Liveblogging Forum 2000: Why Are You Interested in Law and Religion?

The first time, you don’t notice. The second time, you start to pay attention. By the third time, you can’t help but see a pattern. Three times here at the Forum 2000 Conference, other participants – not, I hasten to say, the other participants on my panels – have asked me, very politely and sincerely, “Why are you interested in law and religion?” The tone of the question is curiosity more than anything else: whatever would make you devote your time to this topic? Now, you might think, this is normal chit-chat among academics at conferences, like “where do you teach?” I have to say, however, that when I’ve attended past conferences in Europe to speak about private international law, no one asked me a similar question. And I’ve never been asked the question in American academic settings. No: religion, here, seems different. There has to be a particular explanation, a reason beyond ordinary academic interest, why someone would make this the subject of his work. It reminded me of something the French sociologist Danièle Hervieu-Léger once wrote.  If you study religion in France, she observed, everyone immediately asks you if you’re religious – the implication being, if you invest so much time in the subject, you must have a personal interest. No offense taken, of course. It’s a legitimate question, and all the more credit to the Forum 2000 organizers for making law and religion a theme for the conference. But the question does stand out. Perhaps the question reflects the fact that secularism is the default option for many European intellectuals. – MLM

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