Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy




Richard Vernon

2nd Supervisor

Dennis Klimchuk



This thesis is comprised of three articles, all of which seek to answer the question of how religious reasons for political action are excluded in the public sphere. They answer this question in three ways, corresponding to what I take to be three forms of exclusion: a political kind, an epistemic kind, and a testimonial kind. Supporters of ‘the standard view’ of political liberalism have traditionally argued that these are acceptable and justified forms of exclusion. I argue, in contrast to these views, that such forms of exclusion are unfair. More positively, I suggest that religious reasons for political action ought to be included politically, epistemically, and testimonially, in a way that is consistent with the project of political liberalism. In the first article, I argue for this conclusion by reinterpreting John Rawls’s view on the role of religious reasons in public. I argue that while Rawls does exclude religious reasons in one way—in his claim that they lack justificatory power in a distinctly political sense—he includes them in another. On my reading, Rawls saw the expression of such reasons as fundamental to citizens in their capacity to know themselves, and one another, and in this way, they can encourage community and civic friendship. In the second article, I engage with a debate that arises post-Rawls, concerning the accessibility, or lack thereof, of religious reasons. In that debate, I argue, contra the standard view, that religious reasons are epistemically accessible. However, unlike current accounts, I argue that in order for citizens to understand and ultimately include the religious claims of their fellow citizens, it is not enough for those claims to be grounded in various sources of justification. Citizens must also understand the emotional thrust of such claims, and the messages they are embedded in more broadly. Finally, in the last article of my thesis, I argue that we exclude religious citizens as ‘knowers’ of their own religious testimony when we treat them with epistemic injustice. To better include them, I suggest that we treat such testimonies with epistemic justice, particularly the testimonies of those who face multiple axes of oppression.

Summary for Lay Audience

Are religious citizens excluded, in some way, in secular environments? That is, are they excluded in those environments which exist outside of their churches and other religious spaces, such as the political sphere, because of their distinctly non-secular beliefs and practices? If they are, how exactly should we make sense of that exclusion? And is this exclusion wrong? These are some of the questions that I raise and answer in this thesis. Imagine, for instance, that I believe my government ought to have certain policies and laws that protect the environment, and combat climate change, because I believe that God calls us to be stewards of the earth. The earth, I think, does not fully belong to us, and we should treat it as such. I then go and vote on the basis of this religious reasoning, since I take it to be an expression of the deepest commitment in my life— my faith. We should wonder: am I wrong to vote on these grounds? If I then explained my reasoning, about us being stewards of the earth, to another citizen, particularly one of a different faith or of no faith, would that citizen even understand me? And if they were unwilling to listen to me, or they treated me with prejudice because of my religious identity (and perhaps other aspects of my identity), might they be harming me in some way? In answering these questions, I ultimately argue that a religious reason for political action like this, the one about stewardship, but also others, ought to be included in our public deliberations in a distinctly political sense (a public sense), an epistemic sense (concerning justification), and a testimonial sense (concerning knowledge and the communication of that knowledge).

Available for download on Monday, July 01, 2024