posted March 28, 2007

Book Views Theology, Political Theory and Pluralism

Dr. Kristen Deede Johnson of the Hope College faculty is the author of the book "Theology, Political Theory, and Pluralism: Beyond Tolerance and Difference," published recently by Cambridge University Press.

In the book, Johnson advocates adding the voice of Christian theology to help inform and guide the ongoing conversation concerning difference, tolerance and co-existence in a diverse world.

In his review, Trevor Hart, a professor of divinity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, calls the book particularly timely. "The interplay between religious commitments and political realities has resurfaced in the new millennium with unpredicted force as a matter of serious intellectual and practical concern," he said. "Rarely has there been a more urgent need for careful theological engagement on the question of how to deal with difference."

Johnson identifies two philosophies in western societies that have addressed the issue of how to reconcile difference and co-existence. The first, which grew out of the late 17th and 18th centuries and shaped the establishment of liberal democracies such as the United States, emphasizes social unity by stressing the truths and values that people hold in common for "public" life while keeping divisive differences in the "private" sphere; such private differences are then tolerated because they do not have a negative effect on society at large. The second and more recent view, Johnson said, seeks to accept difference in its particularity, arguing that emphasizing unity by relegating difference to the private sphere does injustice to diversity by suppressing aspects of it.

Particularly as struggles with the challenges continue, Christianity, she believes, can supplement the current conversation "by helping us to think more creatively about the mutually fulfilling relationship between the universal and the particular, between unity and diversity."

Being engaged in the conversation, Johnson feels, is also important for Christians.

"The Church, also, as it tries to navigate the tricky waters of tolerance, difference, liberalism, and pluralism, is in need of a theological investigation of political theory," she said. "It might, indeed, help remind Christians that they have a crucial role to play in the development of communities in which unity and diversity can come together through participation in the reconciling work of the Triune God."

Johnson is the associate director of the CrossRoads Project and an assistant professor of political science at Hope, where she joined the faculty in 2005. Established at Hope in 2003, the CrossRoads Project is an interdisciplinary program designed to help students think theologically about career, calling and life.

She completed her doctorate in theology at St. Mary's College of the University of St. Andrews in 2004, and her bachelor's degree in political and social thought with a minor in religious studies at the University of Virginia in 1998. Prior to coming to Hope she was a doctoral fellow in the Center for Religion and Democracy and a dissertation fellow in the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia; and involved in the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts at St. Mary's College at the University of St. Andrews. Her scholarly work has included a variety of publications and presentations centered on the themes discussed in the book.

"Theology, Political Theory, and Pluralism: Beyond Tolerance and Difference" is the 15th volume in Cambridge University Press's series "Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine." The 288-page book is available in hardcover.