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A Culture of EngagementA Culture of Engagement

Law, Religion, and Morality

Cathleen Kaveny

Narrated by Becky White

Available from Audible

Book published by Georgetown University Press

Religious traditions in the United States are characterized by ongoing tension between assimilation to the broader culture, as typified by mainline Protestant churches, and defiant rejection of cultural incursions, as witnessed by more sectarian movements such as Mormonism and Hassidism. However, legal theorist and Catholic theologian Cathleen Kaveny contends there is a third possibility—a culture of engagement—that accommodates and respects tradition. It also recognizes the need to interact with culture to remain relevant and to offer critiques of social, political, legal, and economic practices.

Kaveny suggests that rather than avoid the crisscross of the religious and secular spheres of life, we should use this conflict as an opportunity to come together and to encounter, challenge, contribute to, and correct one another. Focusing on five broad areas of interest—Law as a Teacher, Religious Liberty and Its Limits, Conversations about Culture, Conversations about Belief, and Cases and Controversies—Kaveny demonstrates how thoughtful and purposeful engagement can contribute to rich, constructive, and difficult discussions between moral and cultural traditions.

This provocative collection of Kaveny's articles from Commonweal magazine, substantially revised and updated from their initial publication, provides astonishing insight into a range of hot-button issues like abortion, assisted suicide, government-sponsored torture, contraception, the Ashley Treatment, capital punishment, and the role of religious faith in a pluralistic society. At turns masterful and inspirational, A Culture of Engagement is a welcome reminder of what can be gained when a diversity of experiences and beliefs is brought to bear on American public life.

Cathleen Kaveny is Darald and Juliet Libby Professor at Boston College, a position that includes appointments in both the department of theology and the law school. She holds a joint PhD/JD from Yale University and is the author of Law's Virtues: Fostering Autonomy and Solidarity in American Society. The author of many columns and articles for Newsweek, the Washington Post, Commonweal, and other publications, she appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in 2012.


“Kaveny's prose is clear and concise.... This collection of perceptive essays provides insight into how one theologian addresses the complex moral, legal, and political issues of a pluralistic society.”

Foreword Reviews

“Provocative collection.”

Reviewer's Bookwatch

“Those who have followed Kaveny's writing know she is not afraid to express an opinion—followed by the evidence to back it up. One may argue with her conclusions, but her writing is always thoughtful and thought provoking.”

Catholic Health Assembly

“The author makes her points succinctly and accessibly.... Both supporters and critics of religious liberty arguments will benefit from Kaveny's careful review of the law.”

U.S. Catholic Magazine

“Kaveny is a skillful teacher. Where something is well known, she moves swiftly from the familiar to a fresh insight about it. Where her readers might be less aware of something, she lingers longer in the setting or context of her texts.... Kaveny does not offer a thin guide to complex issues too often reduced to superficial slogans. She is a Sherpa who can take us to the top of the mountain.”


“Cathy Kaveny is, simultaneously, one of our country's most important religious intellectuals and one of our most rigorous legal scholars. She writes with great care and understanding, but also with passion and an uncommon humanity. A Culture of Engagement is a superb introduction to her thought. No matter where you stand, she will challenge you, and inspire you, too.”

—E. J. Dionne Jr., Senior Fellow, Brookings Institute

“This is a bold and brilliant engagement with the fundamental questions of faith, freedom, and family—crisply written, cogently argued, and constructively casuistic. Building on her earlier masterwork, Law's Virtues, Cathleen Kaveny now shows us even more clearly how the law can teach us how to live a life of virtue as communicants and citizens in a world of ever-growing complexity.”

—John Witte, Jr., Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law, McDonald Distinguished Professor, Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University

“Cathy Kaveny's A Culture of Engagement offers a highly instructive collection of her essays on law, religious liberty, American culture, Catholicism, and a host of contemporary social-ethical issues. Her voice is always calm, measured, and fair. Her thesis—that American Catholics should strive for a culture of engagement rather than merely openness or identity, resonates deeply. And it is consistently evidenced in her approach to a wide range of issues. This collection helps solidify Professor Kaveny's role as one of American Catholicism's leading public intellectuals.”

—David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics, Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life, Mercer University

“In this collection from her columns and blog posts for Commonweal magazine, Cathleen Kaveny draws on her mastery of both legal and moral thought to lead us beyond both the more liberal culture of openness and the more conservative culture of distinct religious identity toward a culture of discerning engagement. The precision of her language matches the precision of her judgment in one urgent chapter after another, and by the end of the book you will have had a master course on how general principles and particular situations mutually inform each other.”

—Leo J. O'Donovan, SJ, President Emeritus, Georgetown University

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University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks