Thomas Heilke on Religion’s Engagement with the Secular

Date(s) - March 1, 2016
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

Woodward (IRC) Building, Room 6

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 Thomas Heilke

Professor of Political Science and Associate Dean of the College of Graduate Studies, UBCO

Religion’s Engagement with the Secular


In his marvelous analysis of the roots of secular reason, John Milbank points out that the secular was, once upon a time, not a realm of existence, but a time, namely the “interval between fall and eschaton where coercive justice, private property and impaired natural reason” were understood as means of coping with “the unredeemed effects of sinful humanity.” That interval of “saeculum” in the Christian conception of history developed out of and alongside Christian theology itself into “the secular,” now understood by many scholars, intellectuals, and political practitioners to be a realm of existence in which “religion” has no meaningful place. The historical analyses of a host of scholars, however, have demonstrated an intimate relationship between Christianity (and especially Protestant theology) and the development of secular modernity. Thus, when we consider how Christian faith interfaces with the secular, or when we ask ourselves about the meaning of the Christian life in the context of secularism, secularity, or the secular, we would do well to recall first of all how the secular arose out of the Christian faith itself, and how, in the modern period, the two have often achieved a remarkable symbiosis that most Christians have not well understood. If Christians wish to engage in constructive ways with “the secular,” they must first understand (1) its origins in certain thought-ways of Christianity itself and (2) the fact that they (Christians) quite naturally and often unconsciously affirm many of the achievements of secularization. Only then is a coherent, non-ideological Christian engagement with secularity possible, including the possibility that Christians and secularists have a number of non-trivial common interests that are expressed, for example, by closely related vocabularies (and sensibilities) regarding religious and other civil liberties, the role of religious language in public life, and the bases of political legitimacy. Only then are meaningful, non-ideological, and intellectually coherent differentiations between the so-called Christian and secular “world-views” possible.


Thomas Heilke received his Ph.D. from Duke University in 1990. After 23 years as a faculty member and a variety of administrative positions at the University of Kansas, he has been Professor of Political Science and Associate Dean of the College of Graduate Studies UBC Okanagan since January, 2014. He is the recipient of three teaching awards, and has written on a variety of topics in political philosophy, including civic friendship, political theology, the political thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, Eric Voegelin, John Howard Yoder, and Thucydides, and Anabaptist political thought. He has authored or co- authored four books and edited or co-edited six further volumes. His work has appeared in journals that include American Political Science Review, Political Theory, Polity, The Review of Politics, and Modern Theology. Among his published books are Voegelin on the Idea of Race: An Analysis of Modern European Racism (1990); Nietzsche’s Tragic Regime: Culture, Aesthetics, and Political Education (1998); Eric Voegelin: In Quest of Reality (1999). He co-edited with Ashley Woodwiss The Re-Enchantment of Political Science: Christian Scholars Engage Their Discipline, (2001). He belongs to the American Political Science Association and the Phi Beta Delta Honor Society for International Scholars.

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