Tonnelat & Kornblum, “International Express”

One reason it’s so appropriate to have a center for law and religion here at St. John’s is that our main campus sits in perhaps the most religiously diverse county in the nation–the Borough of Queens in New York City. Queens, for those of you who haven’t been here, is the embodiment of Joyce’s observation about the Catholic Church: “Here comes everybody.” Nowhere is that more apparent that on the Number 7 train, the elevated subway line that runs through the borough. In my brighter moods, it seems to me the diversity one finds along the 7 train is a good example of the kind of religious tolerance America, and New York, has traditionally shown, especially for immigrants. At other moments, it seems to me the tolerance more reflects the fact that the communities largely keep to themselves and avoid more than passing contact with one another.

A new book from Columbia University Press, International Express: New Yorkers on the 7 Train, by sociologists Stéphane Tonnelat (Paris-Nanterre) and William Kornblum (CUNY), describes what one can find on the line to Main Street, Flushing. The publisher’s description follows:

9780231181488Nicknamed the International Express, the New York City Transit Authority 7 subway line runs through a highly diverse series of ethnic and immigrant neighborhoods in Queens. People from Andean South America, Central America, China, India, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, and Vietnam, as well as residents of a number of gentrifying blue-collar and industrial neighborhoods, fill the busy streets around the stations. The 7 train is a microcosm of a specifically urban, New York experience, in which individuals from a variety of cultures and social classes are forced to interact and get along with one another. For newcomers to the city, mastery of life in the subway space is a step toward assimilation into their new home.

In International Express, the French ethnographer Stéphane Tonnelat and his collaborator William Kornblum, a native New Yorker, ride the 7 subway line to better understand the intricacies of this phenomenon. They also ask a group of students with immigrant backgrounds to keep diaries of their daily rides on the 7 train. What develops over time, they find, is a set of shared subway competences leading to a practical cosmopolitanism among riders, including immigrants and their children, that changes their personal values and attitudes toward others in small, subtle ways. This growing civility helps newcomers feel at home in an alien city and builds what the authors call a “situational community in transit.” Yet riding the subway can be problematic, especially for women and teenagers. Tonnelat and Kornblum pay particular attention to gender and age relations on the 7 train. Their portrait of integrated mass transit, including a discussion of the relationship between urban density and diversity, is invaluable for social scientists and urban planners eager to enhance the cooperative experience of city living for immigrants and ease the process of cultural transition.

Lefebvre & Brodeur, “Public Commissions on Cultural and Religious Diversity”

This month, Routledge releases “Public Commissions on Cultural and Religious Diversity: Comparisons, Challenges and Impact,” by Solange Lefebvre (University of Montreal) and Patrice Brodeur (KAICIID).  The publisher’s description follows:

The question of how to manage cultural and religious diversity has found expression in several countries through the creation of government-initiated public commissions. logo-rt-cThese commissions have produced carefully written reports on the contexts and challenges regarding national identity and the impact of greater diversity on the law, public institutions, integration and religion. Analysing the work of public commissions in Britain, France, Belgium, and Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Singapore and Norway the book reflects on how they were formed, the way they framed religious and cultural diversity, the questions and controversies they examined, the key political actors involved, public and media reception, legal challenges and the impact they had both on public policy and in concrete situations such as work, schools and health care. The reports represent a rich body of work charting the fundamental questions nations face about their nature, history, and future while the different ways they were initiated and their impact on peoples’ lives tells us much about different approaches to the issues of cultural identity between countries.

Forst, “Toleration in Conflict”

This month, Cambridge University Press will publish Toleration in Conflict: Past and Present (2013) by Rainer Forst (Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt).  The publisher’s description follows.Toleration in Conflict

The concept of toleration plays a central role in pluralistic societies. It designates a stance which permits conflicts over beliefs and practices to persist while at the same time defusing them, because it is based on reasons for coexistence in conflict – that is, in continuing dissension. A critical examination of the concept makes clear, however, that its content and evaluation are profoundly contested matters and thus that the concept itself stands in conflict. For some, toleration was and is an expression of mutual respect in spite of far-reaching differences, for others, a condescending, potentially repressive attitude and practice. Rainer Forst analyses these conflicts by reconstructing the philosophical and political discourse of toleration since antiquity. He demonstrates the diversity of the justifications and practices of toleration from the Stoics and early Christians to the present day and develops a systematic theory which he tests in discussions of contemporary conflicts over toleration.

Diouf (ed.), “Tolerance, Democracy, and Sufis in Senegal”

In January, Columbia University Press will publish Tolerance, Democracy, and Sufis in Senegal edited by Mamadou Diouf (Columbia University).  The publisher’s description follows.

This collection critically examines “tolerance,” “secularism,” and respect for religious “diversity” within a social and political system dominated by Sufi brotherhoods. Through a detailed analysis of Senegal’s political economy, essays trace the genealogy and dynamic exchange among these concepts while investigating public spaces and political processes and their reciprocal engagement with the state, Sunni reformist and radical groups, and non-religious organizations.

Through a rich and nuanced historical ethnography of the formation of Senegalese democracy, this anthology illuminates the complex trajectory of the Senegalese state and its reflection of similar postcolonial societies. Offering rare perspectives on the country’s “successes” since liberation, this collection identifies the role of religion, gender, culture, ethnicity, globalization, politics, and migration in the reconfiguration of the state and society, and it makes an important contribution to democratization theory, Islamic studies, and African studies. Scholars of comparative politics and religious studies will also appreciate the volume’s treatment of Senegal as both an exceptional and universal example of postcolonial development.

Religious Organizations and the Affirmative Action Case

In America this week, the big legal news was the Supreme Court’s oral argument in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case concerning the constitutionality of race-based affirmative action in higher education. This will be the second time in a decade that the Court has addressed this issue, and the case has potentially huge ramifications. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Fisher has drawn great interest. Hundreds (!) of amicus briefs were filed in the case, most of which will be read, if at all, only by hapless law clerks. Among these was a brief from about a dozen religious organizations and campus ministries, including the National Council of Churches, the United Methodists, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (USA). These organizations, the brief explains, support affirmative action partly for religious reasons: in order to affirm “all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God.” The organizations depend on racial diversity in universities, the brief continues, in order to “fulfill their own missions of helping their members grow in their faith, understanding and compassion; providing the tools their members will need to reach their full potential as individuals in our ever-changing pluralistic society; and cultivating leaders for the next generation.” Secularist organizations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State strongly protested, asserting that religious organizations had no right to interfere in a matter of public debate in order to advance a narrow sectarian position, or to rely on religious propositions inaccessible to non-believers.

Just kidding about that last part.

Kuru and Stepan (ed.), “Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey”

Ahmet T. Kuru (San Diego State University) and Alfred Stepan (Columbia University) have edited Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey (Columbia University Press, February 2012).   The publisher’s description follows.

While Turkey has grown as a world power, promoting the image of a progressive and stable nation, several choices in policy have strained its relationship with the East and the West. Providing historical, social, and religious context for this behavior, the essays in Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey examine issues relevant to Turkish debates and global concerns, from the state’s position on religion to its involvement with the European Union.   Read more

“They Can Have a Statement of Faith, As Long As They Don’t Act on It.”

George Will has a good column this week on an ongoing controversy at Vanderbilt University. According to Will, Vanderbilt has placed the Christian Legal Society (CLS) on probation because CLS requires that its members adhere to specified religious beliefs, including the belief that homosexual conduct is sinful. This requirement violates the University’s nondiscrimination policy, which forbids a student organization from discriminating, among other reasons, on the basis of religious belief. Actually, that’s not quite right. Apparently, a student group may require in theory that members share the group’s beliefs; the group just cannot enforce the requirement. In the words of one Vanderbilt administrator, groups “can have a statement of faith and conduct of behavior, and this in itself is not discriminatory. But they would not be able to deny or remove any member based on their Code of Conduct. They can have a statement of faith as long as they don’t act on it.”

Judging from reports, Vanderbilt has adopted an all-comers policy of the sort the Court upheld two terms ago in CLS v. Martinez. Assuming Vanderbilt applies the policy in a neutral way, the policy seems constitutional under current law. But given Vanderbilt’s stated goal of promoting diversity on campus, the policy is very misguided. What’s the point of allowing students to form a religious organization – or an atheist organization, for that matter – but requiring the organization to open its membership to people who don’t share its beliefs? Does it make sense to require an environmentalist group to admit members who don’t endorse environmentalism, or an Orthodox Jewish group to admit members who refuse to keep kosher? The Vanderbilt policy, as Will points out, does not promote diversity on campus; it promotes conformity. Of course, Vanderbilt could argue that certain beliefs are unacceptable for its student groups to have, and that it is denying CLS recognition for that reason. That would be coherent; but it is not what Vanderbilt is arguing.  – MLM