I spent this morning at the fourth annual Religious Legal Theory Conference, hosted this year by Sam Levine at Touro Law School. I moderated a panel, “Religious Legal Theory and the Perspectives of ‘Others.'” The idea for the panel, which was Sam’s, was to bring together scholars who write about law in religious traditions other than their own, something that I tried to do a few years ago at the first Religious Legal Theory Conference with my essay, Fiqh and Canons.
The presentations were interesting and covered a variety of perspectives. Randy Lee (Widener) spoke about his experience as a Christian studying Jewish law. He said that this experience had taught him the importance of “listening Jewish”–to find the best in others. He wondered whether “Godly lawyers” who listened to clients in this way might actually transform lives. In response to a question from me, Randy stated that he did not think that all lawyers who study religious law would have his experience, or should; but, in studying Jewish law, he realized that he himself was a “variable,” not a “constant,” and that he himself had been transformed.
David Friedman (Santa Clara) is an atheist who studies the history of religious legal systems. He argued that Jewish and Islamic law both rest in part on pre-existing, decentralized “feud systems,” characterized by private retaliation for wrongs. He gave examples from both systems. Friedman also addressed the problems that arise in legal systems that have God, rather than humans, as “the legislator,” and the various interpretive devices such systems employ to mitigate what seem to be disproportionate penalties called for in sacred scripture- Islamic law rules calling for amputation as punishment for theft, for example.
Philip Ackerman-Lieberman (Vanderbilt), who is Jewish, spoke about his work on the interactions between Islamic and Jewish commercial law in medieval Cairo. He argued that scholars should not concern themselves only with a comparison of legal details, but should study social and legal structures as a whole. Structural analysis reveals that the Islamic legal culture and Jewish legal subculture influenced each other in a kind of “dialogue.” The two systems shared ideas, but also differentiated themselves from one another–and in this differentiation may be found the distinctive elements of each legal tradition. Philip suggested that the study of legal theory and commercial practice in medieval Cairo could have an impact on contemporary issues faced by Islam and Judaism.
Here are some interesting law & religion stories from around the web this week:
This April, Orbis Books published Christianity and the Political Order: Conflict, Cooptation, and Cooperation by Kenneth R. Himes (Boston College). The publisher’s description follows.
Beyond electoral campaigns and government structures, the relationship between the political realm and Christianity has always involved the important questions of how we ought to live together, and how we should organize and govern our common life. As the author notes, politics—and the political choices we make—must be “guided by considerations of national and global justice and peace and, for Christians, by the teachings of Jesus,” as interpreted by tradition.
Himes examines the relationship between Christianity and politics from the teachings of the Old and New Testaments through the patristic and medieval eras and the age of reform to the age of revolution, and throughout the twentieth century into the third millennium. He takes on questions of the role of the church in politics, responsible voting, concerns of globalization, and issues of human rights and war and peace.
This July, Ashgate Publishing Company will publish The Burqa Affair Across Europe: Between Public and Private Space edited by Alessandro Ferrari (University of Insubria) and Sabrina Pastorelli (University of Milan). The publisher’s description follows.
In recent years, the wearing of the full-face veil or burqa/niqab has proved a controversial issue in many multi-cultural European societies. Focusing on the socio-legal and human rights angle, this volume provides a useful comparative perspective on how the issue has been dealt with across a range of European states as well as at European institutional level. In so doing, the work draws a theoretical framework for the place of religion between public and private space. With contributions from leading experts from law, sociology and politics, the book presents a comparative and interdisciplinary approach to one of the most contentious and symbolic issues of recent times.
This month John Hopkins University Press will publish The Amish by Donald B. Kraybill (Elizabethtown College), Karen M. Johnson-Weiner (SUNY-Potsdam), and Steven N. Nolt (Goshen College). The publisher’s description follows.
The Amish have always struggled with the modern world. Known for their simple clothing, plain lifestyle, and horse-and-buggy mode of transportation, Amish communities continually face outside pressures to modify their cultural patterns, social organization, and religious world view. An intimate portrait of Amish life, The Amish explores not only the emerging diversity and evolving identities within this distinctive American ethnic community, but also its transformation and geographic expansion.
Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt spent twenty-five years researching Amish history, religion, and culture. Drawing on archival material, direct observations, and oral history, the authors provide an authoritative and sensitive understanding of Amish society.
Amish people do not evangelize, yet their numbers in North America have grown from a small community of some 6,000 people in the early 1900s to a thriving population of more than 275,000 today. The largest populations are found in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, with additional communities in twenty-seven other states and Ontario.
The authors argue that the intensely private and insular Amish have devised creative ways to negotiate with modernity that have enabled them to thrive in America. The transformation of the Amish in the American imagination from “backward bumpkins” to media icons poses provocative questions. What does the Amish story reveal about the American character, popular culture, and mainstream values? Richly illustrated, The Amish is the definitive portrayal of the Amish in America in the twenty-first century.
This month Polity Books will publish Multiculturalism by Tariq Modood (University of Bristol). The publisher’s description follows.
At a time when many public commentators are turning against multiculturalism in response to fears about militant Islam, immigration or social cohesion, Tariq Modood, one of the world’s leading authorities on multiculturalism, provides a distinctive contribution to these debates. He contends that the rise of Islamic terrorism has neither discredited multiculturalism nor heralded a clash of civilizations. Instead, it has highlighted a central challenge for the 21st century – the urgent need to include Muslims in contemporary conceptions of democratic citizenship.
In the second edition of this popular and compelling book, Modood updates his original argument with two new chapters. He reassesses the relationship between multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism and assimilation, demonstrating that multiculturalism is crucial for successful integration. He also argues that while multiculturalism poses a significant challenge to existing forms of secularism, this challenge should not be exaggerated into a crisis. In so doing, Modood adds new vigor to the claim that multiculturalism remains a living force which is shaping our polities, even as its death is repeatedly announced.
This book will appeal to students, researchers and teachers of politics, sociology and public policy, as well as to anyone interested in the prospects of multiculturalism today.