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News Release

March 13, 2007

Prof Explores Family Values Controversy in New Book

As controversies around same-sex marriage and cultural/religious conflicts continue to dominate headlines, a University of Guelph professor examines the debates between traditionalists and progressivists over religion, family and culture in a new book.

“Consideration of this persistent and often fierce debate reveals much about the state of religion in Western democracies, religious uses of politics and images of religion in the media,” said philosophy professor Jay Newman. “It also gives us insight into the relations of religion and the family, varieties of religious commitment and strategies of religious and cultural competition.”

In his book, Pious Pro-Family Rhetoric, Newman argues that many religious conservatives are losing their ‘family values’ battle, particularly with regards to the same-sex marriage controversy. “Religious traditionalists rarely accept politicians’ views that this is simply a matter of human rights,” he said. “In the Western world, most religious conservatives look to the Bible for answers to contemporary social problems, but there is substantial disagreement, even within particular denominations, as to how it is to be interpreted.”

In the 21st Century, religion seems to many to be a reactionary force that promotes ideas that are no longer acceptable, including inferiority of women, subordination of children, and discrimination against minority groups, said Newman.

By looking at when the recent debates about religion and family values began, as well as examining the different types of conservative pro-family rhetoric, Newman helps put the debates into perspective. He also looks at whether a “culture war” over the family and other cultural institutions actually exists and explores the aims and motives of the people who enter into these disputes.

“Many of these issues pose weighty dilemmas, and I’m mindful of the indiscretion of taking too firm and simplistic a stand on them,” he said.

Newman’s book is not meant to give solutions to resolve debates surrounding family values, but instead aims to provide ideas and insights for people involved in influencing social policy. “I want to give people insights which will help them make more informed choices, rather than just argue on the basis of a lot of heat.”

A practical application of Newman’s philosophical understanding is that if traditionalist defenders of family values should not rush to view people with progressive ideas as enemies they’re at war with, he said. “Once the opposing groups think of their disagreement as a cultural competition instead of a culture war, then their discussions will be much more capable of allowing for constructive dialogue and compromises.”

Newman has been a Guelph professor for more than 30 years and is the author of 11 books. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and former president of the Canadian Theological Society.

Prof. Jay Newman
Department of Philosophy

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