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What Role Should Religion Play In Public Life?

Though some may argue religion has no place in politics, Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, says that faith can have a powerful role to play.

“I think that religion in political life of our society can be a very healthy thing when it engages people in dialogue,” she said in an interview with Frank Stasio on The State of Things.

The statement was part of a larger conversation about religion and public life. It included Petty, and three professors who are taking part in a Religions and Public Life Initiative at the Kenan Institute for Ethicsat Duke University.

Jose Casanova, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, is one of the initiative’s speakers. He told Stasio that whether people like it or not, religion is going to mix with political ideas.

“In every conflict, in every political transformation, you had pastors and ministers on both sides of the barricades,” he said. “Even from the same denominations.”

Religion has long been a powerful motivator in battle, and that is no different in much of modern warfare. Even in the United States, according to Ebrahim Moosa, a professor of religion and Islamic studies at Duke.

“Oftentimes, you see our soldiers, for instance, going into the battlefield with certain kinds of religious war cries that they have emblazoned on their t-shirts,” he said.

But, Luke Bretherton, associate professor of theological ethics at Duke, said that religion still plays an irreplaceable role in human life, especially when it comes to things like birth, death, one’s place in a community and how to live a moral life.

“This is always, in a sense, part of what we might call religion in terms of how do we make sense of the world within a larger frame of reference.”

The conversation will continue when Jose Casanova speaks on the subject at Duke on February 19th.  


Alex Granados joined The State of Things in July 2010. He got his start in radio as an intern for the show in 2005 and loved it so much that after trying his hand as a government reporter, reader liaison, features, copy and editorial page editor at a small newspaper in Manassas, Virginia, he returned to WUNC. Born in Baltimore but raised in Morgantown, West Virginia, Alex moved to Raleigh in time to do third grade twice and adjust to public school after having spent years in the sheltered confines of a Christian elementary education. Alex received a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also has a minor in philosophy, which basically means that he used to think he was really smart but realized he wasn’t in time to switch majors. Fishing, reading science fiction, watching crazy movies, writing bad short stories, and shooting pool are some of his favorite things to do. Alex still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up, but he is holding out for astronaut.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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