I’ve been meaning to post this interesting-looking new book on Pontius Pilate and the trial of Jesus by David Dusenbury, a post-doc at Hebrew University: The Innocence of Pontius Pilate How the Roman Trial of Jesus Shaped History (Hurst). The Gospel accounts paint Pilate as an ambivalent figure, more or less forced by circumstances to issue a sentence of death against Jesus. According to Dusenbury, though, some early Christian writers went further, arguing that Pilate had in fact acted justly at the trial. Dusenbury maintains that arguments about Pilate’s “innocence” helped shape the emerging Christian theory of religious tolerance.
Here’s the publisher’s description:
The gospels and the first-century historians agree: Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, the Roman imperial prefect in Jerusalem. To this day, Christians of all churches confess that Jesus died ‘under Pontius Pilate’. But what exactly does that mean?
Within decades of Jesus’ death, Christians began suggesting that it was the Judaean authorities who had crucified Jesus—a notion later echoed in the Qur’an. In the third century, one philosopher raised the notion that, although Pilate had condemned Jesus, he’d done so justly; this idea survives in one of the main strands of modern New Testament criticism. So what is the truth of the matter? And what is the history of that truth?
David Lloyd Dusenbury reveals Pilate’s ‘innocence’ as not only a neglected theological question, but a recurring theme in the history of European political thought. He argues that Jesus’ interrogation by Pilate, and Augustine of Hippo’s North African sermon on that trial, led to the concept of secularity and the logic of tolerance emerging in early modern Europe. Without the Roman trial of Jesus, and the arguments over Pilate’s innocence, the history of empire—from the first century to the twentyfirst—would have been radically different.
I’ve learned a great deal from Professor Steven B. Smith’s work on political philosophy over the years. A few years back, I watched his terrific lectures (and tried to keep up with the reading!) which are available to everybody, and then read his fine book, Modernity and Its Discontents.
Early next year, Professor Smith has a new book in the offing: Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes (Yale University Press) that is worth highlighting. For the law and religion crowd, I’m sure this will be a timely and important contribution on the question of balancing various competing loyalties. Here is the description.
The concept of patriotism has fallen on hard times. What was once a value that united Americans has become so politicized by both the left and the right that it threatens to rip apart the social fabric. On the right, patriotism has become synonymous with nationalism and an “us versus them” worldview, while on the left it is seen as an impediment to acknowledging important ethnic, religious, or racial identities and a threat to cosmopolitan globalism.
Steven B. Smith reclaims patriotism from these extremist positions and advocates for a patriotism that is broad enough to balance loyalty to country against other loyalties. Describing how it is a matter of both the head and the heart, Smith shows how patriotism can bring the country together around the highest ideals of equality and is a central and ennobling disposition that democratic societies cannot afford to do without.
Congratulations to Center board member Don Drakeman for his new book, available later this month, The Hollow Core of Constitutional Theory: Why We Need the Framers (CUP 2020)! Don has been making the case for an approach to originalism that looks to original meaning as well as original intention for several years. I know that I have benefited from his work greatly over the years.
More later, when I’ve had a chance to read the book. But for the moment, wonderful news.
Sociologists of religion often distinguish “believing” from “belonging.” There is “belonging without believing”–being formally part of a religious community without having religious convictions–and “believing without belonging”–subscribing to religious claims while remaining formally outside a religious community. For what it’s worth, we Americans tend more towards the latter, especially now, with the rise of the Nones.
Cambridge University Press has released an interesting-looking book by Joseph David (Sapir Academic College, Israel), Kinship, Law and Politics: An Anatomy of Belonging, which no doubt touches on these issues. Here’s the description from the Cambridge site:
Why are we so concerned with belonging? In what ways does our belonging constitute our identity? Is belonging a universal concept or a culturally dependent value? How does belonging situate and motivate us? Joseph E. David grapples with these questions through a genealogical analysis of ideas and concepts of belonging. His book transports readers to crucial historical moments in which perceptions of belonging have been formed, transformed, or dismantled. The cases presented here focus on the pivotal role played by belonging in kinship, law, and political order, stretching across cultural and religious contexts from eleventh-century Mediterranean religious legal debates to twentieth-century statist liberalism in Western societies. With his thorough inquiry into diverse discourses of belonging, David pushes past the politics of belonging and forces us to acknowledge just how wide-ranging and fluid notions of belonging can be.
I’m delighted to notice this new church-state reader put together by John F. Wilson (Princeton, emeritus) and our longtime friend and center board member, Donald L. Drakeman, Church and State in American History: Key Documents, Decisions, and Commentary from Five Centuries (4th edition, Routledge). Don kindly informs me that what is new about this edition of the reader is a greatly expanded historical section before the American founding, beginning with the Biblical texts and proceeding through the early Christian and medieval era. It also has the American context, the big Supreme Court cases, and so on.
Every time I teach a church-state course of any kind, I cobble together material from a number of different sources as a kind of rapid introduction for students to this area of the law. This book looks like a handy solution. And I’m sure it’s written with Don’s typical flair and panache.
Here is the description from Routledge:
Church and State in American History illuminates the complex relationships among the political and religious authority structures of American society, and illustrates why church-state issues have remained controversial since our nation’s founding. It has been in classroom use for over 50 years.
John Wilson and Donald Drakeman explore the notion of America as “One Nation Under God” by examining the ongoing debate over the relationship of church and state in the United States. Prayers and religious symbols in schools and other public spaces, school vouchers and tax support for faith-based social initiatives continue to be controversial, as are arguments among advocates of pro-choice and pro-life positions. The updated 4th edition includes selections from colonial charters, Supreme Court decisions, and federal legislation, along with contemporary commentary and incisive interpretations by modern scholars. Figures as divergent as John Winthrop, Anne Hutchinson, James Madison, John F. Kennedy, and Sandra Day O’Connor speak from these pages, as do Robert Bellah, Clarence Thomas, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
The continuing public and scholarly interest in this field, as well as a significant evolution in the Supreme Court’s church-state jurisprudence, renders this timely re-edition as essential reading for students of law, American History, Religion, and Politics.
Here is something interesting from a book I’m reviewing now by Professor Greg Weiner, The Political Constitution: The Case Against Judicial Supremacy, which takes Justice Felix Frankfurter’s later views of constitutional jurisprudence as in some respects a model for today. Here, Weiner discusses Frankfurter’s view of the Blue Laws, which forbade a wide range of commercial activities on Sunday in order to recognize the sabbath day for Christians, in a famous case called McGowan v. Maryland (1961). The Court upheld these laws for a rather peculiar reason: that “the record is barren” of reasons to *disprove* that forbidding the sales of certain products on Sunday does not contribute to the rationalized well-being of the citizenry.
Justice Frankfurter concurred. Here is a bit from the book with some material from the Frankfurter opinion quoted:
The effect of the law was to set Sundays apart as ‘a day of rest not merely in a physical, hygienic sense, but in the sense of a recurrent time in the cycle of human activity when the rhythms of existence changed, a day of particular associations which came to have their own autonomous values for life.’ Perhaps most important, rather than seeing the case as one pitting lone objectors against the state, Frankfurter recognized the individual’s situation in the context of a political community whose ‘spirit…expresses in goodly measure the heritage which links it to its past’ and which could reasonably decide to create an ‘atmosphere of general repose’ that would be disrupted by exempting individuals from the law.
In other words, the majority of the community was entitled to impose regulations that created what it regarded as conditions for living a good life, which included leisure, community interaction, and, yes, a particular convenience for members of the dominant religion….The religious heritage of blue laws was part of the traditions of a community, which could not regard itself as existing simply in the here and now. (97-98)
I’ll have more to say about the book, and claims like the one above, soon.
“Changes in the American religious landscape enabled the rise of mass incarceration. Religious ideas and practices also offer a key for ending mass incarceration. These are the bold claims advanced by Break Every Yoke, the joint work of two activist-scholars of American religion. Once, in an era not too long past, Americans, both incarcerated and free, spoke a language of social liberation animated by religion. In the era of mass incarceration, we have largely forgotten how to dream-and organize-this way. To end mass incarceration we must reclaim this lost tradition. Properly conceived, the movement we need must demand not prison reform but prison abolition.
Break Every Yoke weaves religion into the stories about race, politics, and economics that conventionally account for America’s grotesque prison expansion of the last half century, and in so doing it sheds new light on one of our era’s biggest human catastrophes. By foregrounding the role of religion in the way political elites, religious institutions, and incarcerated activists talk about incarceration, Break Every Yoke is an effort to stretch the American moral imagination and contribute resources toward envisioning alternative ways of doing justice. By looking back to nineteenth century abolitionism, and by turning to today’s grassroots activists, it argues for reclaiming the abolition “spirit.””
At our 2014 conference in Rome with LUMSA on international religious freedom and the global clash of values, we were delighted to meet Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, then the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. He gave an impassioned talk at the conference.
Professor Bielefeldt, who teaches at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, has a new co-authored book: Religious Freedom Under Scrutiny (University of Pennsylvania Press), together with Michael Wiener.
“Freedom of religion or belief is deeply entrenched in international human rights conventions and constitutional traditions around the world. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion as does the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the United Nations General Assembly adopted in 1966. A rich jurisprudence on freedom of religion or belief is based on the European Convention on Human Rights, drafted in 1950 by the Council of Europe. Similar regional guarantees exist in the framework of the Organization of American States as well as within the African Union. Freedom of religion or belief has found recognition in numerous national constitutions, and some governments have shown a particularly strong commitment to the international promotion of this right.
As Heiner Bielefeldt and Michael Wiener observe, however, freedom of religion or belief remains a source of political conflict, legal controversy, and intellectual debate. In Religious Freedom Under Scrutiny, Bielefeldt and Wiener explore various critiques leveled at this right. For example, does freedom of religion contribute to the spread of Western neoliberal values to the detriment of religious and cultural diversity? Can religious freedom serve as the entry point for antifeminist agendas within the human rights framework? Drawing on their considerable experience in the field, Bielefeldt and Wiener provide a typological overview and analysis of violations around the world that illustrate the underlying principles as well as the relationship between freedom of religion or belief and other human rights.
Religious Freedom Under Scrutiny argues that without freedom of religion or belief, human rights cannot fully address our complex needs, yearnings, and vulnerabilities as human beings. Furthermore, ignoring or marginalizing freedom of religion or belief would weaken the plausibility, attractiveness, and legitimacy of the entire system of human rights.”