Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Zerai, “Intersectionality in Intentional Communities: The Struggle for Inclusivity in Multicultural U.S. Protestant Congregations”

In May, Rowman & Little field will release “Intersectionality in Intentional Communities: The Struggle for Inclusivity in Multicultural U.S. Protestant Congregations” by Assata Zerai (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). The publisher’s description follows:

Over a decade of qualitative research, Assata Zerai has observed both rowmanlittlefieldincremental moves toward inclusiveness and strategies employed to accomplish long-term changes while conducting case studies of five multicultural Protestant churches in sites across the United States. With an interpretive approach, she explores these centers of worship and theorizes the conditions under which progressive social change occurs in some U.S. Protestant congregations. Understanding the daily practices of change and entrenchment in Protestant congregations and the intentional work to replace dominating structures with liberating ones may provide keys to creating multicultural, antiracist, feminist, and sexually inclusive volitional communities more broadly. Intersectionality in Intentional Communities argues that making a significant advance toward inclusion requires change in the underlying social structures of racism, sexism, heteronormativity, class, and other marginalizing influences. In order to isolate this phenomenon, Zerai conducted fieldwork and archival research among an African American and four multiracial U.S. churches. Different from a university or other public institution in which members are legally required to support diversity and related values, Zerai believes that volitional communities may provide a best-case scenario for how, motivated by higher ideals, members may find ways to create inclusive communities. Zerai’s research has a broad empirical base, encompassing five sites: a largely African American urban megachurch in the Midwest; a large Midwestern multiracial/multicultural church; a large urban multiracial/multicultural church in the eastern United States; a small, suburban Midwestern multiracial church; and an inclusive Midwestern college town church. In this book, Zerai further explores important connections between U.S. Protestant Christian congregations and political activism.

Kaveny, “A Culture of Engagement”

In March, the Georgetown University Press will release “A Culture of Engagement: Law, Religion, and Morality,” by Cathleen Kaveny (Boston College).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religious traditions in the United States are characterized by ongoing tension between assimilation to the broader culture, as typified by 51rjwd8azvl
mainline Protestant churches, and defiant rejection of cultural incursions, as witnessed by more sectarian movements such as Mormonism and Hassidism. However, legal theorist and Catholic theologian Cathleen Kaveny contends there is a third possibility—a culture of engagement—that accommodates and respects tradition. It also recognizes the need to interact with culture to remain relevant and to offer critiques of social, political, legal, and economic practices.

Kaveny suggests that rather than avoid the crisscross of the religious and secular spheres of life, we should use this conflict as an opportunity to come together and to encounter, challenge, contribute to, and correct one another. Focusing on five broad areas of interest—Law as a Teacher, Religious Liberty and Its Limits, Conversations about Culture, Conversations about Belief, and Cases and Controversies—Kaveny demonstrates how thoughtful and purposeful engagement can contribute to rich, constructive, and difficult discussions between moral and cultural traditions.

This provocative collection of Kaveny’s articles from Commonweal magazine, substantially revised and updated from their initial publication, provides astonishing insight into a range of hot-button issues like abortion, assisted suicide, government-sponsored torture, contraception, the Ashley Treatment, capital punishment, and the role of religious faith in a pluralistic society. At turns masterful, insightful, and inspirational, A Culture of Engagement is a welcome reminder of what can be gained when a diversity of experiences and beliefs is brought to bear on American public life.

Was Madison Right? Shiffrin on DeGirolami on Roy

The eminent First Amendment scholar (and my friend) Steve Shiffrin has a smart post disagreeing with my own criticisms of Olivier Roy’s column a few days ago concerning the European political right and its nominal association, but substantive dissociation, with the major Christian churches of Europe. Actually there is not much to disagree with in Steve’s post: insofar as my post suggests that the problems that attend church state associations simply have no application in Europe, surely Steve is right to object. Here are just a few additional ruminations in response:

First, I take Steve’s post to be in some measure a friendly amendment to my own. The  principal point I wanted to make about Professor Roy’s column is that to the extent that church-state association or connection is a problem in Europe, that is nothing new and has little to do with today’s particular political trade winds. So that while the contemporary political right makes for a fat target, Professor Roy’s real objection is to the larger model of church-state relations that has predominated in Europe (for good and, as Madison had it, for ill) for the hundreds of years that preceded the last handful. Steve’s post is, I think, consistent with this criticism.

Second, Steve’s post is also a reminder to me that the strength or vigor of a religious tradition is itself a contested concept. A highly Protestant or Evangelical view of religion’s core or essence will see weakness in associational or public institutional characteristics and strength in individual commitment and the purity of interior zeal (I note that Steve cites Stanley Hauerwas!). Here’s some of what I wrote a few months ago (in response to George Will) about the claim that separationism must always and necessarily strengthen religion, much of which seems applicable here too:

The claim is that religion is so vibrant in America only because (or uniquely because) it is so pure, so separate from public institutions. It’s an argument that Madison made famous in his “Memorial and Remonstrance” and that Justice Souter has made in his religion clause jurisprudence (see his dissent in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris)…. It reflects a distinctively evangelical ethic that one sees in full blossom in the writing of Roger Williams (as well as, before him, John Milton), for whom religion could never quite be pure enough–an ethic that hyper-emphasizes the unvarnished, utterly and uncomplicatedly sincere credos of what William James much later would call the gloomily intense “twice-born.”

Notice also the individualistic current on which the claim [of religious strength’s source in separationism] rides. It isn’t just that the state is “likely to get it wrong”; that is an argument for disestablishment…. The deeper undercurrent of the separationist claim is that individuals, not entities, are the ones “likely to get it right”–that true-blue, healthfully zesty religiosity depends on a kind of inward exercise of discernment borne from fervent conviction that is always in peril of depurification by associational adulteration. It is a claim made primarily by those whose experience of “bad” religion was group religion– and traditional group religion at that. And the claim retains at least part of its power because of its still vital anti-clerical, anti-institutional foundations….

But is the claim true? In part, perhaps, but only with substantial qualifications of a kind that make it problematic. There is nothing inevitable….about religious strength that follows ineluctably from its complete separation from government. There is no iron law that says: the more we separate religion from government, the stronger religion must become. Such a claim would run headlong into many counterexamples, contemporary and ancient. The ancient examples make the claim appear patently absurd. One wants to ask: “Do you actually mean to tell me that no society which has not observed strict separation between church and state has had a flourishing religious life? So there was no flourishing religious life in any of countless pre-modern societies that existed before Milton or Locke or Roger Williams or whoever got busy?” And to take only one modern case, religion and the state have been strictly separated for some time in laic France and in other extremely secular European countries, and the strength of religious life in those countries is by all accounts much weaker than it was in prior historical periods when there was greater proximity and interpenetration of church and state.

I suppose one might argue that religious weakness in a country like France is the result of the long, noxious association of church and state that preceded separation, and that we just need some more time before a newly flourishing religiosity emerges. That seems highly dubious. Church and state have been separated in France for over a century (since 1905). How much longer is it supposed to take for this delicate flower to bloom in the desert? In fact, it seems much more likely that strict separation of church and state has either contributed to the weakening of religious life in a country like France or (even more plausibly) that it has occurred at a time when religiosity was weakening for reasons of its own–reasons unrelated to, or at least independent of, strict separationism.

If some notion of separation did in fact at one time contribute to a stronger collective religious life in the United States, the reason had little to do with any necessary connection in this respect, and more to do with the unique historical and cultural circumstances of the United States–circumstances in which the Puritan evangelicalism represented by Roger Williams’s particular style of fire-and-brimstone, garden-and-the-wilderness religiosity was much more powerful in the United States than it is today. Church-state separation may be a strategy that makes religion seem stronger, provided that one is beginning from the evangelical paradigm of the twice-born soul. But it is a different matter if religion is commonly perceived in wildly different terms and expected to perform entirely different functions.

I take all of these points to be consistent with Steve’s final paragraph, in which he writes: “The factors leading to religiosity or its decline are complicated and controversial, and the decline in European religiosity is palpable. I would not contend that the close ties between religion and the state are the only explanation. After all, those ties persisted for a long time without a decline as DeGirolami observes. I would add that those ties can be helpful.” Quite so.

Finally, a friend wrote to me indicating that he was dubious that “separationist” was a proper description of Professor Roy’s own views. That’s an interesting observation as well. I made the association because separationism has a long and rich history in this country. It is a view that proceeds in part from the position that the mingling of church and state is a corrupting force for both and it maintains that the cultural and identitarian features of religion which can permeate the political sphere are not a positive thing for either religion or government. I found this latter theme to be very much emphasized in Professor Roy’s piece; indeed, I found it to be crucial to the claims he makes. But separationism is an American phenomenon. And it may be difficult to transplant the flora of particular, culturally contingent church state arrangements to exotic soils and expect them to blossom in quite the same ways.

Zimmerman, “Other Dreams of Freedom”

Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Other Dreams of Freedom:  Religion, Sex, and Human Trafficking by Yvonne C. Zimmerman (Methodist Theological School, Ohio).  The publisher’s description follows.

Human trafficking has captured worldwide attention as a crucial moral and political issue, but perhaps nowhere more than in the United States. Since they were signed into law in 2000, U.S. federal laws and policies on human trafficking have been understood as concrete expressions of the civic values of personal and political freedom. Yet these policies have also been characterized by a marked preoccupation with regulation, and especially sexual regulation.

Yvonne C. Zimmerman offers a groundbreaking exploration of the relationship between freedom and sexual regulation in American anti-human trafficking law and policies. . She argues that the religious values of American Protestantism have indelibly shaped the federal government’s approach to engaging human trafficking, and that the trajectory of the U.S.’s anti-trafficking efforts cannot be fully grasped without understanding the unique ways in which sex, morality, and freedom are connected in Protestant Christian configurations of morality. Zimmerman shows that particularly under the George W. Bush administration, the U.S.’s anti-trafficking project expressed a vision of freedom whose structure and logic is thoroughly Protestant. . Her analysis challenges the assumption that combating human trafficking necessarily entails sexual regulation, and reveals the extent to which the preoccupation with sexual regulation has functioned to discourage alternative understandings and practices of freedom, particularly for women.

Other Dreams of Freedom demonstrates that if opposition to human trafficking takes the promotion of freedom as the point of departure, then freedom must not be identified strictly with religiously and culturally Protestant understandings, but ought also permit other understandings of how freedom is constituted, practiced, and maintained.

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