Category Archives: Uncategorized

Happy Easter

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

 

Barras, “Refashioning Secularisms in France and Turkey”

9780415821780This month, Routledge publishes Refashioning Secularisms in France and Turkey: The Case of the Headscarf Ban by Amelie Barras (University of Montreal). The publisher’s description follows.

Over the past few years, secularism has become an intrinsic component of discussions on religious freedom and religious governance. The question of whether states should restrict the wearing of headscarves and other religious symbols has been particularly critical in guiding this thought process.

Refashioning Secularisms in France and Turkey documents how, in both countries, devout women have contested bans on headscarves, pointing to how these are inconsistent with the ‘real’ spirit of secularism. These activists argue that it is possible to be simultaneously secular and religious; to believe in the values conveyed by secularism, while still remaining devoted to their faith. Through this examination, the book highlights how activists locate their claims within the frame of secularism, while at the same time revisiting it to craft a space for their religiosity.

Addressing the lacuna in literature on the discourse of devout Muslims affected by these restrictions, this book offers a topical analysis on an understudied dimension of secularism and is a valuable resource for students and researchers with an interest in Religion, Gender Studies, Human Rights and Political Science.

The Weekly Five

This week’s collection of five new articles from SSRN includes Corinna Lain’s history of Engel v. Vitale, the school prayer case; Anna Su’s review of Steve Smith’s new book on the decline of religious freedom; and pieces on corporate social responsibility in Asia; Christianity and other foundations of international law; and the will to live.

1. John D. Haskell (Mississippi College-School of Law), The Traditions of Modernity within International Law and Governance: Christianity, Liberalism and Marxism. According to Haskell, three traditions constitute “modernity” in international legal scholarship—Christianity, Liberalism, and Marxism. These three traditions differ from one another but also have some similarities. He writes, “my hope is that in studying each tradition, we can find a new synthesis that allows fresh analytical tools to conceive the dynamics of global governance today and how they might be addressed.”

2. Corinna Lain (University of Richmond), God, Civic Virtue, and the American Way: Reconstructing Engel. In this history of Engel v. Vitale, the 1962 Supreme Court decision that struck down school prayer, the author argues that the conventional wisdom has the case wrong. Engel was not an example of the Court’s standing bravely against a popular majority. If the Justices had understood how controversial their decision would be, she maintains, they would not have taken the case to begin with. Instead, Engel demonstrates the power of judicial review in stimulating democratic deliberation on the Constitution—what some scholars call “popular constitutionalism.” She argues that popular antipathy to the decision resulted from misunderstandings provoked by the media.

3. Marvin Lim (Independent), A New Approach to the Ethics of Life: The “Will to Live” in Lieu of Traditionalists’ Notion of Natural/Rational and Progressives’ Autonomy/Consciousness. The author maintains that both traditionalist and progressive justifications for protecting human life are inconsistent and unconvincing. In their place, he argues for an ethic of the “will to live.” What ultimately matters is whether actions respect or violate this ethic. This approach would allow abortion and assisted suicide in at least some circumstances, he says.

4. Arjya B. Majumdar (Jindal Global Law School), Zakat, Dana and Corporate Social Responsibility. In this essay, the author traces the tradition of charity in Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism and explores the relevance of that tradition in corporate law. Especially in Asia, the author says, where corporations have relatively few shareholders and tend to be family or individual operations, religious traditions of charity can play an important role in boosting corporate social responsibility.

5. Anna Su (SUNY Buffalo), Separation Anxiety: The End of American Religious Freedom? This is a review of Steven D. Smith’s new book, The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom. Su disagrees with Smith that the Supreme Court’s twentieth-century Religion Clause cases threaten the existence of religious freedom. “These decisions,” she writes, though frustrating and incoherent as they might seem, in fact, are as responsible for the remarkable religious pluralism that exists in American society today as much as for the contemporary secular extremism that Smith deplores.”

Barry & Abo-Zena (eds.), “Emerging Adults’ Religiousness and Spirituality”

9780199959181This April, Oxford University Press will publish Emerging Adults’ Religiousness and Spirituality: Meaning-Making in an Age of Transition edited by Carolyn McNamara Barry (Loyola University Maryland) and Mona M. Abo-Zena (Brown University). The publisher’s description follows.

Although most American children are raised in a faith tradition, by the time they reach their early twenties their outward religious expression declines significantly, with many leaving the faith in which they were raised in favor of another faith or none at all, though many still claim that religion and spirituality are important. Reasons for this change in religious behavior include adolescents’ forging their own identities, increased immersion in contexts beyond the family, and exposure to media. As emerging adults encounter events such as attending university, breaking up with a romantic partner, and traveling, they are likely to make sense out of them, a process known as meaning-making. Thus, coming into one’s own takes on great prominence during the years of emerging adulthood (18-29), making it ripe for religious and spiritual development.

Emerging Adults’ Religiousness and Spirituality seeks to understand how the developmental process of meaning-making encompasses American emerging adults’ religiousness and spirituality. This volume does not focus on disentangling religion and spirituality conceptually, but rather emphasizes their centrality in the psychology of human development. It highlights the range of experiences and perspectives of emerging adults in the U.S. grounded in social context, social position, and religious or spiritual identification. Chapters are written by an interdisciplinary group of authors and explore topics such as the benefits and detriments of religiousness and spirituality to emerging adults; contexts and socializing agents such as parents and peers, the media, religious communities, and universities; and variations of religiousness and spirituality concerning gender, sexuality, culture, and social position. Using a developmental lens and focusing on a significant period within the lifespan, this volume embodies the key aspects of a developmental perspective by highlighting specific domains of development while considering themes of continuity and discontinuity across the lifespan.

Dixon & Ginsburg (eds.), “Comparative Constitutional Law in Asia”

comparative-constitutional-lawThis April, Edward Elgar Publishing will publish Comparative Constitutional Law in Asia edited by Rosalind Dixon (University of New South Wales, Australia) and Tom Ginsburg (University of Chicago). The publisher’s description follows.

Comparative constitutional law is a field of increasing importance around the world, but much of the literature is focused on Europe, North America, and English-speaking jurisdictions. The importance of Asia for the broader field is demonstrated here in original contributions that look thematically at issues from a general perspective, with special attention on how they have been treated in East Asian jurisdictions. The authors – leading comparativists from around the world – illuminate material from Asian jurisdictions on matters such as freedom of religion, constitutional courts, property rights, emergency regimes and the drafting process of constitutions. Together they present a picture of a region that is grappling with complex constitutional issues and is engaged with developments in the rest of the world, while at the same time pursuing distinctive local solutions that deserve close attention. This unique scholarly study will prove an important research tool for Asian scholars, constitutional lawyers within Asia and comparative constitutional scholars around the world.

A River Runs Through It

As a young woman in 1968, American Wallis Wilde-Menozzi moved to Rome, leaving behind a troubled first marriage and a tenured faculty position in the UK. In The Other Side of the Tiber, she reflects upon that experience and the decades that followed, in which she developed as a writer, married again and raised a family, and became acculturated to her new home. Her metaphor for remembering is the Tiber, the river that runs through Rome, carrying with it the residue of earlier times and civilizations. Like the river, she writes, one’s memories are always a fluid part of one’s present.

The book is not only a personal memoir, though. A major theme is the contrast between the American and Italian ways of doing things–between a Protestant, progressive, rule-of-law society that exalts individualism and looks relentlessly to the future, and a Catholic, traditional one that rejects the idea that people can disregard the past and create their own identities. (“There is no such thing. We are always accompanied by ancestors.”) Each way has advantages and disadvantages. Americans are often shocked by what they see as the casual lawlessness of Italian life–”there is a breathtaking gap,” she writes–”a metaphysical canyon, between what is considered moral and what is considered legal in Italy”–which, no doubt, contributes to economic and political stagnation. On the other hand, there are qualities of community and public forgiveness to compensate. Italians are dismayed by American free-market economics, which often seem heartless and uncivilized, and by Americans’ lack of real appreciation for history. One of the most interesting episodes in the book is Wilde-Menozzi’s account of teaching American students in Siena. The students seem unaware of even the recent history of their own country, to say nothing of the ancients. She attributes their ignorance to the cost, and emptiness, of higher education in the US.

Wilde-Menozzi often gets nostalgic for the leftism of her youth, when she read Gramsci and Pasolini, and she tends to find feminist implications in everything, from Etruscan statuary to the annual August holiday, the Ferragosto. But, ideology aside, her writing is often lovely, and her images remain with you. (She is admirably spare in conveying, without detail, the pain of the sexual abuse in her childhood and her tense relationship with her mother; the theme of mothers is a recurring one in the book). On sfogliatelle, the Neapolitan pastries that must be done in a certain way: they are “a conscious effort to deny time its novelty.” On the the mosaics at the fourth-century church of Santa Costanza: their creators “imagined permanence, and yet, how could they have imagined us, so far away in time, still delighted by them?” And on the infinite regress of memory: “Italy is a story that always starts with ‘In the beginning there was already something before what you think is the beginning.’”

Abraham Lincoln, None?

Today is Presidents Day in the United States, a national holiday. Actually, that’s not quite right. Officially, the federal holiday is still called Washington’s Birthday, and that’s the official name here in New York, too. (Who knew?) But, unofficially, America uses this day to commemorate all its presidents–including, especially, two born in February, George Washington (February 22) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12).

I wasn’t surprised, therefore, when I saw in my twitter feed this afternoon Pew ‘s list of American presidents and their religious identities. About one-quarter have been Episcopalians; several have been Presbyterians; only one, John Kennedy, has been a Catholic. Pew lists three as having no religious identity: Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Johnson, and Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln, in particular, is an interesting case. People have been fighting over his religious identity since just after he died. He never formally joined a church. But some people who knew him said that, although he had been skeptical about organized religion in his youth, and may in fact have written an atheist pamphlet at one point, he became receptive to Christianity during his time in the White House, especially after the death of his son. One report says he was about to join the Presbyterian Church right before he was assassinated. Others who knew him, however, said they noticed no such transformation.

In his definitive 2003 study, Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power, historian Richard Carwardine surveys the evidence and, in the end, says that Mary Todd Lincoln probably had the best assessment. Her husband, she explained, was never “a technical Christian.” In particular, he seems not to have accepted the divinity of Christ. On the other hand, almost everyone who knew him agreed that he was “naturally religious.” Those lines in the Second Inaugural Address were not just for show. Lincoln believed that the universe was governed by an omnipotent God who worked things out for His own righteous, often inscrutable purposes. And Lincoln thought the better part of wisdom was to submit to God’s plan.

So, was the Great Emancipator a None? I leave it to you, gentle reader.

Chaudhry, “Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition”

Last month, Oxford published Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition, by 9780199640164_140Ayesha S. Chaudhry (University of British Columbia). The publisher’s description follows.

This book examines the challenges and resources that the Islamic tradition offers to Muslim scholars who seek to address this dilemma. This is achieved through extensive study of the intellectual history of a Qur’anic verse that has become especially contentious in the modern period: Chapter 4, Verse 34 (Q. 4:34) which can be read to permit the physical disciplining of disobedient wives at the hands of their husbands.

Though this verse has been used by historical and contemporary Muslim scholars in multiple ways to justify the right of husbands to physically discipline their wives, progressive and reformist Muslim scholars and activists offer alternative and non-violent readings of the verse. The diverse and divergent interpretations of Q. 4:34 showcases the pivotal role of the reader in shaping the meaning and implications of scriptural texts.

This book investigates the sophisticated and creative interpretive approaches to Q. 4:34, tracing the intellectual history of Muslim scholarship on this verse from the ninth century to the present day. Ayesha S. Chaudhry examines the spirited and diverse, and at times contradictory, readings of this verse to reveal how Muslims relate to their inherited tradition and the Qur’anic text.

Repairs Begin on Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity

Here’s some good news, for a change, about Christianity in the Middle East. This fall, workers began much-needed repairs to the roof Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the traditional site of the birth of Christ.

The roof of the church has been in a terrible state for some time. Experts warn it could collapse at any moment. Getting agreement on repairs has been exceptionally difficult, however. There were geopolitical issues. To qualify for UN restoration funds, the building had to be added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. This proved controversial–the US and Israel worried about the implications naming the site would have for Palestinian statehood–but the church was ultimately added to the list last year. (The church has long been a flashpoint for world intrigue. In the nineteenth century, someone stole the star that marks the place of Christ’s birth; the theft led to the Crimean War.)

The most significant hurdle, though, has been getting the agreement of the Christian communions that share the church–Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholic. The three share the church under the “Status Quo,” a set of rules and customs that date back centuries to Ottoman times, and which also govern other Christian sites like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. According to custom, repairing part of the church, or even paying for repairs, is an assertion of ownership. As a result, each communion carefully guards against the possibility that another will undertake repairs in common areas, like the roof, and thereby gain rights by a sort of adverse possession. Fistfights among the monks are not uncommon.

How did the three communions reach agreement on the repairs this time? No one’s saying much, but the AP reports:

A senior church official said the three denominations would never have been able to reach an agreement on their own. But once the Palestinian Authority stepped in, all three churches accepted the decision. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss the matter with the media.

Well, anyway, the point is they did agree and the church will be preserved. And that is wonderful news for Christians and people of good will generally. Congratulations to everyone concerned. And Merry Christmas!

President Adams’s 1798 Proclamation For a “Day of Humiliation and Prayer”

In past years at this time, we have noted Thanksgiving proclamations in American history here at CLR Forum. On the occasion of this year’s Thanksgiving, I want to draw attention again to President John Adams’s 1798 Proclamation For a National Fast, which he issued on March 23 of that year and prescribed for the month of May. Two things are striking to me about the proclamation, though of course they are not unique to this particular proclamation.

First, days of public prayer are closely associated in the mind of Adams (and likely in the minds of his audience) with “humiliation”–that is, with the recognition of the limits of human power, with humility, and with the need and desire for guidance beyond oneself to set to the affairs of governance wisely. It has longed seemed to me that this was the principal function of legislative and other public prayer. Is is an irony of history that legislative prayer has now come to signify, in the minds of many of its opponents, something like the opposite of “humiliation.”

Second, note the emphasis on fasting. The idea behind such days was not to gorge on as much food as one could hold down, or to acknowledge one’s own comfortably sated life, or to revel in the capacity to spend lots of money on entirely useless nonsense on “Black Friday.” It was to thank God for one’s gifts by abstaining from consumption.

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m off to stuff the turkey and, then (Grace having been said) myself. A very happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers.

As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God; and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty, which the people owe to him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety, without which social happiness cannot exist, nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed; and as this duty, at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty and of danger, when existing or threatening calamities, the just judgments of God against prevalent iniquity, are a loud call to repentance and reformation; and as the United States of America are at present placed in a hazardous and afflictive situation, by the unfriendly disposition, conduct, and demands of a foreign power, evinced by repeated refusals to receive our messengers of reconciliation and peace, by depredations on our commerce, and the infliction of injuries on very many of our fellow-citizens, while engaged in their lawful business on the seas;—under these considerations, it has appeared to me that the duty of imploring the mercy and benediction of Heaven on our country, demands at this time a special attention from its inhabitants.

I have therefore thought fit to recommend, and I do hereby recommend, that Wednesday, the 9th day of May next, be observed throughout the United States, as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting and prayer; that the citizens of these States, abstaining on that day from their customary worldly occupations, offer their devout addresses to the Father of mercies, agreeably to those forms or methods which they have severally adopted as the most suitable and becoming; that all religious congregations do, with the deepest humility, acknowledge before God the manifold sins and transgressions with which we are justly chargeable as individuals and as a nation; beseeching him at the same time, of his infinite grace, through the Redeemer of the world, freely to remit all our offences, and to incline us, by his Holy Spirit, to that sincere repentance and reformation which may afford us reason to hope for his inestimable favor and heavenly benediction; that it be made the subject of particular and earnest supplication, that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it, that our civil and religious privileges may be preserved inviolate, and perpetuated to the latest generations, that our public councils and magistrates may be especially enlightened and directed at this critical period, that the American people may be united in those bonds of amity and mutual confidence, and inspired with that vigor and fortitude by which they have in times past been so highly distinguished, and by which they have obtained such invaluable advantages, that the health of the inhabitants of our land may be preserved, and their agriculture, commerce, fisheries, arts, and manufactures, be blessed and prospered, that the principles of genuine piety and sound morality may influence the minds and govern the lives of every description of our citizens, and that the blessings of peace, freedom, and pure religion, may be speedily extended to all the nations of the earth.

And finally I recommend, that on the said day, the duties of humiliation and prayer be accompanied by fervent thanksgiving to the bestower of every good gift, not only for having hitherto protected and preserved the people of these United States in the independent enjoyment of their religious and civil freedom, but also for having prospered them in a wonderful progress of population, and for conferring on them many and great favors conducive to the happiness and prosperity of a nation.