views of the Constitution seem radically opposed. Wylie published a treatise, The Two Sons of Oil, charging the Federal Constitution with impiety for not officially recognizing the Christian religion, which made the Constitution essentially illegitimate in Wylie’s view. Findley, a Congressman, replied with a defense of the Constitution against Wylie’s “illiberal” theocratic critique. The respective positions and their implications, however, were not as simple as “illiberal” and “liberal”, or “theocratic” and “secular.” For instance, Wylie was a passionate abolitionist activist. I will examine this early American intra-Presbyterian controversy’s historical and theoretical background, looking at the principles and debates of Protestant political theory from the 16th to the 18th century, especially in Britain, in order to help clarify the principles and what was at stake between Wylie and Findley, using Charles Taylor’s analysis of secularity and secularism and Michael Walzer’s analysis of political theology as guides in the inquiry. I will conclude with a brief examination of how this controversy has continued in its essential outlines among Protestant communities today, and how it reflects broader ambiguities at the heart of the American Revolution and its Constitutional project.

I had lots of help from my friends on this one, not the least in just getting me in the door, and so I as grateful as I am excited.


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