A Call for Reckoning: Religion and the Death Penalty
University of Chicago Divinity School
At a time of heightened controversy surrounding the death penalty, most discourse relies upon the political, philosophical, and legal dimensions of the practice, and its racial and social implications. Quite often in this debate, religious traditions and theological perspectives are not fully explored beyond an occasional reference to “an eye for an eye” or calls for mercy and forgiveness. Religious voices, however, provide unique standpoints and important reflective dimensions that illuminate these political and other accounts of capital punishment.
This conference brought together scholars of various faiths and religious backgrounds from the fields of politics, religion, and law to take up a broad range of views on the death penalty. Special attention was given to the following guiding questions:
- What resources does religion-including religious beliefs, traditions, and institutions-provide in shaping current views about the death penalty?
- In what ways do faith traditions and theological ideas shape how justice is conceived of and meted out? How do positions both for and against the death penalty draw upon various theological understandings of justice? Are these political and religious accounts of justice ultimately reconcilable?
- What role ought religious beliefs play in a pluralistic democratic society that often presumes strict boundaries between matters of private faith and political life? How might citizens, jurors, neighbors and people of faith draw upon religious ideas in carrying out their civic responsibilities?
With a discussion of these questions in hand, this symposium grappled with the relationship between religion and public life as it pertains to what is often called the “ultimate punishment.”
The following transcripts of the conference sessions have been edited for clarity:
- Session One: Faith Traditions and the Death Penalty
Speakers: Avery Cardinal Dulles, David Novak, Gilbert Meilaender, and Khaled Abou El Fadl. Chair: Jean Bethke Elshtain
- Special Lunch Address: The Death Penalty: What’s All the Debate About?
Speaker: Frank Keating. Moderators: Jean Bethke Elshtain and E.J. Dionne.
- Session Two: Religion, Justice and the Death Penalty
Speakers: Victor Anderson, J. Budziszewski, Richard Garnett. Chair: Jean Bethke Elshtain.
- Session Three: Religion, Politics, and the Death Penalty
Speakers: Antonin Scalia, Paul Simon, Beth Wilkinson. Chair: E.J. Dionne.
- Related Event: An Address on the Death Penalty
by Illinois Governor George Ryan. Delivered at the University of Chicago Divinity School, June 3, 2002.
Transcripts, speaker bios and other conference resources are available on the conference homepage.