Special Issue "Promise or Threat? Religious Presence in Civil Society"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Humanities/ Philosophies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 1 December 2020.

Special Issue Editor

Dr. John R. Pottenger
Guest Editor
The University of Alabama in Huntsville, 301 Sparkman Drive, Huntsville, AL 35899
Interests: analytical political philosophy; classical, medieval, and modern political philosophy; political theology and hermeneutics; religion and politics; public policy and ethics

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

During the liminal period of the late medieval into the early modern eras, the gradual transition toward inductive reasoning of the early Renaissance, religious pluralism unleashed by the Protestant Reformation, and adoption of individual rights theory and contractarianism of the seventeenth century have furnished the conditions necessary for the emergence of civil society in the development of liberal democratic regimes.

To maintain political stability, liberal democracies in diverse nations have, for two centuries, struggled to define and preserve the keystone between two overarching and indispensable yet opposed philosophical commitments for a stable civil society: the keystone of a theoretical tension essential to maintain a socially stable equilibrium between the two opposing forces of individual liberty and rights vs. democratic politics and popular rule. Liberal democratic regimes have frequently encountered threats to civil society’s equilibrium from political whirlwinds of powerful advocates of the two forces, including the declaimed supremacy of liberty of conscience and freedom of religious exercise contra the presumed superiority of democracy and popular regulatory policy.

During the past three decades, the global resurgence of populist nationalism combined with strident political theologies has increasingly inspired passionate and highly motivated religious voters and factions whose efforts appear to have generated new whirlwinds of political destabilization. As they vie for political and ideological control of the state, the mix of deeply rooted religious values of national cultures, divided loyalties to incompatible denominations, and dynamic sectarian presence in the public square may disrupt civil society’s equilibrium along with the theoretical integrity of liberal democracy itself.

This Special Issue of Religions will provide thoughtful assessments on and critiques of the extent to which religion poses a threat to contemporary civil society or holds the promise of protecting its liberal democratic character. Do religious values tend to undermine or reinforce civil society’s ability to promote political stability? To what extent, if any, are the political dynamics of religious pluralism a threat to civil society? Does religiously motivated political activism have a beneficial or deleterious impact on the maintenance of a peaceful and stable civil society? Are efforts to expand religious liberty diminishing the reach of democratic decision-making and thus undermining the tension between liberty and democracy that provides an equilibrium necessary for the stability of liberal democratic regimes? Or, are democratic policies inordinately encroaching on the rights of religious liberty to the same end? What impact does proselytization or evangelization have on political institutions of civil society? And, is it ethically appropriate that religion be employed as an engine of public policy?

We invite submissions that address these or other related questions across a broad range of theoretical and methodological approaches, including those of comparative politics, history, law, philosophy, political science, religious studies, or theology. The manuscripts are due by December 1, 2020. If the Special Issue contains more than ten papers, there is the option of also publishing the Special Issue in printed book form.

Dr. John R. Pottenger
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • civil society
  • individual rights
  • interest groups
  • liberal democracy
  • nationalism
  • policymaking
  • political theology
  • populism
  • religion

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: The Beloved Community as a Civil Religion for the 21st Century U.S. Pluralistic Democracy

Abstract: The growing impact of Islam and non-Western faiths on the U.S. religious landscape as well as secularism’s pervasive impact on U.S. society have made the content and contour of U.S. pluralistic democracy in the 21st century very complex. In this essay, I argue that Martin Luther King’s vision of the beloved community provides a vibrant civil religion that can navigate constructively what James Davison Hunter has termed the culture wars of U.S. politics. Specifically, I show, using the methodology of hermeneutical phenomenology, why the beloved community, as a dynamic integration of U.S. religious, philosophical, and political values, is to be preferred over the alternatives of religious nationalism, radical secularism, and prophetic resistors. In turn, I illustrate how contemporary contributions from the US Latinx and Muslim communities are enabling the beloved community to be a much more interreligious and intercultural civil religion than the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant articulations of civil religion in past U.S. culture and history.

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