The Devil’s Advocacy Initiative

The Devil’s Advocacy Initiative

The Devil’s Advocacy Initiative explores how to counter polarization by empowering Americans to critically assess their own worldviews – both spiritually and practically. In this endeavor, citizens identifying with the political left or right are guided to name and challenge narratives, assumptions, pieties, and biases within their own ideological circles – and afterwards, to meet and engage their counterparts from the “other” side for mutual learning. The Devil’s Advocacy Initiative is a collaboration between the Aspen Institute’s Program on Citizenship and American Identity and the Fetzer Institute. 

Context
In this age of fragmentation and polarization in our political culture, a great deal of work is underway to get the political left and right to talk and search out common ground. We at the Aspen Institute and the Fetzer Institute applaud such efforts, but we also believe there is a deeper need going largely unaddressed: for people on each side to push their own side and to deactivate the triggers and reflexes their own side succumbs to when encountering people of differing worldviews. This set of skills and dispositions, both spiritual and practical, is the necessary precursor for any lasting reckoning and reconciliation in civic life. If you want to help end demonization in civic life, learn to think and act like devil’s advocates!

Our Approach
This initiative will begin with a series of three seminars. Each seminar experience will begin with a shared meal and will be followed by three facilitated sessions over the arc of a full day with approximately 20 participants. The first session will focus on unpacking each side’s core beliefs and assumptions; the second will involve each side challenging its own worldview; and during the third session, the groups will be brought together so each can share with the other what they have come to see and learn, as well as decide how to move forward together. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about and understand more deeply not only their own beliefs, but the beliefs of their fellow citizens on the other end of the political spectrum. We will approach the polarization in American democracy as a spiritual issue, and throughout the convenings, there will be time for contemplative practices and reflections to help people understand those on the other side, as well as themselves, more deeply.