Kimmel, “Parables of Coercion”

In October, the University of Chicago Press will release “Parables of Coercion: Conversion and Knowledge at the End of Islamic Spain,” by Seth Kimmel (Columbia University). The publisher’s description follows: 

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, competing scholarly communities sought to define a Spain that was, at least officially, entirely Christian, even if many suspected that newer converts from Islam and Judaism were Christian in name only. Unlike previous books on conversion in early modern Spain, however, Parables of Coercion focuses not on the experience of the converts themselves, but rather on how questions surrounding conversion drove religious reform and scholarly innovation.

In its careful examination of how Spanish authors transformed the history of scholarship through debate about forced religious conversion, Parables of Coercion makes us rethink what we mean by tolerance and intolerance, and shows that debates about forced conversion and assimilation were also disputes over the methods and practices that demarcated one scholarly discipline from another.

Janssen, “Faith in Public Debate”

In April, Intersentia published “Faith in Public Debate: On Freedom of Expression, Hate Speech and Religion in France and The Netherlands,” by Esther Janssen (University of Amsterdam).  The publisher’s description follows: 

Should a politician be free to fiercely attack the religion of a sector of the population? Should he be allowed to strongly reject the culture of a
 particular minority group? Should religious adherents be allowed to advocate the transition from a democratic to a theocratic state? Should a satirical magazine be free to mock religious figures and practices? These sort of questions concern ‘the place of faith in public debate’ and continue to dominate public discussion that has been fuelled by a series of events, including the terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid and London; the assassination of Dutch film director Theo van Gogh; the affair of the Danish Cartoons; the prosecution of Dutch politician Geert Wilders for his statements on Islam and Muslims; and the terrorist attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The overarching question triggered by these events concerns the relationship between freedom of expression and the regulation of ‘hate speech’; which forms of hate speech should the state prohibit, on what grounds and by which means? Notably, the restriction of hate speech uttered in the context of the public debate about multiculturalism, immigration, integration and Islam, and of religious fundamentalism has become a topic of lively discussion.

This research constitutes the first international comparative study that provides a profound analysis of the law on hate speech in France and the Netherlands and under European and international law. It thoroughly examines the national legislation, its drafting history, policy and other legal documents and case law including famous legal cases against Dutch politician Geert Wilders, French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen and le Front National, French comedian Dieudonné and satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. It also makes reference to the most recent international hate speech literature and discusses its key issues. This book can, thereby, form a source of inspiration for anyone interested or involved in the regulation of hate speech: academics; legislators; judges; prosecutors; politicians; interested citizens; and involved NGO’s and can contribute to the ‘faith in public debate’, by elucidating its possible boundaries.

Hurd, “Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion”

In September, Princeton University Press will release “Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion” by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (Northwestern University). The publisher’s description follows:

In recent years, North American and European nations have sought to legally remake religion in other countries through an unprecedented array of international initiatives. Policymakers have rallied around the notion that the fostering of religious freedom, interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and protections for religious minorities are the keys to combating persecution and discrimination. Beyond Religious Freedom persuasively argues that these initiatives create the very social tensions and divisions they are meant to overcome.

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd looks at three critical channels of state-sponsored intervention: international religious freedom advocacy, development assistance and nation building, and international law. She shows how these initiatives make religious difference a matter of law, resulting in a divide that favors forms of religion authorized by those in power and excludes other ways of being and belonging. In exploring the dizzying power dynamics and blurred boundaries that characterize relations between “expert religion,” “governed religion,” and “lived religion,” Hurd charts new territory in the study of religion in global politics.

Kahan, “Tocqueville, Democracy, and Religion: Checks and Balances for Democratic Souls”

In August, Oxford University Press will release “Tocqueville, Democracy, and Religion: Checks and Balances for Democratic Souls” by Alan S. Kahan (University of Versailles/St. Quentin-en-Yvelines). The publisher’s description follows:

The relationship between democracy and religion is as important today as it was in Alexis de Tocqueville’s time. Tocqueville, Democracy, and Religion is a ground-breaking study of the views of the greatest theorist of democracy writing about one of today’s most crucial problems. Alan S. Kahan, one of today’s foremost Tocqueville scholars, shows how Tocqueville’s analysis of religion is simultaneously deeply rooted in his thoughts on nineteenth-century France and America and pertinent to us today.

Tocqueville thought that the role of religion was to provide checks and balances for democracy in the spiritual realm, just as secular forces should provide them in the political realm. He believed that in the long run secular checks and balances were dependent on the success of spiritual ones. Kahan examines how Tocqueville thought religion had succeeded in checking and balancing democracy in America, and failed in France, as well as observing Tocqueville’s less well-known analyses of religion in Ireland and England, and his perspective on Islam and Hinduism. He shows how Tocqueville’s ‘post-secular’ account of religion can help us come to terms with religion today.

More than a study of Tocqueville on religion in democratic society, this volume offers us a re-interpretation of Tocqueville as a moralist and a student of human nature in democratic society; a thinker whose new political science was in the service of a new moral science aimed at encouraging democratic people to attain greatness as human beings. Tocqueville, Democracy, and Religion gives us a new Tocqueville for the twenty-first century.

The NYT on the End of Mideast Christianity

Egyptian Copts, one holding a Coptic Christian cross, demonstrate against the overnight sectarian violence, in downtown Cairo, Egypt Sunday, May 8, 2011. Christians and Muslims throwing rocks clashed in downtown Cairo on Sunday, hours after ultraconservative Muslim mobs set fire overnight to a church and a Christian-owned apartment building in a frenzy of violence that killed 12 people and injured more than 200. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

 Photo from Christianity Today

Eliza Griswold’s major piece on Mideast Christians in the New York Times Magazine this past weekend is getting lots of well-deserved attention. The Times, more than almost any other media publication, can place items on the national agenda, and both it and Griswold deserve credit for covering the crisis facing Christianity in Syria and Iraq. Griswold makes a couple of mistakes in the article–she incorrectly describes the beliefs of Oriental Orthodox Christians and ascribes the Armenian Genocide to “nationalism, not religion,” when in fact the genocide resulted from both–but, on the whole, it’s a very impressive piece, and well worth reading.

As an American, I was particularly struck by Griswold’s description of how the United States has abandoned Mideast Christians. Really, we are doing next to nothing to help these poor people. “Wait a minute,” someone might object. “How has the US abandoned them? And why do we have to do anything? We’re not responsible for righting every wrong that occurs in the world, and anyway we were in Iraq, trying to help, for years. It didn’t work. Let Iraqis and other local populations settle this for themselves. It’s not worth more American lives.”

I understand the appeal of this objection, but it depends on not a little willful amnesia. Of course, the parties who bear principal responsibility for the persecution of Christians are local Islamists like ISIS. But the US itself bears indirect responsibility. The US invasion in 2003 led to this situation, by creating anarchy and unleashing long-repressed sectarian resentments. And by abruptly leaving Iraq, we have allowed the crisis to intensify. A Catholic bishop Griswold quotes says it well. “Americans and the West were telling us they came to bring democracy, freedom and prosperity. What we are living is anarchy, war, death and the plight of three million refugees.’’ Having helped to create this crisis, the US has a moral obligation to do something to help. We can’t simply abandon these people–and Griswold makes clear that both the Bush and Obama Administrations deserve blame in this–as though we had nothing to do with exposing them to danger in the first place.

As of now, Griswold reports, the US has done very little. (This morning’s announcement of a potential US-Turkish alliance to fight ISIS in northern Syria seems driven largely by Turkey’s desire to preempt Kurdish gains; I doubt most of the region’s Christians hope for much out of it). The US is doing nothing to speed up immigration applications from Mideast Christians, notwithstanding the obvious persecution they are suffering. Even humanitarian assistance has been lacking.

Griswold correctly diagnoses the problem. Mideast Christians have few allies in American politics. Conservatives don’t feel much affinity for Mideast Christians, who often favor Palestine in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and liberals have a hard time seeing any Christians as sympathetic victims. As someone once observed, Mideast Christians have the misfortune to be too foreign for the Right and too Christian for the Left.

I hope Griswold’s timely piece can do something to help change America’s response. You can read her whole essay here.

Ramírez, “Migrating Faith”

In October, the University of North Carolina Press releases: “Migrating Faith: Pentecostalism in the United States and Mexico in the Twentieth Century,” by Daniel Ramírez (University of Michigan). The publisher’s description follows:

Daniel Ramírez’s history of twentieth-century Pentecostalism in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands begins in Los Angeles in 1906 with the eruption of the Azusa Street Revival. The Pentecostal phenomenon–characterized by ecstatic spiritual practices that included speaking in tongues, perceptions of miracles, interracial mingling, and new popular musical worship traditions from both sides of the border–was criticized by Christian theologians, secular media, and even governmental authorities for behaviors considered to be unorthodox and outrageous. Today, many scholars view the revival as having catalyzed the spread of Pentecostalism and consider the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as one of the most important fountainheads of a religious movement that has thrived not only in North America but worldwide.

Ramírez argues that, because of the distance separating the transnational migratory circuits from domineering arbiters of religious and aesthetic orthodoxy in both the United States and Mexico, the region was fertile ground for the religious innovation by which working-class Pentecostals expanded and changed traditional options for practicing the faith. Giving special attention to individuals’ and families’ firsthand accounts and tracing how a vibrant religious music culture tied transnational communities together, Ramírez illuminates the interplay of migration, mobility, and musicality in Pentecostalism’s global boom.

Göle, “Islam and Secularity”

In October, the Duke University Press releases “Islam and Secularity: The Future of Europe’s Public Sphere,” by Nilüfer Göle (entre d’Etudes Sociologiques et Politiques Raymond Aron, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris)). The publisher’s description follows: 

In Islam and Secularity Nilüfer Göle takes on two pressing issues: the transforming relationship between Islam and Western secular modernity and the impact of the Muslim presence in Europe. Göle shows how the visibility of Islamic practice in the European public sphere unsettles narratives of Western secularism. As mutually constitutive, Islam and secularism permeate each other, the effects of which play out in embodied and aesthetic practices and are accompanied by fear, anxiety, and violence. In this timely book, Göle illuminates the recent rethinking of secularism and religion, of modernity and resistance to it, of the public significance of sexuality, and of the shifting terrain of identity in contemporary Europe.

Neutrality Partiality

I have a short essay on the Library of Law and Liberty site involving the idea of religious neutrality when it comes to American public and private education. It was occasioned in part by the Colorado Supreme Court’s recent decision invalidating, pursuant to its state Blaine Amendment, a local program that would have made tuition scholarships available to certain students, which the students could then use to pay to attend private religious and nonreligious schools. I criticize the decision but use it to talk about certain broader issues. Here’s a bit from the conclusion:

Focusing on these details of Colorado law, however, obscures certain larger questions. If “sectarian” truly does mean “Catholic,” and even if it means, as Black’s Law Dictionary says, “of, relating to, or involving a particular religious sect,” then any state Blaine Amendment with this language would be subject to constitutional challenge under the Supreme Court’s free exercise law. “Sectarian” does not sound particularly neutral; or, to the extent it does, it sounds in the rather counterintuitive neutrality of state-endorsed religious hostility. Yet even this perspective on the question of neutrality passes over the colossal non-neutrality of the government’s systematic and exclusive funding of its own putatively religion-neutral schools, to the detriment of able students—many of them from poor and educationally underserved communities—who would greatly benefit from private religious schooling. Neutrality between religion and non-religion seems to demand a plainly partial allocation of resources. Or, one variety of government neutrality—no funding of religious schools—obstructs the achievement of another—educational opportunity.

The question of the place of religion in American educational life—whether in the nation’s public schools or in its position on private religious schools—will not be answered by neutrality talk, for the fundamental reason that nothing in the projects of American education is or ever has been neutral toward religion. From the very first, it was precisely the non-neutrality of the state toward religion that has been one of the prime catalysts of cultural and legal development in American education policy, public and private. There is an understandable tendency among some opponents of state Blaine Amendments such as Colorado’s to reduce them to simple expressions of non-neutral anti-Catholicism. Often they were that, but they were more.

To understand them merely in these terms—as lamentable examples of “discrimination”—domesticates them. It consigns them to a history from which we have happily progressed now that we have entered an epoch in which the making of discriminations of any kind is taboo. It puffs us up with the Whiggish certitude that to repudiate the Blaine Amendments is to rid ourselves decisively of the very real problem they addressed. That problem—how to foster through education the common civic culture upon which the American polity, even still, depends—does not vanish by easy, self-congratulatory resort to the voguish platitudes of antidiscrimination. The Blaine Amendments were woefully inadequate responses to that problem, but responses nonetheless. The empty bromide of religious neutrality is no response at all.

Around the Web This Week

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

Schmidt, “Cachita′s Streets: The Virgin of Charity, Race, and Revolution in Cuba”

In August, Duke University Press will release “Cachita′s Streets: The Virgin of Charity, Race, and Revolution in Cuba” by Jalane  D. Schmidt (University of Virginia). The publisher’s description follows:

Cuba’s patron saint, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, also called Cachita, is a potent symbol of Cuban national identity. Jalane D. Schmidt shows how groups as diverse as Indians and African slaves, Spanish colonial officials, Cuban independence soldiers, Catholic authorities and laypeople, intellectuals, journalists and artists, practitioners of spiritism and Santería, activists, politicians, and revolutionaries each have constructed and disputed the meanings of the Virgin. Schmidt examines the occasions from 1936 to 2012 when the Virgin’s beloved, original brown-skinned effigy was removed from her national shrine in the majority black- and mixed-race mountaintop village of El Cobre and brought into Cuba’s cities. There, devotees venerated and followed Cachita’s image through urban streets, amassing at large-scale public ceremonies in her honor that promoted competing claims about Cuban religion, race, and political ideology. Schmidt compares these religious rituals to other contemporaneous Cuban street events, including carnival, protests, and revolutionary rallies, where organizers stage performances of contested definitions of Cubanness. Schmidt provides a comprehensive treatment of Cuban religions, history, and culture, interpreted through the prism of Cachita.