Around the Web This Week

Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

Smith, “Religion in the Oval Office: The Religious Lives of American Presidents”

This month, Oxford University Press will release “Religion in the Oval Office: The Religious Lives of American Presidents” by Gary Scott Smith (Grove City College). The publisher’s description follows:

In his highly praised book Faith and the Presidency, Gary Scott Smith cast a revealing light on the role religion has played in presidential politics throughout our nation’s history, offering comprehensive, even-handed examinations of the role of religion in the lives, politics, and policies of eleven presidents.

Now, in Religion in the Oval Office, Smith takes on eleven more of our nation’s most interesting and influential chief executives: John Adams, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William McKinley, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Drawing on a wide range of sources and paying close attention to historical context and America’s shifting social and moral values, he examines their religious beliefs, commitments, affiliations, and practices and scrutinizes their relationships with religious leaders and communities. The result is a fascinating account of the ways in which religion has helped shape the course of our history. From John Quincy Adams’ treatment of Native Americans, to Harry Truman’s decision to recognize Israel, to Bill Clinton’s promotion of religious liberty and welfare reform, to Barack Obama’s policies on poverty and gay rights, Smith shows how strongly our presidents’ religious commitments have affected policy from the earliest days of our nation to the present.

Together with Faith and the PresidencyReligion in the Oval Office provides the most comprehensive examination of the inseparable and intriguing relationship between faith and the American presidency. This book will be invaluable to anyone interested in the presidency and the role of religion in politics.

Ali, “Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now”

In March, Harper Collins Publishers will release “Heretic: Why Islam Needs a
Reformation Now” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Harvard University). The publisher’s description follows:

Continuing her very personal journey Hereticfrom a deeply religious Islamic upbringing to a post at Harvard, the brilliant, charismatic and controversial New York Times and Globe and Mail #1 bestselling author of Infideland Nomad makes a powerful plea for an Islamic Reformation as the only way to end the horrors of terrorism and sectarian warfare and the repression of women and minorities.

Today, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims can be divided into a minority of fundamentalists, a majority of observant “daily” Muslims and a few dissidents who risk their lives by questioning their own religion. But there is only one Islam and, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali argues, there is no denying that some of its key teachings—like the subordination of women and the duty to wage holy war—are incompatible with the values of a free society.

For centuries it has seemed as if Islam is immune to change. But Hirsi Ali has come to believe that a “Reformation”—a revision of Islamic doctrine aimed at reconciling the religion with modernity—is now at hand, and may even have begun. The Arab Spring may now seem like a political failure. But its challenge to traditional authority revealed a new readiness—not least by Muslim women—to think freely and to speak out.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali argues that ordinary Muslims throughout the world want change. Courageously challenging the fundamentalists, she identifies five key amendments to Islamic doctrine that must be made in order to set Muslims free from their 7th-century chains. Interweaving her own experiences, historical analogies and powerful examples from contemporary Islamic societies and cultures, Heretic is not a call to arms, but a passionate plea for peaceful change and a new era of toleration.