Haskell on the Evangelical Foundations of Modern Anglo-American Approaches to International Law

John D. Haskell (Int’l U. College of Turin, Durham Law School) has posted Divine Immanence: The Evangelical Foundations of Modern Anglo-American Approaches to International Law (the full-text article may be behind a paywall). The abstract follows.

In this article, I hypothesize that against mainstream secularization accounts concerning the 19th-century development of modern international law, especially within the Anglo-American experience, the discipline was significantly influenced by liberal Protestantism. My argument is that a liberal Protestant cultural elite, to which the first generation of international jurists belonged, drew inspiration from the theological doctrine of divine immanence to solidify their socio-political authority against a diverse series of internal and external threats. In an attempt to demonstrate the evangelical foundations of modern international law and the importance played by Anglo-American legal scholars within the tradition, the article is organized into three sections. First, I examine traditional 19th-century narratives of international law, particularly in relation to Christianity. Second, I trace out how the doctrine of divine immanence was formulated in Liberal Protestant theology and how this influenced international legal scholarship within the period in relation to doctrines of the nation-state. Third, I examine how divine immanence shaped three anxieties shared by liberal Protestant theologians and international jurists, including former colonized people and institutions, Roman Catholic beliefs and immigrant populations, and the nascent industrial working-class and radical political ideologies. The article concludes with some brief reflections on the implications of this study and potential directions for future research in the field of religion and international legal history.

Slessarev-Jamir on the Rhetorical Artifice of Religious Conservatives on the Gay Marriage Question

Helene Slessarev-Jamir (Claremont Lincoln University School of Theology) has posted Religious Conservatives’ Success in Constructing Gay Marriage as a Threat to Religious Liberties.  Rather than posting the abstract, which you can see simply by clicking on the link, it may be more helpful to post some selections from this short but intensely felt paper.  Those selections follow.

In this country, an exclusivist, patriarchal construction of religion has positioned itself as the principal crusader against the legalization of gay marriage by essentially claiming the gays and lesbians are not created in God’s image. Yet, the role of religion in the on-going debate is complexified by the gradual emergence of alternate, inclusive religious voices that publicly support gay marriage . . . .

Conservative religious strategists have won their campaigns against marriage equality by raising the specter of possible infringements against the religious liberties of those families, individuals, and institutions that oppose gay marriage were state governments to grant legal status to gay marriage. In the US, the defense of heterosexual couples’ religious liberties has become the principal trope in the campaigns against the right to same sex marriage, thereby legitimating the defense of traditional marriage by claiming that it is the embodiment of an ideal that many Americans perceive as sacrosanct. Thus, a vote to maintain discriminatory laws against same sex couples by denying them the right to marry is effectively recast as a patriotic defense of American liberty and freedom of belief, both of which are regarded as sacred values rooted in this nation’s founding principles . . . .

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Schmidt, “Restless Souls”

I was not aware of this book, now being published in its second edition: (first published in 2005) Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality (University of California Press 2d ed. 2012) by Leigh Eric Schmidt (Washington University in St. Louis).  What looks interesting is its connection of the seemingly contemporary American attraction to “spirituality” with older veins of American religious sentiment like transcendentalism.  The publisher’s description follows.

Yoga classes and Zen meditation, New-Age retreats and nature mysticism—all are part of an ongoing religious experimentation that has surprisingly deep roots in American history. Tracing out the country’s Transcendentalist and cosmopolitan religious impulses over the last two centuries, Restless Souls explores America’s abiding romance with spirituality as religion’s better half. Now in its second edition, including a new preface, Leigh Eric Schmidt’s fascinating book provides a rich account of how this open-road spirituality developed in American culture in the first place as well as a sweeping survey of the liberal religious movements that touted it and ensured its continued vitality.

Hedstrom, “The Rise of Liberal Religion”

This one looks like an absolute must-read — a fascinating and innovative thesis related to the phenomenon of civil religion in America (brought to prominence by Bellah).  The claim is that beginning in the 1920s, religious institutions and leaders joined forces with book publishers to forge a kind of national “spiritual unity” loosely connected with mainline Protestantism but also to emerging themes in psychology and other modern developments.   

The book is The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century (OUP 2012) by Matthew S. Hedstrom (UVA).  The publisher’s description follows.

In The Rise of Liberal Religion Matthew Hedstrom tells the story of how, beginning in the 1920s, American religious leaders joined forces with the publishing industry in an attempt to form a ”spiritual center”–a set of widely accepted religious ideas, practices, and presuppositions that would hold together a fragmenting society, create new markets for books, and maintain the privileged status of these arbiters in American religious discourse. The consensus they sought to form was essentially a liberal Protestant one, but with elements of mysticism and psychology drawn in from the margins. With the coming of World War II, however, political leaders declared “books as weapons in the war of ideas,” and the National Conference of Christians and Jews became the central broker of religious reading, coordinating a massive, nationwide Religious Book Week campaign that ran from 1943 to 1948. Spiritual unity was seen not simply as morally desirable for individuals but as essential to national survival. The idea of a religious center expanded to include, however tenuously, Jews and Roman Catholics and the term “Judeo-Christian” entered the national vocabulary. These developments laid the foundation for a culture of spiritual seeking that had lasting implications for middle-class American religious beliefs and practices for the remainder of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. 

Oshatz, “Slavery and Sin”

Here is a historical work connecting the anti-slavery movement in early America to liberal Protestant theology, Slavery and Sin: The Fight Against Slavery and the Rise of Liberal Protestant (OUP 2011), by Molly Oshatz (San Francisco State University).  The publisher’s description follows.

In this groundbreaking examination of the antislavery origins of liberal Protestantism, Molly Oshatz contends that the antebellum slavery debates forced antislavery Protestants to adopt an historicist understanding of truth and morality.

Unlike earlier debates over slavery, in antebellum America the key question was whether slavery was a sin in the abstract. Unable to use the letter of the Bible to answer the claim that slavery was not a sin in and of itself, antislavery Protestants argued that biblical principles required opposition to slavery and that God revealed slavery’s sinfulness through the gradual unfolding of these principles. Although they believed that slavery was a sin, antislavery Protestants’ sympathy for individual slaveholders and their knowledge of the Bible made them reluctant to denounce all slaveholders as sinners. In order to reconcile slavery’s sinfulness with their commitments to the Bible and to the Union, antislavery Protestants defined slavery as a social rather than an individual sin. Oshatz demonstrates that the antislavery notions of progressive revelation and social sin had radical implications for Protestant theology.

Oshatz carries her study through the Civil War to reveal how emancipation confirmed for northern Protestants the notion that God revealed His will through history. She reveals how, after the war, a new generation of liberal theologians drew on this experience to respond to evolution and historical biblical criticism. Slavery and Sin provides critical insight into how the theological innovations rooted in the slavery debates came to fruition in liberal Protestantism’s acceptance of the historical and evolutionary nature of religious truth.

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