I am just back from passing a wonderful few days of fellowship and reflection at the Libertas Project’s workshop on religious freedom, hosted by the gracious and erudite Michael Moreland at Villanova Law School and sponsored by the generous Templeton Foundation. Together with other MOJ denizens Kevin Walsh and Michael Scaperlanda, I had the pleasure of talking together with a terrific group of learned political theorists, historians, theologians, and law professors about various issues–old and new–concerning the historical trajectory and current condition of the right of religious freedom.
Zak Calo and I had the privilege of moderating the seven sessions of the workshop. And the three of us–Michael, Zak, and I–worked together to assemble a panoramic set of readings to direct the group’s attentions and reflections:
- Chapters from Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation and Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God kicked things off
- A historical session on Burke, the relationship of establishment and regimes of religious toleration, and the intellectual history of the maxim, “Christianity is part of the common law”
- A session that included readings by Murray and Niebuhr set against United States v. Seeger
- A session that considered Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Address, Micah Schwartzman’s article about the moral justifiability of religion’s special constitutional protection, and Town of Greece v. Galloway
- And finally a few sessions devoted to Steve Smith’s recent book, The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom, with applications and speculations about various contemporary controversies
In all it was an extremely successful and productive event bringing together a broad range of disciplinary expertise and insight. I’ll have a bit more to say about some of the more particular subjects that interested me, but for now just want to congratulate Michael on organizing this excellent conference.
In September, Columbia University Press will publish Women in the Mosque: A History of Legal Thought and Social Practice by Marion Holmes Katz (New York University). The publisher’s description follows:
Juxtaposing Muslim scholars’ debates over women’s attendance in mosques with historical descriptions of women’s activities within Middle Eastern and North African mosques, Marion Holmes Katz shows how over the centuries legal scholars’ arguments have often reacted to rather than dictated Muslim women’s behavior.
Tracing Sunni legal positions on women in mosques from the second century of the Islamic calendar to the modern period, Katz connects shifts in scholarly terminology and argumentation to changing constructions of gender. Over time, assumptions about women’s changing behavior through the lifecycle gave way to a global preoccupation with sexual temptation, which then became the central rationale for limits on women’s mosque access. At the same time, travel narratives, biographical dictionaries, and religious polemics suggest that women’s usage of mosque space often diverged in both timing and content from the ritual models constructed by scholars. Katz demonstrates both the concrete social and political implications of Islamic legal discourse and the autonomy of women’s mosque-based activities. She also examines women’s mosque access as a trope in Western travelers’ narratives and the evolving significance of women’s mosque attendance among different Islamic currents in the twentieth century.
In August, Stanford University Press will release Faith as an Option by Hans Joas (Humboldt University, Berlin and University of Chicago). The publisher’s description follows:
Many people these days regard religion as outdated and are unable to understand how believers can intellectually justify their faith. Nonbelievers have long assumed that progress in technology and the sciences renders religion irrelevant. Believers, in contrast, see religion as vital to society’s spiritual and moral well-being. But does modernization lead to secularization? Does secularization lead to moral decay? Sociologist Hans Joas argues that these two supposed certainties have kept scholars from serious contemporary debate and that people must put these old arguments aside in order for debate to move forward. The emergence of a “secular option” does not mean that religion must decline, but that even believers must now define their faith as one option among many.
In this book, Joas spells out some of the consequences of the abandonment of conventional assumptions for contemporary religion and develops an alternative to the cliché of an inevitable conflict between Christianity and modernity. Arguing that secularization comes in waves and stressing the increasing contingency of our worlds, he calls upon faith to articulate contemporary experiences. Churches and religious communities must take into account religious diversity, but the modern world is not a threat to Christianity or to faith in general. On the contrary, Joas says, modernity and faith can be mutually enriching.