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Why Rousseau was Wrong: Christianity and the Secular Soul

The Very Reverend Dr Frances Ward, Dean of St Edmundsbury, Bury St Edmunds

Date/Time: 21st February 2013

In this lecture, Dr Ward outlined how contemporary society has become increasingly individualistic, as the 2009 Joseph Rowntree Foundation report Contemporary Social Evils claims. Society is also dominated by an instrumental or utilitarian mindset, and can think too much of people as having ‘identities’ – each of these three aspects of our current thinking – individualism, instrumental rationality and ‘identity-speak’ – diminishes what it means to be a human being. Dr Ward argued that religion, and particularly the Christian religion, can help humanity to flourish. The practice of religion can help us to think of ourselves as ‘corporate’ or social beings, rather than as individuals; as able to do things for their own sake rather than for utilitarian or functional reasons; and as having a character that can grow in virtue, rather than a shallow ‘identity’. In short, Christianity has a political, aesthetic and moral influence to the good on society. The lecture traced some of the more negative aspects of life today to Enlightenment thinkers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and argues for different traditions of thinking that enhance what it means to be a human being in today’s world.