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How Can a Church Be a Public? A Deweyan Analysis

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Aaron Pratt
University of Oregon
United States

In spite of the work of prominent figures in the resurgence pragmatism’s orientation towards religious questions, the reinvigoration of this tradition has thus far failed to expand pragmatist analysis to religious institutions. This is partly because the tradition’s roots are in a philosophy of religious experience, and its classical figures often stood against what they saw as an overly dogmatic and ideological institution. This bias, however, should not limit philosophical inquiry in the present. Pragmatists can and should utilize the tools they have inherited for a structural analysis of Christian churches. This essay is an attempt to do just that by describing Christian churches utilizing Dewey’s notion of a “public” found in The Public and its Problems. I shall argue that churches embody the practices of responding to social problems, collective inquiry and articulation, and self-recognition and regulation as an organized public made up of discreet agents.


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