Around the Web this Week

Some law and religion news from around the web this week:

Book Event: “Getting Religion” (Chicago, Sept. 27)

The Lumen Christi Institute has announced a reception for and discussion of Kenneth Woodward’s newly released book, “Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, & Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama,” to take place on September 27th, at the University Club of Chicago.  More information follows below:

Impeccably researched, thought-challenging and leavened by wit, Getting Religion (Convergent Books), the highly-anticipated new book from Kenneth L. Woodward, is 9781101907399perfect for readers looking to understand how religion came to be a contentious element in 21st century public life.

Here the award-winning author blends memoir (especially of the postwar era) with copious reporting and shrewd historical analysis to tell the story of how American religion, culture and politics influenced each other in the second half of the 20th century. For readers interested in how religion, economics, family life and politics influence each other, Woodward introduces a fresh vocabulary of terms such as “embedded religion,” “movement religion” and “entrepreneurial religion” to illuminate the interweaving of the secular and sacred in American public life.

This is one of those rare books that changes the way Americans think about belief, behavior and belonging.

Find out more about the event here.

Regent to Host the 2016 Conference of Religiously Affiliated Law Schools

On September 29-30, Regent University School of Law will host the annual Religiously Affiliated Law Schools conference. Speakers include Professors Robert Cochran (Pepperdine), Robin Fretwell Wilson (University of Illinois), and Linda McClain (Boston University) and State Senator Stuart Adams (Utah). For the conference schedule and further information, click here.

Around the Web

Here is a look at some law and religion news stories from around the web:

Gurock, “The Jews of Harlem”

In October, New York University Press will release, “The Jews of Harlem: The Rise, Decline, and Revival of a Jewish Community,” by Jeffrey S. Gurock (Yeshiva University). The publisher’s description follows:

New York Times columnist David W. Dunlap wrote a decade ago that “on the map of the Jewish Diaspora, Harlem Is Atlantis. . . . A vibrant hub of industry, artistry and wealth is all but forgotJews of Harlem.jpgten. It is as if Jewish Harlem sank 70 years ago beneath waves of memory beyond recall.” During World War I, Harlem was the home of the second largest Jewish community in America. But in the  1920s Jewish residents began to scatter to other parts of Manhattan, to the outer boroughs, and to other cities. Now nearly a century later, Jews are returning uptown to a gentrified Harlem.

The Jews of Harlem follows Jews into, out of, and back into this renowned metropolitan neighborhood over the course of a century and a half. It analyzes the complex set of forces that brought several generations of central European, East European, and Sephardic Jews to settle there. It explains the dynamics that led Jews to exit this part of Gotham as well as exploring the enduring Jewish presence uptown after it became overwhelmingly black and decidedly poor. And it looks at the beginnings of Jewish return as part of the transformation of New York City in our present era. The Jews of Harlem contributes much to our understanding of Jewish and African American history in the metropolis as it highlights the ever-changing story of America’s largest city.

With The Jews of Harlem, the beginning of Dunlap’s hoped-for resurfacing of this neighborhood’s history is underway. Its contemporary story merits telling even as the memories of what Jewish Harlem once was warrants recall.

 

Conversations: R.R. Reno

r.r.-reno-web_1R.R. “Rusty” Reno (left) is the editor of First Things and an influential commentator on religion in American public life. He has written an interesting and provocative new book, Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society (Regnery 2016), in which he argues for reviving Christianity’s role in American society. The book doesn’t call for a theocracy, but a return to Christian ideas and commitments which, Reno says, can prevent a slide into greater social dysfunction. The book considers, among other things, the proper definition of freedom, the absence of the transcendent in contemporary culture, and America’ s growing economic and social inequality.

In the latest edition in our Conversations series, I ask Rusty some questions about his new book. Among other things, we discuss whether a Christian society is compatible with contemporary notions of pluralism, how Christianity might promote a more secure understanding of freedom and lessen the gap in social capital between rich and poor, and why Reno thinks President Obama personifies our new “post-Protestant WASP elite.”

Rusty, what inspired you to write this book?

Reno: Over the last few years I’ve become convinced that our Christian witness in public life has become too crimped, too focused on hot button issues. Defending innocent life remains vitally important, of course. We need to affirm truths about men, women, sex, and marriage, truths that are now taboos! Religious liberty is also crucial. But important as these issues may be, we’ve got to think more deeply about what’s at stake.

This sent me back to T.S. Eliot’s Idea of a Christian Society, lectures he gave in 1939 when Europe faced a dramatic cultural crisis. Nazism, Fascism, and Communism were ascendant. Many thought liberal democratic culture had no future. Eliot’s contribution—and this clarified my thinking—was to see that the crisis of Western civilization was spiritual. Fascism and Communism were pagan, organizing society around the gods of Nation, Race, Power, History, the Proletariat, and so forth. The answer could not be a liberalism understood as neutrality or tolerance. A Neutral Society, as he put it, could not stand on its own. A Pagan Society could only be countered by a Christian Society, not because Christianity is the only religion capable of sustaining justice and decency, but because Christianity has been the source of the West’s liberalism.

To my mind that remains true. Our paganism is soft and small, not hard and grandiose. We worship the hearth gods of health, wealth, and pleasure. But it’s a cruel paganism and in the book I detail the ways in which it’s especially hard on the poor and vulnerable. I want readers to see that a concern about traditional morality isn’t “moralistic.” It reflects a desire to defend the weak and vulnerable—a crucial biblical imperative.

In the book, you advocate recovering Christian influence in American culture—restoring a Christian society. Yet you recognize that your goals of increased solidarity, return to more limited government, and a renewed sense of the transcendent are consistent with other sorts of societies as well. Why not advocate the goals themselves, rather than a particular faith? Does the answer have to do with the historic role Christianity has in American society?

Reno:  It is true that we could have a Jewish society that embodied many of the qualities I advocate. Perhaps a Muslim or Buddhist society would as well, though I’m less sure. I even imagine that a Neoplatonic Society or Stoic Society would have at least some of the qualities I argue for in the book. But the fact of the matter is that Christianity has been and remains the overwhelmingly predominant “community of transcendence” in the West. Thus, if we want to escape the idols of health, wealth, and pleasure, it’s going to require the resurrection of the idea of a Christian society.

Your question raises the further point of whether we can isolate spiritual-cultural values from living “communities of transcendence.” Why not promote solidarity, argue for Continue reading

Balmer, “Evangelicalism in America”

In October, Baylor University Press will release “Evangelicalism in America,” by Randall Balmer (Dartmouth). The publisher’s description follows:

Baylor Logo.pngEvangelicalism has left its indelible mark on American history, politics, and culture. It is also true that currents of American populism and politics have shaped the nature and character of evangelicalism.

This story of evangelicalism in America is thus riddled with paradox. Despite the fact that evangelicals, perhaps more than any other religious group, have benefited from the First Amendment and the separation of church and state, several prominent evangelical leaders over the past half century have tried to abrogate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. And despite evangelicalism’s legacy of concern for the poor, for women, and for minorities, some contemporary evangelicals have repudiated their own heritage of compassion and sacrifice stemming from Jesus’ command to love the least of these.

In Evangelicalism in America Randall Balmer chronicles the history of evangelicalism—its origins and development as well as its diversity and contradictions. Within this lineage Balmer explores the social varieties and political implications of evangelicalism’s inception as well as its present and paradoxical relationship with American culture and politics. Balmer debunks some of the cherished myths surrounding this distinctly American movement while also prophetically speaking about its future contributions to American life.

Hussain, “Muslims and the Making of America”

In October, Baylor University Press will release “Muslims and the Making of America,” by Amir Hussain (Loyola Marymount University). The publisher’s description follows:

Muslims and the Making of America“There has never been an America without Muslims”—so begins Amir Hussain, one of the most important scholars and teachers of Islam in America. Hussain, who is himself an American Muslim, contends that Muslims played an essential role in the creation and cultivation of the United States.  Memories of 9/11 and the rise of global terrorism fuel concerns about American Muslims. The fear of American Muslims in part stems from the stereotype that all followers of Islam are violent extremists who want to overturn the American way of life. Inherent to this stereotype is the popular misconception that Islam is a new religion to America.

In Muslims and the Making of America Hussain directly addresses both of these stereotypes. Far from undermining America, Islam and American Muslims have been, and continue to be, important threads in the fabric of American life. Hussain chronicles the history of Islam in America to underscore the valuable cultural influence of Muslims on American life. He then rivets attention on music, sports, and culture as key areas in which Muslims have shaped and transformed American identity. America, Hussain concludes, would not exist as it does today without the essential contributions made by its Muslim citizens.

Pehl, “The Making of Working-Class Religion”

In September, the University of Illinois Press will release “The Making of Working-Class Religion: Welding solidarity to the sacred in the Motor City,” by Matthew Pehl (Augustana University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion has played a protean role in the lives of America’s workers. In this innovative volume, Matthew Pehl focuses on Detroit to examine the religious consciousness 9780252081897_lgconstructed by the city’s working-class Catholics, African American Protestants, and southern-born white evangelicals and Pentecostals between 1910 and 1969.

Pehl embarks on an integrative view of working-class faith that ranges across boundaries of class, race, denomination, and time. As he shows, workers in the 1910s and 1920s practiced beliefs characterized by emotional expressiveness, alliance with supernatural forces, and incorporation of mass culture’s secular diversions into the sacred. That gave way to the more pragmatic class-conscious religion cultures of the New Deal era and, from the late Thirties on, a quilt of secular working-class cultures that coexisted in competitive, though creative, tension. Finally, Pehl shows how the ideology of race eclipsed class in the 1950s and 1960s, and in so doing replaced the class-conscious with the race-conscious in religious cultures throughout the city.

An ambitiously inclusive contribution to a burgeoning field, The Making of Working-Class Religion breaks new ground in the study of solidarity and the sacred in the American heartland.

Divine Rights and Human Rights

That’s the title of a short piece I have over at Law and Liberty, concerning the transformation of the concept of religious freedom from a hybrid divine/human right to an entirely human right. From the beginning (and do see the Mansfield essay, which is about a good deal more than my own):

The eminent political theorist Harvey Mansfield once wrote that the “religious question” is the crucial one for the modern age, because it concerns the ultimate repository of authority and control. Is it human or is it divine?

“All pre-modern regimes,” said Mansfield, “are more or less based on divine right, on appeal to a principle that says men do not control themselves, that they are controlled by a higher power.”

The modern project, by contrast, is centrally concerned with liberation from that higher power:

“For if men cannot act effectively on their own, they will have to return to divine right, notwithstanding the objections that philosophers might propose. Liberation leads to reform. Liberation is not merely skeptical or negative; it is positive and progressive.”

One of the ways that modernity has answered this challenge is by appropriating “religion” and transforming it from a duty that one owes a creator to a duty that one owes to oneself. In law, one sees this transformation clearly in the standard that is conventionally applied by American courts to requests for religious exemptions from general laws, in which sincerity, individual commitment, or personal conviction are alone sufficient to bring a claim (though they are not sufficient to prevail).

That way of perceiving and understanding religion certainly mitigates certain dangers. It locates authority when it comes to religion solely in the individual, thereby removing all authority from the state. The state is disabled from judging in matters of religion both for epistemic and non-establishment reasons.

Furthermore, religion, as a legal category, becomes accessible to more and more Americans, irrespective of what they may believe. That is precisely what happened in the mid-20th century, as the “duty to the Creator” conception of religion was relaxed in favor of a conception locating all authority over religious questions in the individual conscience.

But this revision may also lead to problems, as religion steadily becomes dissociated from any power external to the individual believer. Law, of course, is responsive to and reflective of more general cultural movements, understandings, and programs, and a short post of this kind is no place to document those changes. But the transformation of religion from a divine phenomenon to a human one was brought home to me in reading the “Religion” section of the New York Times Book Review a few weeks ago. Four books about “religion” were reviewed—all favorably. Every one of them reflected this transformation.

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