Islam in Late Antiquity

15883We don’t think of it this way today, but in terms of ancient geopolitics, Islam was as much the heir of the Roman Empire as was Byzantium or the barbarian kingdoms of the West. Consider: within about a century of the fall of Rome, Islam had conquered the key Roman province of Egypt and all of North Africa. What had been a crucial part of the Roman world, the home of Tertullian and Augustine, very quickly became a crucial part of a new imperial state.

A new book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, The Apocalypse of Empire: Imperial Eschatology in Late Antiquity and Early Islam, by Stephen J. Shoemaker (University of Oregon) situates the Islamic conquest in terms of broader imperial politics and ideology–Roman, but also Persian. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

In The Apocalypse of Empire, Stephen J. Shoemaker argues that earliest Islam was a movement driven by urgent eschatological belief that focused on the conquest, or liberation, of the biblical Holy Land and situates this belief within a broader cultural environment of apocalyptic anticipation. Shoemaker looks to the Qur’an’s fervent representation of the imminent end of the world and the importance Muhammad and his earliest followers placed on imperial expansion. Offering important contemporary context for the imperial eschatology that seems to have fueled the rise of Islam, he surveys the political eschatologies of early Byzantine Christianity, Judaism, and Sasanian Zoroastrianism at the advent of Islam and argues that they often relate imperial ambition to beliefs about the end of the world. Moreover, he contends, formative Islam’s embrace of this broader religious trend of Mediterranean late antiquity provides invaluable evidence for understanding the beginnings of the religion at a time when sources are generally scarce and often highly problematic.

Scholarship on apocalyptic literature in early Judaism and Christianity frequently maintains that the genre is decidedly anti-imperial in its very nature. While it may be that early Jewish apocalyptic literature frequently displays this tendency, Shoemaker demonstrates that this quality is not characteristic of apocalypticism at all times and in all places. In the late antique Mediterranean as in the European Middle Ages, apocalypticism was regularly associated with ideas of imperial expansion and triumph, which expected the culmination of history to arrive through the universal dominion of a divinely chosen world empire. This imperial apocalypticism not only affords an invaluable backdrop for understanding the rise of Islam but also reveals an important transition within the history of Western doctrine during late antiquity.

A New History of the Japanese Internment Program

9780674986534-lgNext month, Harvard will release American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War, by Duncan Ryuken Williams (University of Southern California). The book offers a new perspective on the US Government’s infamous internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. One thinks of the internment program as a racial and ethnic phenomenon. But Williams argues that the internment program had a strong religious component as well: the Government targeted Buddhists in particular. Looks interesting. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

The mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II is not only a tale of injustice; it is a moving story of faith. In this pathbreaking account, Duncan Ryūken Williams reveals how, even as they were stripped of their homes and imprisoned in camps, Japanese American Buddhists launched one of the most inspiring defenses of religious freedom in our nation’s history, insisting that they could be both Buddhist and American.

Nearly all Americans of Japanese descent were subject to bigotry and accusations of disloyalty, but Buddhists aroused particular suspicion. Government officials, from the White House to small-town mayors, believed that Buddhism was incompatible with American values. Intelligence agencies targeted the Buddhist community for surveillance, and Buddhist priests were deemed a threat to national security. On December 7, 1941, as the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, Attorney General Francis Biddle issued a warrant to “take into custody all Japanese” classified as potential national security threats. The first person detained was Bishop Gikyō Kuchiba, leader of the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist sect in Hawai‘i.

In the face of discrimination, dislocation, dispossession, and confinement, Japanese Americans turned to their faith to sustain them, whether they were behind barbed wire in camps or serving in one of the most decorated combat units in the European theater. Using newly translated sources and extensive interviews with survivors of the camps and veterans of the war, American Sutra reveals how the Japanese American community broadened our country’s conception of religious freedom and forged a new American Buddhism.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Daniel Philpott on Religious Freedom in Islam

9780190908188Notre Dame political scientist Daniel Philpott has spent his career working at the intersection of religion and politics. His co-authored book, God’s Century (2011), is a must for people trying to understand the role of religion in contemporary global politics. He is also one of the directors of Under Caesar’s Sword, a research project on the persecution of Christians today. So his forthcoming book, Religious Freedom in Islam: The Fate of a Universal Human Right in the Muslim World Today (Oxford), is bound to be of interest. Based on the publisher’s description, the book will chart a middle ground between those who argue that religious freedom simply does not exist in the Muslim world, which is not true, and those who paint an unrealistically optimistic picture of the situation non-Muslim minorities face:

Since at least the attacks of September 11, 2001, one of the most pressing political questions of the age has been whether Islam is hostile to religious freedom. Daniel Philpott examines conditions on the ground in forty-seven Muslim-majority countries today and offers an honest, clear-eyed answer to this urgent question.

It is not, however, a simple answer. From a satellite view, the Muslim world looks unfree. But, Philpott shows, the truth is much more complex. Some one-fourth of Muslim-majority countries are in fact religiously free. Of the other countries, about forty percent are governed not by Islamists but by a hostile secularism imported from the West, while the other sixty percent are Islamist.

The picture that emerges is both honest and hopeful. Yes, most Muslim-majority countries are lacking in religious freedom. But, Philpott argues, the Islamic tradition carries within it “seeds of freedom,” and he offers guidance for how to cultivate those seeds in order to expand religious freedom in the Muslim world and the world at large.

It is an urgent project. Religious freedom promotes goods like democracy and the advancement of women that are lacking in the Muslim-majority world and reduces ills like civil war, terrorism, and violence. Further, religious freedom is simply a matter of justice–not an exclusively Western value, but rather a universal right rooted in human nature. Its realization is critical to the aspirations of religious minorities and dissenters in Muslim countries, to Muslims living in non-Muslim countries or under secular dictatorships, and to relations between the West and the Muslim world.

In this thoughtful book, Philpott seeks to establish a constructive middle ground in a fiery and long-lasting debate over Islam.

Leaker, “Against Free Speech”

Well, this one is nothing if not straightforward. Indeed, it has the virtue of stating plainly that for at least some scholars, advocacy of free speech is really only desirable when the results of such advocacy align with their own deeper political and moral commitments. When they don’t, it’s time to jettison free speech. I’ve noted similar moves by various legal scholars in this piece. But it is salubrious to see the position marked out with such openness and clarity.

The book is Against Free Speech (Rowman & Littlefield) by Anthony Leaker.Leaker

This book examines the renewed and vociferous defence of free speech witnessed in relation to a number of recent events, including the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Brexit and Trump campaigns, and recent campus politics. Anthony Leaker argues that the defence of free speech has played a pivotal role in a resurgent right-wing nationalism, that it is the rallying point for a wider set of reactionary political demands, a form of aggrieved liberalism at best and patriarchal white supremacy at worst, aided by a complicit liberal centre. By focusing on these events and situating them within the wider geopolitical context of a post-democratic, post-truth world of austerity, ongoing conflict in the Middle East, pasokification, and rising fascism, Leaker critiques the role that the defence of free speech has played in legitimising the scapegoating of oppressed minorities while deflecting attention from the egregious operations of power that have led to ever greater inequality, injustice and capitalist destruction. This powerful book shows that free speech is in fact a myth, an ideological tool employed by those in power to sustain existing power relations.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

McCleary & Barro, “The Wealth of Religions”

Here’s an interesting new work of sociology on religion and economics, trading on the Princetonmetaphor of “believing and belonging” made famous by Grace Davie. The book is The Wealth of Religions: The Political Economy of Believing and Belonging (Princeton University Press) by Rachel M. McCleary and Robert J. Barro.

Which countries grow faster economically—those with strong beliefs in heaven and hell or those with weak beliefs in them? Does religious participation matter? Why do some countries experience secularization while others are religiously vibrant? In The Wealth of Religions, Rachel McCleary and Robert Barro draw on their long record of pioneering research to examine these and many other aspects of the economics of religion. Places with firm beliefs in heaven and hell measured relative to the time spent in religious activities tend to be more productive and experience faster growth. Going further, there are two directions of causation: religiosity influences economic performance and economic development affects religiosity. Dimensions of economic development—such as urbanization, education, health, and fertility—matter too, interacting differently with religiosity. State regulation and subsidization of religion also play a role.

The Wealth of Religions addresses the effects of religious beliefs on character traits such as work ethic, thrift, and honesty; the Protestant Reformation and its long-term effects on education and religious competition; Communism’s suppression of and competition with religion; the effects of Islamic laws and regulations on the functioning of markets and, hence, on the long-term development of Muslim countries; why some countries have state religions; analogies between religious groups and terrorist organizations; the violent origins of the Dalai Lama’s brand of Tibetan Buddhism; and the use by the Catholic Church of saint-making as a way to compete against the rise of Protestant Evangelicals.

Timely and incisive, The Wealth of Religions provides fresh insights into the vital interplay between religion, markets, and economic development.

Whittington, “Repugnant Laws”

Keith Whittington is a leading exponent of the so-called “new originalism”–one that emphasizes (among many other things) original public meaning and the distinction between interpretation and construction. He is also an exceptional political scientist of the Supreme Court. One of my own favorite pieces of his is “The Least Activist Supreme Court in History,” in which Whittington gives a careful definition of “activism” and measures it in different eras, but especially in the tenure of Chief Justice Roberts.

Here is a new book by Professor Whittington that looks superb and is somewhat in the Whittingtonsame line as the article above but much more comprehensive in scope: Repugnant Laws: Judicial Review of Acts of Congress From the Founding to the Present (University of Kansas Press).

When the Supreme Court strikes down favored legislation, politicians cry judicial activism. When the law is one politicians oppose, the court is heroically righting a wrong. In our polarized moment of partisan fervor, the Supreme Court’s routine work of judicial review is increasingly viewed through a political lens, decried by one side or the other as judicial overreach, or “legislating from the bench.” But is this really the case? Keith E. Whittington asks in Repugnant Laws, a first-of-its-kind history of judicial review.

A thorough examination of the record of judicial review requires first a comprehensive inventory of relevant cases. To this end, Whittington revises the extant catalog of cases in which the court has struck down a federal statute and adds to this, for the first time, a complete catalog of cases upholding laws of Congress against constitutional challenges. With reference to this inventory, Whittington is then able to offer a reassessment of the prevalence of judicial review, an account of how the power of judicial review has evolved over time, and a persuasive challenge to the idea of an antidemocratic, heroic court. In this analysis, it becomes apparent that the court is political and often partisan, operating as a political ally to dominant political coalitions; vulnerable and largely unable to sustain consistent opposition to the policy priorities of empowered political majorities; and quasi-independent, actively exercising the power of judicial review to pursue the justices’ own priorities within bounds of what is politically tolerable.

The court, Repugnant Laws suggests, is a political institution operating in a political environment to advance controversial principles, often with the aid of political leaders who sometimes encourage and generally tolerate the judicial nullification of federal laws because it serves their own interests to do so. In the midst of heated battles over partisan and activist Supreme Court justices, Keith Whittington’s work reminds us that, for better or for worse, the court reflects the politics of its time.

Justice Alito Keynotes Tradition Project Session in Rome

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Here’s a report on last month’s meeting of the Tradition Project in Rome, on “The Value of Tradition in the Global Context.” Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito of the Supreme Court of the United States delivered the keynote address:

As a highlight of this year’s Tradition Project session, Justice Alito spoke about the relationship between international and national law in the context of human rights. “The conflict between global human rights norms and local legal traditions has become acute over the past decade,” says Professor Mark L. Movsesian, who directs the Center for Law and Religion and co-directs the Project with Professor Marc O. DeGirolami. “Justice Alito’s keynote addressed a timely topic in a substantive way. We were so honored to have him with us.”

After Justice Alito’s remarks, the Project convened a panel of respondents that included Giuseppe Dalla Torre, president of the Vatican City Tribunal; Ugo De Siervo, president emeritus of the Italian Constitutional Court; Chantal Delsol of the Academie des Sciences Morales et Politiques; and Andrés Ollero of the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal.

The session also included four invitation-only workshops on “Understandings of Tradition in the Global Context”; “Local Traditions and Global Government”; “Liberalism, Populism, and Nationalism”; and “Tradition and Human Rights.” Participants prepared short reflection papers on the various topics. “There was a lot to discuss in the workshops, and there will be a lot to keep elaborating and deepening in the near future,” says LUMSA Professor Monica Lugato, one of the Tradition Project session organizers. “It was a challenging and rewarding academic meeting.”

Thanks to our partners at LUMSA and at Villanova for co-sponsoring the Rome meeting. Watch this space for news about future Tradition Project events!

Bob, “Rights as Weapons”

One not infrequently hears talk today of the “weaponization” of rights–particularly the rights of religious freedom and free speech in the Constitution’s First Amendment. Indeed, as I discuss in this paper, that rhetoric has even made its way into some opinions in the Supreme Court’s most recent term. Whether the rhetoric of weaponry is just that, or represents something more, is a major question. Clifford Bob seems to argue in thisBob new book for something like the latter view. The book is Rights as Weapons: Instruments of Conflict, Tools of Power (Princeton University Press).

Rights are usually viewed as defensive concepts representing mankind’s highest aspirations to protect the vulnerable and uplift the downtrodden. But since the Enlightenment, political combatants have also used rights belligerently, to batter despised communities, demolish existing institutions, and smash opposing ideas. Delving into a range of historical and contemporary conflicts from all areas of the globe, Rights as Weapons focuses on the underexamined ways in which the powerful wield rights as aggressive weapons against the weak.

Clifford Bob looks at how political forces use rights as rallying cries: naturalizing novel claims as rights inherent in humanity, absolutizing them as trumps over rival interests or community concerns, universalizing them as transcultural and transhistorical, and depoliticizing them as concepts beyond debate. He shows how powerful proponents employ rights as camouflage to cover ulterior motives, as crowbars to break rival coalitions, as blockades to suppress subordinate groups, as spears to puncture discrete policies, and as dynamite to explode whole societies. And he demonstrates how the targets of rights campaigns repulse such assaults, using their own rights-like weapons: denying the abuses they are accused of, constructing rival rights to protect themselves, portraying themselves as victims rather than violators, and repudiating authoritative decisions against them. This sophisticated framework is applied to a diverse range of examples, including nineteenth-century voting rights movements; the American civil rights movement; nationalist, populist, and religious movements in today’s Europe; and internationalized conflicts related to Palestinian self-determination, animal rights, gay rights, and transgender rights.

Comparing key episodes in the deployment of rights, Rights as Weapons opens new perspectives on an idea that is central to legal and political conflicts.

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