Comparative Conscience Exemptions

Religious accommodations figure prominently in current debates about law and religion. This past summer, Hart released a collection of essays on such exemptions in the UK, Canada, and the United States, Religious Beliefs and Conscientious Objections in a Liberal State. The editor is John Adentire (University of Birmingham). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

The central focus of this edited collection is on the ever-growing practice, in liberal states, to claim exemption from legal duties on the basis of a conscientious objection. Traditional claims have included objections to compulsory military draft and to the provision of abortions. Contemporary claims include objections to anti-discrimination law by providers of public services, such as bakers and B&B hoteliers, who do not want to serve same-sex couples. The book investigates the practice, both traditional and contemporary, from three distinct perspectives: theoretical, doctrinal (with special emphasis on UK, Canadian and US law) and comparative. Cumulatively, the contributors provide a comprehensive set of reflections on how the practice is to be viewed and carried out in the context of a liberal state.

Why Byzantium Matters

I’ve written a few times in this space about why historians of law and Christianity should spend more time on Byzantium. A new book from Princeton, released last month, makes the case for studying the New Rome–especially its conflicts with Catholicism and with Islam, which continue to resonate today. The book is Byzantine Matters, by Oxford historian Averil Cameron. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:

For many, Byzantium remains byzantine—obscure, marginal, difficult. Despite the efforts of some recent historians, prejudices still deform understanding of the Byzantine civilization, often reducing it to a poor relation of Rome and the rest of the classical world. In this book, renowned historian Averil Cameron addresses misconceptions about Byzantium, suggests why it is so important to integrate the civilization into wider histories, and lays out why Byzantium should be central to ongoing debates about the relationships between West and East, Christianity and Islam, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and the ancient and medieval periods. The result is a compelling call to reconsider the place of Byzantium in Western history and imagination.

A New Book on Covenant Theology

Calvinist Covenant Theology, refracted through the colonial experience in New England, had a large influence on the American Founding. A book out last month from Yale University Press, Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises, by theologian Scott Hahn (Franciscan University of Steubenville), traces the role of covenant in Scripture. Here’s the description from Yale’s website:

While the canonical scriptures were produced over many centuries and represent a diverse library of texts, they are unified by stories of divine covenants and their implications for God’s people. In this deeply researched and thoughtful book, Scott Hahn shows how covenant, as an overarching theme, makes possible a coherent reading of the diverse traditions found within the canonical scriptures.
 
Biblical covenants, though varied in form and content, all serve the purpose of extending sacred bonds of kinship, Hahn explains. Specifically, divine covenants form and shape a father-son bond between God and the chosen people. Biblical narratives turn on that fact, and biblical theology depends upon it. With meticulous attention to detail, the author demonstrates how divine sonship represents a covenant relationship with God that has been consistent throughout salvation history. A canonical reading of this divine plan reveals an illuminating pattern of promise and fulfillment in both the Old and New Testaments. God’s saving mercies are based upon his sworn commitments, which he keeps even when his people break the covenant.

In This Sign Conquer

The Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christianity and set it on the path to becoming the state religion, is one of Christian history’s most controversial figures. The Orthodox and Catholic Churches venerate him as a saint. Among Protestants, his legacy is rather more mixed. But his influence on Christianity, especially with respect to its relationship with state power, has been immense. A new history from Harvard, The Triumph of Empire: The Roman World from Hadrian to Constantine, discusses his rise to power. The author is Michael Kulikowski (Pennsylvania State University). Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

The Triumph of Empire takes readers into the political heart of imperial Rome and recounts the extraordinary challenges overcome by a flourishing empire. Michael Kulikowski’s history begins with the reign of Hadrian, who visited the farthest reaches of his domain and created stable frontiers, and spans to the decades after Constantine the Great, who overhauled the government, introduced a new state religion, and founded a second Rome.

Factionalism and intrigue sapped the empire from within, even at its apex. Roman politics could resemble a blood sport: rivals resorted to assassination; emperors rose and fell with bewildering speed, their reigns measured in weeks, not years; and imperial succession was never entirely assured. Canny emperors—including Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, and Diocletian—constantly cultivated the aristocracy’s favor to maintain a grip on power. Despite such volatility, the Roman Empire protected its borders, defeating successive attacks from Goths and Germans, Persians and Parthians. Yet external threats persisted and the imperial government sagged under its own administrative weight. Religion, too, was in flux with the rise of Christianity and other forms of monotheism. In the fourth century CE, Constantine and his heirs reformed imperial institutions by separating civilian and military hierarchies, restructuring the government of both provinces and cities, and ensuring the prominence of Christianity.

The Triumph of Empire is a fresh, authoritative narrative of Rome at its height and of its evolution—from being the central power of the Mediterranean world to becoming one of several great Eurasian civilizations.

A New Collection of Essays on Disestablishment in the US

This forthcoming collection of essays from the University of Missouri Press, Disestablishment and Religious Dissent: Church-State Relations in the New American States, 1776-1833, looks very interesting. The editors are law professor Carl Esbeck (University of Missouri School of Law) and historian Jonathan Den Hartog (Samford University). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

On May 10, 1776, the Second Continental Congress sitting in Philadelphia adopted a Resolution which set in motion a round of constitution making in the colonies, several of which soon declared themselves sovereign states and severed all remaining ties to the British Crown. In forming these written constitutions, the delegates to the state conventions were forced to address the issue of church-state relations. Each colony had unique and differing traditions of church-state relations rooted in the colony’s peoples, their country of origin, and religion.

This definitive volume, comprising twenty-one original essays by eminent historians and political scientists, is a comprehensive state-by-state account of disestablishment in the original thirteen states, as well as a look at similar events in the soon-to-be-admitted states of Vermont, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Also considered are disestablishment in Ohio (the first state admitted from the Northwest Territory), Louisiana and Missouri (the first states admitted from the Louisiana Purchase), and Florida (wrestled from Spain under U.S. pressure). The volume makes a unique scholarly contribution by recounting in detail the process of disestablishment in each of the colonies, as well as religion’s constitutional and legal place in the new states of the federal republic.

Fish on the First

I first became acquainted with Stanley Fish in college. Literary theory was then the rage, and as a classical languages major, literary theory was making its primary disciplinary impact in the area of translation. Questions like– what does it mean to translate a work in one language into another? Is it possible to do so? What is lost and gained in the process? Are there such things as “better” and “worse” translations?–these dominated the intellectual scene, and they were the sorts of questions, mutatis mutandis and adapted to a much larger scale, that were being asked by Fish in English and Literature departments. Such questions radically changed the nature of the study of literature. For myself, at the time, I was mostly concerned with ensuring that my translation of Vergil or Cicero or Caesar was right, not whether it was possible.

I still recall that one had a choice in those days: take your Milton with Fish, or take it with Reynolds Price. To give some sense of the difference: Price had us memorize several stanzas of Lycidas (“Yet once more, O ye Laurels, and once more // Ye Myrtles brown, with Ivy never-sear, // I com to pluck your Berries harsh and crude…”).

Since the 1990s, Fish has become much more involved in the work of law and interpretation, adapting his core ideas to, for example, target textualism and originalism (they say that law always lags other academic disciplines). He has several interesting pieces on intentionalism in interpretation. And my own last experience in the classroom with Fish is his book on the nature of the academic enterprise, Save the World on Your Own Time, portions of which I have assigned in seminars ranging from Catholic Social Thought to the Religion Clauses.

Any Fish publication is therefore cause to perk up and take notice, and this new book is no exception: The First: How to Think About Hate Speech, Campus Speech, Religious Speech, Fake News, Post-Truth, and Donald Trump (Atria). Covers a lot of ground; as is Fish’s wont.

“How does the First Amendment really work? Is it a principle or a value? What is hate speech and should it always be banned? Are we free to declare our religious beliefs in the public square? What role, if any, should companies like Facebook play in policing the exchange of thoughts, ideas, and opinions?

With clarity and power, Stanley Fish, “America’s most famous professor” (BookPage), explores these complex questions in The First. From the rise of fake news, to the role of tech companies in monitoring content (including the President’s tweets), to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest, First Amendment controversies continue to dominate the news cycle. Across America, college campus administrators are being forced to balance free speech against demands for safe spaces and trigger warnings.

Ultimately, Fish argues, freedom of speech is a double-edged concept; it frees us from constraints, but it also frees us to say and do terrible things. Urgent and controversial, The First is sure to ruffle feathers, spark dialogue, and shine new light on one of America’s most cherished—and debated—constitutional rights.”

When Do International Mores Defeat Local Ones?

So many of the most prominent law and religion cases–Lautsi, Kokkinakis, Eweida, and on and on–represent conflicts between the views and mores of particular European and sometimes Asian states, on the one hand, and those of the international European community, on the other. Here is a new book that looks like it will discuss some of these issues: International Judicial Review: When Should International Courts Intervene? (Cambridge University Press), by Shai Dothan.

“This book is motivated by a question: when should international courts intervene in domestic affairs? To answer this question thoroughly, the book is broken down into a series of separate inquiries: when is intervention legitimate? When can international courts identify good legal solutions? When will intervention initiate useful processes? When will it lead to good outcomes? These inquiries are answered based on reviewing judgments of international courts, strategic analysis, and empirical findings. The book outlines under which conditions intervention by international courts is recommended and evaluates the implications that international courts have on society.”

Neoliberalism’s Theology

Here is a new book confronting the frequently pilloried term, “neoliberalism,” and offering an interesting theory about its underlying causes and ends: Neoliberalism and Political Theology: From Kant to Identity Politics (Oxford University Press), by Carl Raschke.

“Neoliberalism in recent years has become the operative buzzword among pundits and academics to characterise an increasingly dysfunctional global political economy. It is often–wrongly–identified exclusively with free market fundamentalism and illiberal types of cultural conservatism. Combining penetrating argument and broad-ranging scholarship, Carl Raschke shows what the term really means, how it evolved and why it has been so misunderstood.

Raschke lays out how the present new world disorder, signalled by the election of Trump and Brexit, derives less from the ascendancy of reactionary forces and more from the implosion of the post-Cold War effort to establish a progressive international moral and political order for the cynical benefit of a new cosmopolitan knowledge class, mimicking the so-called civilising mission of 19th-century European colonialists.”

How To Make Hard Decisions

It is some sign of law and religion’s salience today that Professor Peter Schuck of Yale Law School decided to include a conundrum of the field as one of his “Top 5” tough choices in his new book, One Nation Undecided: Clear Thinking About Five Hard Issues That Divide Us (Princeton University Press). The others are poverty, immigration, affirmative action, and campaign finance. All of the rest–concerning the certitude that “we’ve all” expressed views on these matters “without thinking them through”–well…I suppose Professor Schuck will tell us in the book just how he comes to that conclusion.

“We’ve all expressed opinions about difficult hot-button issues without thinking them through. With so much media spin, political polarization, and mistrust of institutions, it’s hard to know how to think about these tough challenges, much less what to do about them. One Nation Undecided takes on some of today’s thorniest issues and walks you through each one step-by-step, explaining what makes it so difficult to grapple with and enabling you to think smartly about it. In this unique what-to-do book, Peter Schuck tackles poverty, immigration, affirmative action, campaign finance, and religious objections to gay marriage and transgender rights. No other book provides such a comprehensive, balanced, and accessible analysis of these urgent social controversies. One Nation Undecided gives you the facts and competing values, makes your thinking about them more sophisticated, and encourages you to draw your own conclusions.

Sixsmith reviews Holland’s “Dominion”

Here’s something of a new feature for our book-related posts. On occasion, we’ll have an interesting review of a book that we have previously posted. I thought this review at the University Bookman by Ben Sixsmith of Tom Holland’s book, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, was very worthwhile and gave a good account of the book’s themes, strengths, and weaknesses. A bit:

“Holland’s stylistic talents add a great deal to the book. His portraits of Boniface, Luther, and Calvin are vivid, evocative, and free of romanticization or its opposite. Some of his accounts of episodes in religious history are a little superficial—he could have read Helen Andrews for a more complicated portrait of Bartolomé de las Casas, for example—but a sweeping historical narrative without superficial aspects would be like an orchard with no bruising on the fruit. It is only natural.”

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