Moral Imagination

Our divisions over issues of religion and public life are a result of a failure of imagination––our lack of the moral Imagination. The moral imagination is the ability to picture yourself in the middle of a moral dilemma and see everyone’s point of view. You model for others how to understand one another, aware that understanding need not imply agreement. It’s a civic virtue you embody when you have empathy for someone with whom you disagree. By applying the moral imagination, you help disrupt the scripts that magnify our divisions.

ReligionAndPublicLife.org is designed to disrupt our personal and collective narratives—not with the intention of seeking to, on the one hand, ignoring certain views, or on the other hand, requiring agreement or consensus. Our mission is clear: to cultivate mutual understanding, which, as said previously, need not imply agreement.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, our character.”  

At ReligionAndPublicLife.org, we will examine how the ethical issues of our time can determine our lives and our society's character. In order to be effective in how we approach these controversial issues, we must pay special attention to that which dominates our imaginations. 

Far too often “debate” is seen as a winner-takes-all strategy, where we primarily spend our energies imagining how to eliminate our opponent. Consequently, we can slam shut our ears to the insights and wisdom of those with whom we were taught to disagree. This can result in reinforcing our own unexamined assumptions, misperceptions, and prejudices.

One of the most proven techniques for cultivating an empathic understanding of another is to practice the moral imagination, which the University of Kansas School of Medicine defines as “the ability to anticipate or project oneself into the middle of a moral dilemma and understand all the points of view.”

Reference: Nathan C. Walker, "Moral Imagination," Philadelphia: 1791 Delegates, 2021.