Sarris, “Empires of Faith”

A very interesting looking history of two eventful centuries, Empires of Faith: The Fall of Rome to the Rise of Islam, 500-700 (OUP 2011), by Peter Sarris (Cambridge).  The publisher’s description follows.

Drawing upon the latest historical and archaeological research, Dr Peter Sarris provides a panoramic account of the history of Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East from the fall of Rome to the rise of Islam. The formation of a new social and economic order in western Europe in the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries, and the ascendancy across the West of a new culture of military lordship, are placed firmly in the context of on-going connections and influence radiating outwards from the surviving Eastern Roman Empire, ruled from the great imperial capital of Constantinople. The East Roman (or ‘Byzantine’) Emperor Justinian’s attempts to revive imperial fortunes, restore the empire’s power in the West, and face down Constantinople’s great superpower rival, the Sasanian Empire of Persia, are charted, as too are the ways in which the escalating warfare between Rome and Persia paved the way for the development of new concepts of ‘holy war’, the emergence of Islam, and the Arab conquests of the Near East. Processes of religious and cultural change are explained through examination of social, economic, and military upheavals, and the formation of early medieval European society is placed in a broader context of changes that swept across the world of Eurasia from Manchuria to the Rhine.

Warfare and plague, holy men and kings, emperors, shahs, caliphs, and peasants all play their part in a compelling narrative suited to specialist, student, and general readership alike.

Education and Belief

Thank you to Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami for the chance to participate in the Center for Law and Religion’s blog. I am delighted to work with them in addressing questions about the relationship between religion, law and culture. My primary interest in the next few weeks is exploring these concerns in the context of American education.

America’s current educational battles are about competing beliefs and commitments. This may sound like a strange assertion, given the practical nature of the debates on No Child Left Behind, vouchers, teachers unions, the curriculum, and so on. However, beneath such disagreements are deeper and more profound ones that are philosophical and cultural in nature: about the purpose of education, the nature of the child, and the question of authority.

Put differently: educational policy always rests upon particular views about who the child is and what education is for. In this sense, schooling is always about philosophy – explicitly or implicitly. Whose philosophy, though? Why one set of assumptions and not another? How does American public education reflect past debates about pluralism and democracy? Finally, how might our present disputes be improved, and perhaps fresh solutions achieved, by re-visiting these foundational questions?

This task is difficult because of the inescapable nature of culture, the taken-for-granted backdrop to our individual experiences and social encounters.  Speaking in sociological terms, “culture” consists of the ideas and institutions Read more

Law, Religion, and Politics in Tunisia

An interesting, though rather inaptly titled, article about, among other things, a trial for blasphemy in Tunisia which has generated enormous controversy.  Tunisia’s future, like that of Egypt, appears very uncertain.  I also found the comments about the worries of the residents of Tunis interesting.  Years ago, I spent several weeks in Tunis working as part of an archeological dig in ancient Carthage.  I enjoyed that time in Tunis very much.  It is a sophisticated and cosmopolitan sea-side resort and it is unsurprising that its residents would be alarmed about Tunisia’s future.  It is the democracy that seems to be what they fear.

Hoover & Johnston: Faith & Foreign Policy

Dr. Dennis  R. Hoover is executive director of the Center on Faith & International Affairs at the Institute for Global EngagementDr. Douglas M. Johnston is founder and president of the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy.  Together, Doctors Hoover and Johnston have edited a new collection, Religion and Foreign Affairs: Essential Readings (Baylor, 2012).  The articles and other shorter works in the volume reflect on the meeting of secularism, faith, religion, morality, and foreign policy.  The authors commence with foundational pieces:   New York Times Columnist David Brooks reflects on the nature of the secularist ethic  in foreign policy generally; Atlantic Correspondent Robert D. Kaplan explores secularism in antiquity; and Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) discusses St. Augustine’s political realism with accompanying excerpts from Augustine’s City of God (ca. sixth century C.E.).  Other notable chapters discuss religious ethics and armed conflict, religious peacemaking, religion and international terrorism, and religion and globalization (the table of contents—which highlights the remaining topics—may be accessed here).

Please find the abstract from Baylor Press after the jump. Read more

Ahmad Dallal on Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History

This year, Ahmad Dallal, Provost and Professor of History at the American University of Beirut, has published Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History (Yale, 2012).  An ambitious project, Prof. Dallal’s volume traces the rich tradition of scientific thought in the Muslim world, a history of confluence; conflict; and mutual religious, political, and cultural stimulus.  See further reflections on Dallal’s new text here.  Likewise, please see the publisher’s description after the jump. Read more

Hussein on Legal Reform and Women’s Rights in Yemen

Douaa Hussein  (American U. in Cairo – Dept. of Law) has posted Legal Reform as a Way to Women’s Rights: The Case of Personal Status Law in Yemen. The abstract follows.

In this paper, the researcher argues that the legal reform of the Personal Status Law is not sufficient to ensure gender equality within the Yemeni context where the religious and cultural value systems of rights remain untouched. Narrow and conservative interpretation of sharia forms the main conceptualization of the rights in the current law. The tribal value system and conceptualization of rights and its practices on the ground has affected the equitable marital rights. The researcher further claims that the current law which is premised mainly on sharia, consolidates the concept of ‘Wrong Rights’, obstructing women’s efforts to ensure equality in the Personal Status Law. Read more

Schwartzman on Questioning the Special Treatment of Religion

Micah Schwartzman  (U. of Virginia School of Law) has posted What if Religion is not Special? The abstract follows.

This Article argues that leading accounts of the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses fail to provide a coherent and morally attractive position on whether religion warrants special treatment as compared with secular ethical and moral doctrines. Focusing on two central issues involving whether laws must have a secular purpose and whether religious exemptions are constitutionally mandatory, this Article rejects existing theories as either theoretically inconsistent or substantively mistaken. If religion does not warrant special treatment, then it is important to ask what our attitude should be toward the Religion Clauses. Under originalist theories of constitutional interpretation, the Religion Clauses should be considered morally regrettable. Under non-originalist theories, there may be interpretations of the constitutional text that allow for the possibility of moral reconciliation. Either way, rejecting the idea that religion is special requires reassessing our understanding of the Religion Clauses.

Welcome to Ashley Berner!

CLR Forum is delighted to welcome Ashley Berner as our very first guest for the month of February.  Ashley is a faculty fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, directed by James Davison Hunter.   She is the Co-Director, with Hunter, of the Institute’s Moral Foundations of Education Project, which explores modern American educational philosophy and practice.  Ashley holds a D. Phil. degree from Oxford in Modern History and her areas of research include nineteenth-century intellectual history, educational philosophy, and comparative educational systems.  Her current book project explores educational pluralism in the American context.

Please join us in welcoming Ashley to CLR Forum!

Douthat on the New HHS Regulations

Ross Douthat has an interesting piece in the Times today about the Obama Administration’s decision to require religiously-affiliated universities and hospitals to cover sterilization and contraceptive drugs, including drugs considered to be abortifacients, in employees’ health care plans. An exemption applies to religious institutions that primarily serve members of their own faith, rather than the public at large – parish churches, for example. Douthat takes the traditional libertarian line: even if one disagrees with religious objections to contraception, such that one would oppose government’s attempt to discourage their use, one might wish to allow private voluntary associations, like churches, to conduct themselves according to values that government does not share. Otherwise, by eliminating the state’s competition, one risks creating a despotic government that ultimately will trample on the liberties of the people. Douthat also points out the perverse incentives the proposed regs create. If a religiously-affiliated institution believes that conscience requires that it not cover sterilization and contraceptive drugs, including drugs considered to be abortifacients, for its employees, the institution must limit its charitable work to co-religionists. Not exactly encouraging Good Samaritans.

The Taming of Employment Division v. Smith

When Employment Division v. Smith was decided, it had committed opponents and supporters.  Opponents claimed that it represented the end of free exercise; supporters argued that at long last, the Court adopted an appropriately equal, predictable, and univocal principle of free exercise which limited the scope of its political interventions.  There was disagreement about the wisdom of Smith (including in Congress, which reacted negatively to Smith with some statutes), but few doubted that Smith was a very big deal for constitutional religious liberty.

CLR Forum readers will know that Smith carved out various exceptions to the rule that neutral laws of general application are constitutional.  The first exception dealt with the idea of hybrid rights.  The idea was that a less than independently viable free exercise claim, when coupled with another constitutional right of uncertain strength, would become viable.  Lower courts have adopted various interpretations of this exception: some have treated it as non-binding dicta, while others have tried to operationalize it in various ways.  The second exception has proved to be far more important: where the law at issue is not truly a law of general application — where a system of individualized assessments with respect to exemption from the law has been adopted — then the law is again subject to strict scrutiny.  I’ve looked into the question of how much, and how often, lower courts are using this exception (and I also inquired a bit about the extent to which litigants are using it).  It turns out…a whole lot.  Indeed, the latest example of the application of the individual assessment exception appears in a case reported by my colleague, Mark, just below, and just decided in the Sixth Circuit, where Judge Sutton held that a student who was dismissed from a counseling program because she refused on religious grounds to counsel homosexual couples and non-married couples could proceed with her claim.  The court held that the school’s “no referral to other counselors” policy was not one of general application, because referrals for secular reasons had been permitted.  For more on the case, see Mark’s item below.  You might wonder just how powerful the individualized assessment exception is…you will have to wait for my book to see just how much!  For the third exception…follow the jump!

Read more