As the 2012 election season draws ever closer, Scott McLemee considers the essays collected in The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere (ed. Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen):

While waiting for the Rapture over the weekend, I started to read The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, a collection of papers and discussions from an event held at the Cooper Union in New York City a couple of years ago, published by Columbia University Press.

It wasn’t the impending apocalypse that inspired me to pick it up – or even the list of names on the cover, which included such worthies as Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West – so much as a growing awareness that we are on the cusp of another presidential campaign cycle. The election is still more than 17 months away. But as with any major holiday, the merchants start getting their wares out a little earlier each time. The power of religion in the public sphere always becomes especially clear during the campaign season.

In American politics, the presidential candidates’ spiritual commitments are as fair game for scrutiny as their policies. (Trump’s abandoned bid was always doomed, given the clear impossibility of believing that he recognized a power higher than himself.) But arguments over the degree of religious influence on the political process always flare up as well. The debate is never resolved; it can’t be.

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