Mathewes Reviews Wade and Bellah

Check out this thoughtful and learned review by (sometime CLR Forum commenter and — we hope! — regular reader!) Prof. Charles Mathewes (UVA) of two books on the ‘evolutionary’ study of religion — Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures and Robert Bellah’s Religion and Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age.  It’s fair to say that Prof. Mathewes is more a fan of Bellah’s book than Wade’s; take a look at the review for why.  Here’s a very interesting (and, for me, even somewhat heart-warming) bit from the description of Bellah’s book:

The basic point of the book is not so much Durkheimian or Weberian—the two great tribes of sociology, especially sociology of religion—but Faulknerian; he echoes Faulkner’s famous line, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” “Nothing is ever lost” is Bellah’s near-constant mantra; the habits, patterns, reflexes and modes of behavior we acquired in our primate prehistory continue to shape our individual behavior and social order. While these realities remain powerful forces, we have achieved some relative autonomy from them and thus some power to shape how they affect us. We can cultivate some parts of our inheritance and create protective strategies against other aspects, as we judge best. We have, that is, the ability to be partially self-transcendent. And this capacity is part of the story of evolution, as Bellah tells it, which is not the necessary unfolding of a foreordained script, or the development of snug little functional niches for the way the world works today, but rather a chaotic, highly contingent and ironic tale of agents interacting, reacting and responding to the situations, contexts and environments in which they have found themselves. 

Temperman on Extreme Speech

Jeroen Temperman (Erasmus University Rotterdam) has posted a new piece on SSRN, Freedom of Expression and Religious Sensitivities in Pluralist Societies: Facing the Challenge of Extreme Speech. The abstact follows.

Within the European Convention system, judgments have supported legal restrictions on hate speech, but also on blasphemy or religious defamation. The universal human rights instruments, particularly the ICCPR, are increasingly geared towards eradicating hate speech (speech that threatens the rights and freedoms of others), whilst forms of extreme speech that fall short of that category are to be protected rather than countered by states. The Human Rights Committee’s recently adopted General Comment (No. 34) on freedom of expression, provides another strong indication that this is the envisaged way forward: repealing blasphemy and defamation bills, whilst simultaneously increasing the efforts to combat hate speech. This paper argues that it remains ever so important to continue taking stock of the legal justifications for restrictions that are suggested in this area and to scrutinize whether they are in fact sustainable from a human rights perspective –– not only on paper, but also in actual practice. The paper compares and contrasts the universal monitoring bodies’ approach to extreme speech with that of regional monitoring bodies, notably the European Court of Human Rights.

Goldenziel on Courts in Majority-Muslim Countries

In the conflict between Islamists and secularists in majority-Muslim countries, courts can play a major role. Yesterday, for example,  Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court issued rulings allowing a former Mubarak loyalist to run for president and effectively dissolving the country’s Islamist-dominated parliament — clear victories for executive power and supporters of the old regime. A new piece by Jill Goldenziel (Harvard), Veiled Political Questions: Islamic Dress, Constitutionalism, and the Ascendance of Courts, suggests that the situation is more complicated, however. Courts in majority-Muslim countries do not always side with executive power. Even in Egypt, there are tensions between the SCC, which the Mubarak regime brought to heel, and the High Administrative Court, which remained more independent.  Her piece makes for interesting reading. The abstract follows.

This article explains how judicial independence can develop in regimes that are not fully democratic. Conventional wisdom holds that a strong legislature and political parties are necessary for the emergence of an independent judiciary. This article challenges conventional wisdom by explaining how judicial independence may arise in regimes where these conditions are not present. It presents a theory of how judicial independence emerges and why and when other political actors will respect it. The article also explains why courts may be better poised than legislatures to counter executive power in non-democracies. The theory is developed through a discussion of cases involving Islamic headscarves and veils in Middle Eastern courts. These cases have broad political implications because Read more