Byrnes on Transnational Religious Communities and US Foreign Policy

Timothy Byrnes (Colgate) has published Reverse Mission: Transnational Religious Communities and the Making of US Foreign Policy (Georgetown University Press 2011). The publisher’s description follows. – MLM

Many Catholic priests, nuns, and brothers in the United States take a strong interest in US policies that affect their “brothers and sisters” abroad. In fact, when the policies of their native government pose significant dangers to their people internationally, these US citizens engage actively in a variety of political processes in order to protect and advance the interests of the transnational religious communities to which they belong. In this provocative examination of the place of religion in world politics, Timothy A. Byrnes focuses on three Catholic communities—Jesuit, Maryknoll, and Benedictine—and how they seek to shape US policy in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Mexico. Based on years of fieldwork and on-the-ground interviews, Reverse Mission details the transnational bonds that drive the political activities of these Catholic orders.

Court Denies Cert in Utah Highway Crosses Case

Today the Supreme Court denied certiorari in  Utah Highway Patrol Ass’n v. American Atheists, the Utah highway crosses case. The Tenth Circuit had held that memorial crosses an association of police officers had erected alongside public roadways violated the Establishment Clause under the endorsement test. Justice Thomas filed a 19-page dissent from the denial of cert, arguing that the case would have provided a good vehicle for reconsidering the test, which, he argues,  confuses lower courts and leads to unpredictable results.

As Lyle Denniston explains at SCOTUSBlog, it’s impossible to know whether any of the other justices voted to grant cert — though, obviously, there were not four who wanted to hear the case. Perhaps the fractured nature of the last religious display case the Court decided, Salazar v. Buono  (2010), which also involved a cross on public property, has chastened the justices and made them reluctant to try again so soon. Perhaps there were problems with the record. Perhaps the justices who favor abandoning the endorsement test cannot yet agree on a substitute and don’t want to confuse things even more. One fact is clear. Public religious displays continue to generate an enormous amount of interest. The Court received 46 amicus submissions in support of cert in the Utah case. — MLM

McGarvie on Sehat’s “The Myth of American Religious Freedom”

Mark Douglas McGarvie (University of Richmond) has posted a review of David Sehat’s The Myth of American Religious Freedom. An abstract follows. – ARH

The nature and extent of Americans’ commitment to religious freedom has become both a popular historical subject and the source of a very contentious historiography noteworthy for its considerable variation in quality. Thankfully, three publications in recent months have significantly improved the level of academic discourse on this important topic while adding to our historical understandings. Together they form an excellent basis for a synthesis of our current thinking aboutlaw and religion.

The first of these, Sarah Barringer Gordon’s The Spirit of the Law: Religious Voices and the Constitution in Modern America (2010), highlights the contrasting views of law—popular and technical—held, respectively, by spiritual activists and legal professionals and describes how, over the last seventy years, they intersected sufficiently to form the confusing accommodationist position taken by the Supreme Court since the 1980s. Published shortly thereafter, Derek H. Davis’s edited collection, The Oxford Handbook of Church and State in the United States (2010), contains twenty‐one interpretive and analytical essays establishing the current state of our historical understanding on a variety of subjects relevant to the relationship between law and religion. David Sehat’s book offers another intelligent and even‐handed analysis of this troubling historical issue, providing a new interpretation of the tension between American liberal and Christian worldviews and the institutions formed to express them.

Walbridge on Rationalism in Islam

From John Walbridge (Indiana), God and Logic in Islam: The Caliphate of Reason (Cambridge 2010). Walbridge argues that rationalism has traditionally characterized fiqh and will do so again. A description follows. — MLM

This book investigates the central role of reason in Islamic intellectual life. Despite widespread characterization of Islam as a system of belief based only on revelation, John Walbridge argues that rational methods, not fundamentalism, have characterized Islamic law, philosophy, and education since the medieval period. His research demonstrates that this medieval Islamic rational tradition was opposed by both modernists and fundamentalists, resulting in a general collapse of traditional Islamic intellectual life and its replacement by more modern but far shallower forms of thought. However, the resources of this Islamic scholarly tradition remain an integral part of the Islamic intellectual tradition and will prove vital to its revival. The future of Islam, Walbridge argues, will be marked by a return to rationalism.

El-Bialy & Gouda on The Possible Role of Religion in Fighting Software Piracy

Nora El-Bialy and Moamen Gouda (University of Hamburg and Philipps University Marburg) has posted Enforcing IPR Through Informal Institutions: The Possible Role of Religion in Fighting Software Piracy. The abstract follows. – ARH

The existence of formal IPR laws can be considered a prerequisite for having efficient law enforcement but does not imply efficient enforcement in itself. A simple model is constructed to explain the interplay between the IPR law and human behavior within counterfeiting countries. It shows how a politically monitored IPR enforcement strategy is able to alter formal IPR laws or institutions but might not affect informal institutions, or human morals and behavior, to the same extent, hence barely affecting piracy situation. The model shows the essential role of informal institutions and its sanction mechanisms in the enforcement process. The main obstacle of IPR enforcement is that people are still not convinced that IPR violations are unethical. Religion can be considered an informal institution that might support or hinder formal laws issued with regards to IPR and hence influence de facto enforcement of laws,especially in countries with high piracy rate if a high adherence to religion is found. As the Religion-Loyalty Index (RLI) developed by this study shows, Muslim countries have the highest religiosity level among different religions. Consequently, an investigation of how Islamic jurisprudence views IPR piracy is conducted. As Islam generally prohibits IPR piracy, a set of policy recommendations based on new institutional perspective is presented that can effectively help in minimizing IPR piracy in developing countries in general and Muslim ones in specific.

Butler et al., “Religion in American Life: A Short History”

Oxford has published a second edition of Religion in American Life: A Short History (2011) by Jon Butler (Yale, history), Grant Wacker (Duke, Divinity School), and Randall Balmer (Columbia, religious studies).  The publisher’s description follows.  — MOD

This new edition of Religion in American Life, written by three of the country’s most eminent historians of religion, offers a superb overview that spans four centuries, illuminating the rich spiritual heritage central to nearly every event in our nation’s history. Beginning with the state of religious affairs in both the Old and New Worlds on the eve of colonization and continuing through to the present, the book covers all the major American religious groups, from Protestants, Jews, and Catholics to Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Buddhists, and New Age believers. Revised and updated, the book includes expanded treatment of religion during the Great Depression, of the religious influences on the civil rights movement, and of utopian groups in the 19th century, and it now covers the role of religion during the 2008 presidential election, observing how completely religion has entered American politics.