A Few Notes on the Libertas Conference on Religious Freedom

Mark and I are just back from the Libertas Conference at Villanova Law School. It was an extremely edifying period of thought, reflection, and fellowship with a wonderful group of lawyers, political theorists, philosophers, historians, and journalists, including Steve Smith, Damon Linker, Christopher Tollefsen, Elizabeth and David Corey, Tuan Samahon, and Gerald Russello, among many others. Rick Garnett, Zak Calo, and I were fortunate enough to moderate the sessions over a period of three days.

The sessions really broke down into four general categories: (1) genealogical accounts of church and state in modernity (including readings by Brad Gregory and Mark Lilla, as well as by Steve Smith); (2) historical studies of the specifically English and American experience of church and state (including readings by Stuart Banner and Michael McConnell), (3) comments on the projects of cultural Christianity and secularism (John Courtney Murray, Robert Louis Wilken, and Pope Benedict XVI were on the agenda); and (4) diagnoses of and prognoses for religious freedom in the United States (here some of the readings were decidedly inferior as they included some of my recent work, but also much better material by Rick Garnett and Paul Horwitz).

The conference was organized by Michael Moreland with his usual grace, generosity, and aplomb. The participants’ comments and insights will influence my own thinking and writing for a while, in ways I hope to note by and by. But here’s one initial thought having to do with scholarly method. There are of course many different ways to make scholarly contributions in law: argument in the service of changing doctrine, synthesis of a body of law to arrive at a new insight, normative pleas for turns or returns to various positions having assertedly desirable political ramifications, studies of empirical states of affairs, and so on. But my own view–helped along and shaped by the participants at the conference (as well as by posts like this one)–is that we are at the beginning of the flowering of an interesting period of long-view, retrospective, critical diagnostic scholarship in law and religion and constitutional law more broadly. Not everybody will be interested in this sort of approach, of course. Others in the field have different projects and different objectives. But at least for me, this is an invigorating thought.

Bleich & Jacobson, “Jewish Law and Contemporary Issues”

In September, Cambridge University Press will release “Jewish Law and Contemporary Issues” by J. David Bleich (Yeshiva University) and Arthur J. Jacobson (Yeshiva University). The publisher’s description follows:

Organized as a series of authoritative discussions, this book presents the application of Jewish law – or Halakhah – to contemporary social and political issues. Beginning with the principle of divine revelation, it describes the contents and canons of interpretation of Jewish law. Though divinely received, the law must still be interpreted and “completed” by human minds, often leading to the conundrum of divergent but equally authentic interpretations. Examining topics from divorce to war and from rabbinic confidentiality to cloning, this book carefully delineates the issues presented in each case, showing the various positions taken by rabbinic scholars, clarifying areas of divergence, and analyzing reasons for disagreement. Written by widely-recognized scholars of both Jewish and secular law, this book will be an invaluable source for all who seek authoritative guidance in understanding traditional Jewish law and practice.

Shahar, “Legal Pluralism in the Holy City: Competing Courts, Forum Shopping, and Institutional Dynamics in Jerusalem”

In August, Ashgate will release “Legal Pluralism in the Holy City: Competing Courts, Forum Shopping, and Institutional Dynamics in Jerusalem” by Ido Shahar (University of Haifa, Israel). The publisher’s description follows:

This book provides an unprecedented portrayal of a lively shari’a court in contemporary West Jerusalem, which belongs to the Israeli legal system but serves Palestinian residents of the eastern part of the city. It draws a rich picture of an intriguing institution, operating in an environment marked by legal pluralism and by exceptional political and cultural tensions. The book suggests an organizational-institutional approach to legal pluralism, which examines not only the relations between bodies of law but also the relations between courts of law serving the same population.

Based on participant observations in the studied court as well as on textual and legal analyses of court cases and rulings, the study combines history and ethnography, diachronic and synchronic perspectives, and examines broad, macro-political processes as well as micro-level interactions.

The book offers fresh perspectives on the phenomenon of legal pluralism, on shari’a law in practice and on Palestinian-Israeli relations in the divided city of Jerusalem. The work is a valuable resource for academics and researchers working in the areas of Legal Pluralism, Islamic Law, and socio-legal history of the Middle East.