From tolerance to difference : the theological turn of political theory
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Within recent political theory, political liberalism has answered the question of how to deal with pluralism in contemporary society largely in terms of tolerance. Prompted by the same question, agonistic political theory has been in search of a way to move beyond liberal invocations of tolerance to a deeper celebration of difference. This project tells the story of the move within political theory from tolerance to difference, and the concomitant move from epistemology to ontology, through an exposition of the work of liberal theorists John Rawls and Richard Rorty and of agonistic, or post-Nietzschean, political theorists Chantal Mouffe and William Connolly. From a theological perspective, the ontological turn within recent theory can be seen as a welcome development, as can the desire to expand our capacity to engage with difference and to augment our current political imagination given contemporary conditions of pluralism. Yet the sufficiency of the answers and ontology put forward by both political liberalism and post-Nietzschean political thought needs to be seriously questioned. Indeed, the ontological turn in political theory opens the way for a theological turn, for theology is equally concerned with questions of human being and 'what there is' more generally. To make this 'theological turn,' I look to Saint Augustine, and the ontology disclosed though his writings, to see what theological resources he offers for an engagement with difference. Through this discussion we re-discover Augustine's Heavenly City as the place in which unity and diversity, harmony and plurality can come together in ways that are not possible outside of participation in the Triune God. Yet this does not mean that the Heavenly City is to take over the earthly city. By putting Augustine into conversation with more recent theologians such as John Milbank, Karl Barth, and William Cavanaugh, we consider the relationship between the Heavenly City and the earthly city and we offer a picture in which renewed and expanded conceptions of 'public' and 'conversation' open the way for rich engagement between the many different particularities that constitute a pluralist society.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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