Markets, Religion, and the Limits of Privacy

In modern, Western societies religion is tied up with the idea of privacy. In the wake of the Wars of Religion, religious and political thinkers invented the idea of a private sphere in which one could practice one’s religion separately from the public sphere of political action. The idea of privatizing religion has proven powerful and on the whole hugely beneficial. It allows for religious toleration and religious pluralism without suppressing religious belief and practice. Believers must simply keep their religion private, or perhaps more precisely we define as private the religious behavior that we are willing to tolerate.

The same seventeenth- and eighteenth-century world that used the idea of privacy to manage religion also employed the idea of private activity to make sense of the increasingly important role of markets in society. Aristotle thought of economic activity as part of the government of the household, which of course was seen as a private (and therefore not particularly important) realm as opposed to the public space of the agora, were the important aspects of life occurred.

By the time the Wars of Religion were winding down in the mid-seventeenth-century, however, commerce had become politically important. At the same time, the relocation of religion (and with it the ultimate questions of the good life) to the private sphere had rendered what went on there of far greater importance than it had been for Aristotle and his successors. By the eighteenth-century we had a whole new field – economics – that was focused on thinking about commercial life as a distinct sphere, and with the rise of nineteenth-century liberalism, this commercial activity – like religion – was conceptualized as a private matter, one where the collective decision-making of politics was to hold limited sway.

Many of the current skirmishes over law and religion are less about the relationship of God and Caesar than they are about the law regulating the relationship between God and Mammon. Cases like Hobby Lobby or the debates over anti-discrimination law and state Read more

“Women and Religious Traditions” (Anderson & Young, eds.)

Last month, Oxford University Press released “Women and Religious Traditions” edited by Leona M. Anderson (University of Regina) and Pamela Dickey Young (Queen’s University). The publisher’s description follows:

Women and Religious Traditions uses a critical feminist lens to explore the roles and interactions of women with major world faith traditions. Within each particular tradition, the text examines the history and status of women, family structures, sexuality, and social change, as well as texts, rituals, and interpretations by and for women.

Thirteen experts contribute nine chapters and five case studies, including a new case study on women in Chinese traditions. This third edition builds on the strengths of the first two, with the addition of lived religion content in each chapter, an expanded introduction to the study of women and religion, new research on Buddhist nuns, and up-to-date material on women’s current political position in Islamic countries.

Tamadonfar, “Islamic Law and Governance in Contemporary Iran: Transcending Islam for Social, Economic, and Political Order”

In May, Lexington Books will release “Islamic Law and Governance in Contemporary Iran: Transcending Islam for Social, Economic, and Political Order” by Tehran Tamadonfar (University of Nevada). The publisher’s description follows:

The current rise of Islamism throughout the Muslim world, Islamists’ demand for the establishment of Islamic states, and their destabilizing impact on regional and global orders have raised important questions about the origins of Islamism and the nature of an Islamic state. Beginning with the Iranian revolution of the late 1970s and the establishment of the Islamic Republic to today’s rise of ISIS to prominence, it has become increasingly apparent that Islamism is a major global force in the twenty-first century that demands acknowledgment and answers.

As a highly-integrated belief system, the Islamic worldview rejects secularism and accounts for a prominent role for religion in the politics and laws of Muslim societies. Islam is primarily a legal framework that covers all aspects of Muslims’ individual and communal lives. In this sense, the Islamic state is a logical instrument for managing Muslim societies. Even moderate Muslims who genuinely, but not necessarily vociferously, challenge the extremists’ strategies are not dismissive of the political role of Islam and the viability of an Islamic state. However, sectarian and scholastic schisms within Islam that date back to the prophet’s demise do undermine any possibility of consensus about the legal, institutional, and policy parameters of the Islamic state.

Within its Shi’a sectarian limitations, this book attempts to offer some answers to questions about the nature of the Islamic state. Nearly four decades of experience with the Islamic Republic of Iran offers us some insights into such a state’s accomplishments, potentials, and challenges. While the Islamic worldview offers a general framework for governance, this framework is in dire need of modification to be applicable to modern societies. As Iranians have learned, in the realm of practical politics, transcending the restrictive precepts of Islam is the most viable strategy for building a functional Islamic state. Indeed, Islam does provide both doctrinal and practical instruments for transcending these restrictions. This pursuit of pragmatism could potentially offer impressive strategies for governance as long as sectarian, scholastic, and autocratic proclivities of authorities do not derail the rights of the public and their demand for an orderly management of their societies.