Here’s our annual review of Center activities for the past academic year, including Part III of the Tradition Project in Rome–with a keynote from Justice Samuel A. Alito; the fourth biennial Colloquium in Law and Religion, a new podcast series, and more. Check it out!
Sam Harris is best known as one of the hardest of the hard-core “new atheists” or “militant atheists.” He was so committed–so militant–that he advocated violence toward people whose religious views he considered very dangerous in achieving the sought-for objective of “ending” religion.
But in this new book, his views seem to have mellowed somewhat: Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue (Harvard University Press), by Harris and Maajid Nawaz.
“In this short book, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz invite you to join an urgently needed conversation: Is Islam a religion of peace or war? Is it amenable to reform? Why do so many Muslims seem drawn to extremism? What do words like Islamism, jihadism, and fundamentalism mean in today’s world?
Remarkable for the breadth and depth of its analysis, this dialogue between a famous atheist and a former radical is all the more startling for its decorum. Harris and Nawaz have produced something genuinely new: they engage one of the most polarizing issues of our time—fearlessly and fully—and actually make progress.
Islam and the Future of Tolerance has been published with the explicit goal of inspiring a wider public discussion by way of example. In a world riven by misunderstanding and violence, Harris and Nawaz demonstrate how two people with very different views can find common ground.”
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- A Quebec Superior Court justice rejected a request to temporarily suspend parts of the province’s new religious symbols law, which bans public school teachers, police officers, and other government workers from wearing religious symbols while working.
- Seventy people from Catholic advocacy groups were arrested at the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill during a protest against the Trump administration’s treatment of migrants and asylum-seekers.
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill, which prohibits government entities from taking “adverse action” against businesses or individuals because of their religious beliefs or moral convictions.
- A Christian family in Australia that refused to pay income taxes because it is “against God’s will” has been ordered to pay $2.3 million by the Tasmanian Supreme Court.
- A federal judge ruled that graduation ceremonies at Greenville County Schools in South Carolina will no longer be allowed to include official student-led prayer or language that asks the audience to stand or bow.
- The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a Hamilton County judge can properly consider a challenge by a Catholic school athletic league to “competitive balance” rules implemented by the Ohio High School Athletic Association addressing the athletic dominance of private schools.
- Louisiana has asked the Supreme Court to allow a law to go into effect that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the facility where the abortion is performed.
There are many philosophers who have written critically about the relatively common modern tendency to derive moral principles from science–to move from science to a reductively naturalistic morality of scientism. From Elizabeth Anscombe and Philippa Foot to Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor, omitting many others before, in between, and after.
Here is a relatively new book that appears to advance a critique of scientism broadly in this line but updated to address new challenges and targets: Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality (Yale University Press), by James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky.
“In this illuminating book, James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky trace the origins and development of the centuries-long, passionate, but ultimately failed quest to discover a scientific foundation for morality. The “new moral science” led by such figures as E. O. Wilson, Patricia Churchland, Sam Harris, Jonathan Haidt, and Joshua Greene is only the newest manifestation of that quest. Though claims for its accomplishments are often wildly exaggerated, this new iteration has been no more successful than its predecessors. But rather than giving up in the face of this failure, the new moral science has taken a surprising turn. Whereas earlier efforts sought to demonstrate what is right and wrong, the new moral scientists have concluded, ironically, that right and wrong don’t actually exist. Their (perhaps unwitting) moral nihilism turns the science of morality into a social engineering project. If there is nothing moral for science to discover, the science of morality becomes, at best, a feeble program to achieve arbitrary societal goals. Concise and rigorously argued, Science and the Good is a definitive critique of a would-be science that has gained extraordinary influence in public discourse today and an exposé of that project’s darker turn.”
I have a piece at the Liberty Fund blog responding to Professor Jesse Merriam, a political theorist of legal conservatism, concerning the prospects and obstacles for a new legal conservative fusionism (historically, “fusion” was the term used to describe the coming together of libertarian and traditionalist streams of thought in post-War American politics, as described by Frank Meyer, Brent Bozell, and others). Some of the piece is diagnostic, but there is an extended section offering a few sketches on various constructive possibilities.
One of the most important consequences of the so-called “Constantinian compromise” in the fourth century was the rise of the monastic movement. Once Christianity became part of the Roman establishment, some believed they could preserve a pure faith only by removing themselves for a life of prayer in the desert. The movement was especially influential in Roman Egypt–where Coptic monasteries continue to thrive, under great stress and threat of violence, today. Next month, Cambridge releases a translation of the works of one of the fathers of Coptic monasticism, Selected Discourses of Shenoute the Great: Community, Theology, and Social Conflict in Late Antique Egypt. The translators are David Brake (Ohio State) and Andrew Crislip (Virginia Commonwealth University). Here is the description from the Cambridge website:
Shenoute the Great (c.347–465) led one of the largest Christian monastic communities in late antique Egypt and was the greatest native writer of Coptic in history. For approximately eight decades, Shenoute led a federation of three monasteries and emerged as a Christian leader. His public sermons attracted crowds of clergy, monks, and lay people; he advised military and government officials; he worked to ensure that his followers would be faithful to orthodox Christian teaching; and he vigorously and violently opposed paganism and the oppressive treatment of the poor by the rich. This volume presents in translation a selection of his sermons and other orations. These works grant us access to the theology, rhetoric, moral teachings, spirituality, and social agenda of a powerful Christian leader during a period of great religious and social change in the later Roman Empire.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom from Wednesday to Friday this week, working to promote durable and positive change for religious freedom in the world.
- The Pew Research Center released its tenth annual report discussing social hostility and government restrictions related to religion in 198 countries and territories around the world.
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued a McDonald’s franchise for religious discrimination because McDonald’s grooming policy requires all employees to be clean-shaven and the franchise refused to accommodate a Hasidic Jew who applied for a maintenance position.
- A Minnesota district court dismissed harassment charges that were filed against the Christian Action League of Minnesota, several months after the organization received a temporary harassment restraining order; the Thomas More Society plans to challenge the constitutionality of the Minnesota statute that allowed the restraining order on the basis of “unwanted words.”
Methodism, with about 80 million adherents around the world, has had an enormous influence in American culture, ever since George Whitfield preached during the Great Awakening. Like many mainline Protestant churches, the United Methodist Church, the movement’s American branch, is experiencing internal strains right now, over issues like same-sex marriage, which divide some American Methodists from their co-religionists in Africa and other regions. Earlier this year, the General Conference of the UMC sustained global Methodism’s opposition to same-sex marriage–a surprise, given the pattern in other mainline churches, though the controversy probably isn’t over. So this seems an opportune moment for a new book from Oxford University Press, released earlier this month, Methodism: A Very Short Introduction, by theologian William Abraham (Southern Methodist). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
Beginning as a renewal movement within Anglicanism in the eighteenth century, Methodism had become the largest Protestant denomination in the USA in the nineteenth century, and is today one of the most vibrant forms of Christianity. Representing a complex spiritual and evangelistic experiment that involves a passionate commitment to worldwide mission, it covers a global network of Christian denominations.
In this Very Short Introduction William J. Abraham traces Methodism from its origins in the work of John Wesley and the hymns of his brother, Charles Wesley, in the eighteenth century, right up to the present. Considering the identity, nature, and history of Methodism, Abraham provides a fresh account of the place of Methodism in the life and thought of the Christian Church. Describing the message of Methodism, and who the Methodists are, he also considers the practices of Methodism, and discusses the global impact of Methodism and its decline in the homelands. Finally Abraham looks forward, and considers the future prospects for Methodism.
Here is another new work on the patristic period, with a title that recommends itself. Last month, Yale University Press released a new translation of Augustine’s first work after his conversion, Against the Academics: St. Augustine’s Cassiciacum Dialogues, Volume 1, by Baylor University patristics scholar Michael Foley. The publisher’s description follows:
A fresh, new translation of Augustine’s inaugural work as a Christian convert.
The first four works written by St. Augustine of Hippo after his conversion to Christianity are the remarkable “Cassiciacum dialogues.” In this first dialogue, expertly translated by Michael Foley, Augustine and his interlocutors explore the history and teachings of Academic skepticism, which Augustine is both sympathetic to and critical of. The dialogue serves as a fitting launching point for a knowledge of God and the soul, the overall subject of the Cassiciacum tetralogy
Here in the US, we tend of think of Evangelicalism as an American phenomenon. But it isn’t today and has never been. A forthcoming book from the Boydell and Brewer (distributed in the States by the University of Rochester Press), Converting Britannia: Evangelicals and British Public Life, 1770-1840, by Gareth Atkins (Queens College-Cambridge), describes the impact of Evangelical Christian reform movements in early-19th Century Britain. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
The moralism that characterized the decades either side of 1800 – the so-called ‘Age of William Wilberforce’ – has long been regarded as having a massive impact on British culture. Yet the reasons why Wilberforce and his Evangelical contemporaries were so influential politically and in the wider public sphere have never been properly understood. Converting Britannia shows for the first time how and why religious reformism carried such weight. Evangelicalism, it argues, was not just an innovative social phenomenon, but also a political machine that exploited establishment strengths to replicate itself at home and internationally.
The book maps networks that spanned the churches, universities, business, armed forces and officialdom, connecting London and the regions with Europe and the world, from business milieux in the City of London and elsewhere through the Royal Navy, the Colonial Office and East India and Sierra Leone companies. Revealing how religion drove debates about British history and identity in the first half of the nineteenth century, it throws new light not just on the networks themselves, but on cheap print, mass-production and the public sphere: the interconnecting technologies that sustained religion in a rapidly modernizing age and projected it into new contexts abroad.