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The right to religious liberty and the tolerance of difference that this right engenders are central components of the American national identity. As a result, many in the United States are perplexed by current events in the Middle East. Rising sectarian violence and the imposition of Islamic law throughout the region have made it clear that the values associated with liberalism are not gaining traction in this part of the world. This dissertation uses the tools of comparative religious ethics to challenge two popular explanations of this phenomenon. The first contends that liberalism is not gaining traction because it is incompatible with certain "exceptional" features of Islamic history and theology. The second explains the phenomenon in terms of a general incompatibility between liberalism and all religions that seek a public role for religion. To challenge these theses, I compare the arguments of John Rawls, John Courtney Murray, and three contemporary Muslim reformers: Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, Khaled Abou El Fadl, and Abdulaziz Sachedina. In so doing, I show that it is possible to make religious arguments in support of liberal democracy and that Islamic struggles to do so are in no way exceptional.
Development of Doctrine, Moral Reform, Natural Law, Human Rights, Religious Pluralism, Public Reason, Limited Government, Popular Sovereignty, Religious Liberty, Comparative Religious Ethics
Date of Defense
July 7, 2009.
A Dissertation Submitted to the Department of Religion in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Florida State University
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