This article puts forth a hypothesis about the theological origins of liberalism and secularism that offers an alternative to standard accounts of the intellectual origins/theological foundations of liberalism and of political theology which see the two as separate and mutually exclusive. On my hypothesis, the emergency theory of the state associated with political theology and the liberal theory of the state are (or were at their point of origin) the same thing. The hypothesis is that the theory that the state must be secular (and must be founded on principles of due process and religious pluralism, which come to be associated with liberalism) derives from a particular tradition of thought which itself derives from the theological doctrine of divine accommodation, versions of which are found in both Christian and Jewish sources. Building on the work of Amos Funkenstein and others who have shown how modern scientific thought derives from this “secularist theology,” I propose that modern political and legal thought does, too. More specifically, I aim to show how the liberal theory of the state derived from theological propositions about the divinely authorized need to suspend divine law and replace it with human legal institutions that accommodate to human needs and imperfections, including the limitations of the human mind. I thereby propose an answer to the mystery of how Christianity became, in Samuel Moyn’s words, “terrestrialized,” that is, how it “birthed liberalism” and secularism, which locates that birthplace in the doctrine of divine accommodation and the theological tradition of accomodationist thought.
Jurisprudence | Law | Law and Philosophy | Law and Politics | Religion Law
Date of this Version
Nomi Stolzenberg, "From Eternity to Here: In Search of the Origins of Secularism" (September 2017). University of Southern California Legal Studies Working Paper Series. Working Paper 252.