Category Archives: Uncategorized

Al-Jabri, “Democracy, Human Rights and Law in Islamic Thought”

This November, I.B. Tauris Publishers will release “Democracy, Human Rights and Law in Islamic Thought” by Mohammed Abed Al-Jabri (Mohammed V University, Morocco).  The publisher’s description follows:

9781780766508Mohammad Abed al-Jabri is one of the most influential political philosophers in the contemporary Middle East. A critical rationalist in the tradition of Avincenna and Averroes, he emphasizes the distinctive political and cultural heritage of the Arab world whilst rejecting the philosophical discourses that have been used to obscure its democratic deficit. This volume introduces an English-language audience for the first time to writings that have had a major impact on Arab political thought. Wide-ranging in scope yet focused in detail, these essays interrogate concepts such as democracy, law, and human rights, looking at how they have been applied in the history of the Arab world, and show that they are determined by political and social context, not by Islamic doctrine. Jabri argues that in order to develop democratic societies in which human rights are respected, the Arab world cannot simply rely on old texts and traditions. Nor can it import democratic models from the West. Instead, he says, a new tradition will have to be forged by today’s Arabs themselves, on their own terms.

Conference on Law, Religion, and Healthcare

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School is soliciting papers for its its 2015 annual conference on “Law, Religion, and Healthcare.” The conference will be held on May 8-9 in Cambridge Massachusetts:

Religion and medicine have historically gone hand in hand, but increasingly have come into conflict in the U.S. as health care has become both more secular and more heavily regulated.  Law has a dual role here, simultaneously generating conflict between religion and health care, for example through new coverage mandates or legally permissible medical interventions that violate religious norms, while also acting as a tool for religious accommodation and protection of conscience.

This conference, and anticipated edited volume, will aim to: (1) identify the various ways in which law intersects with religion and health care in the United States; (2) understand the role of law in creating or mediating conflict between religion and health care; and (3) explore potential legal solutions to allow religion and health care to simultaneously flourish in a culturally diverse nation.

Details can be found here.

CFP: Religion and American Law

Religion & American Law Discussion Group, Call for Paper Proposals

The Religion & American Law Discussion Group, under the auspices of the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom at Virginia Wesley College, is soliciting paper proposals for its first meeting, which will be held concurrently with the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in San Diego, California (November 22-25, 2014).

Two 3-paper panels will be organized to run consecutively, 5:00-7:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 23 (Omni Hotel, Gaslamp Room #2). [See AAR/SBL program, M23-302.]

Guidelines for the requested proposals are as follows:

Proposals are requested on the following topics:

1) Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014);

2) Town of Greece, NY, v. Galloway (2014);

3) Other topics related to current issues at the intersection of religion and American law (federal, state, or municipal).

Proposals should be no more than 500 words, should suggest scholarly analysis rather than reportage, and must include the author’s name, institutional affiliation, and return email/postal address.

Proposals are welcome from all academic disciplines, as well as from practitioners who work in fields related to the intersection of religion and American law, including those affiliated with advocacy groups (religious or secular) and municipal, state, or federal government (executive/judicial/legislative branch).

Proposals should be sent electronically to Eric Michael Mazur (emazur@vwc.edu), and must be received by September 30, 2014.

Authors of proposals selected for presentation will be notified by October 15, 2014.

Abbas, “The Taliban Revival”

Last month, Yale University Press released The Taliban Revival: Violence and 9780300178845Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Regime, by Hussein Abbas (National Defense University). The publisher’s description follows:

In autumn 2001, U.S. and NATO troops were deployed to Afghanistan to unseat the Taliban rulers, repressive Islamic fundamentalists who had lent active support to Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda jihadists. The NATO forces defeated and dismantled the Taliban government, scattering its remnants across the country. But despite a more than decade-long attempt to eradicate them, the Taliban endured—regrouping and reestablishing themselves as a significant insurgent movement. Gradually they have regained control of large portions of Afghanistan even as U.S. troops are preparing to depart from the region.

In his authoritative and highly readable account, author Hassan Abbas examines how the Taliban not only survived but adapted to their situation in order to regain power and political advantage. Abbas traces the roots of religious extremism in the area and analyzes the Taliban’s support base within Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. In addition, he explores the roles that Western policies and military decision making— not to mention corruption and incompetence in Kabul—have played in enabling the Taliban’s resurgence.

A Pretty Narrow Decision

That’s my first read on today’s opinion in the Hobby Lobby case: narrow and pretty much as expected. Indeed, Justice Alito’s opinion for the Court says as much (“our holding is very specific”). It’s a 5-4 decision; a 5-2 decision on one important point. Still, a win’s a win, and Hobby Lobby, its lawyers, and those who filed amicus briefs in its behalf have a right to be pleased–as do all those who value religious freedom.

Some first impressions:

  • The Court does not address Hobby Lobby’s First Amendment claims; Hobby Lobby wins on RFRA grounds. No surprise there.
  • In holding that a for-profit corporation can exercise a religion for RFRA purposes, the Court takes the route that Chief Justice Roberts suggested at oral argument. It expressly limits its holding to closely-held corporations like Hobby Lobby and declines to discuss whether large, publicly traded corporations also can exercise a religion for RFRA purposes. That, as lawyers say, is a question for another day. (Self-promotion alert: this is what I predicted). The vote was 5-2 here; two dissenters, Justices Breyer and Kagan, would not have reached the issue.
  • The Court makes clear its ruling does not mean it will necessarily rule the same way in other cases where employers seek relief under RFRA, for example, where employers object to covering immunizations. Different governmental interests could be involved in those cases, the Court says.
  • The Court goes out of its way to say that its holding would not allow employers to justify racial discrimination on religious grounds. It says nothing about other sorts of discrimination, however. Surely this is intentional. As everyone knows, a major lurking issue is whether RFRA allows employers to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, especially homosexuality. The Court obviously wishes to avoid any allusions to that issue–perhaps to keep Justice Kennedy on board. The dissent does raise the issue, though.
  • The qualifications in the Court’s opinion are obviously meant to answer the dissent’s “parade of horribles.” Seems a pretty good answer to me–but the dissenters are not impressed. The Court’s logic extends to publicly traded corporations, Justice Ginsburg writes, and there is little doubt, notwithstanding the Court’s reassurances,  that RFRA claims will “proliferate” in future. In particular, the dissent raises the issue of religiously-based objections to sexuality. As I say, the Court studiously avoids that issue.
  • In its least-restrictive means analysis, the Court notes that an accommodation of the sort the government has offered to certain religious non-profits would have achieved the government’s end in this case as well, and would have imposed less on Hobby Lobby’s religious exercise. That is, an alternative to the mandate is available. Is the Court hinting at what it thinks about the Little Sisters of the Poor case? I don’t think so; the Court went out of its way to reserve that issue. But the language here is a bit opaque and may cause trouble in future.
  • Not clear what the point of Justice Kennedy’s concurrence is, except to highlight that he sees this as a close case, to say nice things about the dissent, and to expound a little more about his view that religious liberty is about protecting people’s “dignity and … striving for a self-definition shaped by their religious precepts.”

We’ll have further analysis here at CLR Forum as we digest the opinion a little more. But, bottom line: a narrow decision and a win for religious liberty.

Constructing Indian Christianities (Bauman & Young, eds.)

Today, Routledge releases Constructing Indian Christianities: Conversion, Culture, and Caste, edited by Chad M. Bauman (Butler University) and Richard Fox Young (Princeton Theological Seminary). The publisher’s description follows:

This volume offers insights into the current ‘public-square’ debates on Indian Christianity. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork as well as rigorous analyses, it discusses the myriad histories of Christianity in India, its everyday practice and contestations and the process of its indigenisation. It addresses complex and pertinent themes such as Dalit Indian Christianity, diasporic nationalism and conversion. The work will interest scholars and researchers of religious studies, Dalit and subaltern studies, modern Indian history, and politics.

Center to Co-Host Conference on International Religious Freedom in Rome (June 20)

On June 20, the Center for Law and Religion will co-host a conference, “International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values,” at the Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta in Rome. The conference will bring together American and European scholars and officials; proceedings will be in English and Italian with simultaneous translation. Panels will include “Comparative Perspectives on International Religious Freedom,” “Christian and Muslim Perspectives on International Religious Freedom,” and “The Politics of International Religious Freedom.” Participants will include Abdullahi An-Na’im, Pasquale Annicchino, Heiner Bielefeldt, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, Marc DeGirolami, Thomas Farr, Ken Hackett, Monica Lugato, Mark Movsesian, Francisca Pérez-Madrid, Olivier Roy, Nina Shea, Marco Ventura, John Witte, and Roberto Zaccaria.

For details and information about registration, please click here.

On Commencement Speakers

There has recently been something of a flutter about the withdrawal, under pressure, of several scheduled Commencement speakers for various sorts of reasons diffusely related to politics, controversial viewpoints, or associations and activities with which some administrator feels disquieted (or with which the administrator believes that some influential, or prominent, or loud group of alumni or students will feel disquieted). It is difficult to get a sense for any unifying theme of controversy in these pressured withdrawals, but together they reflect the sort of soft and not particularly committed progressive pastiche of disapproval that prevails at many colleges and universities: Condoleezza Rice was part of the Bush Administration; Ayaan Hirsi Ali said critical things about Islam; Christine Lagarde presides over an organization which is felt by some students to be “patriarchal” and unhelpful to the poor.

Incensed finger-waggers have observed that these pressured withdrawals are very damaging to universities, because, after all, universities are claimed to be sites of open and respectful argument where ideas can be challenged and debated freely. What kind of closed-minded places are these universities if they cannot engage respectfully with controversial views and encourage their students to do likewise? What about the free exchange of ideas? What about confronting perspectives different than one’s own–those that are alien or that induce alienation?

This all seems rather silly. First, is it really the case that graduations are moments where the university displays what are claimed to be its intellectual virtues in chief? Does anybody believe that the very tail end of the higher educational experience, right as the students are walking out the door, is the moment to showcase these qualities–a moment where nobody but the Commencement speaker actually gets a chance to express any views? Speeches delivered at Commencements are nearly universally empty, gaseous, platitudinous, and saccharine. That is by design. That is their function. They are the most perfunctory part of the ceremony. The speaker pumps the bellows for a bit while the assembly listens with half an ear; the other ear and a half is preoccupied with much more interesting matters, like wondering whether one is sweating too much, or about a sudden acrid smell. The parents of the graduates pretend to listen while clucking about their dearest ones in the crowd. And then, at long last, it’s on to the reception bar with all deliberate speed.

What the pressured withdrawals might suggest is that many universities really are not places where students learn and exercise the habits of intellectual engagement and exchange in any appreciable degree at all. The Commencement speech is just the last in a long trail of hot air. Indeed, some have suggested that many American universities are simply gargantuan machines dedicated to the cultivation of middle-class tastes and distinctively shallow civic points of view–mills for producing good and voracious consumers with whatever miscellany of attendant politics one needs to get on without incident or complaint. That seems slightly sour, but if it is true, then the graduation speech is of a piece with the rest of the experience.

I’ve made it to some of my own graduations and skipped just as many. I can’t say I ever felt regret about those I skipped. Of the many Commencement addresses I have heard, not a single one I can remember provoked deep intellectual engagement or reflection in me. Maybe I was unlucky with the speakers; certainly they were unlucky with me. Perhaps the problem is that I can’t remember any of them. I do know that the speeches all contained the requisite elements of vaguely Whiggish optimism, indistinct exhortation, and comfortable banality that characterizes much of university life. They were delivered by people with anodyne, milk-and-water backgrounds and views who had reached prominent positions. So it should come as no surprise at all when a university calibrates the selection of its Commencement speaker accordingly.

UPDATE: An interesting, somewhat different, perspective here (though I can’t subscribe to any claims about a university’s “democratic values”)

Misunderstanding Putin

biophoto_150_1Last Friday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”–the breakfast salon of the bien pensant–Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel (left) took on Vladimir Putin. Stengel attempted to explain how Putin’s conduct in Ukraine damages Putin’s own interests. Putin, Stengel told his interlocutor Steven Rattner with an air of frustration, “is making fundamental errors” that would get him in trouble with the Russian people. “He’s moving further away from the West,” Stengel said, at a time when “people want to be closer to the West.” Rattner agreed that Putin is being “irrational.” Isn’t it obvious?

In fact, it isn’t at all obvious that Putin is being irrational or that people around the world want to be closer to the West, at least not in the way Stengel seems to think. It is very difficult for Americans to understand this, but on many issues we are cultural outliers. America, especially its professional class, has what psychologists call a WEIRD culture—Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. WEIRDs are very secular. They place great emphasis on personal autonomy; indeed, autonomy may be their most important value. That’s one reason why America works so hard to support movements like feminism and gay rights abroad.

By contrast, most of the world’s cultures are not WEIRD. They are not secular and do not see personal autonomy as the most important value. Jonathan Haidt explains this very well in his recent book, The Righteous Mind. Many world cultures, Haidt writes, have an“ethic of community” that sees people principally as members of collectives—families, tribes, and nations—with strong claims to loyalty. Many have an “ethic of divinity,” which holds that people’s principal duty is to God, not themselves. “In such societies,” Haidt writes, “the personal liberty of secular Western nations looks like libertinism, hedonism, and a celebration of humanity’s baser instincts.”

Putin is many things, but he is not a WEIRD. He has been making clear for years that he does not aspire for Russia to become a WEIRD society. The values he promotes are nationalism, authority, loyalty, and religion. Especially religion. As a perceptive post by national security expert John Schindler explains, Putin’s worldview contains a large element of Holy Russia/Third Rome ideology, “a powerful admixture of Orthodoxy, ethnic mysticism, and Slavophile tendencies that has deep resonance in Russian history.” Of course, Putin may be insincere. Like many dictators, he may simply be using religion to his advantage. But, even if his convictions are phony, the challenge he poses to the West is fundamentally a cultural and ideological one.

And many Russians support him. Putin has been extremely good at exploiting the suspicion that many Russians feel about the West and its values–especially America and its values. Notwithstanding Stengel’s assertion, Putin is not acting against the wishes of his own people. Indeed, his popularity at home has been growing since the start of the Ukraine crisis. And, as Schindler explains, it’s not only Russians who think they way Putin does. “There are plenty of people in the world who don’t like Putin or Russia, yet who are happy that someone, somewhere is standing up to American hegemony.” The thuggery in Ukraine will cost him some of this support. But many people will be inclined to dismiss Putin’s conduct as a reassertion of Russia’s traditional interest in its near-abroad.

In other words, our conflict with Russia is not simply about politics, or economics, or even national security. It’s about culture and values. It’s not that Putin insufficiently appreciates what WEIRDness requires. He’s not a WEIRD at all. He doesn’t want to be. The people who run our foreign policy should understand this. If Stengel’s appearance on Friday is any indication, they don’t.

Happy Easter

To all who celebrate, a very Happy Easter. Christ is Risen.