I recently spoke to the Graduate Theological Society at the University of Oxford about the moral foundations of religious institutionalism (or church autonomy doctrine) in the United States. James Hooks, a DPhil student, led the discussion. We spoke around the following theses:
- A predominate view of religious institutionalism tends to reduce the value of houses of worship, viewing them as means to advance self-identity formation, not the virtue of religion itself
- The individual rights view of religious institutionalism is often adopted by houses of worship themselves, arguably to their detriment
- Religious institutionalism should be recast to incorporate religious insights about the human person (as more than a rationalist, contracting individual) and the moral purposes of politics (as promoting virtue and safeguarding localised decision-making)
The talk was not recorded, but I aim to publish an academic article on religious institutionalism in the near future. Watch this space!
On a final note, the event took place in a wonderful university space. From the venue’s website: ‘The beautiful Clore Library was originally built in 1320. Thanks to the generosity of Thomas Cobham, who was the Bishop of Worcester from 1317 to 1327, the library was constructed to house the first University Library. It is also the room in which the charity OXFAM (the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief) met for the first time in 1942.’
A fitting location to speak about church autonomy and of the importance of associational life for human flourishing.
Many thanks to the Graduate Theological Society, and especially to James Hooks, for the kind invitation. Be sure to sign up for the remaining GTS talks of this term, with Professors Sarah Mortimer, N.T. Wright, and Gavin Flood.