I missed this when it came out a few months ago — Grace Davie’s Law, Sociology, and Religion: An Awkward Threesome — in the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion.  Like all of the journal’s content at present, it is available for free.  And our readers will want to check out this piece.  Here is the opening of Professor Davie’s extremely interesting article:

Lawyers are increasingly interested in religion—for good reason. Religious disputes demand the attention of legal experts—an interest that is likely to grow given that almost all of us live in religiously diverse societies, in which effective forms of co-habitation have to be established and regulated. Sociologists, initially distracted by the assumption that modernization implied secularization, are similarly inclined, spurred on by the presence of religion in public as well as private debates. No longer is it possible to relegate religion to the sidelines of social science. Sociologists, finally, have always been interested in the law—recognizing that the law and law-making reflect the changing nature of society.  The interpretation of law, conversely, sharpens the issues at stake and becomes itself an important factor in social change.

All that said, these can be difficult conversations. Lawyers and sociologists are differently trained and ask different questions about religion, as indeed about everything else. They do not always listen to each other. Lawyers, for example, create and interpret legal frameworks, some of which deal with religion; they are less interested in the messy realities of lived religion as this is experienced in everyday life. If it is one thing to deem certain forms of religion to be legally acceptable and others not, it is quite another to grasp the implications for the individuals and communities, that fall—at times arbitrarily—on one side of the line or the other. Why, for example, do certain religious movements fare better in some parts of Europe than in others? Clearly this has nothing to do with the religious movements themselves, and everything to do with the understandings of tolerance and toleration in the host society, and the historical specificities that lie behind this. Legal judgements must be placed in context.

Professor Davie is surely right to say that lawyers, sociologists, and religious studies scholars are pursuing very different sorts of inquiries and projects, and she is surely also right to say that they nevertheless can learn a great deal from one another.

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