What happened at Faith Forward?

Dr. Jean Bethke Elshtain sits between TWU Religion, Culture and Conflict Research Group members Dr. Paul Rowe and Dr. John Dyck.


Last week, The Religion, Culture and Conflict Research Group at Trinity Western University hosted its third annual Faith Forward Symposium. The 2009 symposium, titled “Religion, Secularism and Politics,” featured world renowned political scientist and ethicist Dr. Jean Bethke Elshtain, who is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago, and the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Chair in the Foundations of Freedom at Georgetown University.

Elshtain has authored numerous academic books and articles, most notably her work Sovereignty: God, State and Self which is based on the prestigious Gifford Lecture she delivered in Edinburgh, 2006. Political and International Studies Professor Dr. Paul Rowe, who is a member of the Research Group at TWU who organized the conference, explains that Elshtain was invited to speak because of her example of “dealing with difficult moral and ethical choices, her respect for democracy, and her insistence to stand by the values which make us human.”  

Tackling the controversial topic of the limits of human freedom, Elshtain discussed at the symposium the concept of the “self” as completely independent. She opened the symposium by addressing the “Myth of the Sovereign Self,” explaining how the ideal of complete freedom encourages more than political freedom; it includes freedom from physical limitations such as disease and aging. While she affirmed that both aspects of freedom are important to pursue, Elshtain highlighted the potential dangers to uncontrolled freedom: absolute sovereignty, whether in a political state or in an individual, “aspires to control and assumes no one else has a claim to power.” This dark side of sovereignty appeared in the dehumanizing treatment of the Jewish people, and the disabled, and the elderly during the Holocaust. Elshtain explained how science was used to dominate and control nature to the detriment of human dignity.

Elshtein’s lectures were well received by Trinity Western students, faculty and community members. “She spoke with breadth, using eclectic examples from history and literature which gives us multiple ways to access her ideas.” Rowe comments. “It is great to see how people can plug into the levels on which she speaks.”  

Professor of Political Studies Dr. John Dyck, who helped organize the Symposium with Rowe, was likewise impressed by the dialogue promoted by this year’s symposium. “Elshtain approached the topic in a spirit which both students and faculty could relate to and projected the future play of her ideas in society.  

Dr. Jean Bethke Elshtain was also interviewed by Randall Mark for the television program P3: People Places Perspectives that airs on Joytv 10.

Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C., is a provincially chartered, independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university, enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers 42 undergraduate majors, ranging from biotechnology, education, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 16 graduate degree programs include nursing, counseling psychology, business, theology, linguistics, and leadership, and interdisciplinary degrees in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Dead Sea Scroll Studies, Developmental Genetics and Disease, and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.

Last Updated: 2009-10-01
Author: Elisabeth Fallon