The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Law

9780199679010Oxford has released a new collection of essays on Islamic law, The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Law, edited by Anver Emon (University of Toronto) and Rumee Ahmed (University of British Columbia). Looks like a helpful addition to the literature. Here is the publisher’s description:

A landmark study of the most significant topics in field, The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Law is the first of its kind to offer a systemically sustained critical interrogation of the study of Islamic law to date. With entries from leading scholars, this volume delivers a historiographical examination of Islamic law, familiarizing readers with some of the most important names and ideas in the field.

While capturing the state of contemporary legal studies by chronicling how far the field has come, the Handbook’s unique strength lies in how each entry explains why certain debates recur in certain areas of study, while also indicating fundamental gaps in our knowledge of this legal tradition. Moreover, each entry charts out bold new avenues for research that map out the future study of Islamic law. The Handbook will be an essential resource for scholars and students of Islam and Islamic law for years to come.

My Father Left Me Ireland

9780525538653For the past few years, our Center has hosted the Tradition Project, a research project on the continuing importance of received wisdom in law, politics, and culture. Our participants have heard more than once how Marc and I disagreed on what to name the project. I thought we should call it the Traditions Project, because of the many different cultural and political traditions that exist and give meaning to people’s lives. But Marc thought it should be the Tradition Project, to highlight the existence of the Western tradition, and eventually persuaded me to go along. Still, it seems to me that, especially in America, the plurality of sometimes consonant and sometimes dissonant traditions makes it more appropriate to conceive of the subject in the plural.

A forthcoming book by Michael Brendan Dougherty, My Father Left Me Ireland: An American Son’s Search for Home (Sentinel) explores how cultural traditions from other countries continue to influence Americans today–in the author’s case, the Irish tradition. The book has received great advance reviews and looks like it will interest people who think, as I do, that in America, anyway, traditions are best understood in the plural. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

National Review senior writer Michael Brendan Dougherty delivers a meditation on belonging, fatherhood, and nationalism, through a series of letters to his estranged Irish father.

The child of an Irish man and an Irish-American woman who split up soon after he was born, Michael Brendan Dougherty grew up with an acute sense of absence. He was raised in New Jersey by his hard-working single mother, who gave him a passion for Ireland, the land of her roots and the home of Michael’s father. She put him to bed using little phrases in the Irish language, sang traditional songs, and filled their home with a romantic vision of a homeland over the horizon.

Every few years, his father returned from Dublin for a visit, but those encounters were never long enough. Devastated by his father’s departures, Michael eventually consoled himself by believing that fatherhood was best understood as a check in the mail. Wearied by the Irish kitsch of the 1990s, he began to reject his mother’s Irish nationalism as a romantic myth.

Years later, when Michael found out that he would soon be a father himself, he could no longer afford to be jaded; he would need to tell his daughter who she is and where she comes from. He immediately re-immersed himself in the biographies of firebrands like Patrick Pearse and studied the Irish language. And he decided to reconnect with the man who had left him behind, and the nation just over the horizon. He began writing letters to his father about what he remembered, missed, and longed for. Those letters would become this book.

Along the way, Michael realized that his longings were shared by many Americans of every ethnicity and background. So many of us these days lack a clear sense of our cultural origins or even a vocabulary for expressing this lack–so we avoid talking about our roots altogether. As a result, the traditional sense of pride has started to feel foreign and dangerous; we’ve become great consumers of cultural kitsch, but useless conservators of our true history.

In these deeply felt and fascinating letters, Dougherty goes beyond his family’s story to share a fascinating meditation on the meaning of identity in America.

On the Law in Chaucer

9780268104450I don’t remember too much from my high-school Chaucer, but I have always remembered, perhaps because of my eventual career choices, that a lawyer was among the pilgrims. Chaucer’s lawyer has gravitas–at least he throws around “wise words”–and lots of clients, though, the narrator tells us in a famous aside, he’s not really as busy as he seems to be, an observation one could make about lots of lawyers (and law professors!) today as well. But I hadn’t understood that law plays an important role in the The Canterbury Tales. A new book from Notre Dame Press, God’s Patients: Chaucer, Agency, and the Nature of Laws, by John Bugbee (University of Virginia) explores the legal themes in Chaucer’s work. Here’s the publisher’s description:

God’s Patients approaches some of Chaucer’s most challenging poems with two philosophical questions in mind: How does action relate to passion, to being-acted-on? And what does it mean to submit one’s will to a law? Building on the work of Jill Mann and Mark Miller, who have pointed out the subtlety of Chaucer’s approach to such fundamentals of ethics, John Bugbee seeks the source of the subtlety and argues that much of it is ready to hand in a tradition of religious (and what we would today call “mystical”) writing that shaped the poet’s thought. Bugbee considers the Clerk’s, Man of Law’s, Knight’s, Franklin’s, Physician’s, and Second Nun’s Tales in juxtaposition with an excellent informant on a major stream of medieval religious culture, Bernard of Clairvaux, whose works lay out ethical ideas closely matching those detectable beneath the surface of the poems. While some of the positions that emerge—most spectacularly the notion that the highest states of human being are ones in which activity and passivity cannot be disentangled—are anathema to much modern ethical thought, God’s Patients provides evidence that they were relatively common in the Middle Ages. The book offers striking new readings of Chaucer’s poems; it proposes a nuanced hermeneutical approach that should prove fruitful in reading a number of other high- and late-medieval works; and, by showing how assumptions about its two fundamental questions have shifted since Chaucer’s time, it provides a powerful new way of thinking about the transition between the Middle Ages and modernity.

St. Patrick, Tax Collector

9780691184647From Princeton, here is an interesting-looking new biography of the 5th-Century Apostle of Ireland, St. Patrick Retold: The Legend and History of Ireland’s Patron Saint. The author is historian Roy Flechner (University College Dublin). I had not heard the story of Patrick’s being a revenue collector for the Roman Empire. But the resonance of being a reformed tax collector cannot have been lost on a preacher of the Gospel, or his audience. Here’s the description of the book from the Princeton website:

A gripping biography that brings together the most recent research to shed provocative new light on the life of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick was, by his own admission, a controversial figure. Convicted in a trial by his elders in Britain and hounded by rumors that he settled in Ireland for financial gain, the man who was to become Ireland’s patron saint battled against great odds before succeeding as a missionary. Saint Patrick Retold draws on recent research to offer a fresh assessment of Patrick’s travails and achievements. This is the first biography in nearly fifty years to explore Patrick’s career against the background of historical events in late antique Britain and Ireland.

Roy Flechner examines the likelihood that Patrick, like his father before him, might have absconded from a career as an imperial official responsible for taxation, preferring instead to migrate to Ireland with his family’s slaves, who were his source of wealth. Flechner leaves no stone unturned as he takes readers on a riveting journey through Romanized Britain and late Iron Age Ireland, and he considers how best to interpret the ambiguous literary and archaeological evidence from this period of great political and economic instability, a period that brought ruin for some and opportunity for others. Rather than a dismantling of Patrick’s reputation, or an argument against his sainthood, Flechner’s biography raises crucial questions about self-image and the making of a reputation.

From boyhood deeds to the challenges of a missionary enterprise, Saint Patrick Retold steps beyond established narratives to reassess a notable figure’s life and legacy.

Ellis West on the Free Exercise Clause

9783030060510Palgrave Macmillan has released a new history of the Free Exercise Clause by political scientist Ellis West (University of Richmond): The Free Exercise of Religion in America: Its Original Constitutional Meaning. In the great debate on religious exemptions, West sides with those who say the Free Exercise Clause, in its original meaning, did not guarantee believers a right to be exempt from the application of civil laws. The publisher’s description follows:

This book explains the original meaning of the two religion clauses of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law [1] respecting an establishment of religion or [2] prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As the book shows, both clauses were intended to protect the free exercise of religion or religious freedom.  West shows the position taken by early Americans on four issues: (1) the general meaning of the “free exercise of religion,” including whether it is different from the meaning of “no establishment of religion”; (2) whether the free exercise of religion may be intentionally and directly limited, and if so, under what circumstances; (3) whether laws regulating temporal matters that also have a religious sanction violate the free exercise of religion; and (4) whether the free exercise of religion gives persons a right to be exempt from obeying valid civil laws that unintentionally and indirectly make it difficult or impossible to practice their religion in some way. A definitive work on the subject and a major contribution to the field of constitutional law and history, this volume is key to a better understanding of the ongoing constitutional adjudication based on the religion clauses of the First Amendment.

A New Introduction to Jewish Law

9781108421973I recently had a discussion with a student in my comparative law class who had studied Jewish law at a yeshiva. To study Jewish law, this student told me, is to enter a conversation that has been going on for millennia. One has to approach the conversation with humility, with respect for the participants — some of whom have been dead for centuries — who have been at this for a lot longer than you. It’s a nice description. To close out the week’s books, here is a forthcoming work from Cambridge University Press on Jewish Law, An Introduction to Jewish Law, by comparativist Fancois-Xavier Licari (University of Lorraine). The publisher’s description follows:

Jewish law is a singular legal system that has been evolving for generations. Often conflated with Biblical law or Israeli law, Jewish law needs to be studied in its own right. An Introduction to Jewish Law expounds the general structure of Jewish law and presents the cardinal principles of this religious legal system. An introduction to modern Jewish law as it applies to the daily life of Jews around the world, this volume presents Jewish law in a way that answers all the questions that a student of comparative law would ask when encountering an unfamiliar legal system. Sources of Jewish law such as revelation, rabbinical and communal legislation, judicial decisions, and legal reasoning are defined and analyzed, and the authority of who decides what Jewish law is and why their decisions are binding is investigated.

A Collection of Essays on Law, Religion, and Tradition

9783319967486Here at the Center, we’re very interested in the relationship among law, religion, and tradition. In fact, exploring that relationship is the mission of the Tradition Project, which we started three years ago. So it’s good to see others writing in the area as well. A new collection of essays from Springer, Law, Religion and Tradition (Giles et al., eds) looks very interesting. One of the book’s editors is Tradition Project member Andrea Pin. Here’s the description from the Springer website:

This book explores different theories of law, religion, and tradition, from both a secular and a religious perspective. It reflects on how tradition and change can affect religious and secular legal reasoning, identifying the patterns of legal evolution within religious and secular traditions. It is often taken for granted that, even in law, change corresponds and correlates to progress – that things ought to be changed and they will necessarily get better. There is no doubt that legal changes over the centuries have made it possible to enhance the protection of individual rights and to somewhat contain the possibility of tyranny and despotism. But progress is not everything in law: stability and certainty lie at the core of the rule of law. Similarly, religions and religious laws could not survive without traditions; and yet, they still evolve, and their evolution is often intermingled with secular law. The book asks (and in some ways answers) the questions: What is the role of tradition within religions and religious laws? What is the impact of religious traditions on secular laws, and vice-versa? How are the elements of tradition to be identified? Are they the same within the secular and the religious realm? Do secular law and religious law follow comparable patterns of change? Do their levels of resilience differ significantly? How does the history of religion and law affect changes within religious traditions and legal systems? The overall focus of the book addresses the extent to which tradition plays a role in shaping and re-shaping secular and religious laws, as well as their mutual boundaries.

Osiel on Law and Morality

9780674368255-lgIn my comparative law class recently, we were discussing Western positivism, particularly the idea that law is autonomous–something that exists independently from morality, or religion, or politics. As law professor Mark Osiel (Iowa) explains in a new book from Harvard, The Right to Do Wrong: Morality and the Limits of Law, the autonomy of law depends on the existence of other ways of enforcing social values, and we do have lots of those. Perhaps it’s better to rely on these non-legal enforcement mechanisms than on the legal system–too much law can lead to tyranny. On the other hand, recent episodes show us that non-legal enforcement mechanisms bring their own dangers. Social media offers ways of policing society that most totalitarians in history could only imagine. Anyway, the book looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

Much of what we could do, we shouldn’t—and we don’t. We have a free-speech right to be offensive, but we know we will face outrage in response. We may declare bankruptcy, but not without stigma. Moral norms constantly demand more of us than the law requires, sustaining promises we can legally break and preventing disrespectful behavior the law allows.

Mark Osiel takes up this curious interplay between lenient law and restrictive morality, showing that law permits much wrongdoing because we assume that rights are paired with informal but enforceable duties. People will exercise their rights responsibly or else face social shaming. For the most part, this system has worked. Social order persists despite ample opportunity for reprehensible conduct, testifying to the decisive constraints common morality imposes on the way we exercise our legal prerogatives. The Right to Do Wrong collects vivid case studies and social scientific research to explore how resistance to the exercise of rights picks up where law leaves off and shapes the legal system in turn. Building on recent evidence that declining social trust leads to increasing reliance on law, Osiel contends that as social changes produce stronger assertions of individual rights, it becomes more difficult to depend on informal tempering of our unfettered freedoms.

Social norms can be indefensible, Osiel recognizes. But the alternative—more repressive law—is often far worse. This empirically informed study leaves little doubt that robust forms of common morality persist and are essential to the vitality of liberal societies.

Amin Saikal on Iran

9780691175478_2This looks very interesting. Princeton University Press has just released Iran Rising: The Survival and Future of the Islamic Republic, by political scientist Amin Saikal (Australian National Assembly). Saikal explains how the Islamic Republic has survived numerous political, economic, and military crises since its founding 40 years ago–through, he says, the regime’s combination of religious fervor and hardball geopolitics. In the West, we tend of think of religious regimes like Iran’s as anachronisms that hold on, somehow, precariously, notwithstanding the march of liberalism. Perhaps they aren’t so precarious after all. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:

When Iranians overthrew their monarchy, rejecting a pro-Western shah in favor of an Islamic regime, many observers predicted that revolutionary turmoil would paralyze the country for decades to come. Yet forty years after the 1978–79 revolution, Iran has emerged as a critical player in the Middle East and the wider world, as demonstrated in part by the 2015 international nuclear agreement. In Iran Rising, renowned Iran specialist Amin Saikal describes how the country has managed to survive despite ongoing domestic struggles, Western sanctions, and countless other serious challenges.

Saikal explores Iran’s recent history, beginning with the revolution, which set in motion a number of developments, including war with Iraq, precarious relations with Arab neighbors, and hostilities with Israel and the United States. He highlights the regime’s agility as it navigated a complex relationship with Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, survived the Gulf wars, and handled fallout from the Iraqi and Syrian crises. Such success, Saikal maintains, stems from a distinctive political order, comprising both a supreme Islamic leader and an elected president and national assembly, which can fuse religious and nationalist assertiveness with pragmatic policy actions at home and abroad.

But Iran’s accomplishments, including its nuclear development and ability to fight ISIS, have cost its people, who are desperately pressuring the ruling clerics for economic and social reforms—changes that might in turn influence the country’s foreign policy. Amid heightened global anxiety over alliances, terrorism, and nuclear threats, Iran Rising offers essential reading for understanding a country that, more than ever, is a force to watch.

Steven Green on the History of Disestablishment in America

9780190908140Many people don’t realize it, but for most of our history the Establishment Clause didn’t figure prominently in Supreme Court litigation. In fact, the Court’s first major Establishment Clause case, Everson v. Board of Education, didn’t come until 1947. That’s not to say that Americans didn’t think much about the Clause before that time–obviously, they did. But the Court didn’t seriously consider the meaning of the Clause until after the Second World War. Why did it take so long, and why did it happen then? Could have been many reasons, I suppose: the decline of the Protestant cultural ascendancy; the maturing of minority religious communities in American society; the beginnings of secularism as an important fact in American life. Anyway, it’s a fact that the Court was a relative latecomer to debates about church-and-state in America.

A new book from Willamette University Law Professor Steven K. Green documents the history of church-state relations in the generation after Everson. The book is The Third Disestablishment: Church, State, and American Culture, 1940-1975. The publisher is Oxford University Press. Here’s the description from the Oxford website:

In 1947, the Supreme Court embraced the concept of church-state separation as shorthand for the meaning of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The concept became embedded in Court’s jurisprudence and remains so today. Yet separation of church and state is not just a legal construct; it is embedded in the culture. Church-state separation was a popular cultural ideal, chiefly for Protestants and secularists, long before the Supreme Court adopted it as a constitutional principle. While the Court’s church-state decisions have impacted public attitudes–particularly those controversial holdings regarding prayer and Bible reading in public schools–the idea of church-state separation has remained relatively popular; recent studies indicate that approximately two-thirds of Americans support the concept, even though they disagree over how to apply it.

In the follow up to his 2010 book The Second Disestablishment, Steven K. Green sets out to do examine the development of modern separationism from a legal and cultural perspective. The Third Disestablishment examines the dominant religious-cultural conflicts of the 1930s-1950s between Protestants and Catholics, but it also shows how other trends and controversies during mid-century impacted both judicial and popular attitudes toward church-state separation: the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ cases of the late-30s and early-40’s, Cold War anti-communism, the religious revival and the rise of civil religion, the advent of ecumenism, and the presidential campaign of 1960. The book then examines how events of the 1960s-the school prayer decisions, the reforms of Vatican II, and the enactment of comprehensive federal education legislation providing assistance to religious schools-produced a rupture in the Protestant consensus over church-state separation, causing both evangelicals and religious progressives to rethink their commitment to that principle. Green concludes by examining a series of church-state cases in the late-60s and early-70s where the justices applied notions of church-state separation at the same time they were reevaluating that concept.

%d bloggers like this: