Academic journal article
By Bennett, Clinton
Journal of Church and State , Vol. 43, No. 1
Surviving Diversity: Religion and Democratic Citizenship. By Jeff Spinner-- Halev. Baltimore, Md.: John Hopkins University Press, 2000. 246 pp. np.
This book evolved from Spinner-Halev's work as a visiting fellow at Princeton's Center for Human Values. Its thesis is that a liberal, democratic society should tolerate the existence of some groups that do not share its values. These include conservative religious groups, such as Hasidic Jews or fundamentalist Christians. Spinner-Halev usefully summarizes the contributions of several theorists, including Mill, Dewey, Raz, Kymlicka, and Fraser, who interpret liberalism in various ways. However, "liberalism" is "primarily about giving people the freedom to pursue their lives as they see fit, within certain constraints" (p. 101).
How pro-active should the state be in promoting the "good life," about which there is no agreement, he asks? Some argue that it is socially advantageous for all citizens to be rooted in specific cultural groups (Raz, Kynlicka) provided such groups "adhere to the norms of a liberal society" (p. 36). The problem for many liberal theorists is that religious groups may inhibit personal autonomy, for example, by controlling entry and exit. Spinner-Halev argues that while groups do restrict individual autonomy, nobody in America can be unaware of options. Thus, people choose to live a restricted life. However, groups should establish funds to enable members to exit.
The rhetoric that bans religion from public discourse is flawed, SpinnerHalev claims. First, religiously influenced discourse is no more "exclusive" than say Hegelian, Burkean, or Marxist discourse, which can also baffle outsiders. Second, many arguments offered in the name of religion are not religious at all. …