The Doctrine of Discovery: Ethnocentrism & Conquest in Western Colonialism

Professor Robert J. Miller of Lewis & Clark Law School has posted The International Law of Colonialism: A Comparative Analysis.  The paper explores the history of legitimizing the colonization of the non-European world—including American expansion following Independence—through the international legal precept of the “Doctrine of Discovery.”  Under the Doctrine of Discovery, conquering powers gain exclusive title to lands previously held by conquered nations—here, the native tribes of North and South America.  Professor Miller finds historical similarity in each nations’ use of the Doctrine of Discovery and urges all nations to repudiate it.

According to Miller, the Doctrine of Discovery contained two elements of ethnocentrism particularly relevant to the CLR Forum:  (1) Christianity, whereby non-Christian nations were deemed to lack the same rights of ownership, sovereignty, and self-determination as Christians.  (Indeed, in the fifteenth century, the Vatican issued papal bulls granting ownership to Portugal and Spain over inhabited South American land.)  And (2) Civilization, whereby European society was deemed superior to those of native, non-European cultures, thus engendering a divine mandate—and entitlement—to dominate and educate these non-“civilized” cultures in the customs of Christian society.  (For example, the Spanish crown ordered all conquistadors to bring clerics with them to convert indigenous peoples to the Catholic faith.  In the United States, conversion was often used as a pretext for trespass on native territory, and certain denominations were granted tribal lands; in addition, Native American traditions and religious beliefs were outlawed for over one-hundred years).

For more information on the Doctrine of Discovery’s continuing presence in American law, and Professor Miller’s abstract, please follow the jump.

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LDS in the USA: Mormon Influence in American Society

Associate Professor of Political Science at Saginaw State University, Lee Trepanier, and Lynita K. Newswander of the University of South Dakota will soon publish LDS in the USA: Mormonism and the Making of American Culture (Baylor, 2012).  The book seeks to move beyond cultural myths and misperceptions about Mormonism and describe its past and present contributions to American social and political life.  See the authors’ abstract below:

From the politics of Glenn Beck to reality television’s Big Love and the hit Broadway show The Book of Mormon, Mormons have become a recognizable staple of mainstream popular culture. And while most Americans are well aware of the existence of Mormonism—and some of the often exaggerated myths about Mormonism—the religion’s public influence has been sorely understudied.

Lee Trepanier and Lynita K. Newswander move beyond clichéd and stereotypical portrayals of Mormonism to unpack the significant and sometimes surprising roles Mormons have played in the building of modern America. Moving from popular culture to politics to the Mormon influence in social controversies, LDS in the USA reveals Mormonism to be quintessentially American—both firmly rooted in American tradition and free to engage in the public square.

Trepanier and Newswander examine the intersection of the tension between the nation’s sometimes bizarre understanding of Mormon belief and the suspicious acceptance of the most well known Mormons into the American public identity. Readers are consistently challenged to abandon popular perceptions in order to embrace more fully the fascinating importance of this American religion.

—DRS, CLR Fellow

A Question for MacIntyre Mavens

Here’s a question some buddies and I have been throwing around that I thought our learned readership at CLR Forum might know something about.  I know that Alasdair MacIntyre’s critical thesis in After Virtue has found some applications for and in law.  That is, MacIntyre’s diagnosis of the unintelligibility and interminability of moral discourse not as proof that non-cognitivists are right but instead as evidence that we have lost the teleological foundations that made moral discourse and the ideas of true and false possible in the first place, the incapacity of rationalism to replace that Aristotelian foundation, and the resultant contemporary emotivism — some or all of this has found applications of one sort or another in legal academic writing with which I am familiar.  Some of Steve Smith’s writing draws on the critical thesis in MacIntyre, for example.

What I am not sure about is whether the more positive thesis of After Virtue about social practices, goods internal to those practices, the contextualism of those goods and their intelligibility only within social practices, the mutability of the goods as the practices/traditions evolve, and the practices/traditions as sites within which the virtues are displayed — has anyone written about the law as such a social practice/tradition?  Has anyone developed the contextual, situated social practice/tradition thesis in MacIntyre as an account of law?

Church Reconsecrated in Diyarbakir, Turkey

In September, I posted about Turkey’s plan to begin returning certain properties it had seized from religious minorities over the past century. Now, a follow up.  Last month, the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News reports, Armenian Church hierarchs from around the world reconsecrated the restored St. Giragos Church in the city of Diyarbakir (below) for use as a site of Christian worship. Reportedly the  largest Armenian church in the Middle East, dating to the 16th Century, St. Giragos had been returned to the Armenian community in the 1960s but, like thousands of other churches in the region, had fallen into ruins. Once numerous, the Christian population of Diyarbakir, mostly Armenians and Syriacs, was eliminated during the genocide of 1915-1923; today, the city is mostly Kurdish. Reconstruction, which took years, proceeded with help from donations from Armenians in Turkey and elsewhere, and from local authorities, who wish to encourage tourism in the region. The ceremony was attended by local officials and the American ambassador, as well as representatives of other churches. The following day, St. Giragos hosted a baptism for dozens of Sunni Muslims of Armenian origin, whose ancestors had converted to Islam during the genocide. Hürriyet reports that the baptism was closed to the press and outside visitors “for security reasons.” Although conversion from Islam is legal under Turkish law, it is a capital offense in Islamic law, and converts are often endangered. The Armenian Church in America (Eastern Diocese) has an interesting article with more photos and details about the reconstruction and reconsecration, here. – MLM