Rachel M. McCleary is Senior Research Fellow, Taubman Center, Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Her field of expertise is the political economy of religion, an interdisciplinary approach to the study of religion utilizing methodologies from sociology, anthropology, and economics. She holds a Masters in Theological Studies (Candler School of Theology, Emory University) and a doctorate in moral philosophy (University of Chicago).
Rachel's current research focuses on conscience and moral psychology. She is writing a book, "The Moral Sweet Spot: Navigating the Psychological Pitfalls of Conscience." She is also investigating the role of conscience in politics, and public policy in the United States. In a secular, pluralistic society, the freedom of an individual to act on her conscience is often stressed without a coherent articulation of the limits on that freedom. Human beings, as moral agents, have the freedom to form their own consciences, but they do not have unlimited freedom to act on judgments of conscience. For if they did, society would be in the position of sanctioning the performance of immoral acts committed for the sake of morality. Rachel's research on conscience is taking two directions. First, an investigation into Edward Snowden, whistleblowing, and the renewal of Section 702 of the 2008 update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. When ought we to respect and not prosecute individuals who, guided by their consciences (e.g., conscientious objectors and whistleblowers), act against societal laws and institutions? When ought we to prosecute people who claim they are doing what they believe to be morally right? How leniently or severely should we deal with conscientious people who jeopardize society’s national security? Several recent cases in the United States have raised a public debate over these issues. The second research trends focuses on a broader topic: conscience and public policy in the United States in the twentieth century.