Panel: “Religious Exemptions After Hobby Lobby: Where Do We Go From Here?” (New York, May 14)

The New York City Bar will host a panel discussion, “Religious Exemptions After Hobby Lobby: Where Do We Go From Here?” on Thursday, May 14, 2015.

This panel presentation will review the legal and policy implications of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision in the areas of religious accommodations generally, reproductive rights, health care, and employment law.

The event will run from about 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM, and attendance is free. Visit here to register.

“People under Power” (Labahn & Lehtipuu, eds.)

This June, Amsterdam University Press will release “People under Power: Early Jewish and Christian Responses to the Roman Empire” edited by Michael Labahn (Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg) and Outi Lehtipuu (University of Helsinki).  The publisher’s description follows:

People under PowerThis volume presents a batch of incisive new essays on the relationship between Roman imperial power and ideology and Christian and Jewish life and thought within the empire. Employing diverse methodologies that include historical criticism, rhetorical criticism, postcolonial criticism, and social historical studies, the contributors offer fresh perspectives on a question that is crucial for our understanding not only of the late Roman Empire, but also of the growth and change of Christianity and Judaism in the imperial period.

Miller, “Mappila Muslim Culture”

This June, SUNY Press will release “Mappila Muslim Culture: How a Historic Muslim Community in India Has Blended Tradition and Modernity” by Roland E. Miller (Emeritus Professor at Luther College, University of Regina, and Luther Seminary).  The publisher’s description follows:

Mappila MuslimsThis book provides a comprehensive account of the distinct culture of the Mappila Muslims, a large community from the southern Indian state of Kerala. Although they were the first Muslim community in South Asia, the Mappilas are little-known in the West. Roland E. Miller explores the Mappilas’ fourteen-century-long history of social adaptation and their current status as a successful example of Muslim interaction with modernity. Once feared, now admired, Kerala’s Mappilas have produced an intellectual renaissance and renewed their ancient status as a model of social harmony. Miller provides an account of Mappila history and looks at the formation of Mappila culture, which has developed through the interaction of Islamic and Malayali influences. Descriptions of current day life cycles, religion, ritual, work life, education, and leadership are included.

Greve on “The Bob Jones Rule”

I was going to post on one particular exchange between Solicitor General Verrilli and Justice Alito in yesterday’s oral argument in the same-sex marriage case, but Professor Michael Greve’s post is a better read than what I can come up with. A bit:

Justice Alito: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same-sex marriage?

Solicitor General Verrilli: You know, I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that.

That answer is about as straightforward and committal as you’ll see from an experienced lawyer. It’s curious because the Solicitor General had excellent reasons to deny the point and to deflect the question. His task was to assuage worries about what the Court is being asked to do here and to script the justices’ forthcoming press release (formally known as “the opinion for the Court”): that’s not what this means. And he had a million ways of making reassuring noises. It’s not some complicated legal case, for Pete’s sake: all Mr. Verrilli needed was to argle-bargle for the remaining five minutes of friendly colloquy about First Amendment values, competing dignities, the arc of history, and the meaning of life. In short, Verrilli made the concession not because he had to; he volunteered it. Why?

Because if the tax exemption jazz becomes “an issue,” it’s decided the minute gay marriage becomes the constitutional baseline. Because everyone knows that. Because the LBGT folks already have those complaints and briefs in their drawers, to be filed (almost “certainly”) on July 1.  And because DoJ and the IRS and OCR, in their last remaining eighteen months in office, are in a hurry to roll over to their constituencies and to hammer the hold-outs, in meticulous observance of the law. A hallmark of this administration. Or maybe they’ll hand out waivers.

I don’t deny that” says “dare me. It’s not going to hurt me in this case, and I’ll plant a flag for the next cases.” Mr. Verrilli could have coasted; instead, he waited for his opening to push further. A heck of a lawyer, at his considerable best.

“Reinhold Niebuhr: Major Works on Religion and Politics” (Sifton, ed.)

This month, the Library of America released “Reinhold Niebuhr: Major Works on Religion and Politics” edited by Elisabeth Sifton. The publisher’s description follows:

From the 1920s through the 1960s, the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was among America’s most prominent public intellectuals. As a pastor, teacher, and writer, he bridged the divide between religion and politics with perspicacity, grace, and singular intelligence, whether writing about pacifism and “just war” theory, the problem of evil in history, or the crises of war, the Depression, and social conflict. His provocative essays, lectures, and sermons from before and during World War II, in the postwar years, and at the time of the Civil Rights Movement offered searching analyses of the forces shaping American life and politics. Their profound insights into the causes of economic inequality, the challenges of achieving social justice, and the risks of adventurism in the international sphere are as relevant today as they were when he composed them.

This volume, prepared with extensive notes and a chronology by the author’s daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, is the largest, most comprehensive edition of Niebuhr’s writings ever published. It brings together the books Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic (1929), his personal reflections on his experiences as a young pastor in Detroit as it was being transformed by the explosive growth of the auto industry; Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932), a brilliant and tough-minded work that draws out the implications of Niebuhr’s view that while individuals can sometimes overcome the temptations of self-interest, larger groups never can; The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944), a passionate defense of democracy written during World War II; and the essential study that Andrew Bacevich has called “the most important book ever written on U.S. foreign policy”: The Irony of American History (1952), a consideration of American conduct in the early Cold War years that takes equal aim at Soviet communism and at the moral complacency of the United States in its newfound global ascendancy.

These four works are supplemented with essays, lectures, and sermons drawn from Niebuhr’s many other books, as well as prayers—among them the well-known Serenity Prayer. The volume also includes a chronologically arranged selection of his journalism about current events, many of the pieces appearing here in book form for the first time. “We are bound to go back to Niebuhr,” the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once wrote, “because we cannot escape the dark heart of man and because we cannot permit an awareness of this darkness to inhibit action and abolish hope.”

Rios Oyola, “Religion, Social Memory and Conflict”

In June, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Religion, Social Memory and Conflict: The Massacre of Bojayá in Colombia” by Sandra Milena Rios Oyola (Utrecht University, Netherlands). The publisher’s description follows:

The field of transitional justice and reconciliation considers social memory 9781137461834
to be an important mechanism for acknowledging the violation of victims’ rights and a step toward building peace. Societies in conflict, such as Colombia, challenge our current understanding of using memory in the construction of social peace processes, which in turn question the impossibility of forgiving violence that is still to come. Drawing on original ethnographical research, Rios analyses strategies of memorialization after the massacre of Bojayá, Colombia, as an arena of political contention but also of grassroots resistance to persistent and diverse forms of violence. The book focuses on the work of the local grassroots Catholic Church and of the victims’ association ten years after the massacre of Bojayá. It explores the role of religion in the management of victims’ emotions and in supporting claims of transitional justice from a grassroots perspective in a context of thin political transition.

Vahed & Waetjen, “Schooling Muslims in Natal”

This June, the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press will release “Schooling Muslims in Natal: Identity, State and the Orient Islamic Educational Institute” by Goolam Vahed (University of KwaZulu-Natal) and Thembisa Waetjen (Durban University of Technology).  The publisher’s description follows:

Schooling Muslims in NatalThe history of Muslim education in the east coast region of South Africa is the story of ongoing struggles by an immigrant religious minority under successive, exclusionary forms of state. Schooling Muslims in Natal traces the labours and fortunes of a set of progressive idealists who, mobilising merchant capital, transoceanic networks and informal political influence, established the Orient Islamic Educational Institute in 1943 to found schools and promote a curriculum inclusive of secular subjects and Islamic teaching. Through the story of their Durban flagship project – the Orient Islamic School – this book recounts the changing politics of religious identity, education and citizenship in South Africa.

From the late nineteenth century, Gujarati Muslim traders settling in the colony of Natal built mosques and madressas; their progeny carried on the strong traditions of community patronage and leadership. Aligned to Gandhi’s Congress initiatives for Indian civic recognition, they worked across differences of political strategy, economic class, ethnicity and religion to champion modern education for a ghettoised Indian diaspora. In common was the threat of a state that, long before the legal formation of apartheid, managed diversity in deference to white racial hysteria over ‘Indian penetration’ and an ‘Asiatic menace’.

This is the story of confrontation, cooperation and compromise by an officially marginalised but still powerful set of ‘founding fathers’ who shaped education and urban space as they integrated this region of Africa into the Indian Ocean world.

Ünal, “General Principles in the Risale-i Nur Collection for a True Understanding of Islam”

This June, Tughra Books will release “General Principles in the Risale-i Nur Collection for a True Understanding of Islam” by Ali Ünal.  The publisher’s description follows:

General PrinciplesThe Risale-i Nur Collection is full of “general principles,” not only related to the Islamic Jurisprudence but also to all the fields of Islam or Islamic life and Islamic branches of knowledge. Based on or specially favored with profound wisdom having its source in the Divine Wisdom or the Divine Name of the All-Wise, the Risale-i Nur Collection contains numerous principles, precepts, or maxims which are standards or brilliant criteria enabling people to think, believe, and live according to Islam, and to evaluate and judge things and events in Islam’s light. They also provide people with the essentials or basic principles on which the branches of Islamic knowledge and Islamic science are based. Thus, we have tried to collect many of these principles in this book under certain titles, and in certain parts or sections according to the fields of thought and branches of knowledge to which they have a greater relevance.

 

The Merchants of Venice

unde origo inde salus
Photo Courtesy of Gianmario Guidarelli

I’ve enjoyed Nate’s posts this month on the importance and benevolence of the market as a human institution. The market can indeed promote tolerance, cooperation, and peace, to say nothing of wealth. And its importance in our culture only increases. The market continues to expand its reach, governing many aspects of life we once thought beyond it. A few decades ago, prenuptial agreements were void as against public policy. Courts would not enforce agreements in contemplation of divorce. Now, prenups are routine. There are many other examples.

As the market expands, it seems inevitable that competing commitments will shrink, at least as a matter of public life. Religion may be among these commitments. In fact, as Nate explains, reducing religion’s hold on people may have been the point all along. Voltaire, for example, anticipated that the expansion of commerce would cause religious commitment to atrophy. People would come to see the market, not the church, as important, and identify as buyers and sellers rather than believers. After all, in the marketplace, it doesn’t matter whether one is a good Christian, Jew, Muslim or pagan. All that matters is whether one can pay.

In the passage Nate quotes, Voltaire offers eighteenth-century London as the model of a benevolent, religiously indifferent, commercial society. (Voltaire overstated things. In 1780, two years after he died, London was convulsed by the vicious, anti-Catholic Gordon Riots, in which mobs terrorized the city for days while Londoners huddled inside their homes, afraid to face them. “Such,” Johnson observed, “is the cowardice of a commercial place.”) When one thinks of the prototype of a mercantile society, though, one usually thinks of another city a thousand miles away. It’s Venice, more than any other place, which conventionally epitomizes the commercial society.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about Venice, lately, ever since I visited last month to participate in an international law and religion moot court competition. In its glory, Venice was a city devoted to commerce. Just as in today’s New York, you could find anything for sale. The city pioneered credit-financed capitalism and grew fabulously wealthy on trade with Byzantium and the Levant. And, as Voltaire’s theory would suggest, the Venetian Republic was quite tolerant of religious difference, especially for the time. The city had significant colonies of Eastern Christians like Greeks and Armenians; Lutheran Germans; Muslim Turks; and of course Jews. All made fortunes trading peaceably in Venice.

And yet, as I learned, Venice had a compensating commitment to tradition. The city balanced devotion to the fluid world of commerce with an equal devotion to the static world of custom. As Peter Ackroyd explains in his marvelous book, Venice, Pure City (2009), Venice was “the most conservative of societies.” In law and government, ancient usage had preeminent authority, more than positive legislation. Social interactions followed patterns that did not change. For example, strict rules limited what different classes could wear. Patricians wore stiff black gowns, which highlighted gravity and authority, not flexibility and cosmopolitanism. In architecture, generation after generation followed old models. When buildings collapsed, Venetians would reconstruct them exactly as they had been, often using the same materials. Come era, dove era.

And Venice was exceptionally religious. The city’s enthusiastic participation in the Crusades is well known, and was always a matter of great pride. One could dismiss Crusading as a search for more loot, but for Venetians it was more than that. Venetians were genuinely devout, perhaps excessively so. Hundreds of churches shared a very small space; religious processions were numerous and frequent.  Reports of miracles were common; only Rome had more. This is not to say that Venetians were saints. They never lost sight of the main chance. But Catholicism was a centerpiece of their identity. Ackroyd sums it up best: “Machiavelli wrote that ‘we Italians are corrupt and irreligious beyond all others.’ That was not true of the Venetians. They were corrupt and religious.”

The commitment to tradition was brought home to me when I was visited the famous basilica of Santa Maria della Salute on the Grand Canal. The basilica was built in the seventeenth century to commemorate the Virgin’s help in ending one of the periodic plagues that struck Venice. As architectural historian Gianmario Guidarelli explained to me, at the very center of this church, there is an inscription (above) that captures the Venetian understanding of life: Unde Origo Inde Salus, “Where is the Origin, There is Salvation.” The inscription refers to the legendary founding of Venice on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation to the Virgin in the Western calendar. But I think the inscription must allude more generally to the saving power of the past. Salvation doesn’t come from novelty or change. To preserve the city, one must return to history, to ancient customs, to the origins. You can’t get more traditional than that.

With their dual commitment to markets and tradition, the merchants of Venice held the gorgeous East in fee. The state they created, the Venetian Republic, lasted for more than a thousand years. In the West today, we have kept and expanded markets, but seem ever more eager to jettison tradition. I wonder how long we’ll last.

Witte, “The Western Case for Monogamy Over Polygamy”

In May, Cambridge University Press will release “The Western Case for Monogamy Over Polygamy” by John Witte, Jr. (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:

For more than 2,500 years, the Western tradition has embraced monogamous marriage as an essential institution for the flourishing of men and women, parents and children, society and the state. At the same time, polygamy has been considered a serious crime that harms wives and children, correlates with sundry other crimes and abuses, and threatens good citizenship and political stability. The West has thus long punished all manner of plural marriages and denounced the polygamous teachings of selected Jews, Muslims, Anabaptists, Mormons, and others. John Witte, Jr. carefully documents the Western case for monogamy over polygamy from antiquity until today. He analyzes the historical claims that polygamy is biblical, natural, and useful alongside modern claims that anti-polygamy laws violate personal and religious freedom. While giving the arguments pro and con a full hearing, Witte concludes that the Western historical case against polygamy remains compelling and urges Western nations to hold the line on monogamy.