Hogan, “Keeping Faith with Human Rights”

This month, the Georgetown University Press releases “Keeping Faith with Human Rights,” by Linda Hogan (Trinity College Dublin). The publisher’s description follows:

The human rights regime is one of modernity’s great civilizing triumphs. From the formal promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to the subsequent embrace of this declaration by the newly independent states of Africa, human rights have emerged as the primary discourse of global politics and as an increasingly prominent category in the international and domestic legal system. But throughout their history, human rights have endured sustained attempts at disenfranchisement.

In this provocative study, Linda Hogan defends human rights language while simultaneously reenvisioning its future. Avoiding problematic claims about shared universal values, Hogan draws on the constructivist strand of political philosophy to argue for a three-pronged conception of human rights: as requirements for human flourishing, as necessary standards of human community, and as the basis for emancipatory politics. In the process, she shows that it is theoretically possible and politically necessary for theologians to keep faith with human rights. Indeed, the Christian tradition—the wellspring of many of the ethical commitments considered central to human rights—must embrace its vital role in the project.

Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Lawyers?

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013I’ll leave it to others more knowledgeable than I to assess the changes Pope Francis announced this morning with respect to the procedure for granting annulments. To an outsider, the changes certainly seem sweeping. Francis has eliminated the requirement that two tribunals agree to grant an annulment — a kind of mandatory appeal procedure. Now, the ruling of only one tribunal will suffice. Moreover, unlike in the past, the tribunal need not contain an expert in canon law. Indeed, the number of judges on the tribunal has been reduced from three to one.

In addition, the reforms greatly expand the authority of the local bishop to grant annulments. (For what it’s worth, in my own Armenian Orthodox Church, divorces–we don’t have annulments–are handled by the local bishop in a more or less informal process). If there is an appeal from a tribunal’s decision, the local bishop will hear it, rather than church courts in Rome–though a second appeal would go to Rome. In some cases, where grounds for annulment are “evident,” the bishop can grant an annulment in an even more expedited process. Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told the Washington Post that Francis’s granting these powers to local bishops is “the most-far reaching reform to the Church’s nullity process in 300 years.”

As I say, I will leave if for others to assess the effect of all this — whether the benefits that come from streamlining the process outweigh the danger that unwilling people, who don’t want their marriages annulled, will be railroaded — and what the impact will be for the upcoming synod on the family. As to that, my guess is that some of the heat has been taken off. It would only be reasonable to wait to see how these new reforms work before tackling other neuralgic issues, like communion for divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received annulments. But, as I say, I’m an outsider.

There is one thing that strikes me, however, as a professor at a Catholic law school. As a result of the new, streamlined process, canon law will be even less important to the lives of most American Catholics than it already is. In America, anyway, canon law is, in practice, mostly a matter of marriage annulments. If you don’t need canon law for that, what do you need it for? Chad Pecknold tells the Washington Post that many of his canon-lawyer friends are thinking of a new line of work. No wonder.

I do wish the Vatican had considered all this. Do they have any idea how hard it is to convince American law students to take canon law? And haven’t they heard about the employment crisis for American lawyers?

Beckwith, “Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith”

In October, Cambridge University Press will release “Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith” by Francis J. Beckwith (Baylor University). The publisher’s description follows:

Taking Rites Seriously is about how religious beliefs and religious believers are assessed by judges and legal scholars and are sometimes mischaracterized and misunderstood by those who are critical of the influence of religion in politics or in the formation of law. Covering three general topics – reason and motive, dignity and personhood, nature and sex – philosopher and legal theorist Francis J. Beckwith carefully addresses several contentious legal and cultural questions over which religious and non-religious citizens often disagree: the rationality of religious belief, religiously motivated legislation, human dignity in bioethics, abortion and embryonic stem cell research, reproductive rights and religious liberty, evolutionary theory, and the nature of marriage. In the process, he responds to some well-known critics of public faith – including Brian Leiter, Steven Pinker, Suzanna Sherry, Ronald Dworkin, John Rawls, and Richard Dawkins – as well as to some religiously conservative critics of secularism such as the advocates for intelligent design.

Mahmood, “Religious Difference in a Secular Age”

In November, Princeton University Press will release “Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report” by Saba Mahmood (University of California, Berkeley). The publisher’s description follows:

The plight of religious minorities in the Middle East is often attributed to the failure of secularism to take root in the region. Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges this assessment by examining four cornerstones of secularism—political and civil equality, minority rights, religious freedom, and the legal separation of private and public domains.

Drawing on her extensive fieldwork in Egypt with Coptic Orthodox Christians and Bahais—religious minorities in a predominantly Muslim country—Saba Mahmood shows how modern secular governance has exacerbated religious tensions and inequalities rather than reduced them. Tracing the historical career of secular legal concepts in the colonial and postcolonial Middle East, she explores how contradictions at the very heart of political secularism have aggravated and amplified existing forms of Islamic hierarchy, bringing minority relations in Egypt to a new historical impasse. Through a close examination of Egyptian court cases and constitutional debates about minority rights, conflicts around family law, and controversies over freedom of expression, Mahmood invites us to reflect on the entwined histories of secularism in the Middle East and Europe.

A provocative work of scholarship, Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges us to rethink the promise and limits of the secular ideal of religious equality.

“Mormonism and American Politics” (eds. Balmer and Riess)

In December, the Columbia University Press will release  “Mormonism and American Politics,” edited by Randall Balmer (Dartmouth College) and Jana Riess (formerly at Barnard College and Miami University).  The publisher’s description follows: 

When Joseph Smith ran for president as a radical protest candidate in 1844, Mormons were a deeply distrusted group in American society, and their efforts to enter public life were met with derision. When Mitt Romney ran for president as a Republican in 2008 and 2012, the public had come to regard Mormons as consummate Americans: patriotic, family-oriented, and conservative. How did this shift occur? 

In this collection, prominent scholars of Mormonism, including Claudia L. Bushman, Richard Lyman Bushman, Jan Shipps, and Philip L. Barlow, follow the religion’s quest for legitmacy in the United States and its intersection with American politics. From Brigham Young’s skirmishes with the federal government over polygamy to the Mormon involvement in California’s Proposition 8, contributors combine sociology, political science, race and gender studies, and popular culture to track Mormonism’s rapid integration into American life. The book takes a broad view of the religion’s history, considering its treatment of women and African Americans and its portrayal in popular culture and the media. With essays from both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars, this anthology tells a big-picture story of a small sect that became a major player in American politics.