While my colleague Marc spoke on another panel this afternoon, I attended  a competing session, “Who Should Influence Whom?” This panel addressed a growing field in law and religious scholarship: legal discourse within religious traditions.

Perry Dane (Rutgers-Camden) began the panel by discussing the interplay between faith and law in the history of Christianity. He described different turning points in that history, including the apostolic era, the Papal Revolution of the Middle Ages, and the Protestant Reformation. Even though Christianity has expressed ambivalence towards law, he argued, legal discourse has played an important role in Christian thought.

David Flatto (Penn State) then spoke about the concept of law in the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The Abrahamic faiths, he suggested, all share a sense that legal authority comes principally from religious sages, not political actors, that justice should be separated from power. He gave several examples from Judaism, both Biblical and post-Biblical, as well as a couple of examples from Islam and Christianity – though he also noted differences among these three religions’ approach to the question as well, particularly Christianity’s.

David Opderbeck (Seton Hall) spoke third. His paper was a theological and philosophical reflection on intellectual property. He noted that our notions of intellectual property and culture have become divorced from metaphysics, including Christian metaphysics: Both popular and academic theories of culture ignore theology in favor of pragmatic market explanations. He asked whether theology can “rescue” contemporary metaphysics and contribute to theories of culture and culture-production, and suggested that the Christian concept of grace — “the gift” can do so.

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