The last twenty years or so has seen the development of what has come to be called identity politics. This has led to the claim that a liberal society should recognise and protect various important aspects of identity including religious identity. This means that a liberal society and its laws and politics should seek to accommodate strong senses of identity whether these are ethnic, cultural, gender, sexual or religious. This moves liberalism in rather a communitarian direction. How does a liberal state identify, recognise and respect these various identities? What happens when they conflict as religious identities for example often conflict with sexual forms of identity as the debate about gay marriage shows.
Lord Plant has been Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Philosophy at King’s College London since 2002 and he has been a Member of the House of Lords since 1992.
Prior to his position at the Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College London, Lord Plant was Master of St. Catherine’s College Oxford from 1994 to 2000, and Professor of European Political Thought at the University of Southampton prior to that.
His academic interests focus on political, social and legal philosophy. He is probably best known for his work on conceptual issues to do with welfare, particularly ideas such as needs, rights, obligations and community, as well as his work on Hegel as a political, social and legal philosopher. He has published and lectured widely on the role of religion in the context of a modern state, society and economy. Recent positions and lectures delivered in this area include: Stanton Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion at the University of Cambridge, the Sarum Lectures and the Bampton Lectures in Theology at the University of Oxford, the Fergusson Lectures in Theology at the University of Manchester and the Scott Holland Lectures at Manchester Cathedral. He recently gave three lectures on theology and the public sphere at Westminster Abbey. He is an Honorary Professor in Religious Studies at the University of Winchester and Visiting Professor of Legal Philosophy in the Law School at Tallinn in Estonia.
At the House of Lords he was a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and has been a member of the Law and Institutions Committee of the Committee on the European Communities. He is currently on the Delegated Legislation Scrutiny Committee. He has held the positions of Opposition Spokesperson for Home Affairs (between 1992 and 1996) and the Chair of the Labour Party Commission on Electoral Systems (between 1991 and 1993). He has been President for five years of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and for a period was Chair of Centrepoint the London charity for homeless young people. He wrote a fortnightly column for The Times from 1988 and has written regularly for the Diario Economica in Lisbon.
As Gresham Professor of Divinity, Lord Plant will speak about Religion and Values in a Liberal State. His first year of lectures will focus on some of the central ideas and principles that make up a liberal democratic society and its associated market economy, looking in detail at what a theological understanding can bring to these ideas and principles. Freedom, justice, rights, community, civic virtue, property and charity – all of these are vitally important ideas and values in understanding modern society and there is a rich tradition of thought, including theological thought, about what they mean and how these meanings should be reflected in institutions. Thinking further on these values will lead to a better understanding of how we are to understand claims about social justice and injustice, poverty and freedom, community and individuality, and rights and obligations in the context of a liberal capitalist society.
In the second year of lectures, Lord Plant will offer a defence of the role of religious voices and claims in the public realm. In the third year of lectures he will investigate the set of issues to do with reason, truth and knowledge in religion and science, in the hope of answering the allegation that religious beliefs fail to meet the standards of secular reason required for the allegedly neutral public realm.