An Orthodox Perspective on Mixed Marriage

Mixed_Marriage__77125.1543351168.300.300Roughly half of those Americans who marry today choose a spouse from a different religious tradition. The high rate of intermarriage, which both reflects and promotes a basic American tolerance of religious difference, has major implications for the future of religion in our country. It also poses canonical and pastoral problems for those traditions, like Orthodox Christianity, which discourage and, in some circumstances, prohibit mixed marriage. A new book from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Mixed Marriage: An Orthodox History, by church historian Anthony Roeber (St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary) offers some perspective on the question from an Orthodox perspective. Here’s a description from the publisher’s website:

Fr. Roeber’s excellent book offers a lucid and fascinating history of marriage and its relationship to the Church, the authority of the bishop, pastoral practice in relation to the administration of the Mysteries (how can a couple sharing in the sacrament of Orthodox marriage not be allowed thereafter to share in the Eucharist from which it flows?) and how that important, but often ill-defined term of oikonomia can address the issue of mixed marriage today. The study’s strength is that it looks to the historical documentation of what happened in relation to mixed marriage in Orthodox past history, rather than following what is vaguely ‘supposed’ to have happened. Brilliantly and elegantly written, with a calm and surefooted perspective, it offers great interest for the specialist and layperson alike. This book will surely become a standard work on the subject.

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Legal Spirits Episode 004: A Ninth Circuit Ruling on Prayers at Public School Board Meetings

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In this episode of Legal Spirits, Center Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami discuss Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Chino Valley Unified School District, a recent Ninth Circuit decision striking down the practice of prayer at public school board meetings in Chino Valley, California, outside Los Angeles. The Ninth Circuit ruled that prayers at school board meetings fall outside the “legislative prayer” exception and violate the Establishment Clause. Movsesian and DeGirolami review the decision and consider what it suggests about the meaning and significance of tradition in Establishment Clause cases more broadly.

Laycock on Religious Liberty

9780802876904This book note writes itself. Douglas Laycock is a leading scholar of religious freedom and a renowned Supreme Court advocate. He also gave the keynote at the very first symposium our Center sponsored, a comparative study of laïcité, at our Paris campus in 2010. The full set of his five-volume work on religious liberty in America is now available from Eerdmans. This is an obvious go-to source for all scholars of law and religion in the United States. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

One of the most respected and influential scholars of religious liberty in our time, Douglas Laycock has argued many crucial religious liberty cases in the US appellate courts and the Supreme Court. His noteworthy legal writings are being collected in five comprehensive volumes under the title Religious Liberty.

Volume 1: Overviews and History

Volume 2: The Free Exercise Clause

Volume 3: Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, Same-Sex Marriage

                 Legislation, and the Culture Wars

Volume 4: Federal Legislation after the Religious Freedom Restoration

                 Acts, with More on the Culture Wars

Volume 5: The Free Speech and Establishment Clauses

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.

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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.

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