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Religion and Politics

Written by Mike Thee
October 26, 2015

Dan Dombrowski, professor of philosophy, was invited to testify before the European Union Parliament on Oct. 1. 

His address was part of a forum on "Religion, Human Rights and a Secular Europe." The forum, as described in the program, brought together "(Members of Parliament), staff from institutions, journalists, and civil society to discuss the rise of anti-human rights extreme religious lobby groups in European institutions." 

Dombrowski waded into a topic so freighted with strong opinions and emotions that the forum, which was to have taken place at an earlier date, had to be rescheduled due to security concerns. He was asked to speak largely because of his extensive research and writing on American political philosopher John Rawls, whose perspectives on political liberalism apply to the questions now facing Europe. 

As European countries become increasingly more secular, Dombrowski says, "they are struggling conceptually to understand the roles of religion and politics." On the one hand, he says, there's a sentiment of "not wanting religious principles to be the law of the land," while on the other making sure that a "secular doctrine is not lorded over people with religious beliefs." 

In his 15-minute address to Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, Dombrowski made the case for a "post-religious, post-secular" view by which "All citizens are able to live out their comprehensive doctrines, whether religious or not." (Dombrowski chose those words carefully, intentionally using "comprehensive doctrines" instead of "religions" to be inclusive of the plurality of belief systems and worldviews.) 

In his talk, Dombrowski acknowledged the tension between "pure inclusivism" and "pure exclusivism." As he said at the forum, "The proper task is to find the right balance between these two extremes in a view that could be called partial inclusivism ." Reaching back to some of history's preeminent philosophers-Rawls, of course being one of them-Dombrowski brought their timeless wisdom to the volatile questions of the day. 

Dombrowski, who has been asked to address Parliament again, says he was encouraged that its members are looking at political philosophers in order to navigate the current climate in Europe. He was also impressed by the depth of the questions that were asked following his testimony. "They were really sharp and weren't just dealing with clichés."