• January 12, 2008



What is the proper relationship between religious and secular knowledge and authority? What tensions exist between religious traditions and communities, on the one hand, and the secular institutions of state, law, democracy, and markets, on the other? With the worldwide resurgence of religion in politics and society these questions have taken on greater urgency. They link back to old theoretical debates but also point to a central contemporary challenge: how to create and maintain open, democratic societies in a globalizing world marked by growing cultural and religious pluralism. The challenge is particularly acute for Catholic Christianity and for Islam, which have traditionally supported a prominent role for religion in public affairs.

Two leading contemporary thinkers, Jose Casanova and Abdolkarim Soroush, will explore this issues in a public conversation on Tuesday, January 15, at 4:00pm in Copley Formal Lounge on Georgetown University”s main campus. Both scholars have joined the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University: Casanova as a Senior Fellow and Professor of Sociology, and Soroush as a Fellow and Visiting Scholar. Berkley Center Director and Associate Professor of Government Tom Banchoff will moderate the conversation.

José Casanova joined Georgetown University as Professor of Sociology and Senior Fellow in the Center in January 2008. Casanova, a leading authority on religion and world affairs, has published widely on sociological theory, migration, and globalization. His critically acclaimed Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago, 1994) has been published in five languages. Casanova studied Philosophy in Saragossa, Spain, received an M.A. in Theology from the University of Innsbruck, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from the New School for Social Research. Casanova moved to Georgetown from the New School, where he served as Professor of Sociology from 1987-2007.

Abdolkarim Soroush, one of the world”s leading Muslim thinkers, is a visiting scholar within the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs during the spring 2008 semester. After a traditional Islamic education in his native Iran, Soroush studied Chemistry, History, and the Philosophy of Science in the United Kingdom. He returned to Iran after the fall of the Shah and published Knowledge and Value, the first of many books relating Islam to the challenges of democracy and modernity. In 1983, disillusioned with the course of the Iranian revolution, Soroush resigned from the Culture Revolution Council and moved to the Institute for Cultural Research and Studies, with which he remains affiliated. A prolific writer and speaker, Soroush is the author of more than 30 books. His articulate defense of rational thought and open debate and deliberation has earned him a wide following within the academy and across the Muslim world. Since 2000 Soroush has been a visiting scholar at a series of prestigious institutions, including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. In 2005 Time named him one of the world”s 100 most influential people. A good introduction to his work is: Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush (Oxford University Press, 2002).

Tom Banchoff is director of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, and Associate Professor in the Government Department and the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. Banchoff is editor of Democracy and the New Religious Pluralism (Oxford University Press, 2007), Religious Pluralism, Globalization, and World Politics (forthcoming, Oxford University Press), and Religion and the Global Politics of Human Rights, co-edited with Robert Wuthnow (forthcoming, Oxford University Press). He is currently working on a book on the religious and secular politics of stem cell and cloning research in Europe and the United States.