A few additional thoughts on the convergences and divergences of law and the academic study of religion, prompted by thoughtful emails from legal and ASR scholars Nelson Tebbe and Donald Drakeman.
Both law and ASR may be similar in that they harbor anxieties about their methodological uniqueness and about the autonomy of their disciplines as fields of academic inquiry. In law, this has been a perpetual worry that became particularly acute in the 20th century, as scholars from Pound to Holmes to Posner have argued compellingly for law’s non-autonomy. Indeed, Posner has advocated the project of “overcoming” law: what takes the reins after law has been overcome is economics, philosophy, political science, or some other discipline with truly independent methodological bona fides (it’s mostly economics for Posner). Though it is not my field (and so I hope to be corrected by those who know better), my sense is that ASR has some of these same anxieties but in its case, the anxieties are connected to the conceptual distinctiveness of the subject matter that it studies. Certainly in law, self-justification and disciplinary apology are not unknown.
Practice and Theory: Maintaining or Collapsing the Division?
Both law and ASR have roots as practical endeavors–as trades and professions, rather than as purely academic subjects. For law this is obvious; for ASR the root is theology and ministry. And law schools and divinity schools historically functioned to prepare tradesmen; indeed, both continue to operate primarily to train future practitioners of their respective trades.
My friend Nelson Tebbe points out to me that Yale Law School Professor Paul Kahn notes some of these similarities in his book, The Cultural Study of Law: Reconstructing Legal Scholarship. Kahn’s project is precisely to help legal scholarship get over its past Read more
This month, Ashgate releases Volume III of Religion in the Public Space, part of its Library of Essays on Law and Religion series. The volume is edited by Silvio Ferrari (Milan) and Rinaldo Cristofori (Milan), and contains essays by, among others, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, Mary Ann Glendon, and, I blush to say, yours truly–my essay, Crosses and Culture, on religious displays in the US and Europe. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Religion in the public sphere is one of the most debated issues in the field of law and religion. This volume brings together articles which address some of the more prominent recent cases relating to religion and education, religion and the workplace, family law and religious symbols. The essays discuss the meaning of secularism today and the difficult issue of religion in the public sphere and reflect a wide variety of viewpoints. This volume maps the key elements of this multi-faceted problem, offers essential material and provides an important starting point for an understanding of the issues in this century old debate.
Nathan Chapman (Georgia) has posted a new article, Disentangling Conscience and Religion, on SSRN. The abstract follows:
What does “liberty of conscience” mean? Religious liberty? Freedom of strong conviction? Freedom of thought? Since the Founding Era, Americans have used liberty of conscience to paper over disputes about the proper scope of religious, moral, and philosophical liberty. This Article explores the relationship between conscience and religion in history, political theory, and theology, and proposes a conception of conscience that supports a liberty of conscience distinct from religious liberty. In doing so, it offers a theoretical basis for distinguishing between conscience and religion in First Amendment scholarship and related fields. Conscience is best understood, for purposes of legal theory, as a universal faculty that issues moral commands and judgments. This conception overlaps with religion but is not concentric with it. On one hand, conscience may be informed by religious beliefs (or by nonreligious beliefs). On the other, religious beliefs and practices may be entirely independent of conscience. Protecting fidelity to conscience, whether religious or nonreligious, promotes integrity and undermines the government’s pretensions to moral totalitarianism. This conception of conscience is coherent enough to support a legal right and valuable enough to deserve one.
Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Evangelicals and American Foreign Policy by Mark R. Amstutz (Wheaton College). The publisher’s description follows.
Gallons of ink have been spilled in examining the influence of Evangelicals on American politics. Yet the conversation–among pundits, politicians, and scholars–has focused overwhelmingly on hot-button domestic issues, such as abortion and gay marriage. In Evangelicals and American Foreign Policy, Mark Amstutz looks beyond our shores at Evangelicals’ role in American foreign affairs.
Writers have generally traced Evangelicals’ political awakening to the 1970s or, at the earliest, to World War II. But Amstutz digs deeper, arguing that Evangelicals were active in foreign affairs since at least the nineteenth century, when Protestant missionaries spread throughout the world, gaining fluency in foreign languages and developing knowledge of distant lands. They were on the front lines of American global engagement–serving as agents of humanitarianism and cultural transformation. Indeed, long before anyone had heard of Woodrow Wilson, Evangelicals were America’s first internationalists.
In the postwar period, that expertise was put to more organized and sophisticated use, as Evangelicals sought to translate their belief that humans were created in God’s image into a core principle of American foreign policy. Amstutz explores how this principle has been put into practice on issues ranging from global poverty to foreign policy towards Israel, paying close attention to Evangelicals’ triumphs and failures on the global stage.
In October, Harvard University Press will publish Thin Description: Ethnography and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem by John Jackson Jr. (University of Pennsylvania). The publisher’s description follows.
The African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem are often dismissed as a fringe cult for their beliefs that African Americans are descendants of the ancient Israelites and that veganism leads to immortality. But John L. Jackson questions what “fringe” means in a world where cultural practices of every stripe circulate freely on the Internet. In this poignant and sophisticated examination of the limits of ethnography, the reader is invited into the visionary, sometimes vexing world of the AHIJ. Jackson challenges what Clifford Geertz called the “thick description” of anthropological research through a multidisciplinary investigation of how the AHIJ use media and technology to define their public image in the twenty-first century.
Moving far beyond the “modest witness” of nineteenth-century scientific discourse or the “thick descriptions” of twentieth-century anthropology, Jackson insists that Geertzian thickness is an impossibility, especially in a world where the anthropologist’s subject is a self-aware subject–one who crafts his own autoethnography while critically consuming the ethnographer’s offerings. Thin Description takes as its topic a group situated along the fault lines of several diasporas–African, American, Jewish–and provides an anthropological account of how race, religion, and ethnographic representation must be understood anew in the twenty-first century lest we reenact old mistakes in the study of black humanity.