“Filing Religion” (Berti et al, eds.)

In June, the Oxford University Press released “Filing Religion: State, Hinduism, and Courts of Law,” edited by Daniela Berti (National Centre for Scientific Research), Gilles Tarabout (National Centre for Scientific Research), and Raphaël Voix (National Centre for Scientific Research). The publisher’s description follows:

The Indian Constitution posits a separation between a secular domain that the state can regulate and a religious one in which it should not interfere. However, defining the 9780199463794separation between the two has proved contentious: the state is involved in various ways in the direct administration of many religious institutions; and courts are regularly asked to decide on rights linked to religious functions and bodies. Such decisions contribute to (re)defining religious categories and practices.

This edited volume aims at exploring how apparently technical legalistic action taking place in courts of law significantly shapes the place Hinduism occupies in Indian and Nepalese societies, perhaps even more so than the ideology of any political party. Thus, this volume does not deal so much with politics of secularism in general, but with how courts deal in practice with Hinduism. The approach developed in this volume is resolutely historical and anthropological. It considers law as part of social, religious, and political dynamics while relying on in-depth ethnography and archival research.

Hurtado, “Destroyer of the Gods”

In September, Baylor University Press will release “Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World,” by Larry W. Hurtado (University of Edinburgh). The publisher’s description follows:

Destroyer of the Gods“Silly,” “stupid,” “irrational,” “simple.” “Wicked,” “hateful,” “obstinate,” “anti-social.” “Extravagant,” “perverse.” The Roman world rendered harsh judgments upon early Christianity—including branding Christianity “new.” Novelty was no Roman religious virtue.

Nevertheless, as Larry W. Hurtado shows in Destroyer of the gods, Christianity thrived despite its new and distinctive features and opposition to them. Unlike nearly all other religious groups, Christianity utterly rejected the traditional gods of the Roman world. Christianity also offered a new and different kind of religious identity, one not based on ethnicity. Christianity was distinctively a “bookish” religion, with the production, copying, distribution, and reading of texts as central to its faith, even preferring a distinctive book-form, the codex. Christianity insisted that its adherents behave differently: unlike the simple ritual observances characteristic of the pagan religious environment, embracing Christian faith meant a behavioral transformation, with particular and novel ethical demands for men. Unquestionably, to the Roman world, Christianity was both new and different, and, to a good many, it threatened social and religious conventions of the day.

In the rejection of the gods and in the centrality of texts, early Christianity obviously reflected commitments inherited from its Jewish origins. But these particular features were no longer identified with Jewish ethnicity and early Christianity quickly became aggressively trans-ethnic—a novel kind of religious movement. Its ethical teaching, too, bore some resemblance to the philosophers of the day, yet in contrast with these great teachers and their small circles of dedicated students, early Christianity laid its hard demands upon all adherents from the moment of conversion, producing a novel social project.

Christianity’s novelty was no badge of honor. Called atheists and suspected of political subversion, Christians earned Roman disdain and suspicion in equal amounts. Yet, as Destroyer of the gods demonstrates, in an irony of history the very features of early Christianity that rendered it distinctive and objectionable in Roman eyes have now become so commonplace in Western culture as to go unnoticed. Christianity helped destroy one world and create another.

“Religion and the Exercise of Public Authority” (Berger & Moon, eds.)

In June, Hart Publishing released “Religion and the Exercise of Public Authority,” edited by Benjamin Berger (York University) and Richard Moon (University of Windsor).  The publisher’s description follows:

In the burgeoning literature on law and religion, scholarly attention has tended to focus on broad questions concerning the scope of religious freedom, the nature of 9781849467155toleration and the meaning of secularism. An under-examined issue is how religion figures in the decisions, actions and experiences of those charged with performing public duties. This point of contact between religion and public authority has generated a range of legal and political controversies around issues such as the wearing of religious symbols by public officials, prayer at municipal government meetings, religious education and conscientious objection by public servants.

Authored by scholars from a variety of disciplines, the chapters in this volume provide insight into these and other issues. Yet the volume also provides an entry point into a deeper examination of the concepts that are often used to organise and manage religious diversity, notably state neutrality. By examining the exercise of public authority by individuals who are religiously committed – or who, in the discharge of their public responsibilities, must account for those who are – this volume exposes the assumptions about legal and political life that underlie the concept of state neutrality and reveals its limits as a governing ideal.

The End of the Liberal Tradition?

At the First Things site today, I have an essay about a remarkable new paper from political scientists Roberto Foa and Yascha Mounk on the growing opposition to liberal democracy among American Millennials–especially wealthy Millennials. For example, the authors write, surveys reveal that 35% of wealthy young Americans think it would be a good thing for the military to take over the government!

In my essay, I argue that the surveys reveal the decline of yet another American tradition: liberalism itself:

Liberalism is often understood as propositional, as a series of abstract principles. This understanding has led scholars like Fukuyama to think that liberalism can be easily exported to other cultures; it has formed the basis for much American foreign policy, especially in recent decades. In important ways, this understanding is correct. Liberalism does justify itself largely on the basis of ideas. The Framers of the American Constitution, for example, were strongly influenced by Enlightenment concepts of reason and rational government.

In a deeper sense, though, liberalism generally, and American liberalism specifically, is a tradition, the organic working-out of precedent, over time, in a particular political culture. The American Framers were figures of the Enlightenment, true, but they also thought they were restoring the traditional rights of Englishmen, rights that could be traced back to Magna Carta and beyond. The American conception of religious liberty, for example, is deeply influenced by the historical experience of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, and also by the particular understanding of religion that took hold in a colonial, frontier society. This explains why it differs so much from its cousin on the European continent, the French doctrine of laïcité.

But American culture is changing. Our traditions are not so popular nowadays, including our political traditions; and when we discard our traditions, we can fall for many things, including, apparently, authoritarianism. That, it seems to me, is the upshot of this important paper. The authors identify authoritarianism in our politics with Donald Trump, and it’s easy to recognize Trump’s authoritarian appeal (“I alone can fix it”). But there is authoritarianism on the left, as well, which the authors ignore. American college students increasingly oppose free speech, at least with respect to certain viewpoints, and insist on shutting down speakers with whom they disagree, often with the approval of administrators and faculty who should know better. Not to mention the left’s continuing assaults on religious liberty, including attempts to get nuns to cover contraceptives for their employees and threats to remove the tax-exempt status of religious schools that disapprove of same-sex marriage.

My essay is available here.

Clarke & Halofoff, “Religion and Development in the Asia-Pacific”

In September, Routledge will release “Religion and Development in the Asia-Pacific: Sacred Places as Development Spaces,” by Matthew Clarke (Deakin University) and Anna Halafoff  (Deakin University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Community development is most effective and efficient when it is situated and led at the local level and considers the social behaviours, needs and worldviews of local 9781138792364communities. With more than eight out of ten people globally self-reporting religious belief, Religion and Development in the Asia-Pacific: Sacred places as development spaces argues that the role and impact of religions on community development needs to be better understood. It also calls for greater attention to be given to the role of sacred places as sites for development activities, and for a deeper appreciation of the way in which sacred stories and teachings inspire people to work for the benefit of others in particular locations.

The book considers theories of ‘place’ as a component of successful development interventions and expands this analysis to consider the specific role that sacred places – buildings and social networks – have in planning, implementing and promoting sustainable development. A series of case studies examine various sacred places as sites for development activities. These case studies include Christian churches and disaster relief in Vanuatu; Muslim shrines and welfare provision in Pakistan; a women’s Buddhist monastery in Thailand advancing gender equity; a Jewish aid organisation providing language training to Muslim Women in Australia; and Hawaiian sacred sites located within a holistic retreat centre committed to ecological sustainability.

Religion and Development in the Asia-Pacific demonstrates the important role that sacred spaces can play in development interventions, covering diverse major world religions, interfaith and spiritual contexts, and as such will be of considerable interest for postgraduate students and researchers in development studies, religious studies, sociology of religion and geography.

Ulanowski, “The Religious Aspects of War in the Ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome”

In July, Brill Publishers released “The Religious Aspects of War in the Ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome,” by Krzysztof Ulanowski (Gdańsk University). The publisher’s description follows:

Arjmand, “Public Urban Space, Gender and Segregation”

In September, Routledge will release “Public Urban Space, Gender and Segregation: Women-only Urban Parks in Iran,” by Reza Arjmand (Lund University). The publisher’s description follows:

Public spaces are the renditions of the power symmetry within the social setting it resides in, and is both controlling and confining of power. In an ideologically-laden 9781472473370context, urban design encompasses values and meanings and is utilized as a means to construct the identity and perpetuate visible and invisible boundaries. Hence, gendered spatial dichotomy based on a biological division of sexes is often employed systematically to evade the transgression of women into the public spaces.

The production of modern urban space in the Middle East is formed in the interplay between modernity, tradition and religion. Examining women in public spaces and patterns of interaction with gender -segregated and -mixed space, this book argues that gendered spaces are far from a static physical spatial division and produce a complex and dynamic dichotomy of men/public and women/private. Taking the example of Iran, normative and ideologically-laden gender segregated public spaces have been used as a tool for the Islamization of everyday life. The most recent government effort includes women-only parks, purportedly designed and administered through women’s contributions, as well as to accommodate their needs and provide space for social interaction and activities. Combining research approaches from urban planning and social sciences, this book analyses both technical and social aspects of women-only parks. Addressing the relationships between ideology, urban planning and gender, the book interprets power relations and how they are used to define and plan public and semi-public urban spaces.

Lack of communication across disciplinary boundaries as result of complexities of urban life has been one of the major hindrances in studying urban spaces in the Middle East. Addressing the concern, the cross-disciplinary approach employed in this volume is an amalgamation of methods informed by urban planning and social sciences, which includes an in-depth analysis of the morphological, perceptual, social, visual, functional, and temporal dimensions of the public space, the women-only parks in Iran. Based on critical ethnography, this volume uses a phenomenological approach to understating women in gendered spaces. Interaction of women in women-only parks in Iran, a gendered space which is growing in popularity across the Muslim world is discussed thoroughly and compared vis-à-vis gender-neutral public spaces. The book targets scholars and students within a wide range of academic disciplines including urban studies, urban planning, gender studies, political science, Middle Eastern studies, cultural studies, urban anthropology, urban sociology, Iranian studies and Islamic studies.

“Seeking the Truth” (Reinsch, ed.)

In March, the Catholic University of America Press released “Seeking the Truth: An Orestes Brownson Anthology,” edited by Richard M. Reinsch II (Liberty Fund). The publisher’s description follows:

Seeking the TruthThis anthology of essays from the great nineteenth-century thinker Orestes A. Brownson will engage the reader with key writings from one of the most compelling American Catholic intellectuals. Brownson was a spiritual seeker who migrated through Presbyterianism, Universalism, skepticism, Unitarianism, and Transcendentalist thought, and finally at age 41 to Catholicism. Politically he found himself anticipating socialism in the 1830s, then, turning into a disciple of John Calhoun’s states rights constitutionalism, and later he incorporated his criticisms of mass democracy into a unique philosophical defense of the Constitution that emerged in full bloom during the Civil War.

Brownson’s life, in its several phases, turns, and allegiances, has remained noteworthy for his rejection of modern pragmatism’s aim to obtain material comfort in service of man’s desires, while deemphasizing deeper concerns for philosophical and spiritual truth. Brownson’s writings, born from his existential wranglings were, therefore, addressed to our authentic human longings to know the truth about ourselves.

If much of late modern thought can be characterized as dualistic, fractured, and subjective, Brownson’s questing was that of a modern intellectual using modern philosophical resources in dialogue with pre-modern and classical sources to recover the dialectical whole of knowledge. Therefore the intellectual quest must contemplate the natural and the supernatural, reason and faith, religion and science, the various levels and forms of political authority, the beginning and end of man, and the relationships that exist among these sets of inquiries. Resulting from Brownson’s study of these universal questions is also a particular application of his learning. Brownson, unlike almost any other American figure, illumined the promises and the limitations of American institutions while also seeking to edify its experiment with republican self-government.

This anthology collection will be of great use for academics, graduate and undergraduate students, seminarians, and educated lay readers. the significance of Seeking the Truth is how it allows the reader to walk with Brownson through his intellectual journey and gain a further understanding of one of the best social, political, and religious thinkers of the nineteenth century.

Levinson on Law and Tradition (a Skeptical View)

Professor Sandy Levinson has an enjoyable and highly critical take on my essay about law and tradition. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be in conversation with him. I’m already at work on my reply. Last up next week will be Professor Jim Stoner. A bit from the beginning of Professor Levinson’s essay:

Professor DeGirolami has written an interesting Liberty Forum essay in behalf of paying respectful attention to tradition as a major aspect of our legal order. However, I think there are two major problems with it. The first is theoretical, particularly in relation to the American political and legal experience. The second has to do with actual practices or examples. The essay, albeit interesting, is written from a lofty perspective; there are too few concrete examples that truly allow the reader to ascertain the implications of his argument. Almost always, when it comes to politics or law, the devil (or saving grace) is in the details, and Professor DeGirolami needs to put more real flesh on his otherwise skeletal argument….

Professor DeGirolami tellingly quotes both Khloe Kardashian and Oliver Wendell Holmes. One is hesitant to embrace Kardashian as a normative exemplar of American culture, and Holmes, of course, has become a central target of those who view “Progressivism” as a defining moment in the decline of that culture and Holmes as a central figure in that decline.  So let me offer two other sources that call into question another notion that there was an Edenic period in America when tradition, however defined, reigned before the Fall instantiated in figures like Holmes and Woodrow Wilson.

Consider one of the ur-texts of American political thought, The Federalist. Needless to say, any series of 85 essays, written by three authors in a remarkably short period, will have its share of contradictions. That being said, my own favorite paragraph among the 85 is the conclusion of Federalist 14, which is, among other things, about the virtues of the “extended republic,” in contrast with what might be said to be traditional notions of republican political thought that emphasized the importance of relatively small and homogeneous societies as a prerequisite for republican governance. Publius dismissed such arguments:

Hearken not to the voice which petulantly tells you that the form of government recommended for your adoption is a novelty in the political world; that it has never yet had a place in the theories of the wildest projectors; that it rashly attempts what it is impossible to accomplish. . . . Is it not the glory of the people of America, that, whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience? . . . They accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. They reared the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the globe. (emphasis added)

Around the Web

Here is a look at some law and religion news stories from around the web:

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