The Religious Foundations of Civic Virtue

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2011-10-21

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Abstract

Scholarly accounts of the history of civic virtue in the modern era have with few exceptions been wholly secular, discounting, ignoring, or even outright rejecting the role religious thought has played in shaping the civic tradition. In this dissertation, I focus on the influence of religion on the civic tradition, specifically in the eighteenth century in Scotland and America. I examine the ways in which the religious traditions of each nation shaped the debate surrounding the viability of civic virtue, the place of religious virtues among the civic tradition, and the tensions between using religion to promote civic virtue while protecting individual religious liberty. In the Scottish Enlightenment, I examine the influence of Francis Hutcheson?s moral sense philosophy and Adam Ferguson?s providential theology. In the American Founding, I contrast the New England religious tradition exemplified by John Witherspoon and John Adams with the public religious tradition advocated by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson. This work demonstrates not only that religion influences the civic tradition, but also that this influence is neither monolithic nor self-evident. In order to understand how religion shaped this tradition, it is necessary to take into account that different conceptions of religion produce different understandings of what it means to be a good citizen.

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