The Imperative of Citizenship: Thoughts on Political Engagement in the Writings of Hannah Arendt

Marthaller, Jacob, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Mathewes, Charles, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Geddes, Jennifer, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

In this thesis, I endorse Hannah Arendt’s notion of political engagement, arguing that she provides crucial resources to ameliorate contemporary dysfunctions in American governance. However, while Arendt’s writings constructively call for a citizenry to engage in politics, certain aspects of her work remain vague and indeterminate, and she is particularly inattentive to how distinct interlocutors configure an act of public deliberation. Following an introductory chapter
explaining her relevance for modern civic life, I correct this aporia, beginning by probing her tenet of plurality through poststructuralist thought. In doing so, I affirm the notion of discursively formed social agents, simultaneously contending that an act of political engagement must acknowledge the multiplicity of identities informing it.

In chapter three, I put my exposition of Arendt in conversation with Jeffrey Stout and the recent work of Jürgen Habermas, using these thinkers to analyze the role of religion in public life. As the latter two authors are eager to establish, democratic politics are somehow lacking if individuals cannot draw from those beliefs and practices that play an integral role in shaping their lives, and I argue alongside them in asserting that religiously motivated rationale ought to have validity in the public sphere. Finally, I contend that religion can be valuable for political engagement, and I conclude by reexamining what Arendt’s thought offers contemporary readers.

MA (Master of Arts)
Political Engagement, Foucault, Hannah Arendt, Habermas, Stout, Butler, Totalitarianism, Mahmood
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