On March 14, St. Nersess Armenian Orthodox Seminary in Westchester will host a lecture by Professor Christopher Guzelian (Thomas Jefferson), “Seeing God Through Law.” The lecture is part of a series on law and faith. Details are here.
Some interesting law & religion stories from around the web this week:
- Egypt sentenced seven Coptic Christians to death in absentia for their involvement in the anti-Islamic film, “Innocence of Muslims”
- SNL broadcast a sketch about Jesus that some considered blasphemous (prosecution unlikely)
- Ireland apologized for failing to protect women incarcerated in Catholic Church-run “Magdalene” laundries
- Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman endorsed gay marriage as a way to promote freedom of conscience
- Canada’s Prime Minister announced the establishment of a new Office of Religious Freedom and appointed Andrew Bennett as the first ambassador
- A California School District was sued over “inherently religious” yoga classes
- Ross Douthat proclaimed the end of a “distinctive Catholic moment” in American politics
- Netanyahu thanked Pope Benedict for deepening Christian-Jewish ties
- A Harvard law professor called a leading candidate to replace Pope Benedict an anti-Semite
- Vatican officials parsed the Holy See’s constitution to determine whether papal conclave might be moved forward
This April, Cambridge University Press will publish Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam by Asma Sayeed (University of California, Los Angeles). The publisher’s description follows.
Asma Sayeed’s book explores the history of women as religious scholars from the first decades of Islam through the early Ottoman period (seventh to the seventeenth centuries). Focusing on women’s engagement with ḥadīth, this book analyzes dramatic chronological patterns in women’s ḥadīth participation in terms of developments in Muslim social, intellectual, and legal history. Drawing on primary and secondary sources, this work uncovers the historical forces that shaped Muslim women’s public participation in religious learning. In the process, it challenges two opposing views: that Muslim women have been historically marginalized in religious education, and alternately that they have been consistently empowered thanks to early role models such as ‘Ā’isha bint Abī Bakr, the wife of the Prophet Muḥammad. This book is a must-read for those interested in the history of Muslim women as well as in debates about their rights in the modern world. The intersections of this history with topics in Muslim education, the development of Sunnī orthodoxies, Islamic law, and ḥadīth studies make this work an important contribution to Muslim social and intellectual history of the early and classical eras.
Alan E. Brownstein (University of California, Davis – School of Law) has posted Protecting the Religious Liberty of Religious Institutions. The abstract follows.
This article is a preliminary inquiry into the question of whether the freedom of the Church, as a distinct religious institution, can be justified from an American legal perspective. The first part of the article identifies respect for the individual dignity and autonomy of the person as a primary justification for providing distinctive legal protection to religious liberty. It goes on to discuss whether distinctive religious liberty protection for religious institutions can be derived from the dignitary interests of the institution’s members – and if so, whether there is some limit beyond which institutional religious liberty claims cannot be grounded in the individual dignitary interests of congregants or constituents.
The second and longer part of the Article examines whether an argument for protecting and accommodating the autonomy of religious institutions can be grounded in American history during the 1700’s and early 1800’s. The history of this period includes multiple cross currents of values and interests that very by time and region – making it difficult to reach more than tentative conclusions. However, the Protestant commitment by religious liberty proponents to the belief that each man must judge for himself on matters relating to religion, the virulent anti-Catholicism of the period, at least some of which may be attributed to fear of and antipathy toward top down ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the prevalence of anti-clerical attitudes suggest some limits to the American commitment to the freedom of the Church as an institution. Clearly, a sphere of religious liberty extended to the local congregation and to a considerable extent to democratically created and accountable ecclesiastical decision-making bodies. It may be argued, however, that Americans of this period viewed non-democratic, hierarchical religious institutional structures – that challenged the intrinsic right of individual conscience in matters of faith – to be much less deserving of respect and protection.