Christian and Muslim Approaches to Law

One of the very earliest recorded encounters between a Christian and a Muslim, a public debate between a Syriac patriarch and an Arab emir shortly after the Arab conquest of Syria, concerns the role of law in religion. Without a body of law, the emir insisted, Christianity could not call itself a religion; Christians should convert to Islam, a real religion that had the Sharia. The patriarch responded that Christians indeed had law, though not as Muslims understood it; Christians had no need to convert. I thought of this debate when I saw a notice for a forthcoming book from Cambridge, Law and the Rule of God: A Christian Engagement with Sharia, by Joshua Rallston (Edinburgh). Law–or, rather, the proper conception of law–is a major point of contention between these two world religions, and a comparative study like this one seems very promising. The publisher’s description follows:

Sharī’a is one of the most hotly contested and misunderstood concepts and practices in the world today. Debates about Islamic law and its relationship to secularism and Christianity have dominated political and theological discourse for centuries. Unfortunately, Western Christian theologians have failed to engage sufficiently with the challenges and questions raised by Islamic political theology, preferring instead to essentialize or dismiss it. In Law and the Rule of God, Joshua Ralston presents an innovative approach to Christian-Muslim dialogue. Eschewing both polemics and apologetics, he proposes a comparative framework for Christian engagement with Islamic debates on sharī’a. Ralston draws on a diverse range of thinkers from both traditions including Karl Barth, Ibn Taymiyya, Thomas Aquinas, and Mohammad al-Jabri. He offers an account of public law as a provisional and indirect witness to the divine rule of justice. He also demonstrates how this theology of public law deeply resonates with the Christian tradition and is also open to learning from and dialoguing with Islamic and secular conceptions of law, sovereignty, and justice.

Legal Spirits Episode 041: Learning in War-Time

In this episode of Legal Spirits, Center Co-Directors Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami explore C.S. Lewis’s great essay on the calling of the Christian scholar, “Learning in War-Time.” Lewis wrote the essay at the start of World War II, but it continues to speak to students and faculty today–Christian and non-Christian. As Lewis observes, “human life is always lived on the edge of a precipice,” and the question why people should devote what little time they have on earth to academic pursuits when so many other things call for our attention is a perennial one. Lewis’s message is one of humility, courage, and controlled hope, even in the worst of times. Listen in!

Christianity and Conservatism’s Multiethnic Future

At the First Things site today, I have an essay on how a broad, ecumenical Christianity will feature in a new, multiethnic conservative movement. Here’s a sample:

The factors Salam identifies no doubt figure in minorities’ increasing affinity for conservative politics. But I think his explanation misses another important factor: conservative Christianity. The media typically presents conservative Christians as monolithically white, but that is not the case. For example, about one-quarter of evangelicals are members of racial and ethnic minorities, and Republicans apparently did very well among them. According to Gaston Espinoza, a researcher at Claremont McKenna College who conducted a survey of Latino voters, it was “Latino evangelicals” who “helped Trump to do better than anyone expected in Texas … and in Florida.”

I don’t know of studies that analyze minority voters in terms of church attendance, but in the general population, religious observance correlates with voting for the GOP, and that pattern presumably holds for many minorities as well. According to the AP Vote Cast Survey, people who attend church regularly—up to a few times a month—broke solidly for Trump, 54 percent to 45 percent. People who attend church once a week or more voted 61 percent for Trump. By contrast, people who never attend church went strongly for Biden, 63 percent to 32 percent. (This last figure is consistent with surveys that reveal that more than two-thirds of Democrats “never attend religious services.”) To be sure, differences exist among minority communities; black Christians, for example, continue to vote Democrat in very large numbers. Still, it is reasonable to think that, with respect to minorities, as with respect to the American public generally, the religiously observant tend to vote Republican.

If Republicans are to become a multiethnic, middle-class movement, a popular, ecumenical Christianity of the sort I observed at the Museum of the Bible will likely have an important place in it. In fact, the religious identity of the movement need not be exclusively Christian. Americans are famously non-sectarian when it comes to public religion, and it’s possible to imagine a political coalition of the traditionally religious from all faith communities. Although good studies are difficult to find, some suggest that Orthodox Jews increasingly vote Republican. And President Trump drew one-third of Muslim voters in 2020, a large increase over 2016.

You can read the whole essay here.

Around the Web

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

Around the Web

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

Around the Web

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

Around the Web

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

The Destruction of the Temple

Quite apart from theological meanings, the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD had major political implications for Jews and Christians in the Roman Empire. For Jews, it signaled the beginning of the Diaspora and the end of statehood for the next 2000 years. For Christians, the destruction of the temple, and the Jewish rebellion more generally, created an opportunity to draw a distinction between themselves and Jews and declare their political loyalty to the emperor, themes that appear repeatedly in the New Testament.

A new book from Yale, The Temple in Early Christianity: Experiencing the Sacred, explores the meaning for early Christians of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. The author is Eyal Regev (Bar-Ilan). Here’s the description from the Yale website:

A comprehensive treatment of the early Christian approaches to the Temple and its role in shaping Jewish and Christian identity.

The first scholarly work to trace the Temple throughout the entire New Testament, this study examines Jewish and Christian attitudes toward the Temple in the first century and provides both Jews and Christians with a better understanding of their respective faiths and how they grow out of this ancient institution. The centrality of the Temple in New Testament writing reveals the authors’ negotiations with the institutional and symbolic center of Judaism as they worked to form their own religion.

Jefferson the Lawyer

9780691187891Many readers of this blog will know of the famous disagreement between Thomas Jefferson and Joseph Story on whether Christianity formed part of the common law. Jefferson, unsurprisingly, thought the answer was “no.” How he came to that conclusion is perhaps revealed in a new edition of his legal notes, Jefferson’s Legal Commonplace Book, published by Princeton and edited by David Konig (Washington University-St. Louis) and Michael Zuckert (Notre Dame). The publisher’s description follows:

As a law student and young lawyer in the 1760s, Thomas Jefferson began writing abstracts of English common law reports. Even after abandoning his law practice, he continued to rely on his legal commonplace book to document the legal, historical, and philosophical reading that helped shape his new role as a statesman. Indeed, he made entries in the notebook in preparation for his mission to France, as president of the United States, and near the end of his life. This authoritative volume is the first to contain the complete text of Jefferson’s notebook. With more than 900 entries on such thinkers as Beccaria, Montesquieu, and Lord Kames, Jefferson’s Legal Commonplace Book is a fascinating chronicle of the evolution of Jefferson’s searching mind.

Jefferson’s abstracts of common law reports, most published here for the first time, indicate his deepening commitment to whig principles and his incisive understanding of the political underpinnings of the law. As his intellectual interests and political aspirations evolved, so too did the content and composition of his notetaking.

Unlike the only previous edition of Jefferson’s notebook, published in 1926, this edition features a verified text of Jefferson’s entries and full annotation, including essential information on the authors and books he documents. In addition, the volume includes a substantial introduction that places Jefferson’s text in legal, historical, and biographical context.

The Anti-Weber

3a49f43d92258c9b95781734e9db2f85 (1)A new book from Yale University Press argues that Max Weber had it all wrong. Christianity, even in its Protestant version, doesn’t create a capitalist mentality. Rather, Christianity offers a direct challenge to capitalism. Seems pretty straightforward, actually. The book, Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism, by Yale theologian Kathryn Tanner, is one of many new works, from both the left and the right, that critique the easy association many American Christians make between their religion and market economics. Here’s the description from the Yale website:

One of the world’s most celebrated theologians argues for a Protestant anti-work ethic

In his classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber famously showed how Christian beliefs and practices could shape persons in line with capitalism. In this significant reimagining of Weber’s work, Kathryn Tanner provocatively reverses this thesis, arguing that Christianity can offer a direct challenge to the largely uncontested growth of capitalism.

Exploring the cultural forms typical of the current finance-dominated system of capitalism, Tanner shows how they can be countered by Christian beliefs and practices with a comparable person-shaping capacity. Addressing head-on the issues of economic inequality, structural under- and unemployment, and capitalism’s unstable boom/bust cycles, she draws deeply on the theological resources within Christianity to imagine anew a world of human flourishing. This book promises to be one of the most important theological books in recent years.