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Harvey Cox and the Future of Faith

Harvey CoxI mentioned Harvey Cox, the Harvard theologian best-known for his 1960s book The Secular City, in my recent Guardian piece on “death of God” theology. Today, at The Immanent Frame, I have an interview with him about his recent retirement ceremony, the legacy of his early-career bestseller, and his latest work, The Future of Faith, which makes an earnest call for embracing the recent trend toward discourses of “spirituality” rather than “belief” or “faith.”

NS: Some have criticized these spiritual tendencies as overly individualistic and even anti-political—Robert Bellah’s Habits of the Heart, for instance. How does your Age of Spirit deal with what Bellah and his co-authors were concerned about: a retreat from the political and social sphere?

HC: I don’t think that spirituality is necessarily a retreat from social life. It can be. Of course, orthodox religiosity can be as well, and it is for a lot of people. I don’t think there’s much to be lost or gained there. The question now is how spirituality is going to be institutionalized to make it more socially and politically effective. It’s at a formative stage now, and you can see it developing. I have a section in the book on the Sant’Egidio community, which is one of my favorite examples. I was over there in Rome this summer visiting those people. It was fantastic. They are all laypeople; they have no priestly leadership, though they’re approved by the Catholic Church as a lay association. They meet for prayer, for Bible study, and to share a meal. Part of their discipline is making friends with poor and lonely people in Rome. Then they spread out all over the world and help to negotiate major conflicts. I think they’re a model, and they’re not the only one.

It’s a controversial claim, one that has been interesting me more and more lately.