Title: Democracy and the Family
10 - April - Lecture
12 - April - Discussion
Lecturer: Stephen L. Carter, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law

Professor Carter was born in Washington, D.C., the second of five children, and attended the public schools of Washington, New York City, and Ithaca, New York. He received his bachelor's degree from Stanford University and his law degree from Yale. Before joining the Yale faculty in 1982, he served as a law clerk for Judge Spottswood W. Robinson, III, of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He also practiced law briefly with a firm in Washington.

Professor Carter's writings have won praise across the political spectrum. His 1993 best-seller The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion (1993) won praises from commentators as diverse as Anna Quindlen, William F. Buckley, and President Clinton. His 1998 book, Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy (1998), was praised by, among others, Marian Wright Edelman and John Cardinal O'Connor. His other books include The Dissent of the Governed: A Meditation on Law, Religion, and Loyalty (1998); Civility (1996); The Confirmation Mess: Cleaning Up the Federal Appointments Process (1994); and Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby (1991).

His most recent book, God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics, was published in October 2000. In the book, Professor Carter argues that although we should welcome the participation of our diverse religious voices in our public debates, problems arise when religious organizations begin to endorse candidates.

A recent review in the New York Times referred to Professor Carter as one of the nation's leading public intellectuals, and he was selected by Time magazine as one of fifty leaders of the next century. He has received honorary degrees from six schools, among them Notre Dame, Colgate, and the Virginia Theological Seminary. He was the first non-theologian to receive the prestigious Louisville-Grawemeyer Award in religion.

Professor Carter is a member of the American Law Institute and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a trustee of the Aspen Institute, where he moderates seminars for executives and political leaders on values-based leadership. He publishes widely in law reviews and in the popular press, and is a frequent guest on such television shows as Charlie Rose, News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and Face the Nation.

Professor Carter lives with his wife, Enola Aird, and their two children, Leah and Andrew, outside New Haven, Connecticut. They attend one of the oldest predominantly black Episcopal churches in the country.

Lecture Description:

As we look toward the future of religion in America, we can note three intersecting trends. First, the American people are, and seem likely to remain, by far the most deeply religious people in the Western world, and religious people tend to see their world in religious terms. Second, both political philosophy and elite opinion insist on the view that religious sentiment is a contaminant in politics, and in the public conversation that should characterize liberal democracy. Third, the Supreme Court, often relied upon as the referee, has more or less quit the field.

We are on our own, then, in reflecting on the proper role of religion in the life of the individual, and of the nation - and, in particular, in trying to understand how the two often conflict, and what all of us, secularists and religionists alike, should do when those conflicts inevitably arise.

This lecture will examine strong religious devotion from the point of view of liberal democracy, and liberal democracy from the point of view of strong religious devotion. Some of it will be history, some of it will be theory, and some of it will be constitutional law - but most of it will be practical reality, less what should be than what is, for accurately recognizing the features of the world we inhabit is necessarily prior to deciding whether to try to change them.

The basic thesis is this: As liberal democracy grows increasingly scientistic, its structures of authority will necessarily become less populist, as well as less attuned to modes of belief and of living that depart from scientistic norms. At the same time, religious will find themselves under pressure to accede to the norms of liberal culture. Each will struggle to change the other. But democracy without religion is empty of meaning, and religion without democracy is empty of faith. We fought those battles once already in America, at the dawn of the twentieth century. How appropriate to find ourselves revisiting them at the dawn of the twenty-first.

Copyright 2001, Stephen L. Carter






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