Matthew Scherer is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. He directs the undergraduate program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, and teaches courses in ancient, modern, and contemporary political theory, as well as constitutional law. He has held appointments as a Research Fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs; as a Patrick Henry Postdoctoral Fellow for the study of early American politics in the departments of History and Political Science at the Johns Hopkins University; and as an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. He received his PhD in Political Science from the Johns Hopkins University, and his BA with majors in Physics and Political Science from Williams College.

Professor Scherer maintains research interests in modern and contemporary political theory; religion and politics; critical theory; secularism; rhetorical and literary theory; early American politics and political thought; constitutionalism; and theories of empire, globalization, and political economy. His research focuses on the intersection of religion and politics with emphases on the politics of modern secularism, and on political theologies. His first book, Beyond Church and State: Democracy, Secularism, and Conversion (Cambridge, 2013), challenges common understandings of secularism as the separation of church and state, and articulates a new theory of secularism as the constant transformation of religious and political life — a process akin to religious conversion. In figuring secularism as a process of conversion, Beyond Church and State suggests new approaches to the deep entanglement of religion and politics in contemporary public life.

Professor Scherer's current research follows two main tracks: one examines the emergence of American secularism in colonial and revolutionary periods, and the other focuses on the global production of “secularism” and “religion” in political modernity. The working title of his current book-length project is Modern Exceptions.

Slightly dated academic CV available here in PDF.

Beyond Church and State: Democary, Secularism, and Conversion

Secularism is often imagined in Thomas Jefferson's words as "a wall of separation between Church and State." Beyond Church and State moves past that standard picture to argue that secularism is a process that reshapes both religion and politics. Borrowing a term from religious traditions, the book goes further to argue that this process should be understood as a process of conversion. Matthew Scherer studies Saint Augustine, John Locke, John Rawls, Henri Bergson, and Stanley Cavell to present a more accurate picture of what secularism is, what it does, and how it can be reimagined to be more conducive to genuine democracy. Read more at Cambridge University Press.

PPE Capstone

The concentration in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics is designed to help students respond critically and insightfully to many ofthe most important and complex problems that mark the contemporary global condition. This capstone seminar begins by revisiting some of the fundamental arguments that shape contemporary approaches to the study of political economy. Beginning with Smith, Marx, Polanyi, Foucault, and Hirschman, we will inquire into the formation of modern capitalism, and the convergence of economics and governance. We will then turn to contemporary studies by Brown, MacLean, Buchanan, Honig, Klein and others to examine contemporary questions about ‘neo-liberalism’, ‘public choice’ theory, and the nexus of democracy and capitalism to probe the limitations of contemporary political economy.

Ancient Political Thought

This is a course in ancient political thought from its mythic foundations to the early Roman Empire. While we will be covering a great range of material in rough chronological order, this is not a survey course. Our focus will be on a set of critical concepts including tradition, authority, law, divinity, kings, and republics. This course seeks to probe rich traditions of classical political thought and to familiarize students with a range of concepts, perspectives, and arguments that continue to inform contemporary political practice and theory.

Democracy in Theory and Practice

This course is an introduction to the study of politics, political science, and political theory that focuses on a definitive characteristic of modern political life: democracy. The idea of democracy is ubiquitous, but as we will quickly see, the meaning of democracy is deeply contested. People talk about democracy everywhere these days, but they often either don’t mean anything specific when they invoke this term, or they disagree deeply about its mean- ing. This course will introduce students to a wide range of ideas about the meaning of democracy, and a wide range of views about the state of democracy in the world today. It will move from the ancient Greek origins of democracy in Western theory and practice to contemporary theories and practices of democracy in global contexts. A single semester introductory course cannot possibly cover the broad topic of “democracy” in comprehensive detail. In this course, however, students will develop a broader and deeper appreciation for this central concept in the study of politics as well as a set of critical skills useful in working 1through complex problems more generally.

Seminar in Political Theory

This graduate seminar in political theory has two primary objectives. The first is to pursue a series of questions about concepts central to politics in late modernity—How have the dominant forms of political power and political order been configured through modern sovereignty? What is political sovereignty, how has it emerged, and how have theoretical understandings of power, order, and sovereignty evolved? What came before sovereignty, what forms of power and order exist alongside it, and what alternatives to it exist? Are we now –as many scholars have argued– in a post-sovereign condition, and if so what forms do political power and order now take?

The second objective is to practice political theory as a deep and sustained engagement with thinkers and texts —as an apprenticeship in thought meant to enlarge one’s capacity for thinking critically, conceptually, and creatively about political problems. Our seminar begins with Michel Foucault’s suggestion in his History of Sexuality, vol. 1 that political theory must “cut off the head of the king.” By this remark, Foucault apparently meant that we must learn to theorize power outside the framework of law and sovereignty; at the very least, he is challenging us to think more closely about sovereignty. This seminar accepts Foucault’s challenge and alternates between three approaches in doing so. First we will follow Foucault’s own research as he theorizes the transformation of modern sovereignty (culminating in his conceptualization of “biopolitics,” “security,” and “neoliberalism”). Second we trace the development of sovereignty through three canonical theories from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries (Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau). Third we will trace contemporary theories of sovereignty (Agamben, Amoore, Brown, and Sullivan).