Lecture: “Law-Talk in Judaism”

Next month, Fordham’s Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer’s Work will host a lecture by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, “Between Validity and Truth Falls the Shadow: Law-talk and God-talk in Judaism.” Details are here.

McGuckin, “The Ascent of Christian Law”

We’re a little late getting to it, but earlier this year Byzantinist John McGuckin (Columbia/Union Theological Seminary) wrote a new monograph as part of Emory’s Christian Jurisprudence series, The Ascent of Christian Law: Patristic and Byzantine Reformulations of Greco-Roman Attitudes in the Making of a Christian Civilization (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2012). The volume looks to be an important contribution to an unfortunately underwritten field: law in the Eastern Christian tradition.  Here’s the publisher’s description:

This volume aims to fill a large gap in the historical materials available to students of early Christian and Byzantine Christian studies. To that extent, it will be designed as a wide-ranging historical survey that covers the varying attitudes among the major early Christian theorists of law and governance issues as the church moved in its condition from a minority of resistance to the imperial church. The field of early studies of Christian law is dominated by scholars of Western canon law (though often microscopically treated). Eastern canon law remains massively neglected, relegated to studies by Orthodox canonists who have been concerned largely with issues of ecclesiastical precedence and protocol, rather than with large questions of the role of law in culture-making.

This book intends to consider questions such as: “What difference did Christianity make as a builder of civilization?” To what extent did the church, in presenting to late Roman society a vision of a Read more

Conference on the White House’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Next Monday, December 17, the Brookings Institution will host a conference, “Four More Years for the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships,” in Washington, DC. Speakers will include Joshua DuBois, the office’s current executive director, and other Obama Administration officials. Panels will be moderated by E.J. Dionne and Melissa Rogers. Details are here.

Politics and Religious Freedom Theory

In a forthcoming book, which has already transformed the field and is available for preorder now, Marc DeGirolami divides theoretical work on religious freedom into three schools or camps: monist, pluralist, and skeptical.  That typology is accepted by many scholars.  Monists are thought to believe that law in the area can be attractively explained by a single value or principle, pluralists are seen to argue that only multiple concerns can account for the full range of religious freedom outcomes, and skeptics reportedly contend that a coherent theory of religious freedom doctrine is impossible.  DeGirolami takes a new cut at this typology, noticing that some writers approach the task with a sense of tragedy, whereas others have a more sanguine disposition.

Here, I want to explore a different feature of this threefold scheme—its intersection with politics.  A notable feature of the typology is that it has been understood to cut across political affiliations.  (When I use the term politics here, I mean to refer to the recognized affinities that characterize wider policy conversations nationally.)  Each of the three schools has been thought to contain both political liberals and political conservatives.  Often, methodology and party politics have intersected in unusual and interesting ways, on this way of thinking.  Monism is perhaps the least politically diverse, but if Justice Scalia counts as a member of that school, then it too spans the aisle.

Two questions come to mind about this familiar understanding of the interactions between methodology and politics among religious freedom theorists.  First, has this conceptualization of the field ever been correct?  Has the role of politics been as complicated and unpredictable as it suggests?

If it has captured a measure of the truth, a second question is whether it still usefully describes the literature, or whether we are witnessing a realignment.  Certain debates have moved to the foreground — such as the conversation over whether religion deserves special constitutional protection as compared to deep secular commitments of conscience — and positions within those debates do not seem to be easily captured by the old typology.  Yet those positions do seem to track wider political affinities more readily than did the customary choice among monism, pluralism, and skepticism.  For example, liberals tend to think that religion is not special, conservatives usually argue that it is, and moderates believe that it only sometimes should be protected like secular conscience.  Does this shift, if it is happening at all, suggest a different kind or degree of politicization within the field of religious freedom theory?  Is any such shift clarifying or obfuscatory?