French & Nathan (eds.), Buddhism and Law: An Introduction

This June, Cambridge University Press will publish Buddhism and Law: An Introduction edited by Rebecca Redwood French (SUNY Buffalo) and Mark A. Nathan (SUNY Buffalo). The publisher’s description follows.buddhism

As the first comprehensive study of Buddhism and law in Asia, this interdisciplinary volume challenges the concept of Buddhism as an apolitical religion without implications for law. Buddhism and Law draws on the expertise of the foremost scholars in Buddhist studies and in law to trace the legal aspects of the religion from the time of the Buddha to the present. In some cases, Buddhism provided the crucial architecture for legal ideologies and secular law codes, while in other cases it had to contend with a preexisting legal system, to which it added a new layer of complexity. The wide-ranging studies in this book reveal a diversity of relationships between Buddhist monastic codes and secular legal systems in terms of substantive rules, factoring, and ritual practices. This volume will be an essential resource for all students and teachers in Buddhist studies, law and religion, and comparative law.

Kanarek, “Biblical Narrative and the Formation of Rabbinic Law”

This June, Cambridge University Press will publish Biblical Narrative and the Formation of Rabbinic Law by Jane L. Kanarek (Hebrew College). The publisher’s description follows.biblical

This book presents a new framework for understanding the relationship between biblical narrative and rabbinic law. Drawing on legal theory and models of rabbinic exegesis, Jane L. Kanarek argues for the centrality of biblical narrative in the formation of rabbinic law. Through close readings of selected Talmudic and midrashic texts, Kanarek demonstrates that rabbinic legal readings of narrative scripture are best understood through the framework of a referential exegetical web. She shows that law should be viewed as both prescriptive of normative behavior and as a meaning-making enterprise. By explicating the hermeneutical processes through which biblical narratives become resources for legal norms, this book transforms our understanding of the relationship of law and narrative as well as the ways in which scripture becomes a rabbinic document that conveys legal authority and meaning.

Machiavelli’s Civil Religion

This review by Professor Cary Nederman of Professor Maurizio Viroli’s Redeeming the Prince: The Meaning of Machiavelli’s Masterpiece is very interesting (h/t Matt Lister). I have not read Viroli’s book yet (saving it for the summer!), but his reading of Machiavelli–and in particular his interpretation of the famously perplexing Chapter 26 (“Exhortatio ad capessendam Italiam in liberatemque a barbaris vindicandam”)–makes a fine textualist case for a kind of civil religion in his work. Here, Machiavelli pleads for an Italian redeemer who–”favorita da Dio e dalla Chiesa” (“favored by God and the Church”)–will deliver Italy from its present troubles. The troubles are pretty bad: “sanza capo, sanza ordine, battuta, spogliata, lacera, corsa, e avessi sopportato d’ogni sorte ruina” (“without a head, without order, beaten, denuded, wounded, run down, and having sustained all manner of ruin”). Here’s a bit from the review concerning what Machiavelli had in mind concerning the divine agent who would unify Italy and redeem its national promise:

In contrast to most scholars, for whom Chapter 26 cannot be reconciled with the previous body of the text, Viroli insists that Machiavelli’s “Exhortation” represents the very crescendo of The Prince. How does Viroli arrive at such an unconventional reading?….His overarching insight, I take it, is that we ought to take Machiavelli at his word when he speaks of religious matters and, in particular, mentions the workings of God. The prevailing tendency, of course, has been to dismiss such references as reflective of either his impiety or his wicked sense of humor. On this important point, I believe Viroli to be largely correct. Scholars have all-too-often filtered their readings of Machiavelli through a set of preconceived notions or impressions of what they assume he was saying, according to his longstanding reputation, rather than what the text actually states. This does not mean that Machiavelli’s political thought lacks an underlying agenda, but rather that we must always commence our investigations by taking the words he wrote seriously and at face value….

In particular, Machiavelli’s invocation of prophetic wording in Chapter 26, according to Viroli, reflects the overarching purpose of The Prince: the call for a redeemer, presumably Lorenzo de’ Medici, to unify Italy in order to remove the foreign elements that have dominated its politics. Machiavelli says that such a redeemer is sanctioned by God, who has rendered the moment propitious for such action. Viroli insists that we must take Machiavelli at his word in this regard, rather than dismissing it as incompatible with the general message of The Prince.

That supposed “general message” helps us to grasp the sense in which Machiavelli may be characterized as a realist for Viroli. Specifically, Viroli asserts that Machiavelli adopts the stance of a “realist with imagination.” By this he means that Machiavelli perfectly well understood the situation of Italy as it existed in his own day; this is his “realist” dimension. Yet he posits that Machiavelli was also engaged in an imaginative way to change such reality by promoting a savior, a redeemer, capable of instituting the reforms necessary to transform the realities of his day. On Viroli’s account, Machiavelli pursued this agenda by mythologizing the great men of bygone times as well as some of his contemporaries. Thus, he mythologizes the redeemers whom he lauds in Chapters 6 and 26 — such as Moses, Cyrus and Theseus — as well as recent political figures such as Caterina Sforza and (especially) Cesare Borgia, both of whom he had encountered during his days in the Florentine civil service. Their deeds are transformed by him without regard to their actual behavior, for which Machiavelli has no use. Machiavelli’s realism, then, is not confined to an effort to analyze and explain political events and personalities, past and present, in the manner of a political scientist. Rather, he renders his favored subjects larger than life, with the purpose of exhorting the redeemer to aim at their example, even if he falls short.

Quote for the Day

On the spread of American pop culture across the globe:

[S]ince the Internet ensures that barriers are transgressed with impunity, the lowest forms of human life will in due course dominate the screen in every living room, and the blame for this will fall squarely on America. Of course, that will be unjust. The blame for watching destructive images falls on the person watching them. The problem is that people are sorely tempted beings, unable to protect themselves from their own worst desires without the help of a culture that backs up their efforts.

Roger Scruton, Pop Imperialism.

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.”

How Do You Say “Nones” in French?

From a French post describing my work on the Nones:

Est-il important de donner une définition au mot “religion”? Mark Movsesian, professeur de Droit à l’Université St. John a récemment publié un article sur la montée de la population des “Sans”, ces Américains qui se déclarent sans appartenance religieuse. Selon certaines évaluations, ils seraient 20% des adultes et, parmi les “millénaristes”, atteindraient 30%.

So it’s “les Sans.” I’d have thought it was “les Riens,” or maybe “les Aucuns.” Que sais-je? You can read the whole post in French here.

Rubin, “Islam in the Balance”

Next month, Stanford University Press will publish Islam in the Balance: Ideational Threats in Arab Politics by Lawrence Rubin (Georgia Institute of Islam in the BalanceTechnology).  The publisher’s description follows.

Islam in the Balance: Ideational Threats in Arab Politics is an analysis of how ideas, or political ideology, can threaten states and how states react to ideational threats. It examines the threat perception and policies of two Arab, Muslim majority states, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in response to the rise and activities of two revolutionary “Islamic states,” established in Iran (1979) and Sudan (1989).

Using these comparative case studies the book provides important insight about the role of religious ideology for the international and domestic politics of the Middle East and, in doing so, advances our understanding of how, why, and when ideology affects threat perception and state policy.

Rubin makes clear that transnational ideologies may present a greater and more immediate national security threat than shifts in the military balance of power: first because ideology, or ideational power, triggers threat perception and affects state policy; second because states engage in ideational balancing in response to an ideological threat.

The book has significant implications for international relations theory and engages important debates in comparative politics about authoritarianism and Islamic activism. Its findings about how an Islamist regime or state behaves will provide vital insight for policy creation by the US and its Middle East allies should another such regime or state emerge.

Shah,”The Army and Democracy”

This month, Harvard University Press publishes The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan by Aqil Shah (Princeton University).  The the army and democracypublisher’s description follows.

Since Pakistan gained independence in 1947, only once has an elected government completed its tenure and peacefully transferred power to another elected government. In sharp contrast to neighboring India, the Muslim nation has been ruled by its military for over three decades. Even when they were not directly in control of the government, the armed forces maintained a firm grip on national politics. How the military became Pakistan’s foremost power elite and what its unchecked authority means for the future of this nuclear-armed nation are among the crucial questions Aqil Shah takes up in The Army and Democracy.

Pakistan’s and India’s armies inherited their organization, training, and doctrines from their British predecessor, along with an ethic that regarded politics as outside the military domain. But Pakistan’s weak national solidarity, exacerbated by a mentality that saw war with India looming around every corner, empowered the military to take national security and ultimately government into its own hands. As the military’s habit of disrupting the natural course of politics gained strength over time, it arrested the development of democratic institutions.

Based on archival materials, internal military documents, and over 100 interviews with politicians, civil servants, and Pakistani officers, including four service chiefs and three heads of the clandestine Inter-Services Intelligence, The Army and Democracy provides insight into the military’s contentious relationship with Pakistan’s civilian government. Shah identifies steps for reforming Pakistan’s armed forces and reducing its interference in politics, and sees lessons for fragile democracies striving to bring the military under civilian control.

Corey on DeGirolami on Religious Freedom

In the University Bookman, Baylor’s Elizabeth Corey has a nice review of Marc’s book, The Tragedy of Religious Freedom:

DeGirolami suggests an alternative way of thinking about the conflicts inherent in religious liberty jurisprudence. He calls this the “tragic” approach. It shares with the extreme skeptics a doubt about the efficacy of theory as a magic bullet for solving real-world disputes. But it also agrees with the comic monist assumption that abstractions—equality, neutrality, noncoercion—are not empty of meaning but rather can be emblems of important values that law aims to protect….

The book merits a much more in-depth treatment than I can give it here. But perhaps what is most striking about it is its appreciation for theory—indeed, the whole work is an assessment of the value of theorizing—that is simultaneously grounded in the concrete and particular: case law. At once philosophical and practical, this book is a must-read for anyone who cares about religious freedom.

Read the whole review here.

Around the Web This Week

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