Brueggemann, “God, Neighbor, Empire”

This month, the Baylor University Press releases “God, Neighbor, Empire: The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good,” by Walter Brueggemann (Columbia Theological Seminary).  The publisher’s description follows:

Justice, mercy, and the public good all find meaning in relationship—a relationship 51jdybfimyldependent upon fidelity, but endlessly open to the betrayals of infidelity. This paradox defines the story of God and Israel in the Old Testament. Yet the arc of this story reaches ever forward, and its trajectory confers meaning upon human relationships and communities in the present. The Old Testament still speaks.

Israel, in the Old Testament, bears witness to a God who initiates and then sustains covenantal relationships. God, in mercy, does so by making promises for a just well-being and prescribing stipulations for the covenant partner’s obedience. The nature of the relationship itself decisively depends upon the conduct, practice, and policy of the covenant partner, yet is radically rooted in the character and agency of God—the One who makes promises, initiates covenant, and sustains relationship.

This reflexive, asymmetrical relationship, kept alive in the texts and tradition, now fires contemporary imagination. Justice becomes shaped by the practice of neighborliness, mercy reaches beyond a pervasive quid pro quo calculus, and law becomes a dynamic norming of the community. The well-being of the neighborhood, inspired by the biblical texts, makes possible—and even insists upon—an alternative to the ideology of individualism that governs our society’s practice and policy. This kind of community life returns us to the arc of God’s gifts—mercy, justice, and law. The covenant of God in the witness of biblical faith speaks now and demands that its interpreting community resist individualism, overcome commoditization, and thwart the rule of empire through a life of radical neighbor love.

Wei, “Gratian the Theologian”

In March, the Catholic University of America Press will release “Gratian the Theologian” by John C. Wei (law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit). The publisher’s description follows:

Gratian the Theologian shows how one of the best-known canonists of the medieval period was also an accomplished theologian. Well into the twelfth century, compilations of Church law often dealt with theological issues. Gratian’s Concordia discordantium canonum or Decretum, which was originally compiled around 1140, was no exception, and so Wei claims in this provocative book. The Decretum is the fundamental canon law work of the twelfth century, which served as both the standard textbook of canon law in the medieval schools and an authoritative law book in ecclesiastical and secular courts. Yet theology features prominently throughout the Decretum, both for its own sake and for its connection to canon law and canonistic jurisprudence.

This book provides an introduction to and reassessment of three aspects of Gratian’s theology: his use of the Bible and biblical exegesis; his penitential theology; and his handling of the other sacraments and the liturgy. The manuscript discoveries and methodological breakthroughs of the past few decades have rendered older accounts of Gratian’s theology obsolete. This book reappraises Gratian’s theological views and doctrines in light of recent scholarly advances, particularly the discovery of new theological sources that Gratian appears to have known and used and the discovery of the first recension of the Decretum, which differs in significant ways from the considerably longer vulgate text that scholars have traditionally relied upon. In the process, this book also uncovers new evidence concerning Gratian’s intellectual background and milieu and provides new insights into the Decretum’s composition, structure, and development.

Ultimately, this book does more than just enhance our understanding of Gratian the theologian. It also contributes significantly to our knowledge of Gratian the jurist and to the world of theology and law in which he worked.

Edwards, “Religions of the Constantinian Empire”

This month, Oxford University Press releases “Religions of the Constantinian Empire,” by Mark Edwards (University of Oxford).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religions of the Constantinian Empire provides a synoptic review of Constantine’s relation to all the cultic and theological traditions of the Empire during the period9780199687725 from his seizure of power in the west in 306 CE to the end of his reign as autocrat of both east and west in 337 CE. Divided into three parts, the first considers the efforts of Christians to construct their own philosophy, and their own patterns of the philosophic life, in opposition to Platonism. The second assembles evidence of survival, variation or decay in religious practices which were never compulsory under Roman law. The “religious plurality” of the second section includes those cults which are represented as demonic burlesques of the sacraments by Firmicus Maternus. The third reviews the changes, both within the church and in the public sphere, which were undeniably prompted by the accession of a Christian monarch. In this section on “Christian polyphony,” Mark Edwards expertly moves on from this deliberate petrifaction of Judaism to the profound shift in relations between the church and the civic cult that followed the Emperor’s choice of a new divine protector.

The material in the first section will be most familiar to the historian of philosophy, that of the second to the historian of religion, and that of the third to the theologian. All three sections make reference to such factors as the persecution under Diocletian, the so-called “edict of Milan,”the subsequent legislation of Constantine, and the summoning of the council of Nicaea. Edwards does not maintain, however, that the religious and philosophical innovations of this period were mere by-products of political revolution; indeed, he often highlights that Christianity was more revolutionary in its expectations than any sovereign could afford to be in his acts.This authoritative study provides a comprehensive reference work for those studying the ecclesiastical and theological developments and controversies of the fourth century.

Calo Reviews “The Tragedy of Religious Freedom”

Zachary Calo has posted a very generous review of The Tragedy of Religious Freedom. Zak’s penetrating criticisms of the book are well worth reading and thinking over. In particular, the interaction of theology and law is a theme that he himself has been developing over the years in superb writing. And I am coming to agree that it would have done the book some good to explore those issues more explicitly. But at any rate I am grateful to Zak for pressing these points in such a characteristically thoughtful and well-crafted way. Here is a bit from the review:

If the book does not fully diagnose the problem, it is also arguable that the logic animating the method of tragedy and history does not fully respond to the present situation. In particular, it might be that a full response needs illumina- tion from theology. Such an impulse seems at time present in the book. There are echoes of transcendence in DeGirolami’s account of tragedy and history, but the book contains unexploited resources for drawing a theological imaginary more fully into the jurisprudential task.

His account of tragedy…rests on the insight that we inhabit a moral universe in which it is not possible to fully instantiate moral goods. Yet in so proposing, DeGirolami is not simply commenting on the quandaries of practi- cal ethics, but describing what it means to act responsibly, to judge rightly and prudently, in a world defined by such limits. A jurisprudence grounded not in abstract principle, but in the lived experience of the world, cannot but confront the need to make tragic choices. “In law,” DeGirolami writes, “it is necessary that one side win and the other lose, yet the inevitability of loss does not preclude choice.” Law, DeGirolami adds, might even be “centrally about the sacrifices entailed by choice making” (p. 99). In encountering such language, one thinks of Augustine’s judge in Book 19 of City of God. Confronted by the “darkness” of making tragic choices, the judge yearns to escape the misery of the office. Yet, impelled by duty, the judge submits to unhappiness, executes the violent decisions of law, and cries out to God with the Psalmist “From my necessities deliver Thou me.” Tragedy finds a paradoxical if limited coherence only within this divine economy. Though DeGirolami never frames his account of tragedy on such express theological turns, an Augustinian impulse never seems far from the surface of his account.

Law and the Academic Study of Religion: Further Thoughts

A few additional thoughts on the convergences and divergences of law and the academic study of religion, prompted by thoughtful emails from legal and ASR scholars Nelson Tebbe and Donald Drakeman.

Methodological Distinctiveness

Both law and ASR may be similar in that they harbor anxieties about their methodological uniqueness and about the autonomy of their disciplines as fields of academic inquiry. In law, this has been a perpetual worry that became particularly acute in the 20th century, as scholars from Pound to Holmes to Posner have argued compellingly for law’s non-autonomy. Indeed, Posner has advocated the project of “overcoming” law: what takes the reins after law has been overcome is economics, philosophy, political science, or some other discipline with truly independent methodological bona fides (it’s mostly economics for Posner). Though it is not my field (and so I hope to be corrected by those who know better), my sense is that ASR has some of these same anxieties but in its case, the anxieties are connected to the conceptual distinctiveness of the subject matter that it studies. Certainly in law, self-justification and disciplinary apology are not unknown.

Practice and Theory: Maintaining or Collapsing the Division?

Both law and ASR have roots as practical endeavors–as trades and professions, rather than as purely academic subjects. For law this is obvious; for ASR the root is theology and ministry. And law schools and divinity schools historically functioned to prepare tradesmen; indeed, both continue to operate primarily to train future practitioners of their respective trades.

My friend Nelson Tebbe points out to me that Yale Law School Professor Paul Kahn notes some of these similarities in his book, The Cultural Study of Law: Reconstructing Legal Scholarship. Kahn’s project is precisely to help legal scholarship get over its past Read more

Adams, Pattison, & Ward, The Oxford Handbook of Theology and Modern European Thought

Oxford HandbookNext month Oxford University Press will publish The Oxford Handbook of Theology and Modern European Thought edited by Nicholas Adams (University of Edinburgh), George Pattison (University of Oxford), and Graham Ward (University of Oxford).  The publisher’s description follows.

 ‘Modern European thought’ describes a wide range of philosophies, cultural programmes, and political arguments developed in Europe in the period following the French Revolution. Throughout this period, many of the wide range of ‘modernisms’ (and anti-modernisms) had a distinctly religious and even theological character-not least when religion was subjected to the harshest criticism. Yet for all the breadth and complexity of modern European thought and, in particular, its relations to theology, a distinct body of themes and approaches recurred in each generation. Moreover, many of the issues that took intellectual shape in Europe are now global, rather than narrowly European, and, for good or ill, they form part of Europe’s bequest to the world-from colonialism and the economic theories behind globalisation through to democracy to terrorism. This volume attempts to identify and comment on some of the most important of these.

 The thirty chapters are grouped into six thematic parts, moving from questions of identity and the self, through discussions of the human condition, the age of revolution, the world (both natural and technological), and knowledge methodologies, concluding with a section looking explicitly at how major theological themes have developed in modern European thought. The chapters engage with major thinkers including Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Schleiermacher, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Barth, Rahner, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Wittgenstein, and Derrida, amongst many others. Taken together, these new essays provide a rich and reflective overview of the interchange between theology, philosophy and critical thought in Europe, over the past two hundred years.

Theological Argument in Law: Engaging with Stanley Hauerwas

From our friend John Inazu, we get news of the publication of the latest issue of Law and Contemporary Problems, a symposium on the work of Stanley Hauerwas and theological argument in law which John put together.  Congratulations to him and to all of the contributors for their pieces.  Here is a portion of John’s foreword to the symposium (footnotes omitted):

Some of Hauerwas’s critics may be right to argue that he “reacts against a type of liberalism that exists mostly on the pages of books by Rawls, Rorty, and their followers, and not in actual practice.” But that description is at least true of the academy.  Much teaching and scholarship relies upon unacknowledged constraints on argumentative practices from professors who embrace the ideals of Rawlsian public reason or, more strikingly, whose epistemic commitments welcome a spectacular diversity of viewpoints and worldviews—except for theological ones. As a result, a great deal of scholarship ignores or too easily dismisses theological argument. If public reason and epistemic bias have succeeded anywhere in squelching theological argument, it is in the academy.

Contrary to the academy’s dominant orthodoxies, Hauerwas insists that Christian theology properly belongs in contemporary discourse: “[A]t the very least Christianity names an ongoing argument across centuries of a tradition which has established why some texts must be read and read in relation to other texts.” As a result, “Christians for all their shortcomings still represent an ongoing educated public that means they must . . . have agreements that make their disagreements intelligible.” It is for this reason that

[Christians] should not avoid exploring what differences their convictions might make for why they do what they do. That difference will, of course, vary from subject to subject but surely such an investigation is the kind of work a university should sponsor. I obviously think that would be true of those working in other religious and nonreligious traditions. Of course, such work would make the university more conflictual but I see no reason why that is a disadvantage.  (Stanley Hauerwas, The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God 91 n.19 (2007)).

Lemert, “Why Niebuhr Matters”

From Charles Lemert (Wesleyan/Yale), an overview of the career of 20th Century Protestant  theologian and public intellectual Reinhold Niebuhr, Why Niebuhr Matters (Yale 2011). Niebuhr has been much in the news lately as the inspiration for liberal realism in contemporary American politics; Barack Obama, among others, has acknowledged his debt to him. Niebuhr has also been the subject of other recent books, including one CLR Forum has noted. The publisher’s description follows.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) was a Protestant preacher, an influential religious thinker, and an important moral guide in mid-twentieth-century America. But what does he have to say to us now? In what way does he inform the thinking of political leaders and commentators from Barack Obama and Madeleine Albright to David Brooks and Walter Russell Mead, all of whom acknowledge his influence? In this lively overview of Niebuhr’s career, Charles Lemert analyzes why interest in Niebuhr is rising and how Niebuhr provides the answers we ache for in the face of seismic shifts in the global order.

In the middle of the twentieth century, having outgrown a theological liberalism, Niebuhr challenged and rethought the nonsocialist Left in American politics. He developed a political realism that refused to sacrifice ideals to mere pragmatism, or politics to bitterness and greed. He examined the problem of morality in an immoral society and reimagined the balance between rights and freedom for the individual and social justice for the many. With brevity and deep insight, Lemert shows how Niebuhr’s ideas illuminate our most difficult questions today.

Diggins, “Why Niebuhr Now?”

From the University of Chicago Press, a posthumous work by the late historian John Patrick Diggins (CUNY Graduate Center), Why Niebuhr Now? (2011),  on the public theology of Reinhold Niebuhr. The publisher’s description follows.

Barack Obama has called him “one of my favorite philosophers.” John McCain wrote that he is “a paragon of clarity about the costs of a good war.” Andrew Sullivan has said, “We need Niebuhr now more than ever.” For a theologian who died in 1971, Reinhold Niebuhr is maintaining a remarkably high profile in the twenty-first century.

In Why Niebuhr Now? acclaimed historian John Patrick Diggins tackles the complicated question of why, at a time of great uncertainty about America’s proper role in the world, leading politicians and thinkers are turning to Niebuhr for answers. Diggins begins by clearly and carefully working Read more

Schiltz on Exposing the Cracks in the Foundations of Disability Law

Elizabeth Rose Schiltz (University of St. Thomas School of Law) has posted Exposing the Cracks in the Foundations of Disability Law. This paper was presented at the September 9, 2011 Law & Contemporary Problems symposium, “Theological Argument in Law: Engaging with Stanley Hauerwas,” held at Duke Law School. The abstract follows. – ARH

The theologian Stanley Hauerwas has described people with intellectual disabilities as “the crack I desperately needed to give concreteness to my critique of modernity. No group exposes the pretensions of the humanism that shapes the practices of modernity more thoroughly than the mentally handicapped.” Indeed, modern practices with respect to the mentally handicapped are undeniably puzzling. On the one hand, advances in the ability to prenatally diagnose genetic conditions that cause mental retardation are widely heralded and enthusiastically embraced, as evidenced by the declining numbers of children born with Down Syndrome worldwide, despite the fact that advancing maternal ages should be resulting in an increase in those numbers. On the other hand, laws that express a strong commitment to the equal treatment of our fellow citizens with disabilities continue to be enacted – from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975, ensuring the education of children with disabilities in our public schools, to the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in public accommodations and employment, to the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act in 2008, prohibiting employers or health insurers from discriminating based on information from genetic tests.

Hauerwas diagnoses these puzzling inconsistencies in contemporary society’s attitudes toward the disabled as evidence of the flaws of modern humanism. Humanism’s emphasis on rationality and capacity for reason is the most obvious target of any critique focused on people with intellectual disabilities, whose capacity for reason is, by definition, compromised to some degree. Read more