A New History of the Reformation

This new collection of essays from Oxford on the Protestant Reformation looks very interesting: The Oxford History of the Reformation. The editor is historian Peter Marshall (Warwick). The blurb from Oxford credits the Reformation for creating the pluralist world in which we live. That might be a bit of an overstatement. As Harold Berman and others showed, pluralism has been a big part of Western culture from at least the High Middle Ages. But there’s no denying, as the blub says, that the Reformation transformed pluralism into something even the Reformers didn’t expect. Here’s the description from the Oxford website:

The Reformation was a seismic event in history whose consequences are still unfolding in Europe and across the world.

Martin Luther’s protests against the marketing of indulgences in 1517 were part of a long-standing pattern of calls for reform in the Christian Church. But they rapidly took a radical and unexpected turn, engulfing first Germany, and then Europe, in furious arguments about how God’s will was to be ‘saved’.

However, these debates did not remain confined to a narrow sphere of theology. They came to reshape politics and international relations; social, cultural, and artistic developments; relations between the sexes; and the patterns and performances of everyday life. They were also the stimulus for Christianity’s transformation into a truly global religion, as agents of the Roman Catholic Church sought to compensate for losses in Europe with new conversions in Asia and the Americas.

Covering both Protestant and Catholic reform movements, in Europe and across the wider world, this compact volume tells the story of the Reformation from its immediate, explosive beginnings, through to its profound longer-term consequences and legacy for the modern world. The story is not one of an inevitable triumph of liberty over oppression, enlightenment over ignorance. Rather, it tells how a multitude of rival groups and individuals, with or without the support of political power, strove after visions of ‘reform’. And how, in spite of themselves, they laid the foundations for the plural and conflicted world we now inhabit.

Call for Papers: Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute

The Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute is requesting submissions for its Special Issue, “Civic Engagement, Justice, and Legal Considerations in a National and International Context”:

  • Paper Topic: Papers should discuss the “civic engagement” movement by addressing how power, justice, and the law overlap. Relevant questions to address include:
    • To what end or purpose are higher education institutions encouraging students to engage?
    • Who are the gatekeepers at different institutions?
    • More questions are available on the website.
  • Paper Proposal: Title and short abstract (about 100 words) may be submitted by September 15, 2023
  • Paper Submission: Research articles, review articles, and short communications are invited. Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form.
  • Accepted Papers: After passing pre-check and a double-blind peer-review, accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website.  

Student Writing Competition: The Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School

The Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School has announced a writing competition for law students focused on scholarship related to the intersection of church, state & society, and in particular, how the law structures and governs that intersection.

Papers should be focused broadly on topics related to church, state & society. Papers must be between 9,000-13,000 words, including footnotes and/or endnotes. Papers should be double-spaced and use Bluebook citation rules. Papers must be submitted by March 1st, 2023.

First Place, $3,000 cash award; Second Place, $2,000 cash award; Third Place, $1,000 cash award; Honorable Mention awards of $500.

For more information, please visit the competition’s website.

Why Read Great Books? Liberal Education in the Twenty-First Century

The Morningside Institute is hosting a conversation between Roosevelt Montás (Columbia) and Zena Hitz (St. John’s College), moderated by Emmanuelle Saada (Columbia), as they discuss the role of liberal education in our time. The conversation will take place on February 3, 2023, at Columbia University’s Faculty House, Presidential Room 1, at 6:30 PM. Please see below to RSVP. Additionally, if you cannot attend in person, please access the Zoom link below.

Are some books “great” in a way others are not? How can a core curriculum represent all the members of a university community? How should we justify liberal education today? These questions shaped many universities’ curricula, including Columbia’s Core, and today are at the center of debates about the purpose of education and the university. 

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • In Fellowship of Christian Athletes v. San Jose Unified School District, the Ninth Circuit vacated its August 2022 decision which had found for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and ordered that the case be reheard en banc. In this case, the school had revoked the status of a Christian student group because the school objected to a policy that allegedly discriminated against LGBTQ students.
  • In Firewalker-Fields v. Lee, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a Muslim inmate’s First Amendment Free Exercise claim. The court wrote that the jail’s policy of not allowing the plaintiff access to Friday Islamic prayers was reasonably related to security and resource allocation.
  • Thirteen Christian and Jewish leaders filed for a permanent injunction in the Missouri Circuit Court in Blackmon v. State of Missouri. The complaint seeks to bar the State of Missouri from enforcing its abortion ban, claiming that the ban violates the Missouri Constitution by failing to protect the free exercise of religion.
  • In Ference v Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg, a federal magistrate judge in the Western District of Pennsylvania recommended denying a motion to dismiss filed by the Catholic Diocese in response to a Title VII sex-discrimination lawsuit. The lawsuit was made by a Lutheran sixth-grade teacher in a Catholic school who was fired shortly after being hired when the school discovered that he was in a same-sex marriage.
  • A nurse practitioner filed suit in a Texas federal district court after being fired for refusing to prescribe contraceptives. The complaint in Strader v. CVS Health Corp alleges that CVS’s firing amounted to religious discrimination in violation of Title VII.
  • On January 11, 2023, the US House of Representatives passed the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. This bill states that any infant born alive after an attempted abortion is a “legal person for all purposes under the laws of the United States.” Doctors would be required to care for those infants as they would any other child who was born alive.
  • Dr. Erika Lopez Prater, an art professor at Hamline University, is suing the University for religious discrimination and defamation after she was fired for showing an image of Muhammad to her Islamic art class.

Unire l’utile al dilettevole

In the academy today, there are powerful forces that aim to dismantle and discard traditional sources of knowledge, and that reject the merit of gaining that knowledge, replacing it with other objectives. The motives are many, but it is possible to discern a reason that many of the disparate motives share: knowledge (and its acquisition and dissemination) is not, or not necessarily, an essential human good. It is not necessarily a human good, for example, if and when it conflicts with what are felt to be other, more important, ends.

Even among those who believe that the acquisition and production of traditional knowledge is good, there are further disagreements. Is such knowledge good because it is useful for some further purpose or end? For the exercise of power over others, for example, or for bending other people to one’s will, or even simply for the provision of material necessities? Or is it good because it is, as some contemporary defenders of the traditional liberal arts put it, “useless”–an end in itself, a good in itself that needs no, and, indeed, can have no further justification? Or some combination of these?

Disagreements about the good of knowledge–whether it is good at all, and what it is good for, if anything, beyond itself–are not uniquely modern (though the motives driving some of the trending policies in academia today do seem, to me at any rate, to be distinctive). The old Italian phrase, “unire l’utile al dilettevole,” which means to unite what is useful with what delights, reflects one interesting position. Namely, that the good of knowledge is comprehensively manifested in the coming together of utility and pleasure or delight.

Here is a book–admittedly in one of the more distant galaxies of the law-and-religion universe–that offers what looks like a wonderful perspective on the good-of-knowledge question reflecting, in certain ways, the point of view in the Italian adage: Why Does Math Work If It’s Not Real? (Cambridge University Press) by Dragan Radulović. The thesis of the book concerns the distinction between “pure” and “applied” mathematics, and it seems to be (if one can surmise from the description) that what in one generation or century seems entirely “pure,” or useless, or delightful for its own sake, can become, in the distant future and entirely unexpectedly, “useful.” So that the union of the useful and the delightful really should be evaluated across extended periods of time–perhaps centuries or even millennia–because it is unfathomable when confronting the good of knowledge at any given moment or point in time, especially the point in time in which the knowledge is acquired or comes to be known.

According to G. H. Hardy, the ‘real’ mathematics of the greats like Fermat and Euler is ‘useless,’ and thus the work of mathematicians should not be judged on its applicability to real-world problems. Yet, mysteriously, much of mathematics used in modern science and technology was derived from this ‘useless’ mathematics. Mobile phone technology is based on trig functions, which were invented centuries ago. Newton observed that the Earth’s orbit is an ellipse, a curve discovered by ancient Greeks in their futile attempt to double the cube. It is like some magic hand had guided the ancient mathematicians so their formulas were perfectly fitted for the sophisticated technology of today. Using anecdotes and witty storytelling, this book explores that mystery. Through a series of fascinating stories of mathematical effectiveness, including Planck’s discovery of quanta, mathematically curious readers will get a sense of how mathematicians develop their concepts.

Tocqueville’s Travels

The nineteenth-century French aristocrat, Alexis de Tocqueville, is perhaps the most perceptive traveler ever to visit the United States. His observations on American culture, law, and politics–including the relationship between church and state–remain instructive today. (One marvels at his keen insights into the relationship between democracy and religion, and his prediction that a society devoted to equality would ultimately fix upon pantheism, which blurs the distinction between God and Creation itself). It turns out that Tocqueville traveled quite a bit outside the US as well. An interesting new book by political philosopher Jeremy Jennings (King’s College London), Travels with Tocqueville Beyond America, recounts these journeys. Here’s the description from the publisher (Harvard University Press):

A revelatory intellectual biography of Tocqueville, told through his wide-ranging travels—most of them, aside from his journey to America, barely known.

It might be the most famous journey in the history of political thought: in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville sailed from France to the United States, spent nine months touring and observing the political culture of the fledgling republic, and produced the classic Democracy in America.

But the United States was just one of the many places documented by the inveterate traveler. Jeremy Jennings follows Tocqueville’s voyages—by sailing ship, stagecoach, horseback, train, and foot—across Europe, North Africa, and of course North America. Along the way, Jennings reveals underappreciated aspects of Tocqueville’s character and sheds new light on the depth and range of his political and cultural commentary.

Despite recurrent ill health and ever-growing political responsibilities, Tocqueville never stopped moving or learning. He wanted to understand what made political communities tick, what elite and popular mores they rested on, and how they were adjusting to rapid social and economic change—the rise of democracy and the Industrial Revolution, to be sure, but also the expansion of empire and the emergence of socialism. He lauded the orderly, Catholic-dominated society of Quebec; presciently diagnosed the boisterous but dangerously chauvinistic politics of Germany; considered England the freest and most unequal place on Earth; deplored the poverty he saw in Ireland; and championed French colonial settlement in Algeria.

Drawing on correspondence, published writings, speeches, and the recollections of contemporaries, Travels with Tocqueville Beyond America is a panoramic combination of biography, history, and political theory that fully reflects the complex, restless mind at its center.

The American Academy of Catholic Scholars and Artists

I am delighted to participate in a panel at the annual conference of the American Academy of Catholic Scholars and Artists which will be convened over the next few days. I’ll be responding to Professor Frank Beckwith’s fine lecture on the legacy of Dignitatis Humanae, the important (and still controversial) Vatican II Declaration of 1965 concerning religious freedom. I’m honored (and just a bit daunted) to be responding just after Professor J. Budziszewski, whose scholarly contributions to the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas have been a great help to me over the years. See, for example, his indispensable Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Law and his Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Virtue Ethics.

I’m particularly excited to be part of this gathering because, by design, it combines scholarly and artistic/literary reflection on the many contributions of Catholicism. I have a new project, just now beginning to take shape (and about which more soon!) that, I hope, will reflect this union of interests and aims in its own way.

What Binds Us?

In 1973, the distinguished political theorist, Wilson Carey McWilliams, first published perhaps his best-known work, The Idea of Fraternity in America. The book might be broadly placed within what was then the growing family of communitarian accounts of American culture. It distinguished two strains of thought and feeling in the United States, the religious and the liberal. The religious was represented in such literary figures as Hawthorne, Melville, Henry Adams, and James Baldwin, while the liberal had its literary spokesmen in the likes of Emerson and Whitman (to complement its political spokesmen in Madison and Hamilton). The project of The Idea of Fraternity was to investigate these two traditions of thought, but especially the first, the tradition that emphasizes affection, fellow-feeling (I’ve often thought that Charles Dickens, though of course not American, makes this a central theme of his novels), duty to others, and brotherhood. To oversimplify a great deal, McWilliams’ view was that liberty and equality were having their way in his time, while the tradition of fraternity was eroding, as the common civic American culture–the bonds of affection (as Lincoln put it)–steadily diminished. This latter tradition, McWilliams called “America’s Second Voice,” and in his view it was vital to sustain the American project.

McWilliams’ ideas are visible and vital today in many places. His broader train of thought can be seen as something of a precursor to the flowering of so-called post-liberalism today, as in, for example, the work of his student and Center collaborator and friend, Patrick Deneen. But it also appears in more mundane and less expected areas. One of the first concepts we begin with in Tort law is “duty.” What do we owe to each other, and what in turn binds us as a political and legal community? It is an urgent question and instructive also that many of the most prominent tort scholars in the 20th century deemphasized or even attempted to eliminate duty as a feature of the law.

This year, on the 50th anniversary of the original publication of the book, The University of Notre Dame Press publishes a new edition of The Idea of Fraternity in America. I am looking forward to investing some time with it. Here is the description.

The United States is currently experiencing a crisis of citizenship and democracy. For many of us, there is a sense of forlornness caused by losing sight of human connectedness and the bonds of community. Originally published in 1973, and long out of print, The Idea of Fraternity in America is a resonant call to reclaim and restore the communal bonds of democracy by one of the most important political theorists of the twentieth century, Wilson Carey McWilliams.

This sprawling and majestic book offers a comprehensive and original interpretation of the whole range of American historical and political thought, from seventeenth-century White Puritanism to twentieth-century Black American political thought. In one sense, it is a long and sustained reflection on the American political tradition, with side glances at other cultures and other traditions; in another sense, it is an impressive beginning to an original and comprehensive theory of politics, rooted in a new reading of a vast array of relevant sources. Speaking with a prescience unmatched by his contemporaries, McWilliams argues that in order to address the malaise of our modern democracy we must return to an ideal of our past: fraternity, a relation of affection founded on shared values and goals. This 50th anniversary edition, which offers a critique of the liberal tradition and a new social philosophy for the future, contains a new introduction from McWilliams’s daughter, Susan McWilliams Barndt. She writes, “At a time when many Americans are wondering how we got to where we are today . . . this book demonstrates that there is in fact a lot of precedent for what feels so unprecedented in contemporary American politics.”

Legal Spirits Episode 047: “Christianity and Constitutionalism”

For our first podcast of 2023, we are delighted to welcome Professor Nicholas Aroney of the University of Queensland Law School, a distinguished constitutional law scholar who has co-edited (with Professor Ian Leigh) a new book just published by Oxford University Press: Christianity and Constitutionalism. Marc and Mark interview him about the book’s themes, scope, and arguments, including questions about the overarching relationship of Christianity and law, and about growing scholarly interest in the connection between law and theology (in Australia and elsewhere!). Listen in!