The purpose of the ‘Redeeming Autonomy’ programme is to make a strategic intervention in the academic and cultural debate around the concept of ‘autonomy’. ‘Autonomy’ is, like it or not, a central concept in current cultural, political, legal, and ethical debates.

The concept evokes, for a more theological audience, connotations of self-creation, illusory self-control, unfettered freedom, and the oppression of aspects of the self, and of others. Influential theological critiques of ‘liberal’ conceptions of autonomy, from MacIntyre and Hauerwas, the Yale School, and Radical Orthodoxy, have all contributed to this theological atmosphere. In turn, secular advocates of ‘autonomy’ can be willing to accept this as the theological/religious attitude towards autonomy, and, on this basis, to consider their hostility to religion to be vindicated. The result is that this key concept is entirely ceded to secular philosophy and culture, and, in truth, to a particular (Kantian) strand of this culture.

In the face of this situation, theologians, and those open to religious practice, have a choice: to cede the ground, and to abandon, or reject, the concept of autonomy; or, to refuse to cede the ground, and to unsettle some assumptions about the concept, and about what is being protected and cherished when autonomy is defended. The ‘Redeeming Autonomy’ programme chooses the second option.

An inter-disciplinary team (including philosophers, theologians, social scientists, historians, anthropologists, policy-makers, political philosophers, lawyers, and literary scholars) will investigate the use and misuse of the concept of rational self-government, in contested, urgent, and concrete areas such as end-of-life legislation, disability, immigration, trauma, gender, and political sovereignty. The premise of the programme is that the notion of rational self-government does not belong exclusively within a Kantian and secular framework, but can be found in ancient and medieval sources, as well as in alternative modern frameworks, many of which are more receptive to, and shaped by, religious influences and commitments.

The project includes five chief investigators:

It also includes a distinguished team of international collaborators.

For more information about the project, please email Christopher Insole

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