“American Religion, American Politics” (Kosek, ed.)

In May, Yale University Press will release American Religion, American Politics: An Anthology edited by Joseph Kip Kosek (George Washington University). The publisher’s description follows:

American RelgionEssential primary sources reveal the central tensions between American politics and religion throughout the nation’s history

Despite the centrality of separation of church and state in American government, religion has played an important role in the nation’s politics from colonial times through the present day. This essential anthology provides a fascinating history of religion in American politics and public life through a wide range of primary documents. It explores contentious debates over freedom, tolerance, and justice, in matters ranging from slavery to the nineteenth-century controversy over Mormon polygamy to the recent discussions concerning same-sex marriage and terrorism.

Bringing together a diverse range of voices from Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and secular traditions and the words of historic personages, from Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Frances Willard to John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., this collection is an invaluable introduction to one of the most important conversations in America’s history.

“Reconsidering Religion, Law, and Democracy: New challenges for Society and Research” (Lind et al., eds.)

In April, Nordic Academic Press will release “Reconsidering Religion, Law, and Democracy: New challenges for Society and Research” edited by Anna-Sara Lind, Mia Lövheim, and Ulf Zackariasson (all from Uppsala University, Sweden). The publisher’s description follows:

How are Western, mostly secular, societies handling religion in its increasingly pluralistic and complex forms? In Reconsidering Religion, Law, and Democracy the authors study the interaction and negotiations between religious organizations and religious citizens on the one hand, and the state, the judicial system, the media, and secular citizens on the other.

Religion has become increasingly visible in contemporary society and is, more often than before, recognized as a public matter and not merely a private issue. As such it presents new challenges or opportunities to scholarly research and to society at large. The contributors to this volume shed light on what follows when expressions of religion meet different spheres of society.

The authors explicitly point to the need to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the roles played by religion in society today. By presenting case studies, fresh perspectives and new questions they suggest that deeper knowledge is best achieved by further, increasingly nuanced interdisciplinary research.

Garelli, “Religion Italian Style: Continuities and Changes in a Catholic Country”

This month, Ashgate Publishing releases “Religion Italian Style: Continuities and Changes in a Catholic Country” by Franco Garelli (University of Turin, Italy). The publisher’s description follows:

Italy’s traditional subcultures – Communist, Socialist, Liberal, Republican, Right-wing – have largely dissolved and yet Catholics have retained their vitality and solidity. How can the vast majority of Italians continue to maintain some connection with Catholicism? How much is the Italian situation influenced by the closeness of the Vatican?

Examining the religious condition of contemporary Italy, Religion Italian Style argues that the relationship between religion and society in Italy has unique characteristics when compared with what is happening in other European Catholic Countries. Exploring key topics and religious trends which question how the population feel – from the laity and the role of religions in the public sphere, to moral debates, forms of religious pluralism, and new spiritualities – this book questions how these affect religious life, and how intricately religion is interwoven with the nation’s fabric and the dynamics of the whole society.

Prophets in the Public Square – Part III

Final thoughts from an unpublished talk I presented at the 19th Annual Journal of Law and Religion Symposium at Hamline Law School in 2009.

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As I emphasized in Part I and Part II, religious voices in the public square need to speak authentically.  They also need to find a way to speak universally without losing sight of their own necessary particularity.  These are important religious challenges.

But how should political theory look at all this? Many political and legal philosophers, following John Rawls, have argued that religious voices in the public square need to frame their arguments in terms that are intelligible to the larger overlapping consensus of diverse communities and radically different religious convictions that participate in that conversation. Critics have suggested that this requirement of self-censorship is unnecessary, and unfair and untrue to religious faith. I want to go a step further, and argue that it can also be affirmatively bad for public discourse, and in some ways more dangerous to the secular polity.

To make my point, I want to look briefly, not at the classic works in this ongoing debate, but at a more obscure source, Rawls’s own rediscovered religious writings. Continue reading

Prophets in the Public Square – Part II

More from an unpublished talk I presented at the 19th Annual Journal of Law and Religion Symposium at Hamline Law School in 2009.

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In Part I, I talked about the importance of “authenticity” and the risk of succumbing to “cheap prooftexting” when Jews bring their religious values to bear in public debate.  While the general notion of “authenticity” is obviously also relevant to Christian interventions in public debate, it might seem at first glance that Christians need not worry about the more specific challenges facing Jews — especially the need to distinguish between religious law and religious exhortation and also between intra-group and universal norms.  After all, most Christians, unlike Jews, do not treat law, with its rigor and limitations, as central to religious life. Nor do Christians, at first glance, seem to be caught up as Jews are in a tense polarity between particularism and universalism.

But I want to sketch an argument that, to the contrary, there is a lot of resonance between the two cases. Continue reading

Prophets in the Public Square — Part I

I want, in three posts adapted from an unpublished talk I presented at the 19th Annual Journal of Law and Religion Symposium at Hamline Law School in 2009, to add a bit to the possibly already-stale conversation over the role of religious voices in the public square.  If I can add anything, it will be to focus on the distinctive challenges, both internal and external, that confront those religious voices as they try to translate theology into policy.

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Years ago, I attended a panel discussion on Jewish views of the American welfare state. My memory of the event is hazy, but I do recall that several speakers discussed strands in Jewish law that might support income redistribution, national healthcare reform, or the like. Finally, the last panelist got up and argued that Judaism actually had little to say about the American welfare state, and that most of the textual sources from which the other speakers drew conclusions about contested matters of American policy were, as a matter of Jewish law, only relevant to the internal life of Jewish communities or to a Jewish polity.

What should we make of this critique?  This isn’t the place to review the legal analysis. So I will, on the one hand, just assume, for the sake of argument, that it was correct. But there’s another hand: Though law is at the heart of Judaism, not all Jewish religious discourse is legal. There are other registers through which Jewish tradition speaks, including Biblical narrative and poetry, rabbinic homiletics, systematic moral philosophy, mysticism, and more. And even the law has a vision – attitudes and aspirations and ideals – beyond its strict four corners.

There is also a third hand, however. For if religious arguments do get made in different registers, it is important to get the discourse right. Continue reading

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