I was pleased to receive Professor John Witte’s new volume, released earlier this year, The Western Case for Monogamy Over Polygamy, in which, with at least half an eye cocked at the coming legal contests over polygamous marriage, John explores the following questions:
What is the Western tradition’s case for monogamy over polygamy, and is that case still convincing in a post-modern and globalized world? Are there sufficiently compelling reasons to relax Western laws against polygamy, and is this a desirable policy given the global trends away from polygamy and given the social, economic, and psychological conditions that often attend its practice? Or, are there sufficiently compelling reasons, reconstructed in part from the tradition, to maintain and even strengthen these anti-polygamy measures, in part as an effort to hasten the global demise of this practice?
I’ve only had a chance to glance at the book but from that quick scan, it appears that the primary justifications advanced in the book as a historical matter for monogamy over polygamy relate to “joint parental investment in children” and ensuring “that men and women are treated with equal dignity and respect within the domestic sphere,” the latter logic of which, the book claims, “applies to dyadic same-sex couples, who have gained increasing rights in the West in recent years, including the right to marry and to parent in some places.”
The book is immensely and richly detailed and comprehensive, with chapters including “From Polygamy to Monogamy in Judaism,” “The Case for Monogamy Over Polygamy in the Church Fathers,” “Polygamy in the Laws of State and Church in the First Millennium,” “Polygamous Experiments in Early Protestantism,” and “The Liberal Enlightenment Case Against Polygamy.”
In December, Oxford University Press will release “Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religious Communities” by Stuart A. Wright (Lamar University) and Susan J. Palmer (Concordia University). The publisher’s description follows:
While scholars, media, and the public may be aware of a few extraordinary government raids on religious communities, such as the U.S. federal raid on the Branch Davidians in 1993, very few people are aware of the scope and frequency with which these raids occur. Following the Texas state raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints in 2008, authors Stuart Wright and Susan Palmer decided to study these raids in the aggregate–rather than as individual cases–by collecting data on raids that have taken place over the last six decades. They did this both to establish for the first time an archive of raided groups, and to determine if any patterns could be identified. Even they were surprised at their findings; there were far more raids than expected, and the vast majority of them had occurred since 1990, reflecting a sharp, almost exponential increase. What could account for this sudden and dramatic increase in state control of minority religions?
In Storming Zion, Wright and Palmer argue that the increased use of these high-risk and extreme types of enforcement corresponds to expanded organization and initiatives by opponents of unconventional religions. Anti-cult organizations provide strategic “frames” that define potential conflicts or problems in a given community as inherently dangerous, and construct narratives that draw on stereotypes of child and sexual abuse, brainwashing, and even mass suicide. The targeted group is made to appear more dangerous than it is, resulting in an overreaction by authorities. Wright and Palmer explore the implications of heightened state repression and control of minority religions in an increasingly multicultural, globalized world. At a time of rapidly shifting demographics within Western societies this book cautions against state control of marginalized groups and offers insight about why the responses to these groups is often so reactionary.
In September, Routledge released “State and Nation-Building in Pakistan: Beyond Islam and Security” edited by Roger D. Long (Eastern Michigan University), Gurharpal Singh (University of London), Yunas Samad (University of Bradford, UK), and Ian Talbot (University of Southampton, UK). The publisher’s description follows:
Religion, violence, and ethnicity are all intertwined in the history of Pakistan. The entrenchment of landed interests, operationalized through violence, ethnic identity, and power through successive regimes has created a system of ‘authoritarian clientalism.’ This book offers comparative, historicist, and multidisciplinary views on the role of identity politics in the development of Pakistan.
Bringing together perspectives on the dynamics of state-building, the book provides insights into contemporary processes of national contestation which are crucially affected by their treatment in the world media, and by the reactions they elicit within an increasingly globalised polity. It investigates the resilience of landed elites to political and social change, and, in the years after partition, looks at the impact on land holdings of population transfer. It goes on to discuss religious identities and their role in both the construction of national identity and in the development of sectarianism. The book highlights how ethnicity and identity politics are an enduring marker in Pakistani politics, and why they are increasingly powerful and influential.
An insightful collection on a range of perspectives on the dynamics of identity politics and the nation-state, this book on Pakistan will be a useful contribution to South Asian Politics, South Asian History, and Islamic Studies.
Next month, Marc and I will both be presenting papers at a symposium on the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Vatican II declaration on religious freedom. The symposium, sponsored by the Notre Dame Law Review, will take place in South Bend. In addition to Marc and myself, panelists include Thomas Berg of the University of St. Thomas School of Law, Paul Horwitz of the University of Alabama School of Law, Christopher Lund of Wayne State University Law School; Brett Scharffs of Brigham Young University Law School, Steven Smith of the University of San Diego School of Law, Anna Su of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and Richard Garnett and Phillip Muñoz of Notre Dame Law School. The panels will be moderated by Judge Richard Sullivan of the Southern District of New York. The Symposium will feature a keynote address from John H. Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America.
Further details are here. CLR Forum readers, please stop by and say hello!
In December, Duke University Press will release “Gesture and Power: Religion, Nationalism, and Everyday Performance in Congo,” by Yolanda Covington-Ward (University of Pittsburgh). The publisher’s description follows:
In Gesture and Power Yolanda Covington-Ward examines the everyday embodied practices and performances of the BisiKongo people of the Lower Congo to show how their gestures, dances, and spirituality are critical in mobilizing social and political action. Conceiving of the body as the center of analysis, a catalyst for social action, and as conduit for the social construction of reality, Covington-Ward focuses on specific flash points in the last ninety years of Congo’s troubled history, when embodied performance was used to stake political claims, foster dissent, and enforce power. In the 1920s Simon Kimbangu started a Christian prophetic movement based on spirit-induced trembling, which swept through the Lower Congo, subverting Belgian colonial authority. Following independence, dictator Mobutu Sese Seko required citizens to dance and sing nationalist songs daily as a means of maintaining political control. More recently, embodied performance has again stoked reform, as nationalist groups such as Bundu dia Kongo advocate for a return to precolonial religious practices and non-Western gestures such as traditional greetings. In exploring these embodied expressions of Congolese agency, Covington-Ward provides a framework for understanding how embodied practices transmit social values, identities, and cultural history throughout Africa and the diaspora.
I have been reading this collection on “Religious Freedom in America,” edited by Allen Hertzke. The authors cover the subject from a number of perspectives, including Thomas Kidd and Vincent Philip Muñoz with perspectives on the Founding, and important contributions from the Sikh and Muslim traditions, which are not often heard in these debates.
There is also an empirical essay of particular interest for those trying to figure out the current state of religious freedom. America post-Smith has a welter of “mini-RFRAs” establishing balancing tests meant to offer more protection to religious exercise than a “rational basis” standard. The results are not encouraging. Professors Robert R. Martin and Roger Finke collected thousands of religious liberty cases and coded them according to various metrics. One metric was how often courts invoked a “compelling” government interest in considering a religious liberty claim. In an earlier post, I had noted the relative lack of detail in judicial opinions concerning what constitutes a “compelling” interest in federal law that, along with the least restrictive means to meet that interest, would overcome a substantial burden on religious freedom. The authors provide some answers from their review of state court decisions. Their review indicated that states have articulated at least some compelling interests; these include “completing a trial without a three-day delay in deliberations, maintaining a zoning district as a single-family residential zone and … public safety and ‘aesthetics’”. Among other things, they conclude that although the United States remains a stronghold for religious liberty by comparison with other countries, religious freedom prevails in less than half the cases, and that “free exercise claimants remain at a stark disadvantage in the face of generally applicable, religiously neutral laws.”
From the results of this study, it seems the legacy of Smith has worked all too well. Despite RFRA and state-level initiatives, the state under cover of “neutral” laws, still wins most of the time. And there is much reason to believe many of these neutral laws are not neutral at all, especially when we consider initiatives like the contraceptive mandate. But this study does give the lie to the arguments of some secularists that religion is too powerful in our society. The contrary seems to be increasingly the case.
In November, the Louisiana State University Press will release “Voodoo and Power: The Politics of Religion in New Orleans, 1881-1940,” by Kodi A. Roberts (Louisiana State University). The publisher’s description follows:
The racialized and exoticized cult of Voodoo occupies a central place in the popular image of the Crescent City. But as Kodi A. Roberts argues in Voodoo and Power, the religion was not a monolithic tradition handed down from African ancestors to their American-born descendants. Instead, a much more complicated patchwork of influences created New Orleans Voodoo, allowing it to move across boundaries of race, class, and gender. By employing late nineteenth and early twentieth-century first-hand accounts of Voodoo practitioners and their rituals, Roberts provides a nuanced understanding of who practiced Voodoo and why.
Voodoo in New Orleans, a mélange of religion, entrepreneurship, and business networks, stretched across the color line in intriguing ways. Roberts’s analysis demonstrates that what united professional practitioners, or “workers,” with those who sought their services was not a racially uniform folk culture, but rather the power and influence that Voodoo promised. Recognizing that social immobility proved a common barrier for their patrons, workers claimed that their rituals could overcome racial and gendered disadvantages and create new opportunities for their clients.
Voodoo rituals and institutions also drew inspiration from the surrounding milieu, including the privations of the Great Depression, the city’s complex racial history, and the free-market economy. Money, employment, and business became central concerns for the religion’s practitioners: to validate their work, some began operating from recently organized “Spiritual Churches,” entities that were tax exempt and thus legitimate in the eyes of the state of Louisiana. Practitioners even leveraged local figures like the mythohistoric Marie Laveau for spiritual purposes and entrepreneurial gain. All the while, they contributed to the cultural legacy that fueled New Orleans’s tourist industry and drew visitors and their money to the Crescent City.
Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:
In November, Columbia University Press will release “Relativism and Religion: Why Democratic Societies Do Not Need Moral Absolutes” by Carlo Invernizzi Accetti (City College, City University of New York). The publisher’s description follows:
Moral relativism is deeply troubling for those who believe that, without a set of moral absolutes, democratic societies will devolve into tyranny or totalitarianism. Engaging directly with this claim, Carlo Invernizzi Accetti traces the roots of contemporary anti-relativist fears to the antimodern rhetoric of the Catholic Church, and then rescues a form of philosophical relativism for modern, pluralist societies, arguing that this standpoint provides the firmest foundation for an allegiance to democracy.
In its dual analysis of the relationship between religion and politics and the implications of philosophical relativism for democratic theory, this book makes a far-ranging contribution to contemporary debates over the revival of religion in politics and the conceptual grounds for a commitment to democracy. It conducts the first comprehensive genealogy of anti-relativist discourse and reclaims for English-speaking readers the overlooked work of political theorists such as Hans Kelsen and Norberto Bobbio, who had articulated the bond between philosophical relativism and democracy. By engaging with attempts to replace the religious foundation of democratic values with a neo-Kantian conception of reason, this book also offers a powerful case for relativism as the strongest basis for a civic ethos that integrates different perspectives into democratic politics.
In November, Oxford University Press will release “The ‘Alawis of Syria: War, Faith and Politics in the Levant” edited by Michael Kerr (King’s College London) and Craig Larkin (King’s College London). The publisher’s description follows:
Throughout the turbulent history of the Levant the ‘Alawis – a secretive, resilient and ancient Muslim sect – have aroused suspicion and animosity, including accusations of religious heresy. More recently they have been tarred with the brush of political separatism and complicity in the excesses of the Assad regime, claims that have gained greater traction since the onset of the Syrian uprising and subsequent devastating civil war.
The contributors to this book provide a complex and nuanced reading of Syria’s ‘Alawi communities -from loyalist gangs (Shabiha) to outspoken critics of the regime. Drawing upon wide-ranging research that examines the historic, political and social dynamics of the ‘Alawi and the Syrian state, the current tensions are scrutinised and fresh insights offered. Among the themes addressed are religious practice, social identities, and relations to the Ba’ath party, the Syrian state and the military apparatus. The analysis also extends to Lebanon with a focus on the embattled ‘Alawi community of Jabal Mohsen in Tripoli and state relations with Hizballah amid the current crisis.