DeGirolami, “Religious Accommodation, Religious Tradition, and Political Polarization”

I have posted a new paper, Religious Accommodation, Religious Tradition, and Political Polarization (UPDATE: link fixed). Though my subject is not the same as Professor Muñoz’s, the two are related in several ways, and I’ll have a post or two about the connections soon. Here’s the abstract:

A religious accommodation is an exemption from compliance with the law for some but not for others. One might therefore suppose that before granting an accommodation, courts would inquire about whether a legal interference with religious belief or practice is truly significant, if only to evaluate whether the risk of political polarization that attends accommodation is worth hazarding. But that is not the case: any assessment of the significance of a religious belief or practice within a claimant’s belief system is strictly forbidden.

Two arguments are pressed in support of this view: (1) courts have institutional reasons for acquiescing on the burden question; and (2) courts have anti-establishment reasons for doing so. Courts, it is said, do not decide about the quality of religious burdens. Claimants do that. Courts defer so as to reduce the political polarization that might result if some should perceive that their religious beliefs and practices are comparatively powerless to obtain exemptions. Deference on the burden question preserves the religious neutrality of courts and mitigates the politically polarizing dangers of accommodation.

This essay contests that view. It argues that this approach to religious accommodation has generated considerable difficulties of its own that have aggravated the political polarization they were intended to reduce. Political polarization is now a pervasive feature of religious accommodation, but this essay focuses on only some explanations for this unfortunate state of affairs—those that relate to the antagonistic relationship between religious accommodation and established religious groups and traditions.

First, hyper-deference as to the burden on religion systematically undermines the view that religions are institutional phenomena with established, stable, and longstanding traditions. In doing so, it damages the argument that courts are institutionally incompetent to evaluate religious ideas. Claims about the institutional incompetence of the judiciary to inquire into religious burdens proceed on the assumption that there is something unique—and intelligibly unique—about religious beliefs and practices that make them different from, say, individual foibles, fraudulent schemes, flights of fancy, or private predilections. Arguments about the judiciary’s institutional incompetence as to religious questions contemplate the existence of other institutions that are competent as to those questions. Lacking such other institutions, the institutional competence of courts to evaluate religious claims is greatly strengthened. Courts are perfectly competent to evaluate fraud, idiosyncrasy, gibberish, and personal preference. Yet when courts are disabled from evaluating some varieties of idiosyncratic eccentricity (denominated “religious”) but not others (not so denominated), then “religion,” and therefore religious accommodation, is bound to be politically polarizing. The category of religion, having been stripped of its institutional character for legal purposes, designates nothing coherent at all. And people begin to suspect with some justice that decisions about accommodation are being made on the basis of other reasons altogether.

Second, the hyper-deferential approach to religious accommodation assumes and promotes a particular and decidedly non-neutral view of religion as irrational and utterly incomprehensible to anybody other than an individual believer. Accommodation is not for established religious groups or traditions—groups that are organized, enduring, and that might offer substantial resistance to prevailing political and cultural orthodoxies. Accommodation is for the exotic, the personal, the unthreatening, and the peculiar. That view is part of the heritage of the highly individualized, subjective approach to religion steadily constitutionalized by the Supreme Court since the mid-twentieth century, and that now seems to be the foundation of one powerful strain of the contemporary cultural understanding of religion in America. It is a view whose promotion in law has profoundly entangled the state with religion. The refusal of courts to make any serious inquiry into the nature of the asserted religious burden has encouraged increasingly aggressive, self-indulgent, and ephemeral assertions of religious freedom. It will—and indeed, it already has—promoted unserious religion. Small wonder that religion as a legal category is in such disreputable odor. Small wonder that religious accommodation is increasingly perceived in politically partisan terms.

Saeed, “Politics of Desecularization”

In September, Cambridge University Press will release “Politics of Desecularization: Law and the Minority Question in Pakistan,” by Sadia Saeed (Boston University).  The publisher’s description follows: 

Over time the Pakistani state has moved from accommodating the Ahmadiyya community as full citizens of the state to forcibly declaring them non-Muslim and logoeventually criminalizing them for their religious beliefs. Politics of Desecularization deploys the ‘Ahmadi question’ to theorize a core feature of modern public Islam – its contested and unsettled relationship with the nation-state form. It posits that our current understandings of modern religious change have been shaped by a highly limited number of national cases in which states have been successful at arriving at stable ideologies about religion. Pakistan, however, epitomizes polities that are undergoing protracted political and cultural struggles over religion’s proper place in the state. The book’s gripping account shows that these struggles are carried out in social sites as diverse as courts, legislative assemblies, and newspapers. The result in Pakistan has been the emergence of a trajectory of desecularization characterized by official religious nationalism.

“Islam, Sufism and Everyday Politics of Belonging in South Asia” (Dandekar & Tschacher, eds.)

In August, Routledge will release “Islam, Sufism and Everyday Politics of Belonging in South Asia,” edited by Deepra Dandekar (Heidelberg University) and Torsten Tschacher (Freie Universität Berlin).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book looks at the study of ideas, practices and institutions in South Asian Islam, commonly identified as ‘Sufism’, and how they relate to politics in South 9781138910683Asia. While the importance of Sufism for the lives of South Asian Muslims has been repeatedly asserted, the specific role played by Sufism in contestations over social and political belonging in South Asia has not yet been fully analysed.

Looking at examples from five countries in South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan), the book begins with a detailed introduction to political concerns over ‘belonging’ in relation to questions concerning Sufism and Islam in South Asia. This is followed with sections on Producing and Identifying Sufism; Everyday and Public Forms of Belonging; Sufi Belonging, Local and National; and Intellectual History and Narratives of Belonging. Bringing together scholars from diverse disciplines, the book explores the connection of Islam, Sufism and the Politics of Belonging in South Asia. It is an important contribution to South Asian Studies, Islamic Studies and South Asian Religion.

“Religion, Migration and Identity” (Frederiks & Nagy, eds.)

In September, Brill Publishers will release “Religion, Migration and Identity: Methodological and Theological Explorations,” edited by Martha Frederiks (University of Utrecht) and Dorottya Nagy (Protestant Theological University in Amsterdam). The publisher’s description follows:

Dehanas, “London Youth, Religion, and Politics”

In August, Oxford University Press will release “London Youth, Religion, and Politics: Engagement and Activism from Brixton to Brick Lane,” by Daniel Nilsson DeHanas (King’s College London). The publisher’s description follows:

For more than a decade the “Muslim question” on integration and alleged extremism has vexed Europe, revealing cracks in long-held certainties about the role of religion 9780198743675in public life. Secular assumptions are being tested not only by the growing presence of Muslims but also by other fervent new arrivals such as Pentecostal Christians. London Youth, Religion, and Politics focuses on young adults of immigrant parents in two inner-city London areas: the East End and Brixton. It paints vivid portraits of dozens of young men and women met at local cafes, on park benches, and in council estate stairwells, and provides reason for a measured hope.

In East End streets like Brick Lane, revivalist Islam has been generating more civic integration although this comes at a price that includes generational conflict and cultural amnesia. In Brixton, while the influence of Pentecostal and traditional churches can be limited to family and individual renewal, there are signs that this may be changing. This groundbreaking work offers insight into the lives of urban Muslim, Christian, and non-religious youth. In times when the politics of immigration and diversity are in flux, it offers a candid appraisal of multiculturalism in practice.

Morton, “Encountering Islam on the First Crusade”

In July, the Cambridge University Press will release “Encountering Islam on the First Crusade,” by Nicholas Morton (Nottingham Trent University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The First Crusade (1095–9) has often been characterised as a head-to-head confrontation between the forces of Christianity and Islam. For many, it is the 9781107156890campaign that created a lasting rupture between these two faiths. Nevertheless, is such a characterisation borne out by the sources? Engagingly written and supported by a wealth of evidence, Encountering Islam on the First Crusade offers a major reinterpretation of the crusaders’ attitudes towards the Arabic and Turkic peoples they encountered on their journey to Jerusalem. Nicholas Morton considers how they interpreted the new peoples, civilizations and landscapes they encountered; sights for which their former lives in Western Christendom had provided little preparation. Morton offers a varied picture of cross cultural relations, depicting the Near East as an arena in which multiple protagonists were pitted against each other. Some were fighting for supremacy, others for their religion, many simply for survival.

Barrett-Fox, “God Hates”

In June, the University Press of Kansas will release “God Hates: Westboro Baptist Church, American Nationalism, and the Religious Right,” by Rebecca Barrett-Fox (Arkansas State University). The publisher’s description follows:

The congregants thanked God that they weren’t like all those hopeless people outside the church, bound for hell. So the Westboro Baptist Church’s Sunday service began, 9780700622658and Rebecca Barrett-Fox, a curious observer, wondered why anyone would seek spiritual sustenance through other people’s damnation. It is a question that piques many a witness to Westboro’s more visible activity—the “GOD HATES FAGS” picketing of funerals. In God Hates, sociologist Barrett-Fox takes us behind the scenes of Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church. The first full ethnography of this infamous presence on America’s Religious Right, her book situates the church’s story in the context of American religious history—and reveals as much about the uneasy state of Christian practice in our day as it does about the workings of the Westboro Church and Fred Phelps, its founder.

God Hates traces WBC’s theological beliefs to a brand of hyper-Calvinist thought reaching back to the Puritans—an extreme Calvinism, emphasizing predestination, that has proven as off-putting as Westboro’s actions, even for other Baptists. And yet, in examining Westboro’s role in conservative politics and its contentious relationship with other fundamentalist activist groups, Barrett-Fox reveals how the church’s message of national doom in fact reflects beliefs at the core of much of the Religious Right’s rhetoric. Westboro’s aggressively offensive public activities actually serve to soften the anti-gay theology of more mainstream conservative religious activism. With an eye to the church’s protest at military funerals, she also considers why the public has responded so differently to these than to Westboro’s anti-LGBT picketing.

With its history of Westboro Baptist Church and its founder, and its profiles of defectors, this book offers a complex, close-up view of a phenomenon on the fringes of American Christianity—and a broader, disturbing view of the mainstream theology it at once masks and reflects.

Cesarani, “Disraeli”

This month, the Yale University Press will release “Disraeli: The Novel Politician,” by David Cesarani (Royal Holloway, University of London).  The publisher’s description follows:

Lauded as a “great Jew,” excoriated by antisemites, and one of Britain’s most renowned prime ministers, Benjamin Disraeli has been widely celebrated for his role 45eea7288533ef9fcae4ba0676f7a9c2in Jewish history. But is the perception of him as a Jewish hero accurate? In what ways did he contribute to Jewish causes? In this groundbreaking, lucid investigation of Disraeli’s life and accomplishments, David Cesarani draws a new portrait of one of Europe’s leading nineteenth-century statesmen, a complicated, driven, opportunistic man.

While acknowledging that Disraeli never denied his Jewish lineage, boasted of Jewish achievements, and argued for Jewish civil rights while serving as MP, Cesarani challenges the assumption that Disraeli truly cared about Jewish issues. Instead, his driving personal ambition required him to confront his Jewishness at the same time as he acted opportunistically. By creating a myth of aristocratic Jewish origins for himself, and by arguing that Jews were a superior race, Disraeli boosted his own career but also contributed to the consolidation of some of the most fundamental stereotypes of modern antisemitism.

“The Future of Evangelicalism in America” (Brown & Silk, eds.)

In April, Columbia University Press released “The Future of Evangelicalism in America,” edited by Candy Gunther Brown (Indiana University) and Mark Silk (Trinity College).  The publisher’s description follows:

In The Future of Evangelicalism in America, thematic chapters on culture, spirituality,9780231176118theology, politics, and ethnicity reveal the sources of the movement’s dynamism, as
well as significant challenges confronting the rising generations. A collaboration among scholars of history, religious studies, theology, political science, and ethnic studies, the volume offers unique insight into a vibrant and sometimes controversial movement, the future of which is closely tied to the future of America.

Rist, “Popes and Jews, 1095-1291”

In March, the Oxford University Press released “Popes and Jews, 1095-1291,” by Rebecca Rist.  The publisher’s description follows:

In Popes and Jews, 1095-1291, Rebecca Rist explores the nature and scope of the relationship of the medieval papacy to the Jewish communities of western Europe. Rist 9780198717980analyses papal pronouncements in the context of the substantial and on-going social, political, and economic changes of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, as well the characters and preoccupations of individual pontiffs and the development of Christian theology. She breaks new ground in exploring the other side of the story – Jewish perceptions of both individual popes and the papacy as an institution – through analysis of a wide range of contemporary Hebrew and Latin documents. The author engages with the works of recent scholars in the field of Christian-Jewish relations to examine the social and legal status of Jewish communities in light of the papacy’s authorisation of crusading, prohibitions against money lending, and condemnation of the Talmud, as well as increasing charges of ritual murder and host desecration, the growth of both Christian and Jewish polemical literature, and the advent of the Mendicant Orders.

Popes and Jews, 1095-1291 is an important addition to recent work on medieval Christian-Jewish relations. Furthermore, its subject matter – religious and cultural exchange between Jews and Christians during a period crucial for our understanding of the growth of the Western world, the rise of nation states, and the development of relations between East and West – makes it extremely relevant to today’s multi-cultural and multi-faith society.

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