2019 David and Elaine Spitz Prize Winner
CSPT is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2019 Prize is Cécile Laborde, Nuffield Professor of Political Theory at the University of Oxford, for her book Liberalism's Religion (Harvard University Press, 2017).
The following is the Prize Committee’s commendation for the book:
Liberalism’s Religion, by Cécile Laborde, should transform the discussion of religion in the liberal state. It is an acute, clear, and carefully constructed book about a freighted topic. Especially noteworthy is Laborde’s fair-minded attention to the views she opposes, which allows her to open up and vivify the conversation about the merits of philosophical liberalism rather than defending a narrow version via technical distinctions.
Laborde takes seriously a range of criticisms of standard liberal understandings of religion, highlighting three: that the category of religion lacks the conceptual coherence required for special treatment; that the formation of liberalism within the modern West led to the privileging of elements of religion that are Protestant rather than universal; and that in regulating religion, the liberal state acts as a religious authority or simply promotes its own secular purposes. She shows how liberalism can respond to the critiques by “critical religion theorists,” but works to understand their force and insists that they require rethinking the liberal paradigm. Not least, she questions liberal doctrines of the separation of religion and state, and argues that the state can promote certain religious commitments in a way compatible with liberalism, including liberalism’s commitment to democratic state sovereignty. Yet she ultimately proposes that religious claims are best accommodated by moving away from the category of religion itself, and toward the protection of people’s integrity.
In disaggregating the normative elements that we are trying to protect when defending religious freedom and when requiring state neutrality, Laborde rises above entrenched oppositions and monolithic conceptions and critiques. Liberalism’s Religion is an important intellectual achievement.
2019 Prize Committee:
Kinch Hoekstra (Chair)
See past Spitz Prize winners here.