Nationalism, Religion, and Ethics


165 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2278-6
DDC 172




Reviewed by Jay Newman

Jay Newman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. He
is the author of Biblical Religion and Family Values: A Problem in the
Philosophy of Culture and Competition in Religious Life, Religion vs.
Television: Competitors in Cultural Contex


Religious studies scholar Gregory Baum, a professor emeritus at McGill,
has received considerable attention over the years for his often
controversial ideas on why and how Christians should address various
concrete conditions of social injustice. Though many still regard him
mainly as a marginalized voice in the Roman Catholic Church, he has in
recent years devoted notable effort to scholarly writing on the history
of ideas. This slim monograph focuses on the sometimes arduous efforts
of four religious thinkers—Martin Buber, Mahatma Gandhi, Paul Tillich,
and Quebec nationalist Jacques Grand’Maison—to reconcile their
nationalist aspirations with universalistic and other convictions
arising from their religious faith. Following these four studies, Baum
briefly engages with the thinkers by outlining a number of complex,
unresolved problems that arise with respect to their efforts to deal
with problems such as the sinister side of nationalism, the idea of a
nation, and historical interpretation. Baum also offers personal
observations on Quebec nationalism (and the response to it by
English-speaking Canadians), economic globalization, and the historical
paucity of Roman Catholic social teaching on nationalism.

Baum focuses on four thinkers with whom he greatly empathizes—unlike,
say, Lionel Groulx or George Grant—and his approach to their musings
is more biographical, psychological, historical, and sociological than
philosophical and theological. He believes that he shares with the
four—and also with the Catholic bishops of Quebec—a fundamental
ethic of nationalism. Baum’s portraits are absorbing and occasionally
poignant but limited by their brevity, the bounds of his project, and
his somewhat rigid perspective. His more general reflections will be
appreciatively received by those who share his socio-political
orientation (largely social-democratic and socialist) and his broadly
liberal religious views; but those whose core assumptions differ from
Baum’s will not find much in this work to persuade them to change
their minds. Baum has little patience here for argument and curiously
little interest in the underlying philosophical and theological issues
concerning cultural competition. Still, this earnest little work
effectively elicits reflection on the existential difficulty of fully
reconciling religious and nationalistic commitments.


Baum, Gregory., “Nationalism, Religion, and Ethics,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,