The phrase 'religion and politics' conjures unsettling images of fiery-eyed zealots, in Protestant America or the Muslim Middle-East. Such religiously-inspired political activity is usually assumed to be a feature of societies where religion is prominent in national and cultural life. The presumed antidote, particularly from a European point of view, has been secularization: surely, if people in general cared less about religion, religious politics would fade from public life and its threatened disruptions would disappear. This view rests too much on historical specificities. Very secular societies can foster their own varieties of religious extremism, entering the public square in ways which are covert rather than overt, but no less unsettling for that. Very secular societies also pose searching questions for those wishing to develop theologically-based contributions to such societies' public debate. What legitimacy can a theologically-based contribution claim where Christianity commands no automatic attention? How should theologically-grounded voices pitch themselves in order to be heard, without succumbing to either (a) nostalgia for a time when Christian/Christendom assumptions could enter the public sphere uncontested or (b) covert hegemonic aspirations? Recent Australian politics provides a case study of both pitfalls and prospects.
- public theology