Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Biale et al., “Hasidism”

9780691175157Enlightenment secularism seems to have a concentrating effect on religion. In response to the challenge secularism poses, more moderate expressions of religion fade away, while more insular, “extreme” communities come into existence and thrive. Perhaps, as secularism occupies more and more space in a culture, only those religious communities that consciously set their face against it can survive.

A new book from Princeton University Press, Hasidism: A New History, by historian David Biale and others, discusses the history of the Jewish movement, particularly, how the movement formed in response to European secularism. Looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:

The first comprehensive history of the pietistic movement that shaped modern Judaism

This is the first comprehensive history of the pietistic movement that shaped modern Judaism. The book’s unique blend of intellectual, religious, and social history offers perspectives on the movement’s leaders as well as its followers, and demonstrates that, far from being a throwback to the Middle Ages, Hasidism is a product of modernity that forged its identity as a radical alternative to the secular world.

Hasidism originated in southeastern Poland, in mystical circles centered on the figure of Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, but it was only after his death in 1760 that a movement began to spread. Challenging the notion that Hasidism ceased to be a creative movement after the eighteenth century, this book argues that its first golden age was in the nineteenth century, when it conquered new territory, won a mass following, and became a mainstay of Jewish Orthodoxy. World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Holocaust decimated eastern European Hasidism. But following World War II, the movement enjoyed a second golden age, growing exponentially. Today, it is witnessing a remarkable renaissance in Israel, the United States, and other countries around the world.

Written by an international team of scholars, Hasidism is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand this vibrant and influential modern Jewish movement.

Akan, “The Politics of Secularism”

9780231181808One of the most interesting aspects of comparative law is the way legal terms migrate across borders and, in the process, acquire different meanings. “Secular” is one such term. Both the French and Turkish Constitutions declare that the state is “laic,” usually translated as “secular.” But “secular” can have different meanings, depending on the local context. A new book from Columbia University Press, The Politics of Secularism: Religion, Diversity, and Institutional Change in France and Turkey, by Murat Akan (Boğaziçi University) explores the topic. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

Discussions of modernity—or alternative and multiple modernities—often hinge on the question of secularism, especially how it travels outside its original European context. Too often, attempts to answer this question either imagine a universal model derived from the history of Western Europe, which neglects the experience of much of the world, or emphasize a local, non-European context that limits the potential for comparison. In The Politics of Secularism, Murat Akan reframes the question of secularism, exploring its presence both outside and inside Europe and offering a rich empirical account of how it moves across borders and through time.

Akan uses France and Turkey to analyze political actors’ comparative discussions of secularism, struggles for power, and historical contextual constraints at potential moments of institutional change. France and Turkey are critical sites of secularism: France exemplifies European political modernity, and Turkey has long been the model of secularism in a Muslim-majority country. Akan analyzes prominent debates in both countries on topics such as the visibility of the headscarf and other religious symbols, religion courses in the public school curriculum, and state salaries for clerics and imams. Akan lays out the institutional struggles between three distinct political currents—anti-clericalism, liberalism, and what he terms state-civil religionism—detailing the nuances of how political movements articulate the boundary between the secular and the religious. Disputing the prevalent idea that diversity is a new challenge to secularism and focusing on comparison itself as part of the politics of secularism, this book makes a major contribution to understanding secular politics and its limits.

Scott, “Sex and Secularism”

9780691160641The description of this new book from Princeton University Press, Sex and Secularism, by Joan Wallach Scott (Institute for Advanced Study) puzzles me. The author appears to argue that secularism historically stood for the oppression of women and for Christian superiority, and that only the recent challenge of Islam has caused secularism to switch positions and promote women’s equality. I’m not sure what secularism the author means. Simone de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex in the 1940s, long before “the Muslim question” arose in the West, and, although one can make a good argument that secularism derives historically from Christian ideas about church and state, it seems implausible that secularism was itself a means of promoting Christian superiority. Secularists eagerly attacked Christian legal and cultural superiority at every turn. Anyway, readers can judge for themselves. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:

How secularism has been used to justify the subordination of women

Joan Wallach Scott’s acclaimed and controversial writings have been foundational for the field of gender history. With Sex and Secularism, Scott challenges one of the central claims of the “clash of civilizations” polemic—the false notion that secularism is a guarantee of gender equality.

Drawing on a wealth of scholarship by second-wave feminists and historians of religion, race, and colonialism, Scott shows that the gender equality invoked today as a fundamental and enduring principle was not originally associated with the term “secularism” when it first entered the lexicon in the nineteenth century. In fact, the inequality of the sexes was fundamental to the articulation of the separation of church and state that inaugurated Western modernity. Scott points out that Western nation-states imposed a new order of women’s subordination, assigning them to a feminized familial sphere meant to complement the rational masculine realms of politics and economics. It was not until the question of Islam arose in the late twentieth century that gender equality became a primary feature of the discourse of secularism.

Challenging the assertion that secularism has always been synonymous with equality between the sexes, Sex and Secularism reveals how this idea has been used to justify claims of white, Western, and Christian racial and religious superiority and has served to distract our attention from a persistent set of difficulties related to gender difference—ones shared by Western and non-Western cultures alike.

Mercan, “‘No Return from Democracy'”

In May, Blue Dome Press will release the paperback edition of “No Return from Democracy”: An Analysis of Interviews with Fethullah Gülen by Faruk Mercan, a Turkish journalist. The publisher’s description follows:

No return from demo.jpgIt was rare, if not impossible, to find in ’80s and ’90s a Muslim cleric who spoke in favor of democracy, integration with the Western world, and universal human values. Fethullah Gülen was one of those. Many of his avant-garde ideas did not only earn him one of the largest and most influential faith-inspired social movements of recent history, but also many foes, especially from the Turkish ruling elite, placing him in the center of many social and political developments in Turkey. Despite the enormous defamation from some political groups in Turkey, Gülen is recognized in the world as a devout Muslim cleric, whose thoughts and life style are deeply rooted in the Islamic faith, but who also believes Islam is not in conflict with the progressive values of the modern world. This book collates Gülen’s ahead-of-his-time comments on some of the debated issues as he phrased in interviews in the past few decades.

Kaya, “Secularism and State Religion in Modern Turkey”

In May, I.B. Tauris Publishers will release Secularism and State Religion in Modern Turkey: Law, Policy-Making and the Diyanet by Emir Kaya (Yildirim Beyazit University). The publisher’s description follows:

ibtauris_logoThe Diyanet is the ‘Presidency of Religious Affairs’, the official face of Islam and highest religious authority in Turkey, and is a governmental department established in 1924 after the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. In this book, Emir Kaya offers an in-depth multidisciplinary analysis of this vital institution. Focusing on the role of the Diyanet in society, Kaya explores the balance the institution has to strike between the Islamic traditions of the Turkish population and the officially secular creed of the Turkish state. By examining the various laws that either bolstered or hindered the Diyanet’s budgets and activities, Kaya highlights the institutional mindsets of the Diyanet membership as well as evaluating its successes and failures as a governmental department that has to consistently operate within the context of the religiosity of Turkish society. By situating all of this within the context of the two competing but often complimentary concepts of religion and secularism, Kaya offers a book that is important for those researching the role of religion and the state in society in the Middle East and beyond.”

“Contesting Religious Identities” (Becking et al., eds.)

In February, Brill Publishers will release Contesting Religious Identities: Transformations, Disseminations and Mediations edited by Bob Becking (Utrecht University), Anne-Marie Korte (Utrecht University), and Lucien van Liere (Utrecht University). The publisher’s description follows:

contesting-religious-identitiesReligion is a hot topic on the public stages of ‘secular’ societies, not in its individualized liberal or orthodox form, but rather as a public statement, challenging the divide between the secular neutral space and the religious. In this new challenging modus, religion raises questions about identity, power, rationality, subjectivity, law and safety, but above all: religion questions, contests and even blurs the borders between the public and the private. These phenomena urge to rethink what are often considered to be clear differences between religions, between the public and the private and between the religious and the secular. In this volume scholars from a range of different disciplines map the different aspects of the dynamics of changing, contesting and contested religious identities.

Buckley, “Faithful to Secularism”

In March, the Columbia University Press will release “Faithful to Secularism: The Religious Politics of Democracy in Ireland, Senegal, and the Philippines,” by David Buckley (University of Louisville).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion and democracy can make tense bedfellows. Secular elites may view 9780231180061religious movements as conflict-prone and incapable of compromise, while religious actors may fear that anticlericalism will drive religion from public life. Yet such tensions are not inevitable: from Asia to Latin America, religious actors coexist with, and even help to preserve, democracy.

In Faithful to Secularism, David T. Buckley argues that political institutions that encourage an active role for public religion are a key part in explaining this variation. He develops the concept of “benevolent secularism” to describe institutions that combine a basic division of religion and state with extensive room for participation of religious actors in public life. He traces the impact of benevolent secularism on religious and secular elites, both at critical junctures in state formation and as politics evolves over time. Buckley shows how religious and secular actors build credibility and shared norms over time, and explains how such coalitions can endure challenges from both religious revivals and periods of anticlericalism. Faithful to Secularism tests this institutional theory in Ireland, Senegal, and the Philippines, using a blend of archival, interview, and public opinion data. These case studies illustrate how even countries with an active religious majority can become and remain faithful to secularism.

Mack, “The Rise and Fall of the Christian Myth”

In February, Yale University Press will release The Rise and Fall of the Christian Myth:
Restoring Our Democratic Ideals by Burton L. Mack (Claremont School of Theology). The publisher’s description follows:

rise-and-fall-of-the-christian-mythA preeminent scholar explores the evolution of the Christian worldview and argues that it no longer offers a satisfactory vision for our democratic, multicultural society

This book is the culmination of a lifelong scholarly inquiry into Christian history, religion as a social institution, and the role of myth in the history of religions. Mack shows that religions are essentially mythological and that Christianity in particular has been an ever-changing mythological engine of social formation, from Roman times to its distinct American expression in our time.

The author traces the cultural influence of the Christian myth that has persisted for sixteen hundred years but now should be much less consequential in our social and cultural life, since it runs counter to our democratic ideals. We stand at a critical impasse: badly splintered by conflicting groups pursuing their own social interests, a binding common myth needs to be established by renewing a truly cohesive national and international story rooted in our democratic and egalitarian origins, committed to freedom, equality, and vital human values.

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