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Towards a Transformed Communal Spirituality in the West: Religion, Reason and Civil society in Platos Laws

Haig, Albert (2008) Towards a Transformed Communal Spirituality in the West: Religion, Reason and Civil society in Platos Laws. Australian Religion Studies Review, 21 (2). pp. 200-216. ISSN print - 1031-2943 online - 1744-1914

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In the Laws Plato provides the final outline of a political program of monumental importance to Western civilization. Arguably, no single work in the history of political philosophy has had such an influence on the form of Western civil society as 'The Republic'; but that work has seemed to strike readers of every subsequent generation as idealistic and utopian, portraying a society that could only be realized by gods, and not mortals. In the 'Laws', his last work, Plato presents a more achievable model for the organization of a just society, in a proposed Cretan city called Magnesia. However, in stark contrast to modern Western political practice, he places supreme emphasis upon the importance of a shared civil religion amongst the citizens of the state. The study of theology is to be upheld as the foremost duty for the members of the Nocturnal Council, the most important and powerful governing body within the Magnesian political order.
That religion is accorded a central place in the organization of Magnesian society, few would contest. However, the question of why this is so, of Plato's rationale for according religion such a crucial role in politcal life, remains disputed. In particular, controversy surrounds the question of how religion functions in relation to reason as a guiding principle for his political theory. It will be argued here that Plato regards religion as having an indispensable function in helping to maintain social and political harmony, by acting to encourage virtuous behaviour amongst the citizenry. His view of the necessity for communal spirituality provides a timely and powerful implicit critique of modern Western liberal secularism. However, his perspective also suffers from important defects, related fo his failure to understand the dynamics of successful religious movements. His view of religion is too philosophical, and the religion he proposes would probably not be viable. In this article, a revised version of Plato's theory concerning the role of religion in civil society (as represented in the dialogue of the Laws by 'the Athenian Stranger') will be developed, which attempts to do justice to the empirical phenomenology of enduring spiritual traditions, and the basis from which they derive their persuasive power. It will be argued that such a model constitutes an alternative to modern secularism that is worthy of consideration, and which may facilitate a more harmonious, open, and tolerant society.

Item Type: Published Articles
Repository Version: Metadata Only
Keywords: Plato, Laws, religion, religious, reason, secularism, secular, liberal, democracy, faith, politics, political, separation of church and state, thin conception of the good, civic, public, government
Fields of Research: 22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2203 Philosophy > 220315 Philosophy of Religion
22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220405 Religion and Society
Socio-Economic Objective: E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970122 Expanding Knowledge in Philosophy and Religious Studies
C Society > 95 Cultural Understanding > 9504 Religion and Ethics > 950404 Religion and Society
Type of Activity: Pure Basic Research
Subjects: A - Philosophy
C - Church History
College/Association with University of Divinity: University of Divinity Research Institute
Depositing User: Cate Headey
Date Deposited: 07 Sep 2009 09:35
Last Modified: 14 Feb 2011 15:38
URI: http://repository.divinity.edu.au/id/eprint/39

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