To Explore the Health of American Ethical Discourse and the Influence of American Religions on that Discourse by Focusing on the Work of John Courtney Murray, S.J.

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Wed, 05/01/1991
End Date: 
Wed, 06/30/1993

John Courtney Murray (1904-1967) labored to unite tradition and modernity in civil and religious life. He addressed most of the moral debates in the U.S. after World War II: post-war reconstruction, intercreedal cooperation in pluralist America, censorship, public aid to private education, constitutional law, the Cold War, and the nature of morality itself. This Lilly-funded study seeks to determine what resources within "the Murray project" are applicable today. The study has two parts. First, a representative body of Murray's most influential and enduring writings on religious freedom and public discourse was collected for publication. Second, two symposia were convened (at the University of Notre Dame and at Georgetown University in 1992) where a group of leading scholars from various disciplines assessed Murray's thought. Murray is best known for developing the modern Catholic doctrine of religious freedom. He believed that the received doctrine of church-state relations -- where official recognition of Catholicism as the state religion is viewed as the ideal arrangement -- ignored American conditions. More important, Murray argued that the Catholic tradition had resources supporting religious freedom. A free religious market was consistent with Catholicism's sense of responsibility for the public forum, and seemed to accord with the needs of modern, democratic societies. Murray particularly emphasized the role played by consensus (or public opinion) in civil society, because such consensus was, in his view, the moral center of civil society, and its authentic development required reasoned public argument.