Category Archives: Kristine Kalanges

Thanks to Kristine Kalanges

Thanks very much to Notre Dame Professor Kristine Kalanges for blogging with us in October. We very much enjoyed having you with us, Kristine. Come back soon!

Indonesia an important battleground for Islam, democracy and human rights

Those who follow the literature on Islam, democracy, and human rights are likely to recognize Indonesia as a country of special importance.  There, as scholars including anthropologist Robert Hefner have highlighted, Islamic movements have been credibly seeking to develop alternate models of governance.  They are aided in part by moderate Muslim preachers actively working to counter the influence of extremists.  As the largest Muslim-majority state, one that also contains significant numbers of Hindus, Buddhists and Christians, this Asian nation thus opens the possibility that many features traditionally associated with Muslim law and politics may owe more to Middle Eastern history than to Islam.  Nevertheless, the present regime has detained and imprisoned individuals under its blasphemy law.  Moreover, acts of religious intolerance are on the rise, as minority Muslims sects are persecuted, churches and Buddhist temples are closed, and legal frameworks against religious minorities proliferate.  It will bode ill for Islam and the world if these negative trends continue.

Theology, the secular state, and a postscript on constitutional interpretation

Many thanks to Mark and Marc for their interesting observations (comments to my prior post). They both raise excellent points, and I’ll try to address them here (as I did in my reply to their comments) by explaining my concern in different terms. I’ve always been interested in the ways religious beliefs and practices inform legal and political institutions. One major argument of my first book was that the case for religious freedom in the Muslim world will have to come, at least in the near future, from within Islam. But I noted in the conclusion that defending religious freedom in the West will ultimately require, to some degree, a recovery/renewal of the Judeo-Christian foundations of our culture. Why? As I think we are witnessing now in all sorts of challenges to religion and religious groups in the West (Jews, Christians, Muslims, and beyond), the state is increasingly hostile to the notion of distinct sacred and secular spheres. Whether in Augustine, Aquinas or the Reformation Protestantism of the early modern period, the defense of separate spheres emerged within theological frameworks. It seems to me that so long as culture remained diffusely tied to those traditions (in other words, and as Tocqueville observed, so long as the West generally and America specially remained generally united in its norms and mores), those two spheres could continue to exist (albeit uneasily at times). What I think we’re witnessing now is the transformation of the secular state from its original conceptualization to something less willing to recognize legitimacy or authority outside of itself (to tolerate, for example, that significant portions of the population – often organized religiously – do not support same-sex marriage or the ordination of women even as they affirm the dignity of all persons). Do I want a theocracy? Absolutely not! Do I think the state should preserve its monopoly on the legitimate use of force? Yes, although I want to reflect more on the meaning and manifestation of this. But apart from a theological defense of the secular state/City on Earth, I’m not persuaded the state will be willing to let Continue reading

From State Soteriology to Eucharistic Anarchism: Cavanaugh’s “True Peace”

Under the category of “Things I will work on after tenure”, I’ve long wanted to more fully develop my ideas for an incarnational political theology.  Previously, I published the following here, but I repost it now because I believe readers at CLR Forum may be particularly able to offer constructive comments.  Whether in my reading of Radical Orthodoxy scholarship or my own writings on religious freedom in comparative perspective, I find myself returning repeatedly to the idea that sustainable pluralism will require a theological foundation.


William T. Cavanaugh is a scholar of Radical Orthodoxy – an intellectual movement that originated in 1990s Britain (especially Cambridge University and the University of Nottingham), and one that can broadly be characterized as postmodern Christian theology.[i]  It proclaims its radicality in four parts: 1) a return to patristic and medieval roots, most particularly to the Augustinian formulation of knowledge as divine illumination; 2) efforts to deploy this recovered sensibility to offer bold criticisms of modern society, culture and philosophy; 3) simultaneous to the criticism of modernity, a realization that the inherited tradition itself must be rethought in light of the challenges of the postmodern era; and 4) a recognition that, just as Christian critics of the Enlightenment identified the destruction by secularity of those things it claimed most to celebrate (e.g. embodied life, self-expression, sexuality, aesthetic experience and human political community), “only transcendence, which ‘suspends’ these things in the sense of interrupting them, ‘suspends’ them also in the other sense of upholding their relative worth over-against the void”.[ii]  Put briefly, Radical Orthodoxy refutes secularism in favor of a Platonic-Christian participatory theology “which alone can lead us to God”.[iii]  Though it is not unproblematic, Radical Orthodoxy is nevertheless a significant intellectual endeavor that merits serious engagement by scholars writing within a variety of disciplines and theological/philosophical traditions.

In his stimulating essay, The City: Beyond Secular Parodies, Cavanaugh opens with a Biblical narrative – the themes of which have appeared in the work of Luther, Calvin and Niebuhr, among others.  For example, he uses the New Testament writings of Paul and John, alongside patristic texts, to present Christianity’s story of creation, fall and redemption as “the loss and regaining of a primal unity”.[iv]  This is central to his political theology, for, as Cavanaugh argues, modern social contract theorists such as Hobbes (but also Locke and Rousseau) were attempting, fundamentally, to redeem human society from the effects of brokenness (e.g. pride, violence, theft, war) through the mechanism of the state.[v]  Cavanaugh deems these efforts a failure for three primary reasons.

Continue reading

Defending the religious liberty of American Muslims

The Pew Center recently published this useful compendium of controversies over mosques and Islamic centers (more than 40% of which have opened since 2000) across the U.S.   As the researchers note: “In many cases, the opposition has centered on neighbors’ concerns about traffic, noise, parking and property values – the same objections that often greet churches and other houses of worship as well as commercial construction projects. In some communities, however, opponents of mosques also have cited fears about Islam, sharia law and terrorism.”  It is this latter type of opposition that concerns me.  As I and others including Greg Sisk have argued, defending the religious freedom of American Muslims is not only right as a matter of law and justice, it is also good policy: demonstrating that Muslims can thrive as Muslims in a pluralistic society can function as a form of witness to Muslims in other parts of the world and can be useful evidence for those engaged in legal and political reform in Muslim-majority countries.

Secular fundamentalism threatens religious liberty in West

While much attention is paid to attacks on religious freedom in Muslim-majority countries, those of us in the West need look no further than our own governments and societies for evidence of mounting threats to religious liberty.  At the risk of sounding alarmist, it is difficult for me to imagine a future in which religious freedom enjoys robust protections at home unless there is at least some widespread cultural recovery/rehabilitation of the religious values that first demanded such protections.  In other words, I doubt very much that an aggressively secular culture would recognize, let alone honor, claims that our duties to God (and our religiously-inspired duties to each other) require distinctive legal protection.   This concern is not without empirical support.  Europe in particular has become increasingly aggressive in its assault upon religion.  Bans on circumcision, the construction of mosques, and the full-face veil have targeted Jews and Muslims.  Christians, too, are the subjects of mounting hostilities with regard to same-sex marriage, the ordination of women, abortion, adoption, the compelled distribution of birth control by medical personnel, etc., as Human Rights Without Frontiers reports here.  Similar problems animate the American debate over the Obama Administration’s HHS Mandate, as my friend and colleague Rick Garnett observes here.  Thus, while Islamic fundamentalism threatens religious liberty abroad, secular fundamentalism threatens it at home.  Sola ratio does not good law make.  Only the renewal of faith and reason can save us.

Egypt’s draft constitution threatens religious liberty

Many thanks to Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami for the opportunity to guest blog this month!  There have been many noteworthy developments in  the realm of international religious freedom recently, including troubling news out of Egypt that the new draft constitution may remove religious liberties provided for under prior constitutions.  As reported in Ahram Online, Egypt’s Constituent Assembly has drafted Article 8 such that: 1) the state would no longer be obligated to protect religious freedom; and 2)  religious rights would be subject to limitations based on public order (a provision that could be construed quite broadly to the detriment of religious liberty, as it has been elsewhere).  The Constituent Assembly has itself been the source of much controversy, both because its members were appointed by the People’s Assembly (declared in June by Egypt’s High Constitutional Court to be unconstitutional) and because of broader concerns about its composition (Islamist dominated) and perceived inability to engage citizen concerns about fundamental rights and freedoms.    These challenges for religious freedom in Egypt are consistent with the Pew Research Center’s findings in its Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion report identifying Egypt as a country with very high (and increasing) social hostilities involving religion (i.e., “acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations and social groups [including] mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons and other religion-related intimidation or abuse.”).