Competing Conceptions of Authenticity: Consequences for Religious Education in an Open Society

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Many conceptions of liberal democracy assume that the citizens of a liberal state are or ought to be rationally autonomous moral agents and that a primary purpose of education in an open society is to foster rational autonomy. Most of these theories follow Kant (1998a; 1998b) in grounding the capacity of agents to make moral choices in a potential for reasoning that is built into the universal structure of human consciousness. It is on this basis that Rawls (1971; 1993) assumes the possibility of a neutral space for civic discourse informed by “public reason” common to all and wary of substantive religious content available only to some. The consequence of these theories is what some have called an unembedded, unencumbered, or unsituated self, informed and motivated by one interpretation or another of practical reason, such as Kant’s categorical imperative or Mill’s utilitarian principle (Mill 2005; 2007). On this view, the right of the rationally autonomous individual to make his or her own life choices, including which religious or spiritual path to follow, if any, takes precedence over the demands of any particular conception of the good-whether religious, spiritual, or secular. Indeed, according to this position, there can be no genuine choice other than on the basis of good reasons.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCommitment, Character, and Citizenship
Subtitle of host publicationReligious Education in Liberal Democracy
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9781136343483
ISBN (Print)9780415879743
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2012 Taylor & Francis.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (all)
  • Arts and Humanities (all)


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