Kaveny on religion, language and public life

prophesyThere are two new books from Darald and Juliet Libby Professor Cathleen Kaveny, who is a faculty member in both the Theology Department and Boston College Law School. In Prophecy Without Contempt (Harvard University Press, 2016), Kaveny looks at the endurance of the jeremiad—a fiery brand of political rhetoric inspired by religious belief, from which it draws both linguistic style and moral substance. To employ prophetic indictment in political speech is to claim to speak from a position of unassailable authority—whether invested by God, reason, or common sense—in order to accuse opponents of violating a fundamental law. At its best, prophetic indictment can unify opposing political groups, according to Kaveny. Martin Luther King, Jr. exemplifies the use of prophetic rhetoric to facilitate reform and reconciliation rather than revenge. At its worst, prophetic indictment divides and punishes.

cultureKaveny’s other book,  A Culture of Engagement: Law, Religion, and Morality (Georgetown University Press, 2016), a collection of her columns for Commonweal magazine, examines the need to recognize the viewpoints of religious tradition and secular, liberal democratic tradition can meet for substantive, critical and collaborative discussions about the issues of the day. “Over the years as I wrote these columns, I focused on topical issues of the day and often they were infused with certain social, political or cultural tensions,” says Kaveny. “I’m interested in how in today’s society you are supposed to engage as a religious person who is an American and who takes seriously the claims on moral positions in a person’s life.” Read more about both books in the Boston College Chronicle.

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