Pragmatic Philosophy, Theology, and Practices: Pointing Directions for African-American Public Theology
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This dissertation argues for a public theology that incorporates both reason and revelation as regulative principles in shaping public policy. A segment of scholars interested in public debate, such as Richard Rorty, believe that theology has no legitimate place in the discourse. Yet, African-American theology has been prominent in American political thought, from W. E. B. Du Bois to Martin Luther King, Jr. to contemporary scholars such as Cornel West, Emilie Townes, and Victor Anderson. This research upholds the value of pragmatic philosophy and theology for public discourse, particularly as key African-American thinkers have developed its potential. The thesis is that the pragmatic tradition—its basic conceptuality and its commitment to social wellbeing—can effectively employ theological and secular ideas and resources to influence public policy. The method is analytic and comparative, beginning with an analysis of pragmatism as a method of inquiry in the classic works of Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey, and their particular understandings of the role of philosophy in public discourse. This sets the stage for an analysis of neopragmatists Richard Rorty, Jeffrey Stout, Cornel West and Victor Anderson’s treatments of religion and secularism in public discourse. Using West’s prophetic pragmatism concept and public theology as the framework, the dissertation explores the historical role of the Black Church tradition during the Civil Rights Era and the contributions of African-American religious women. The analysis continues with an examination of womanist thought as it challenges and enlarges upon West’s prophetic pragmatism. Experience informs womanist thought, which in turn fosters a sharp analysis of injustices and inequalities in human existence and cultivates actions for justice and equity. The dissertation concludes with a constructive argument for a public theology. Philosophy and theology are important contributors to public discourse, and pragmatism provides a way for both to be engaged in this socially transformative work of cultural analysis and problem solving. Pragmatic tendencies, such as joining theory and praxis and reconciling cultural and political differences in a democratic society, enliven public theology and increase its potential. Implications for further study include professional development of pragmatic theologians and philosophers engaged in public theology and expanded scholarship and study of African-American women in pragmatism and prophetic action.