The Place of the Virtues in Catholic Social Thought

Catholic Social Thought is the body of learning and teaching concerning the Catholic Church’s considered views about a broad range of social, political, and cultural concerns informed by and in response to changing circumstances. Here is a new book that locates the role of the virtues (as developed in the Western philosophical tradition) within Catholic Social Thought, Catholic Social Teaching in Practice: Exploring Practical Wisdom and the Virtues Tradition (Cambridge University Press), by Andrew Yuengert.

Although the virtues are implicit in Catholic Social Teaching, they are too often overlooked.  In this pioneering study, Andrew M. Yuengert draws on the neo-Aristotelian virtues tradition to bring the virtue of practical wisdom into an explicit and wide-ranging engagement with the Church’s social doctrine.  Practical wisdom and the virtues clarify the meaning of Christian personalism, highlight the irreplaceable role of the laity in social reform, and bring attention to the important task of lay formation in virtue. This form of wisdom also offers new insights into the Church’s dialogue with economics and the social sciences, and reframes practical political disagreements between popes, bishops, and the laity in a way that challenges both laypersons and episcopal leadership. Yuengert’s study respects the Church’s social tradition, while showing how it might develop to be more practical.  By proposing active engagement with practical wisdom, he demonstrates how Catholic Social Teaching can more effectively inform and inspire practical social reform.

Worldly Politics and Divine Institutions

From the beginning, when we started this center a dozen years ago (time flies!), one of the subjects we have most wanted to study is comparative law and religion. The US is not the only country to have to negotiate the competing demands of church and state, and observing how other countries manage those demands can be instructive.

A new book from Oxford University Press looks to be a worthy edition to the area: Worldly Politics and Divine Institutions: Contemporary Entanglements of Faith and Government, by political scientist Nashon Perez (Bar Ilan University). The book covers four of the cases that we have discussed here at the Forum and in Legal Spirits podcasts over the years. Here’s the description of the book from the publisher’s website:

The institutional entanglement of religion and government takes many forms, including direct governmental funding of religious associations, legal recognition, and governmental endorsement of religious symbols in public spaces. The entanglement of church and state remains contentious in many democratic countries today. In fact, in Europe and North America, there are a growing number of instances of governments becoming entwined with religious matters.

Worldly Politics and Divine Institutions explores the entanglement of religion and government in a comparative analysis of four cases within democratic countries: the British Jewish Free School (JFS) case, in which the U.K. Supreme Court forced a government-funded faith school to change its admission policies; The European Court of Human Rights decision in Martinez, in which the Catholic church kept its right to dismiss religion teachers within the Spanish public school system; The Lautsi case, in which the Italian government successfully defended its policy of mandating a crucifix in all public school classrooms – at the European Court of Human Rights; and the case of the Bladensburg World War I Memorial (often called the Peace Cross) in Maryland, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the cross’s public placement and maintenance funding does not violate the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment. Perez describes how these cases create complex, hybrid religious-statist institutions and outlines a novel framework for understanding these cases.

On the Oxford Movement

The Oxford Movement was an early nineteenth century school of religious thought that aimed to reinfuse Anglicanism with the Catholic tradition–to create an Anglo-Catholicism. Here is one of its spiritual leaders, St. John Henry Newman, with a suggestive description from his Apologia Pro Vita Sua:

Now and then a man of note appeared in the Pulpit or Lecture Rooms of the University, who was a worthy representative of the more religious and devout Anglicans. These belonged chiefly to the High-Church party; for the party called Evangelical never has been able to breathe freely in the atmosphere of Oxford, and at no time has been conspicuous, as a party, for talent or learning. But of the old High Churchmen several exerted some sort of anti-liberal influence in the place, at least from time to time, and that influence of an intellectual nature. Among these especially may be mentioned Mr. John Miller, of Worcester College, who preached the Bampton Lecture in the year 1817. But, as far as I know, he who turned the tide, and brought the talent of the University round to the side of the old theology, and against what was familiarly called “march-of-mind,” was Mr. Keble. In and from Keble the mental activity of Oxford took that contrary direction which issued in what was called Tractarianism.

A “historical Christianity,” as Cardinal Newman put it in another work. The twentieth century historian, Christopher Dawson, describes the coming of this school in this newly published volume that should be of great interest, The Spirit of the Oxford Movement (Catholic University of America Press), with an introduction by Professor Kenneth L. Parker.

Dawson and John Henry Newman were Oxonians and both were converts to Catholicism; both stood against progressive and liberal movements within society. In both ideologies, Dawson saw a pathway that had once led to the French Revolution. Newman, for Dawson, was a kindred spirit.

In The Spirit of the Oxford Movement, Dawson goes beyond a mere retelling of the events of 1833 – 1845. He shows us the prime movers who sought a deeper understanding of the Anglican tradition: the quixotic Hurrell Froude, for instance, who “had none of the English genius for compromise or the Anglican faculty of shutting the eyes to unpleasant facts.” It was Froude who brought Newman and Keble together and who helped them understand each other. In many ways, Dawson sees these three as the true embodiment of the Tractarian ethos.

Dawson probes deeply, though, to provide a richer, clearer understanding of the intellectual underpinnings of the Oxford Movement, revealing its spiritual raison d’être. We meet a group of gifted like-minded thinkers, albeit with sharp disagreements, who mock outsiders and each other, who pepper their letters with Latin, and forever urge each other on. Newman came to believe, as did Dawson, that the only intellectually coherent bastion against secular culture was religion, and the “on” to which they were urged was the Catholic church. The Spirit of the Oxford Movement provides insights into why Newman, and Dawson, came to this understanding.

A New Comparative Survey on Law & Religion

This month, Elgar releases a new title in its Advanced Introduction series, which provides overviews of discreet subject areas. This one, Advanced Introduction to Law and Religion concerns law and religion, offers a comparative survey of the field. The author is Frank Ravitch (Michigan State). Here’s the publisher’s description:

This Advanced Introduction sets out the difficulty of defining religion itself and the subsequent impact this has on creating laws which regulate and protect it. Taking a global comparative approach, Frank S. Ravitch guides the reader in how this unique interaction plays out in differing legal systems including in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Providing further context by contrasting specific case studies, the book provides a rounded and coherent exploration of the complexities of law in relation to religion.

Key Features:

● Addresses the many issues surrounding religious exceptions to general laws
● Considers the extent of separation between government and religion, and the role of courts in deciding religious questions
● Looks at the ways in which law may govern discrimination by government or by private entities, based on religion or religious concerns
● Explores the multifaceted interactions between religion and law in many areas, including human rights; public schooling; health and property; tax exemptions; and clergy abuse

This foundational book offers a platform for researchers and students in the fields of law, political science, ethics, and religious studies. It also provides valuable insight for lawyers, judges and legislators with a focus on law and religion.

What is Eudaimonia?

Aristotle is famous for, among many other matters, the view that human well-being (in Greek, eudaimonia, and unhappily generally rendered in English as “happiness”) is about what we do or how we behave in life rather than what we feel or sense. He is famous also, of course, for his account of the practical and intellectual virtues through which the life of well-being is achieved. I should also mention that understanding Aristotle’s ethical framework is the way in to understanding his account of political life and the role and rule of law within it. Here is a new book that explores the complex structure of eudaimonia in Aristotle’s thought, Aristotle on Happiness, Virtue, and Wisdom (Cambridge University Press), by Bryan C. Reece.

Aristotle thinks that happiness is an activity – it consists in doing something – rather than a feeling. It is the best activity of which humans are capable and is spread out over the course of a life. But what kind of activity is it? Some of his remarks indicate that it is a single best kind of activity, intellectual contemplation. Other evidence suggests that it is an overarching activity that has various virtuous activities, ethical and intellectual, as parts. Numerous interpreters have sharply disagreed about Aristotle’s answers to such questions. In this book, Bryan Reece offers a fundamentally new approach to determining what kind of activity Aristotle thinks happiness is, one that challenges widespread assumptions that have until now prevented a dialectically satisfactory interpretation. His approach displays the boldness and systematicity of Aristotle’s practical philosophy.

On Temporary Marriage in Islam

In at least some interpretations of Islamic law, there exists the concept of “mut’a” or “pleasure” marriage, a temporary arrangement the duration of which the parties specify in advance. As I understand it, mut’a marriage is limited nowadays to certain schools of Shi’a Islam; Sunni scholars by and large reject it. A new book from Rowman and Littlefield, Marital and Sexual Ethics in Islamic Law: Rethinking Temporary Marriage, explores the present-day understanding of the concept from a variety of Islamic perspectives, including feminist perspectives. The author is Roshan Iqbal (Agnes Scott College). Here’s the publisher’s description:

Roshan Iqbal traces the intellectual legacy of the exegesis of Qur’an 4:24, which is used as the proof text for the permissibility of mut’a (temporary marriage) and asks if the use of verse 4.24 for the permissibility of mut’a marriage is justified within the rules and regulations of Qur’anic hermeneutics. Iqbal examines seventeen Qur’an commentaries, the chronological span of which extends from the first extant commentary to the present day in three major Islamicate languages. Iqbal concludes that doctrinal self-identity, rather than strictly philological analyses, shaped the interpretation of this verse. As Western academia’s first comprehensive work concerning the intellectual history of mut’a marriage and sexual ethics, this work illustrates the power of sectarian influences on how scholars have interpreted verse 4:24. This book is the only work in English that includes a plurality of voices from minor schools (Ibadi, Ashari, Zaidi, and Ismaili) largely neglected by Western scholars, alongside major schools, and draws from all available sub-genres of exegesis. Further, by revealing ambiguities in the interpretation of mut’a, this work challenges accepted sexual ethics in Islamic thought—as presented by most classical and many modern Muslim scholars—and thus opens up space to theorize Islamic sexual ethics anew and contribute to this crucial conversation from the perspective of Muslim feminism.

Mere Natural Law

A new book by Center friend and and seminal figure in the political theory of the Constitution, Professor Hadley Arkes. Professor Arkes has been pressing the case against originalism and for a natural law constitutionalism for many years, in many fora. This is likely to be a useful and important statement of his collected views with, of course, a hat tip to C.S. Lewis in the title! I look forward to this one very much, and congratulations to Hadley! The book is Mere Natural Law: Originalism and the Anchoring Truths of the Constitution (Simon & Schuster).

In this profoundly important reassessment of constitutional interpretation, the eminent legal philosopher Hadley Arkes argues that “originalism” alone is an inadequate answer to judicial activism. Untethered from “mere Natural Law”—the moral principles knowable by all—our legal and constitutional system is doomed to incoherence.

The framers of the Constitution regarded the “self-evident” truths of the Natural Law as foundational. And yet in our own time, both liberals and conservatives insist that we must interpret the Constitution while ignoring its foundation.

Making the case anew for Natural Law, Arkes finds it not in theories hovering in the clouds or in benign platitudes (“be generous,” “be selfless”). He draws us back, rather, to the ground of Natural Law as the American Founders understood it, the anchoring truths of common sense—truths grasped at once by the ordinary man, unburdened by theories imbibed in college and law school.

When liberals discovered hitherto unknown rights in the “emanations” and “penumbras” of a “living constitution,” conservatives responded with an “originalism” that refuses to venture beyond the bare text. But in framing that text, the Founders appealed to moral principles that were there before the Constitution and would be there even if there were no Constitution. An originalism that is detached from those anchor – ing principles has strayed far from the original meaning of the Constitution. It is powerless, moreover, to resist the imposition of a perverse moral vision on our institutions and our lives.

Brilliant in its analysis, essential in its argument, Mere Natural Law is a must-read for everyone who cares about the Constitution, morality, and the rule of law.

A New Book on North American Christianity

Just this week, the New York Times ran a very interesting essay on the changing demographic reality of global Christianity. Although for centuries Christianity has been strongest in the West, that is changing. Christianity’s center of gravity is shifting to the global South. And even in the developed countries of the West, immigration from the global South is changing Christianity. Tomorrow’s American Christianity will look quite different from today’s.

I’m sure these developments will figure in a forthcoming collection of essays from Edinburgh University Press, Christianity in North America. The editors are Kenneth Ross of Zomba Theological University (Malawi), Grace Kim of the Earlham School of Religion (Indiana) and Todd Johnson of the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Massachusetts). Looks to be a valuable reference source. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Building on the success of EUP’s highly acclaimed Atlas of Global Christianity, this volume is the seventh in a series of reference works that takes the analysis of worldwide Christianity to a deeper level of detail. It focuses on Christianity in North America, covering every country and offering both reliable demographic information and original interpretative essays by locally based scholars and practitioners. It maps patterns of growth and decline, assesses major traditions and movements, analyzes key themes, and examines current trends. As a comprehensive account of the presence of Christianity in every part of North America, this volume will become a standard work of reference in its field.

Writeup of Last Week’s Symposium on the Nones

For all who are interested, here’s a writeup of our symposium last week on the rise of the Nones and its potential impact on the Religion Clauses. I participated in the symposium, which was co-sponsored by the St. John’s Law Review, along with Steve Collis of the Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center at UT-Austin and Greg Sisk of the St. Thomas Law (Minnesota). We’re planning a podcast soon, so keep your ears open for that!

Call for Abstracts: Notre Dame Religious Liberty Initiative’s Law & Religion Junior Faculty Conference

The University of Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative invites junior faculty to submit abstracts of works in progress to be considered for presentation at a Law & Religion Junior Faculty Conference to be held at Notre Dame Law School’s Chicago Campus October 27-28, 2023:

We are looking for submissions of proposed articles that will make significant contributions in the field of law and religion. If your paper is selected, you will receive a $1,500 honorarium + travel costs, and dedicated commentary on your paper from a distinguished scholar in this field. You also commit that you will have a working draft circulated at least one month before the Conference. 

Qualifications to Submit:

  • Submissions are limited to unpublished papers by junior faculty, meaning tenure-track law faculty who have been teaching for no more than 10 years. Aspiring scholars who have not yet obtained their first tenure-track appointments, including teaching or other fellows and visiting assistant professors, are also welcome to submit papers for consideration.
  • Submissions may not have been accepted for publication by a journal, and the article must remain substantively revisable (for purposes of incorporating changes resulting from conference feedback).
  • There is a limit of one submission per person.
  • Co-authored pieces will be accepted only if both authors are junior faculty members. Any honorarium awarded on the basis of a co-authored piece must be shared.
  • Submissions must be no more than 500 words and are due by April 28, 2023.

You can submit abstracts here.