Autonomy, Diversity and the Common Good

The theme of the 41st Claremont Annual Philosophy of Religion Conference will be Autonomy, Diversity and the Common Good. The conference will be held at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, on February 6-8, 2020.

Main Conference Participants:

  • Richard Amesbury (Arizona State University)
  • Clare Carlisle (King’s College London)
  • Jörg Dierken (Halle)
  • Nils Ole Oermann (Lüneburg/St. Gallen)
  • Joseph Prabhu (Cal State LA)
  • Michael Puett (Harvard)
  • Francis Schüssler Fiorenza (Harvard)
  • Linn Tonstad (Yale)
  • Graham Ward (Oxford)
  • Elliot Wolfson (UCSB)

Topic Description:

We live in a time of growing social and cultural diversity and inequality. This has increased the traditional tensions between individual freedom and social responsibility to a point where the binding forces of our societies seem to be exhausted. Where previously the commonalities of nature, culture, and tradition that connect us before we become an individual self were emphasized, we have learned to deconstruct these commonalities and replace them with our own cultural constructions without being disturbed by the biological, cultural, moral or religious limitations of earlier times. However, instead of creating a society of equals, for which many have hoped, we have increased inequality, diversity, and injustice in our societies to an unprecedented degree. In order to create more just conditions for everybody, we pursue politics that promote greater self-determination, cultural participation, and political power for marginalized groups in order to help them assert their distinctiveness and gain recognition in contexts of real or perceived inequality or injustice. But we often do it without due regard for the interests and potentials of society at large, or the different needs of others, or the commonalities we must share for our society to work. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, we have inaugurated a global process of social change but cannot control the forces that drive us apart or prevent the weakening of the forces that bind us together.

The tensions between centripetal and centrifugal forces in society can be observed everywhere, and they have been fueled by the global spread of capitalism and consumerism. For some freedom, independence and autonomy are the highest values in our society that must not be compromised by any social commitments, legal restrictions or political obligations. Others emphasize justice, equity, and equality and insist that we must practice solidarity with those who need it and assume responsibility even for that for which we are not responsible. But why play off one against the other? Is it true that insistence on autonomy and diversity weakens social cohesion, or that striving for justice, equity and equality undermines individual freedom? How much individuality and what kinds of diversity are we ready to accept? Where do we want to draw a line, if we do, and for which reasons? How much autonomy and diversity are possible without destroying social cohesion and human solidarity? And how much social commonality is necessary to be able to live an autonomous life and do justice to diversity?

A long tradition has seen the common good as the social order in which individuals and groups can best strive for perfection. Liberal societies insist that this perfecting must not be done at the cost of others or by restricting the right to such a striving only to some and not granting it also to others. But what does ‘perfection‘ mean today? And what has become of the common good in our time? There are significant differences between conceptions of the common good in the West and East and between secular and religious interpretations of the human pursuit of happiness and fulfilled life. What are the contributions to this debate by religious traditions? How do they configure the ideas of autonomy, diversity, and the common good? Do they have anything to offer that goes beyond secular conceptions? If so, is what they offer compatible with secular views? Or must we depart from the idea of the common good and seek alternatives that would allow us to better hold together the diverging forces of autonomy, individuality, and diversity on the one hand and the binding forces of social justice, equality, solidarity, and responsibility on the other?

These are some of the questions to be discussed at the 41st Annual Philosophy of Religion Conference at Claremont.