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LMU Professor Delves Into Politics of Mercy

Is there room for mercy at the point where religion, philosophy and politics meet?

That provocative question is at the heart of a project by John Parrish, associate professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, and Alex Tuckness, associate professor of political science at Iowa State University. Their collaboration, funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation and administered by the University of Chicago’s “A New Science of Virtues” initiative, will become a book tentatively titled “The Death of Mercy.” Their goal is a history of the concept of mercy in public life.

“The idea for the book was suggested by Alex,” said Parrish, who joined the LMU faculty in 2006. “But there’s also a root in my experiences as a newspaper reporter in college. I kept finding myself in situations where there was a strong public interest in revealing facts that might also prove embarrassing to the subjects of the story I was writing. I found myself conflicted between a sense of responsibility to report the news on the one hand, and a desire to show mercy to the subjects, on the other.”

Parrish said that the project will examine how mercy and compassion have been applied in different faith traditions to clemency, sentencing and punishment. He said that in the modern West, justice and mercy have been often seen as incompatible and the project will delve into the historical and political circumstances that created that dichotomy.

Though the book project will focus on mercy as it has been viewed over time, Parrish also is interested in the impact of mercy on contemporary issues. He has co-taught a course on that subject with Jonathan Rothchild, an assistant professor in LMU’s Theological Studies Department.

“Our students worked on such current issues as life sentences for juveniles, immigration amnesty, slavery reparations, and truth and reconciliation commissions,” Parrish said. “Both the class and the book project aim to show that ideas have consequences, and that if we want to make room for merciful practices in public life, we have to study the ideas we take for granted to see what makes mercy problematic in contemporary society.” 

Posted on July 19, 2010