Around the Web this Week

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

Removing Christmas (and Everything Else) from the School Calendar

Here’s a lesson in how to irritate everybody. Last week, the Board of Education in Montgomery County, Maryland, a wealthy suburb of Washington, DC, voted to remove references to religious holidays from its public school calendar. Starting next year, students will have off for “Winter Break” rather than Christmas, “Spring Break” rather than Easter, and two unnamed holidays rather than Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The decision came after a Muslim group requested that schools also close for a Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha. Rather than declare Eid a holiday, the board decided to remove religious references altogether.

The board apparently believed that retaining the names of religious holidays is constitutionally problematic. That is not so. Naming school holidays after widely celebrated religious observances does not violate any of Supreme Court’s many Establishment Clause tests, even the so-called endorsement test. Consider Christmas, for example. Closing on December 25 does not endorse the religious meaning of the holiday. It simply acknowledges the fact that most students and staff would stay home. And as everybody, including the state and federal governments, refers to the holiday as Christmas, it’s natural for the school calendar to do the same. In fact, expunging the word “Christmas,” after it has been in the calendar for so long, suggests hostility to the religious meaning of the holiday. Such a suggestion itself creates problems under the endorsement test.

What about the fact that the schools recognize the holidays of some religions, but not others? Doesn’t that suggest hostility for religions the schools ignore? Obviously some Montgomery Country Muslims took it that way, and one must respect their feelings. But there’s a very good administrative reason why Montgomery County schools don’t close on Eid. Only about 1% of the county’s population is Muslim. There are simply not enough Muslim students and staff to justify closing the schools–just as there are not enough Hindus to justify closing schools on Hindu holidays, or Buddhists to justify closing schools on Buddhist holidays. That’s not a reflection of disrespect for those religions, but an acknowledgement of demographic reality. It’s worth noting that the Montgomery County schools excuse absences for Muslims who observe Eid.

I could explain why the other Establishment Clause tests also would allow schools to close for some religious holidays but not others, but there’s no point belaboring things. The Constitution does not require what the board did. But the board’s decision is worse than wrong; it’s pernicious. Striking the names of religious holidays has only served to create religious conflict. Many Christians and Jews have expressed dismay, as has the Muslim organization that requested the Eid holiday in the first place. That organization now worries, not implausibly, that angry parents and students will blame Muslims for the board’s decision. That would be unfair. The organization didn’t ask the board to rename these other holidays; that was entirely the board’s doing. But many people will ignore that fact.

In a pluralistic society like ours, respect is a crucial value. Respect for religious traditions other than one’s own promotes harmony and social peace. But recognizing a religious holiday that many students and staff observe doesn’t express disrespect for other religions, and the board’s decision to rename Christmas–as well as the other holidays–has done nothing to promote religious harmony. The board has created an entirely unnecessary, uncomfortable situation in which everyone feels aggrieved. One could hardly call that progress.

Kerstetter, “Inspiration and Innovation”

This January, Wiley Publishing will release “Inspiration and Innovation: Religion in the American West” by Todd M. Kerstetter (Texas Christian University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Inspiration and InnovationCovering more than 200 years of history from pre-contact to the present, this textbook places religion at the center of the history of the American West, examining the relationship between religion and the region and their influence on one another.

  • A comprehensive examination of the relationship between religion and the American West and their influence on each other over the course of more than 200 years
  • Discusses diverse groups of people, places, and events that played an important historical role, from organized religion and easily recognized denominations to unorganized religion and cults
  • Provides straightforward explanations of key religious and theological terms and concepts
  • Weaves discussion of American Indian religion throughout the text and presents it in dialogue with other groups
  • Enriches our understanding of American history by examining key factors outside of traditional political, economic, social, and cultural domains

Den Hartog, “Patriotism and Piety”

This January, University of Virginia Press will release “Patriotism and Piety: Federalist Politics and Religious Struggle in the New American Nation” by Jonathan J. Den Hartog (University of Northwestern, St. Paul).  The publisher’s description follows:

Patriotism and PietyIn Patriotism and Piety, Jonathan Den Hartog argues that the question of how religion would function in American society was decided in the decades after the Constitution and First Amendment established a legal framework. Den Hartog shows that among the wide array of politicians and public figures struggling to define religion’s place in the new nation, Federalists stood out—evolving religious attitudes were central to Federalism, and the encounter with Federalism strongly shaped American Christianity.

Den Hartog describes the Federalist appropriations of religion as passing through three stages: a “republican” phase of easy cooperation inherited from the experience of the American Revolution; a “combative” phase, forged during the political battles of the 1790s–1800s, when the destiny of the republic was hotly contested; and a “voluntarist” phase that grew in importance after 1800. Faith became more individualistic and issue-oriented as a result of the actions of religious Federalists.

Religious impulses fueled party activism and informed governance, but the redirection of religious energies into voluntary societies sapped party momentum, and religious differences led to intraparty splits. These developments altered not only the Federalist Party but also the practice and perception of religion in America, as Federalist insights helped to create voluntary, national organizations in which Americans could practice their faith in interdenominational settings.

Patriotism and Piety focuses on the experiences and challenges confronted by a number of Federalists, from well-known leaders such as John Adams, John Jay, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and Timothy Dwight to lesser-known but still important figures such as Caleb Strong, Elias Boudinot, and William Jay.

Lopes, “Tibetan Buddhism in Diaspora: Cultural Re-signification in Practice and Institutions”

In December, Routledge Press will release “Tibetan Buddhism in Diaspora: Cultural Re-signification in Practice and Institutions” by Ana Cristina O. Lopes (University of São Paulo). The publisher’s description follows:

The imperialist ambitions of China – which invaded Tibet in the late 1940s – have sparked the spectacular spread of Tibetan Buddhism worldwide, and especially in western countries. This work is a study on the malleability of a particular Buddhist tradition; on its adaptability in new contexts.

The book analyses the nature of the Tibetan Buddhism in the Diaspora. It examines how the re-signification of Tibetan Buddhist practices and organizational structures in the present refers back to the dismantlement of the Tibetan state headed by the Dalai Lama and the fragmentation of Tibetan Buddhist religious organizations in general. It includes extensive multi-sited fieldwork conducted in the United States, Brazil, Europe, and Asia and a detailed analysis of contemporary documents relating to the global spread of Tibetan Buddhism. The author demonstrates that there is a “de-institutionalized” and “de-territorialized” project of political power and religious organization, which, among several other consequences, engenders the gradual “autonomization” of lamas and lineages inside the religious field of Tibetan Buddhism. Thus, a spectre of these previous institutions continues to exist outside their original contexts, and they are continually activated in ever-new settings.

Using a combination of two different academic traditions – namely, the Brazilian anthropological tradition and the American Buddhist studies tradition – it investigates the “process of cultural re-signification” of Tibetan Buddhism in the context of its Diaspora. Thus, it will be a valuable resource to students and scholars of Asian Religion, Asian Studies and Buddhism.

 

“Armenian Christianity Today: Identity Politics and Popular Practice” (Agadjanian, ed.)

Last month, Ashgate Publishing released Armenian Christianity Today: Identity Politics and Popular Practice, edited by Alexander Agadjanian (Russian State University for the Humanities). The publisher’s description follows:

Armenian Christianity Today examines contemporary religious life and the social, political, and cultural functions of religion in the post-Soviet Republic of Armenia and in the Armenian Diaspora worldwide. Scholars from a range of countries and disciplines explore current trends and everyday religiosity, particularly within the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC), and amongst Armenian Catholics, Protestants and vernacular religions.

Themes examined include: Armenian grass-roots religiosity; the changing forms of regular worship and devotion; various types of congregational life; and the dynamics of social composition of both the clergy and lay believers. Exploring through the lens of Armenia, this book considers wider implications of ‘postsecular’ trends in the role of global religion.

 

Call for Papers: State Neutrality, Religion, and Private Enterprises

The Université Catholique de Louvain is soliciting papers for its upcoming conference “State Neutrality, Religion, and Private Enterprises.”  A description of the conference follows:

Debates on the social responsibility of businesses raise the question of the universalist or particularist nature of the ethics upheld by private legal institutions, ethics which may be legitimized or delegitimized by social practices, but also validated and invalidated by constitutional laws or anti-discriminatory legislations. Indeed, if secular States have separated themselves from Churches and cannot be directly involved in religious affairs, it is also because they are secular, and the necessity to protect fundamental rights imposes itself on them so that they become, in turn, involved with the religious sphere, of which they will appoint themselves as interpreters, and that, with respect to the values which are present, often in opposition, in a society. In this thematic session we will question how the sphere of the social responsibility of enterprises confront secular States and their institutions, in particular tribunals, to new ethical and religious resources, thus renewing the question of their interpretation. This reflection on the confrontation of tribunals to particularist ethics in the sphere of private enterprise management will be laid out on the basis of theoretical and empirical research so as to facilitate dialogue between legal constraints and the critical resources of the field of the sociology of religion and social ethics. A re-evaluation of the doctrinal and theological tenets of the evoked ethical referents will permit not only a critical assessment of the data submitted to tribunals in cases of litigation, but will also provide an opening to more efficient modes of interaction, within the boundaries of common law, and of more relevant approaches to mediation, with the contextual data.

Paper proposals should be submitted no later than December 15, 2014 and should be submitted via the online form provided here.  Any questions can be directed to Louis-Léon Christians (Université Catholique de Louvain) at louis-leon.christians@uclouvain.be or to David Koussens (Université de Sherbrooke) at david.koussens@usherbrooke.ca.

Bradley, “Unquiet Americans”

This January, St. Augustine’s Press will release “Unquiet Americans: U.S. Catholics and America’s Common Good” by Gerard Bradley (Co-Director of the Natural Law Institute).  The publisher’s description follows:

Unquiet AmericansBefore the Second Vatican Council, America’s Catholics operated largely as a coherent voting bloc, usually in connection with the Democratic Party. Their episcopal leaders generally spoke for Catholics in political matters; at least, where America’s bishops asserted themselves in public affairs there was little audible dissent from the faithful.

More than occasionally, the immigrant Church’s eagerness to demonstrate its patriotic bona fides furthered its tendency to speak with one voice about national matters, and in line with the broader societal consensus. And, notwithstanding the considerable conflict which Catholics encountered, and generated, in American political life, there was before the Council broad agreement in American culture about the centrality of Biblical morality to the success of Americans’ experiment with republican government.

In other words: before the Council, American Catholics’ relationship to the political common good was mediated, somewhat uncritical, and insulated from conflict (both within and without the Church) over such fundamental matters as protection of innocent life, marriage and family life, and (to a lesser extent) religious liberty.

This has all changed since the mid-1960s. For the first time in the Church’s pilgrimage on these shores, controversial questions about the basic moral requirements of the political common good are front and center for America’s Catholics. These questions require Catholics to confront matters which heretofore they either took for granted, read off from the background culture, or which they left to the bishops to handle. But the Council Fathers rightly recognized that Jesus calls upon a formed and informed laity to act as leaven in the public realm, to bring Gospel values to the temporal sphere. In this book of essays touching upon Catholic social doctrine, the truth about human equality and political liberty, and religious faith as it bears upon public life and the public engagement of lay Catholics, Gerard Bradley supplies indispensable aid to those seeking to answer Jesus’ call.

Gold, “Provincial Hinduism”

This January, Oxford University Press will release “Provincial Hinduism: Religion and Community in Gwalior City” by Daniel Gold (Cornell University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Provincial HinduismProvincial Hinduism explores intersecting religious worlds in an ordinary Indian city that remains close to its traditional roots, while bearing witness to the impact of globalization. Daniel Gold looks at modern religious life in the central Indian city of Gwalior, drawing attention to the often complex religious sensibilities behind ordinary Hindu practice. Gold describes temples of different types, their legendary histories, and the people who patronize them. He also explores the attraction of Sufi shrines for many Gwalior Hindus. Delicate issues of socioreligious identity are highlighted through an examination of neighbors living together in a locality mixed in religion, caste, and class. Pursuing issues of community and identity, Gold turns to Gwalior’s Maharashtrians and Sindhis, groups with roots in other parts of the subcontinent that have settled in the city for generations. These groups function as internal diasporas, organizing in different ways and making distinctive contributions to local religious life. The book concludes with a focus on new religious institutions invoking nineteenth-century innovators: three religious service organizations inspired by the great Swami Vivekenanda, and two contemporary guru-centered groups tracing lineages to Radhasoami Maharaj of Agra.

Gold offers the first book-length study to analyze religious life in an ordinary, midsized Indian city, and in so doing has created an invaluable resource for scholars of contemporary Indian religion, culture, and society.

Oliver, “Hinduism and the 1960s: The Rise of a Counter-culture”

In January, Bloomsbury Publishing will release “Hinduism and the 1960s: The Rise of a Counter-culture” by Paul Oliver (University of Huddersfield, UK). The publisher’s description follows:

The West has drawn upon Hinduism on a wide scale, from hatha yoga and meditation techniques, to popular culture in music and fashion, yet the contribution of Hinduism to the counter-culture of the 1960s has not been analysed in full.

Hinduism and the 1960s looks at the youth culture of the 1960s and early 1970s, and the way in which it was influenced by Hinduism and Indian culture. It examines the origins of the 1960s counter-culture in the Beat movement of the 1950s, and their interest in Eastern religion, notably Zen. When the Beatles visited India to study transcendental meditation, there was a rapid expansion in interest in Hinduism. Young people were already heading east on the so-called ‘Hippie Trail’, looking for spiritual enlightenment and an escape from the material lifestyle of the West. Paul Oliver examines the lifestyle which they adopted, from living in ashrams to experimenting with drugs, sexual liberation, ayurvedic medicine and yoga.

This engaging book analyses the interaction between Hinduism and the West, and the way in which each affected the other. It demonstrates the ways in which contemporary Western society has learned from the ancient religion of Hinduism, and incorporated such teachings as yoga, meditation and a natural holistic lifestyle, into daily life. Each chapter contains a summary and further reading guidance, and a glossary is included at the end of the book, making this ideal reading for courses on Hinduism, Indian religions, and religion and popular culture.