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Scholars in Conversation: Stanley Hauerwas & Emmanuel Katongole

One of the great merits of books that rise to the level of “classics” is their ability to generate conversation across time and space. Here at Notre Dame Press, we are proud to have published dozens of scholarly works that continue to inspire and stimulate readers, even decades after their initial publication.

In celebration of our 75th anniversary, we want to highlight one particularly fascinating example of this kind of scholarly exchange. In 1983, Stanley Hauerwas published The Peaceable Kingdom, a work well known for its attempt to illuminate the relationship between theology and ethics. Decades later, in his 2000 monograph Beyond Universal Reason, Emmanuel Katongole took up the task of providing a philosophical foundation for Hauerwas’s project.

Here, we give a snippet of the back-and-forth between these two towering scholars. We begin with an excerpt from the introduction to Hauerwas’s The Peaceable Kingdom, and then move on to an extract from Katongole’s response in his own introduction. To close, we turn to the foreword that Hauerwas wrote for Katongole’s book, highlighting his appreciation for the latter’s project.

Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom:

“The reader will find this work to be as much about theology as about ethics. One of its major concerns is to show why Christian ethics is a mode of theology. Indeed, to begin by asking what is the relation between theology and ethics is to have already made a mistake. Christian convictions are by nature meant to form and illumine lives. Since I hold that ethics is theology, in this book I sometimes treat issues, such as the authority of Scripture or the relation of reason and revelation, that are generally reserved for systematic or philosophical theology. I cannot pretend to provide an adequate account or analysis here of these, and other, complex issues, but I hope I say enough to show that such issues cannot be avoided if Christian ethics is at the heart of the theological enterprise” (xvii).

Emmanuel Katongole, Beyond Universal Reason:

“Over the last decade or so, Stanley Hauerwas has challenged the main foundations of modern ethical and political theory. Writing mostly from a theological background, he has note dhow the conception of moral reason operating in much of contemporary ethical reflection, as well as the dominant forms of political liberalism tend to obscure and distort ordinary moral experience and the conception of ourselves as historical and social agents. Although Hauerwas’s authorship has been both extensive in its scope and content, and has appealed to a wide audience, the reader may not always find it easy to understand some of his specific claims or the general direction of his work. This is partly due to the practical and occasional nature of his writings (mostly essays), which may not provide the much-needed interconnection with previous arguments or a systematic conceptual framework. This fact alone has been responsible for much of the misunderstanding, and even (in some cases) frustration with, Hauerwas’s otherwise provocative work.

This work itself is born out of such frustration, in relation to one specific claim by Hauerwas. In the Introduction to his 1983 The Peaceable Kingdom, Hauerwas claimed that to ‘start by asking what is the relation between ethics and religion is to have already made a mistake.’ When I began to read Hauerwas six years ago, this statement struck me as a highly contentious, and greatly unsubstantiated claim. For, not unlike many others (especially in the analytic tradition), I had taken the ‘problem’ out of the relation between religion and ethics as one of those “perennial” philosophical questions which has been, as Bartley puts it, ‘a matter of controversy amongst philosophers and theologians from the earliest times.’ Hauerwas’s attempt to dismiss the problem altogether, could not, therefore, but strike me as highly contentious. I was interested to take up this claim and investigate the basis and limits of its validity.

It soon emerged from my investigation that Hauerwas’s reason for dismissing the philosophical problem of the relation between religion and ethics was created by, and at home within, the dominant Kantian tradition of ethics, which Hauerwas was calling into question. In its quest for objectivity, the Kantian view of ethics (Hauerwas claimed) is characterized not only by a certain bias against particularity, but by an attempt to turn morality into an institution whose form and mode of justification did not depend on any particular and contingent social forms of life. Such a view of ethics not only becomes highly formal, it does not do justice to the experience we have of ourselves as contingent and particular moral agents. What was needed, and what Hauerwas himself was contributing to, was a more historical and socially embodied account of moral life and moral reason. Such an account would not only offer a more adequate characterization of our ordinary moral experience, it would not give rise to the traditional ‘problem’ of the relation between religion and ethics.

It therefore became clear that Hauerwas’s claim that ‘to begin by asking the relation between religion and ethics is to already have made a mistake’ makes sense only within the wider framework of his attempt to set aside the Kantian moral tradition. However, even beyond this specific conclusion, the investigation had led me to see that there was a need for developing a comprehensive theoretical framework for a better appreciation of Hauerwas’s work. Hauerwas himself does not develop this comprehensive theoretical framework, given, as we noted, the practical and occasional nature of his writing. However, such a framework would not only  make the various and disparate claims made by Hauerwas conceptually coherent, it would examine the various implications of, and at the same time deal with the key criticisms associated with, Hauerwas’s constructive revision of Kantian ethics” (ix–x).

Stanley Hauerwas’s “Foreword” to Beyond Universal Reason:

“Emmanuel Katongole is a philosopher, a Roman Catholic priest, and a Ugandan. He is also one of the most delightful people I have had the pleasure to meet (though that was only for a few days). Of course, one of the reasons I may find him so delightful is he has written this wonderful book on my work. Moreover, he has in many respects defended what I have tried to do better than I have ever been able to do. That he is able not only to understand as well as to defend what I have been about is not, I think, because he is such an agreeable person. Rather, I believe what he has done is this book has everything to do with his being a philosopher, a Roman Catholic priest, and a Ugandan….

That Emmanuel Katongole is a philosopher, a Roman Catholic priest, and a Ugandan would seem to make unlikely that he would befriend me. I am a philosophical amateur, I am for good and ill a Protestant layman, and I am an American. In short, it would seem that we should be strangers barely able to communicate. Yet this book stands as a testimony that such ‘differences’ can be the very resources needed for us to discover agreements in judgments—in short, to be friends. Anyone wishing to better understand “my work” can find no better place than this book and for that I am in his debt. But more important, I believe, is not what this book says about me but what Emmanuel and I both care most about—that is, the wonder of being made part of a community across time directed to the truthful worship of God. That Emmanuel Katongole exists and claims me as a friend is surely evidence that God is great indeed” (vii–viii).

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