Research

Michael’s research is animated by wide-ranging interests in political theory, ethics, and religion. As a political theorist with experience in practical politics, he is especially interested in excavating insights from ancient and modern thinkers to inform contemporary democratic theory and practice.

Current Book Project: A Commonwealth of Hope: Reimagining Augustine’s Political Thought

Augustine of Hippo is one of the most influential thinkers in the history of political thought but one of the most contested in contemporary political theory. Many contemporary critics target Augustine’s pessimism, arguing that his fixation on sin and longing for the heavenly city deny the value of this-worldly politics. Rather than challenging this pessimism, many defenders parlay it for their own purposes, recruiting Augustine to chasten political optimism or encourage religious citizens to withdraw from the public square. A Commonwealth of Hope challenges this scholarly consensus by exposing the assumptions that underwrite it. Situating Augustine within his political, rhetorical, and historical contexts and integrating insights from political theory, philosophy, history, and religious studies, this interdisciplinary study offers the first extended analysis of Augustine’s concept of hope. In particular, the study draws on neglected treatises, sermons, and letters to retrieve Augustine’s virtue of hope as a way between vices of presumption and despair, troubling the common dichotomy between optimism and pessimism and highlighting the particular practices needed to cultivate the virtue. By advancing an innovative interpretation of the City of God and attending to Augustine’s implicit political and rhetorical practices, the book also uncovers resources for reconstructing hope as a distinctly civic virtue, enlisting Augustine to show how diverse citizens – both religious and secular – can share common objects of hope, even as they cast their ultimate hopes on different horizons. By illuminating this understudied virtue and engaging critics on their own terms, A Commonwealth of Hope advances a novel vision of Augustine’s political thought while illuminating resources that can inform democratic theory and practice.

Publications

Augustine and Republican Liberty: Contextualizing Coercion,” Augustinian Studies, 48: 1/2 (2017), 119-159. 

Ethics for Climate Change Communicators,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science (Oxford University Press, 2017).

“Aristotle on the Ethics of Communicating Climate Change” (with Melissa Lane), in Climate Justice in a Non-Ideal World, eds. Clare Heyward and Dominic Roser  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 229-254.

Aquinas and the Virtues of Hope: Theological and Democratic,” Focus on Aquinas and the Democratic Virtues, Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 44, No. 2 (June 2016), 300-332.

“A Passion and Its Virtue: Aquinas on Hope and Magnanimity,” in Hope, eds., Ingolf U. Dalferth and Marlene A. Block (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck,  2016), 67-88.

Research in Progress

A Commonwealth of Hope: Reimagining Augustine’s Political Thought (manuscript in progress and invited for full review)

Everyday Ethics: Moral Theology Meets Anthropology and the Social Sciences (co-edited volume with Brian Williams, under review)

“Beyond Pessimism: A Structure of Encouragement in Augustine’s City of God” (under review)

“Between Presumption and Despair: Augustine’s Hope for the Commonwealth” (under review)

“How Is Virtue Cultivated?: A Practical Program for Postgraduate Moral Development” (with Jonathan Brant)

“Cultivating Virtues in Postgraduates: A Case Study of the Oxford Character Project” (with Jonathan Brant)

“Character Education for Social Action: Conceptualizing and Cultivating a Habit of Social Action” (with Cameron Silverglate and Emma Taylor-Collins)

Augustine and Republican Liberty (manuscript in progress)

Democratic Hope (manuscript in progress)


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