An Interdisciplinary Look at IP and Religion

Congratulations to our friend, Tom Berg, on this very interesting collection of essays on the relationship between intellectual property and patent law, on the one hand, and law and religion on the other. The book is Patents on Life: Religious, Moral, and Social Justice Aspects of Biotechnology and Intellectual Property (Cambridge University Press), edited by Thomas C. Berg, Roman Cholij, and Simon Ravenscroft.

“This volume brings together a unique collection of legal, religious, ethical, and political perspectives to bear on debates concerning biotechnology patents, or ‘patents on life’. The ever-increasing importance of biotechnologies has generated continual questions about how intellectual property law should treat such technologies, especially those raising ethical or social-justice concerns. Even after many years and court decisions, important contested issues remain concerning ownership of and rewards from biotechnology – from human genetic material to genetically engineered plants – and regarding the scope of moral or social-justice limitations on patents or licensing practices. This book explores a range of related issues, including questions concerning morality and patentability, biotechnology and human dignity, and what constitute fair rewards from genetic resources. It features high-level international, interfaith, and cross-disciplinary contributions from experts in law, religion, and ethics, including academics and practitioners, placing religious and secular perspectives into dialogue to examine the full implications of patenting life.”

The Yoga Chronicles

Mark has written a few times on this site about contemporary controversies concerning yoga, at one time a distinctively religious practice but today a nearly universal feature of the lucrative secular campaign in quest of “wellness.” Here’s a new book that chronicles yoga’s path: The Story of Yoga: From Ancient India to the Modern West (Oxford University Press), by Alistair Shearer.

“How did an ancient Indian spiritual discipline turn into a $20+ billion-a-year mainstay of the global wellness industry? What happened along yoga’s winding path from the caves and forests of the sages to the gyms, hospitals and village halls of the modern West? 

This comprehensive history sets yoga in its global cultural context for the first time. It leads us on a fascinating journey across the world, from arcane religious rituals and medieval body-magic, through muscular Christianity and the British Raj, to the Indian nationalist movement and the arrival of yoga in the twentieth-century West. We discover how the practice reached its present-day ubiquity and how it became embedded in powerful social currents shaping the world’s future, such as feminism, digital media, celebrity culture, the stress pandemic and the quest for an authentic identity in the face of unprecedented change. 

Shearer’s revealing history boasts a colorful cast of characters past and present, who tell an engaging tale of scholars and scandal, science and spirit, wisdom and waywardness. This is the untold story of yoga, warts and all.”

“It is not the Church that turns into the State…on the contrary, the State turns into the Church”

Just a little fragment for your Tuesday morning from Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” that sprang to mind when I came across this wonderfully interesting new book: Russian Conservatism (Cornell University Press), by Paul Robinson. (And what an evocative cover!)

“Paul Robinson’s Russian Conservatism examines the history of Russian conservative thought from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present. As he shows, conservatism has made an underappreciated contribution to Russian national identity, to the ideology of Russian statehood, and to Russia’s social-economic development. Robinson charts the contributions made by philosophers, politicians, and others during the Imperial, Soviet, and post-Soviet periods. Looking at cultural, political, and social-economic conservatism in Russia, he discusses ideas and issues of more than historical interest. Indeed, what Russian Conservatism demonstrates is that such ideas are helpful in interpreting Russia’s present as well as its past and will be influential in shaping Russia’s future, for better or for worse, in the years to come.

For the past two centuries Russian conservatives have sought to adapt to the pressures of modernization and westernization and, more recently, globalization, while preserving national identity and political and social stability. Through Robinson’s research we can now understand how Russian conservatives have continually proposed forms of cultural, political, and economic development seen as building on existing traditions, identity, forms of government, and economic and social life, rather than being imposed on the basis of abstract theory and foreign models.”

The Heart Wants What It Wants

Here’s an interesting book on the history of atheism and agnosticism whose basic claim appears to be that the ascendancy of unbelief reflects the growth of powerful emotional desires rather than persuasion by argument. The book is Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt (Harvard University Press), by Alex Ryrie.

“Why have societies that were once overwhelmingly Christian become so secular? We think we know the answer, but in this lively and startlingly original reconsideration, Alec Ryrie argues that people embraced unbelief much as they have always chosen their worldviews: through their hearts more than their minds.

Looking back to the crisis of the Reformation and beyond, Unbelievers  shows how, long before philosophers started to make the case for atheism, powerful cultural currents were challenging traditional faith. These tugged in different ways not only on celebrated thinkers such as Machiavelli, Montaigne, Hobbes, and Pascal, but on men and women at every level of society whose voices we hear through their diaries, letters, and court records.

Ryrie traces the roots of atheism born of anger, a sentiment familiar to anyone who has ever cursed a corrupt priest, and of doubt born of anxiety, as Christians discovered their faith was flimsier than they had believed. As the Reformation eroded time-honored certainties, Protestant radicals defended their faith by redefining it in terms of ethics. In the process they set in motion secularizing forces that soon became transformational. Unbelievers tells a powerful emotional history of doubt with potent lessons for our own angry and anxious age.

A New History of the Religious Left

We close out the week with a new history of the religious left, Spiritual Socialists: Religion and the American Left, by historian Vaneesa Cook. Cook says it’s wrong to see the American left as hostile to religion. It’s just that the left has had its own religious tradition, which she calls “spiritual socialism.” The tradition is continued today, she says, by figures such as Bernie Sanders, Pope Francis, William Barber, and Cornel West. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Refuting the common perception that the American left has a religion problem, Vaneesa Cook highlights an important but overlooked intellectual and political tradition that she calls “spiritual socialism.” Spiritual socialists emphasized the social side of socialism and believed the most basic expression of religious values—caring for the sick, tired, hungry, and exploited members of one’s community—created a firm footing for society. Their unorthodox perspective on the spiritual and cultural meaning of socialist principles helped make leftist thought more palatable to Americans, who associated socialism with Soviet atheism and autocracy. In this way, spiritual socialism continually put pressure on liberals, conservatives, and Marxists to address the essential connection between morality and social justice.
Cook tells her story through an eclectic group of activists whose lives and works span the twentieth century. Sherwood Eddy, A. J. Muste, Myles Horton, Dorothy Day, Henry Wallace, Pauli Murray, Staughton Lynd, and Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke and wrote publicly about the connection between religious values and socialism. Equality, cooperation, and peace, they argued, would not develop overnight, and a more humane society would never emerge through top-down legislation. Instead, they believed that the process of their vision of the world had to happen in homes, villages, and cities, from the bottom up.
By insisting that people start treating each other better in everyday life, spiritual socialists transformed radical activism from projects of political policy-making to grass-roots organizing. For Cook, contemporary public figures such as Senator Bernie Sanders, Pope Francis, Reverend William Barber, and Cornel West are part of a long-standing tradition that exemplifies how non-Communist socialism has gained traction in American politics.

A New Collection on Secularism

One typically thinks of secularism as a Western phenomenon. A new collection of essays from Princeton argues that that perception is wrong: “a worldview based on rationalism and individual autonomy” is not simply a creation of Reformed Protestantism and the Enlightenment. Secularism appears in other religious cultures as well. Moreover, the discontents with secularism today, worldwide, reflect the failure of secularism to respond to people’s spiritual needs. The book is Formations of Belief: Historical Approaches to Religion and the Secular, edited by Princeton historians Philip Nord, Katja Guenther, and Max Weiss. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

For decades, scholars and public intellectuals have been predicting the demise of religion in the face of secularization. Yet religion is undergoing an unprecedented resurgence in modern life—and secularization no longer appears so inevitable. Formations of Belief brings together many of today’s leading historians to shed critical light on secularism’s origins, its present crisis, and whether it is as antithetical to religion as it is so often made out to be.

Formations of Belief offers a more nuanced understanding of the origins of secularist thought, demonstrating how Reformed Christianity and the Enlightenment were not the sole vessels of a worldview based on rationalism and individual autonomy. Taking readers from late antiquity to the contemporary era, the contributors show how secularism itself can be a form of belief and yet how its crisis today has been brought on by its apparent incapacity to satisfy people’s spiritual needs. They explore the rise of the humanistic study of religion in Europe, Jewish messianism, atheism and last rites in the Soviet Union, the cult of the saints in colonial Mexico, religious minorities and Islamic identity in Pakistan, the neuroscience of religion, and more.

Based on the Shelby Cullom Davis Center Seminars at Princeton University, this incisive book features illuminating essays by Peter Brown, Yaacob Dweck, Peter E. Gordon, Anthony Grafton, Brad S. Gregory, Stefania Pastore, Caterina Pizzigoni, Victoria Smolkin, Max Weiss, and Muhammad Qasim Zaman.

A New Book by Justice Gorsuch

Here at the Forum, we’ve been following with interest Justice Neil Gorsuch’s developing religion clause jurisprudence, in cases like Trinity Lutheran, Masterpiece Cakeshop, and American Legion. This week, Penguin Random House releases a new collection of essays and other short pieces by the Justice, A Republic, If You Can Keep It, exploring his views on the Constitution and its principles. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Justice Neil Gorsuch reflects on his journey to the Supreme Court, the role of the judge under our Constitution, and the vital responsibility of each American to keep our republic strong.
 
As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention, he was reportedly asked what kind of government the founders would propose. He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” In this book, Justice Neil Gorsuch shares personal reflections, speeches, and essays that focus on the remarkable gift the framers left us in the Constitution.

Justice Gorsuch draws on his thirty-year career as a lawyer, teacher, judge, and justice to explore essential aspects our Constitution, its separation of powers, and the liberties it is designed to protect. He discusses the role of the judge in our constitutional order, and why he believes that originalism and textualism are the surest guides to interpreting our nation’s founding documents and protecting our freedoms. He explains, too, the importance of affordable access to the courts in realizing the promise of equal justice under law—while highlighting some of the challenges we face on this front today.
 
Along the way, Justice Gorsuch reveals some of the events that have shaped his life and outlook, from his upbringing in Colorado to his Supreme Court confirmation process. And he emphasizes the pivotal roles of civic education, civil discourse, and mutual respect in maintaining a healthy republic.
 
A Republic, If You Can Keep It offers compelling insights into Justice Gorsuch’s faith in America and its founding documents, his thoughts on our Constitution’s design and the judge’s place within it, and his beliefs about the responsibility each of us shares to sustain our distinctive republic of, by, and for “We the People.”





Reading Augustine

I am always struck by how accessible Augustine is to us today–I mean, compared to Aquinas, for example. (Don’t @ me). It’s not just his personal, confessional style, though that is part of it. I think his accessibility more reflects the fact that Augustine lived in a demi-pagan era in the West, like ours, in which Christianity was only one religious option among many, and not necessarily the most-favored option for many in the ruling class. Just as in Augustine’s day, Christianity cannot simply be accepted as the norm and taken for granted. One has to choose it, and choose to remain with it, notwithstanding the many other choices the religious marketplace provides.

A forthcoming book from Brazos, On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, by philosopher James K. A. Smith (Calvin College) looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the Brazos website:

This is not a book about Saint Augustine. In a way, it’s a book Augustine has written about each of us. Popular speaker and award-winning author James K. A. Smith has spent time on the road with Augustine, and he invites us to take this journey too, for this ancient African thinker knows far more about us than we might expect.

Following Smith’s successful You Are What You Love, this book shows how Augustine can be a pilgrim guide to a spirituality that meets the complicated world we live in. Augustine, says Smith, is the patron saint of restless hearts–a guide who has been there, asked our questions, and knows our frustrations and failed pursuits. Augustine spent a lifetime searching for his heart’s true home and he can help us find our way. “What makes Augustine a guide worth considering,” says Smith, “is that he knows where home is, where rest can be found, what peace feels like, even if it is sometimes ephemeral and elusive along the way.” Addressing believers and skeptics alike, this book shows how Augustine’s timeless wisdom speaks to the worries and struggles of contemporary life, covering topics such as ambition, sex, friendship, freedom, parenthood, and death. As Smith vividly and colorfully brings Augustine to life for 21st-century readers, he also offers a fresh articulation of Christianity that speaks to our deepest hungers, fears, and hopes.

What Happened to the Arab Spring?

Years ago, when the media was filled with optimistic treatments of the Arab Spring, I remember reading a quote from a Mideast bishop, who remarked that there was no such thing as an Arab Spring, “only Winter.” Certainly the Arab Spring hasn’t worked out terribly well for the region’s Christians. It hasn’t been a great success for others, either. A new book from Yale, however, has a more optimistic assessment of the future of the movement. Readers can judge for themselves. The book is The Levant Express: The Arab Uprisings, Human Rights, and the Future of the Middle East, by University of Denver professor Michelene Ishay (international relations). Here’s the description from the Yale website:

The enormous sense of optimism unleashed by the Arab Spring in 2011 soon gave way to widespread suffering and despair. Of the many popular uprisings against autocratic regimes, Tunisia’s now stands alone as a beacon of hope for sustainable human rights progress. Libya is a failed state; Egypt returned to military dictatorship; the Gulf States suppressed popular protests and tightened control; and Syria and Yemen are ravaged by civil war. Challenging the widely shared pessimism among regional experts, Micheline Ishay charts bold and realistic pathways for human rights in a region beset by political repression, economic distress, sectarian conflict, a refugee crisis, and violence against women. With due attention to how patterns of revolution and counterrevolution play out in different societies and historical contexts, Ishay reveals the progressive potential of subterranean human rights forces and offers strategies for transforming current realities in the Middle East.

A Bit More Restraint

The University of Kansas press has long punched above its weight. Lately, it has been publishing books concerning the “political” (that is, non-judicial) Constitution by political scientists, political theorists, and constitutional theorists. Many of these are part of a sort of judicial restraint revanchism, which is itself largely out of vogue among many constitutional theorists. Here’s another book that fits into this general category: Reconsidering Judicial Finality: Why the Supreme Court is Not the Last Word on the Constitution (Kansas Press), by Louis Fisher.

“Federal judges, legal scholars, pundits, and reporters frequently describe the Supreme Court as the final word on the meaning of the Constitution. The historical record presents an entirely different picture. A close and revealing reading of that record, from 1789 to the present day, Reconsidering Judicial Finality reminds us of the “unalterable fact,” as Chief Justice Rehnquist once remarked, “that our judicial system, like the human beings who administer it, is fallible.” And a Court inevitably prone to miscalculation and error, as this book clearly demonstrates, cannot have the incontrovertible last word on constitutional questions.

In this deeply researched, sharply reasoned work of legal myth-busting, constitutional scholar Louis Fisher explains how constitutional disputes are settled by all three branches of government, and by the general public, with the Supreme Court often playing a secondary role. The Court’s decisions have, of course, been challenged and reversed in numerous cases—involving slavery, civil rights, child labor legislation, Japanese internment during World War II, abortion, and religious liberty. What Fisher shows us on a case-by-case basis is how the elected branches, scholars, and American public regularly press policies contrary to Court rulings—and regularly prevail, although the process might sometimes take decades. From the common misreading of Marbury v. Madison, to the mistaken understanding of the Supreme Court as the trusted guardian of individual rights, to the questionable assumptions of the Courts decision in Citizens United, Fisher’s work charts the distance and the difference between the Court as the ultimate arbiter in constitutional matters and the judgment of history.

The verdict of Reconsidering Judicial Finality is clear: to treat the Supreme Court’s nine justices as democracy’s last hope or as dangerous activists undermining democracy is to vest them with undue significance. The Constitution belongs to all three branches of government—and, finally, to the American people.”

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