In this week’s list, articles on comparative law and religion, freedom of association, special protection for religion, and constitutional faith:
1. Larry Catá Backer (Pennsylvania State University – Dickinson School of Law), The Crisis of Secular Liberalism and the Constitutional State in Comparative Perspective: Religion, Rule of Law, and Democratic Organization of Religion Privileging States. This essay in comparative constitutional law addresses the “privileging” of institutional religion in political life. Solicitude for individual religious belief and practice is not the problem, the author suggests, but the “willingness to allow institutional religion a role in the political life of the state.” The author surveys the situation in foreign countries for “lessons that might be considered by the United States as it seeks to carve a privileged role for religion while protecting its status as something special that cannot be touched by politics.”
2. Neil J. Foster (Newcastle Law School – Australia), Christian Youth Camp liable for declining booking from homosexual support group. In this case comment, Australian legal scholar Neil J. Foster critiques a recent Australian appellate court judgment fining a Christian youth camping organization for refusing to book an event by a homosexual support group. Foster argues that the case is significant, among other reasons, for equating discrimination based on homosexual conduct with discrimination based on sexual orientation, and for holding that corporations are not “persons” who can exercise religion under Australian law.
3. Christopher P. Guzelian (Thomas Jefferson), False Speech: Quagmire? In this essay, the author describes the difficulties courts have in resolving “false speech” cases and argues that the difficulties result from disagreements about the nature of objective truth. Although the author does not advocate a coerced “biblical or natural law” jurisprudence, he does counsel a retreat from nihilism to “a certain kind of optimistic faith.”
4. Michael Stokes Paulsen (University of St. Thomas School of Law), Is Religious Freedom Irrational? This is a review of Brian Leiter’s recent book, Why Tolerate Religion? Paulsen argues that Leiter’s denial of special status for religion is based on “a surprisingly shallow, philosophically unsophisticated understanding of religious belief.” Paulsen writes, “religious belief, at least in certain forms, is entirely rational and reasonable and … the decision of the framing generation to protect specifically religious conscience and exercise is likewise entirely rational.”
5. Nelson Tebbe (Brooklyn Law School), Associations and the Constitution: Four Questions about Four Freedoms. This is a response to a recent article by John Inazu, in which Inazu argues that the four basic freedoms in the First Amendment—speech, press, religion, and assembly—together support the concept of “strong pluralism,” which would generally allow associations to limit membership on any ground, including race. Tebbe tackles the theoretical underpinnings of Inazu’s argument and questions whether Inazu’s “is the most principled and pragmatic solution available” to the problem of balancing associational and individual rights.
Here’s a new one from Princeton University Press, Tradition and the Formation of the Talmud by Moulie Vidas (Princeton University). Interesting thesis with respect to the nature and history of tradition and tradition-mindedness in Judaism. The abstract follows.
Tradition and the Formation of the Talmud offers a new perspective on perhaps the most important religious text of the Jewish tradition. It is widely recognized that the creators of the Talmud innovatively interpreted and changed the older traditions on which they drew. Nevertheless, it has been assumed that the ancient rabbis were committed to maintaining continuity with the past. Moulie Vidas argues on the contrary that structural features of the Talmud were designed to produce a discontinuity with tradition, and that this discontinuity was part and parcel of the rabbis’ self-conception. Both this self-conception and these structural features were part of a debate within and beyond the Jewish community about the transmission of tradition.
Focusing on the Babylonian Talmud, produced in the rabbinic academies of late ancient Mesopotamia, Vidas analyzes key passages to show how the Talmud’s creators contrasted their own voice with that of their predecessors. He also examines Zoroastrian, Christian, and mystical Jewish sources to reconstruct the debates and wide-ranging conversations that shaped the Talmud’s literary and intellectual character.
This week, Oxford University Press releases The Coptic Question in the Mubarak Era, by Sebastian Elsässer (Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel, Germany). The publisher’s description follows:
Egypt’s Christians, the Copts, are the largest Christian community in the Middle East. While they have always been considered an integral component of the Egyptian nation, their precise status within Egyptian politics and society has been subject to ongoing debates from the twentieth century to present day. Part of the legacy of the Mubarak era in Egypt is the unsettled state of Muslim-Christian relations and the increasing volatility of sectarian tensions, which have continued in the post-Mubarak period.
The Coptic Question in the Mubarak Era delves into the discourses that dominated public debates and the political agenda-setting during the Mubarak era, explaining why politicians and the public in Egypt have had such enormous difficulties in recognizing the real roots of sectarian strife. This “Coptic question” is a complex set of issues, ranging from the petty struggles of daily Egyptian life in a bi-religious society to intricate legal and constitutional questions (family law, conversion, and church-building), to the issue of the political participation of the Coptic minority. Through these subjects, the book explores a larger debate around Egyptian national identity.
Paying special attention to the neglected diversity of voices within the Coptic community, Sebastian Elsässer peels back the historical layers to provide a comprehensive analysis of the historic, political, and social dynamics of Egypt’s Coptic Christians during Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
This week, Random House releases Strange Glory, a new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, by Charles Marsh (University of Virginia). The publisher’s description follows:
In the decades since his execution by the Nazis in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor, theologian, and anti-Hitler conspirator, has become one of the most widely read and inspiring Christian thinkers of our time. Now, drawing on extensive new research, Strange Glory offers a definitive account, by turns majestic and intimate, of this modern icon.
The scion of a grand family that rarely went to church, Dietrich decided as a thirteen-year-old to become a theologian. By twenty-one, the rather snobbish and awkward young man had already written a dissertation hailed by Karl Barth as a “theological miracle.” But it was only the first step in a lifelong effort to recover an authentic and orthodox Christianity from the dilutions of liberal Protestantism and the modern idolatries of blood and nation—which forces had left the German church completely helpless against the onslaught of Nazism.
From the start, Bonhoeffer insisted that the essence of Christianity was not its abstract precepts but the concrete reality of the shared life in Christ. In 1930, his search for that true fellowship led Bonhoeffer to America for ten fateful months in the company of social reformers, Harlem churchmen, and public intellectuals. Energized by the lived faith he had seen, he would now begin to make what he later saw as his definitive “turn from the phraseological to the real.” He went home with renewed vocation and took up ministry among Berlin’s downtrodden while trying to find his place in the hoary academic establishment increasingly captive to nationalist fervor.
With the rise of Hitler, however, Bonhoeffer’s journey took yet another turn. The German church was Nazified, along with every other state-sponsored institution. But it was the Nuremberg laws that set Bonhoeffer’s earthly life on an ineluctable path toward destruction. His denunciation of the race statutes as heresy and his insistence on the church’s moral obligation to defend all victims of state violence, regardless of race or religion, alienated him from what would become the Reich church and even some fellow resistors. Soon the twenty-seven-year-old pastor was one of the most conspicuous dissidents in Germany. He would carry on subverting the regime and bearing Christian witness, whether in the pastorate he assumed in London, the Pomeranian monastery he established to train dissenting ministers, or in the worldwide ecumenical movement. Increasingly, though, Bonhoeffer would find himself a voice crying in the wilderness, until, finally, he understood that true moral responsibility obliged him to commit treason, for which he would pay with his life.
Charles Marsh brings Bonhoeffer to life in his full complexity for the first time. With a keen understanding of the multifaceted writings, often misunderstood, as well as the imperfect man behind the saintly image, here is a nuanced, exhilarating, and often heartrending portrait that lays bare Bonhoeffer’s flaws and inner torment, as well as the friendships and the faith that sustained and finally redeemed him. Strange Glory is a momentous achievement.