Tag Archives: Public Religion

“Transformations of Religion and the Public Sphere: Postsecular Publics” (Braidotti et al. eds.)

Next month, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Transformations of Religion and the Public Sphere: Postsecular Publics”  edited by Rosi Braidotti (Utrecht University), Bolette Blaagaard (Aalborg University), Tobijn de Graauw (Utrecht University), and Eva Midden (Utrecht University). The publisher’s description follows:

Transformations of Religion and the Public Sphere: Postsecular Publics contributes a counter-discourse to the myth of secularism. This myth is a strongly-held belief, predominantly advocated in the westernised world, that progress and modernity is intimately linked to secular politics and social relations. This book develops a range of critiques of this myth through discussions on the current political, social, and technological conditions in which we find ourselves. It explores the political implications of the myth, as well as exploring postcolonial relations, liberal-secularism and religious sentiments, and the mediated public sphere, with an in-depth focus on the Dutch case. Transformations of Religion and the Public Sphere: Postsecular Publics takes issue with the secular condition and accepted beliefs of its liberal emancipatory foundations.

Conference at KUL (Lublin, Poland): “The Presence of the Cross in the Public Space of the European States”

JPII Catholic UniversityOn November 12-13, the Faculty of Law, Canon Law, and Administration at John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (KUL), along with The Polish Catholic Institute “Sursum Corda,” will be hosting an international conference entitled “The Presence of the Cross in the Public Spaces of the European States.” The conference will discuss the legal approaches taken by the European Union and specific member states of the European Union to the issue of religious symbolism in public spaces.

Details can be found here.

 

Hambler, “Religious Expression in the Workplace and the Contested Role of Law”

In November, Routledge Press will release “Religious Expression in the Workplace and the Contested Role of Law” by Andrew Hambler (University of Wolverhampton, UK). The publisher’s description follows:

The workplace is a key forum in which the issue of religion and its position in the public sphere is under debate. Desires to observe and express religious beliefs in the workplace can introduce conflict between employees and employers. This book addresses the role the law plays in the resolution of these potential conflicts.

The book considers the definition and underlying motives of religious expression, and explores the different ways it may impact the workplace. Andrew Hambler identifies principled responses to workplace religious expression within a liberal state and compares this to the law applying in England and Wales and its interpretation by courts and tribunals. The book determines the extent to which freedom of religious expression for the individual enjoys legal protection in the workplace in England and Wales, and asks whether there is a case for changing the law to strengthen that protection.

The book will be of great use and interest to scholars and students of religion and the law, employment law, and religion and human rights.

“Secularism on the Edge: Rethinking Church-State Relations in the United States, France, and Israel” (Berlinerblau et al., eds.)

In August, Palgrave Macmillan released “Secularism on the Edge: Rethinking Church-State Relations in the United States, France, and Israel” edited by Jacques Berlinerblau (Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University), Sarah Fainberg (Tel Aviv University), and Aurora Nou (graduate student at American University). The publisher’s description follows:

What is secularism, and why does it matter? In an era marked by global religious revival, how do countries navigate the presence of faith in the public square? In this dynamic collection of essays, leading scholars from around the world, including Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua and French female rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, examine the condition of church-state relations in three pivotal countries: the United States, France, and Israel. Their analyses are rooted in a wide variety of disciplines, ranging from ethnography and demography to political science, gender studies, theology, and law.

Prominent among the points addressed are the crippling nomenclatural confusions that have so hampered not only secularism as a political ideology, but secularism as an academic construct. This reader-friendly volume also offers a critical and nuanced look at how women are impacted by secular governance. Though secularism is often equated with modernity and progress, including with regard to gender equality, our contributors find that the truth is infinitely more complicated.

Lynerd, “Republican Theology”

This September, Oxford University Press released “Republican Theology: The Civil Religion of American Evangelicals” by Benjamin T. Lynerd (Roosevelt University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Republican TheologyWhite evangelicals occupy strange property on the ideological map in America, exhibiting a pronounced commitment to the principle of limited government, and yet making a significant exception for issues relating to personal morality – an exception many observers take to be paradoxical at best. Explanations of this phenomenon usually point to the knotty political alliance evangelicals built with free-market types in the late twentieth century, but sermonic evidence suggests a deeper and longer intellectual thread, one that has pervaded evangelical thought all the way back to the American founding.

In Republican Theology, Benjamin Lynerd offers an historical and theological account of the hybrid position evangelicals have long affected to hold in American culture – as champions of individual liberty and as guardians of American morality. Lynerd documents the development of a resilient, if problematic, tradition in American political thought, one that sees a free republic, a virtuous people, and an assertive Christianity as mutually dependent. Situating the recent rise of the “New Right” within this larger framework, Republican Theology traces the contentious political journey of evangelicals from its earliest moments, laying bare the conceptual tensions built into their civil religion.

The Death of the Divine Augustus

blessedToday is the 2000th anniversary of the death of Caesar Augustus. For anyone who has ever seen it, the Divine Augustus will always be associated with Brian Blessed’s portrayal of him (left) in the BBC adaptation of the wonderful Robert Graves novels, I, Claudius and Claudius the God. And so, to commemorate the day, here’s a snippet of dialogue, on a law and religion theme, which captures the charming, cynical urbanity of the series. For those of us nerds of a certain sort, it’s a real guilty pleasure. I’m sure the whole thing is available on Netflix. Watch it — or, better yet, read the books!

[Herod and Augustus are watching a gladiatorial contest.]
Augustus: Herod, what about a little bet? I’ll take the fat one for twenty gold pieces.
Herod: Caesar, it would be against my religion to bet on the life of a man.
Augustus: Oh, really? I would have thought it against your religion to bet on anything.
Herod: Caesar, it’s true: Jews love gambling. But we fear our god more.
Augustus: Which one?
Herod: We have only one, Caesar.
Augustus: I’ve never understood that, it’s quite insufficient. Why don’t you take some of our gods? You know, plenty of people do.
Herod: Believe me, Caesar, the one we have is hard enough to live with.

 

 

Hamilton’s Religion, and Ours

A Complicated Man

This past weekend was the 210th anniversary of the death of Alexander Hamilton in a duel with Aaron Burr. Commemorations took place around New York City–at the Weehawken, New Jersey dueling site; at Hamilton’s home in upper Manhattan, recently restored and relocated in St. Nicholas Park; and at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, where Burr, who somehow survived the scandal, later married his wealthy second wife. Commemorations conclude this afternoon with a ceremony at Hamilton’s grave in Trinity Churchyard.

Hamilton was a complicated man–brilliant, handsome, charming, visionary; but also reckless, prideful, and a schemer. He had remarkable achievements. He attended the Constitutional Convention and wrote most of the Federalist Papers, including Number 78, on the judiciary; he established the finances of the United States as first Secretary of the Treasury; he founded a nationalist, commercial conservatism that survives to this day. Although this is somewhat less known, he also wrote one of the most important texts on the place of religion in American public life.

Most people know the story of his duel with Burr, the sitting Vice President, which took place on the morning of July 11, 1804. Burr challenged Hamilton after reading some disparaging remarks Hamilton allegedly had made about him during a gubernatorial election. Hamilton could have avoided the duel, had he wanted. But he chose not to, inflaming the situation with his lawerly, evasive answers to Burr’s questions. He told friends before the duel that he did not intend to shoot Burr, and indeed his bullet that morning drifted harmlessly into the trees. Perhaps he expected Burr to act the same way. Duels often ended with both parties wasting their shots.

Some historians believe, though, that Hamilton no longer cared much about living. He was approaching 50 and his political career was over, largely as a result of his own unsuccessful machinations. “Every day proves to me more and more,” he wrote Gouverneur Morris in 1802, “that this American world was not made for me.” He was heavily in debt. And he was shattered by the death of his son, Philip, in a duel two years before–defending his father’s honor, at that same Weehawken dueling ground, with the very pistols Hamilton selected for his own duel with Burr. Did Hamilton court death that July morning? Who knows? In any event, Burr shot to kill and hit his target. Hamilton lingered for a while in agony and died, back in New York, the next day.

But about Hamilton and American religion. Even after he left the Cabinet in 1795, Hamilton continued to advise President George Washington, who was a father figure to him. As Washington’s retirement neared in 1796, he asked Hamilton for help with his Farewell Address, and Hamilton prepared a draft. The ideas were Washington’s own. But the words were Hamilton’s.

One famous section of the Farewell Address relates to the proper place of religion in public life:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

How very American this is. Note the generic reference to “religion,” as opposed to Christianity. From the beginning, American public religion has had a non-sectarian cast. Most Americans in 1796 were Christians, as most are today. Most would have understood the reference to religion to mean the Christian religion. But our public expression of religion typically avoids expressly Christian imagery. In part this reflects the Deism of many of the Founders. But it also reflects an Evangelical faith that is comfortable with biblical non-sectarianism. In America, religious conservatives demand public display of the Ten Commandments. In Europe, they demand public display of the crucifix.

Note, too, the practicality of Hamilton’s appeal. Why is religion important? Because it’s true? Because people need salvation? No–it’s because of the pragmatic benefits religion provides, benefits even the “mere politician” can understand. To work properly, republicanism requires citizens to be moral; and to be moral, citizens require religion. To be sure, every now and then, one might find an exceptional person who is moral without religion. But that can never be true for most people. And it doesn’t matter what the religion is. This, too, is very American. As a twentieth-century American president famously remarked, “Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

640px-Alexander_Hamilton_Grave

Hamilton’s Grave, Trinity Churchyard

Hamilton’s own faith ebbed and flowed. As a young man, he was a pious Christian. His college roommate remembers him praying every morning and evening. But he leaned toward Deism as he matured. Indeed, he appears to have been a bit of a scoffer. When someone asked him why the Constitution failed to mention God, he famously joked, “We forgot.” Later in life, though, he appears to have returned to his boyhood Christianity, dismayed, as many American conservatives were, by the anti-Christianity of the French Revolution. Two years before he died, he proposed a Christian Constitutional Society to counter Jacobinism in the United States. Perhaps he was thinking as a “mere politician.” But on his deathbed, he requested, and received, Communion.

A Christian Country

Not a Hater

It used to be the case that Americans referred unselfconsciously to their country as “a Christian nation.” The phrase had multiple meanings. A few speakers, no doubt, used it as a taunt: non-Christians (which, for many, would have meant non-Protestants) should keep quiet or get out. Others used the phrase to indicate that Christianity, in a general way, informed American law and government. That’s what Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story meant, for example, when he wrote that Christianity was part of the common law. Still others used the phrase in a theological sense: America was the New Zion, Chosen of God.

But most people throughout our history have used “Christian nation” in a milder, less formal way. When they called America a Christian nation, they referred to the obvious fact that the vast majority of Americans were Christian, and to the equally obvious fact that Christianity had shaped American society and culture: its traditions, ethics, educational and charitable institutions, art and commerce. They meant that Christianity was deeply embedded in American life–and that it was a good thing, too.

In this looser sense, to say that America is a Christian nation remains true today, almost trivially so. The large majority of Americans are still Christian, something like 80% in a recent Pew Survey. In fact, as countries go, America is not especially diverse, religiously. Many Asian countries are much more so. Christianity continues to shape American culture–less and less, in our secular age, but still. And Christianity continues to benefit American society in terms of the schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, and many other charitable works it sponsors.

Notwithstanding all this, it’s hard to imagine an American leader using the phrase “Christian nation” today. That’s perhaps wise. Some people would think such a statement deliberately provocative and insensitive to non-Christians, whose contributions to American life are enormous. The grievance industry would get to work exaggerating the offense. Pundits and professors would tweet self-righteously about bigotry and  exclusion. Cable news channels would run special reports. It would be a mess.

Something like this is happening in Britain right now. Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech in which he referred to Britain as “a Christian country.” Mind you, Britain has a state church and no fewer that three crosses on the national flag. Its monarch is a religious figure, the Defender of the Faith. In such a context, you’d think the Prime Minister’s comments would pass without notice. But they have sparked a very loud protest. Prominent atheists have accused Cameron of fostering “alienation and division.” Besides, the protesters say, Cameron is simply wrong. In terms of religious observance, contemporary Britain is not a Christian place–and it’s a good thing, too.

The protest is a huge overreaction. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said it very well:

[T]he Prime Minister and other members of the Government have not said anything very controversial. It is a historical fact (perhaps unwelcome to some, but true) that our main systems of ethics, the way we do law and justice, the values of society, how we decide what is fair, the protection of the poor, and most of the way we look at society . . .  All have been shaped by and founded on Christianity. Add to that the foundation of many hospitals, the system of universal schooling, the presence of chaplains in prisons, and one could go on a long time. Then there is the literature, visual art, music and culture that have formed our understandings of beauty and worth since Anglo Saxon days.

It is clear that, in the general sense of being founded in Christian faith, this is a Christian country. It is certainly not in terms of regular churchgoing, although altogether, across different denominations, some millions attend church services each week. Others of different backgrounds have also positively shaped our common heritage. But the language of what we are, what we care for and how we act is earthed in Christianity, and would remain so for many years even if the number of believers dropped out of sight (which they won’t, in my opinion).

Political leaders, as well as everyone else, should avoid saying hateful things or disparaging minority religions. In a pluralistic society, everyone should be treated with respect. But it is not disparagement to point out obvious truths about a nation’s religious heritage, or to acknowledge the benefits that heritage continues to have. Referring to Britain–or America, for that matter–as a Christian country doesn’t make the speaker a hater.

Photo from the BBC

Barack Obama and the Politics of the Nones

She means it as a compliment. At OnFaith, author Diana Butler Bass writes that President Barack Obama is reinventing American civil religion for the spiritual-but-not-religious age. It is “obvious,” she writes, “that the God of Obama’s public speech is not the God of previous presidents.” He has “moved beyond specifically biblical images and language toward a broader set of spiritual themes to speak to for a diverse American future.”

To illustrate, Bass offers the president’s use of the term “journey” in his second inaugural address. Journey, she explains, “is not only a biblical image”:

It is a central theme to many faiths: the Buddhist seeking enlightenment; a Native American on a vision quest; a Muslim embarked on the Hajj; a Jew hoping for “next year in Jerusalem” at Passover; a Catholic visiting a shrine; a Protestant tracing the footsteps of Martin Luther; a Wiccan making a way to Stonehenge; a humanist celebrating Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. We are a nation of spiritual migrants and immigrants, a restless sort of people, on innumerable sojourns paying homage to our saints and heroes, always searching out new meaning in the universe we inhabit. . . .

President Obama proposed … a journey toward a deep realization of community, prosperity, mutual care, stewardship of the Earth, peacemaking, and human rights. These six ideals form an American creed, the fundamental aspects of the democratic project. Each one of these could be interpreted as Christian or Jewish (as they have traditionally been) or could be much more widely understood through other religious perspectives. The address ended with a call to action: Serve the poor, have hope in the future, renew your hearts. Make new the nation’s ancient covenant of justice and equality in this uncertain world. Create a new American future.

Bass writes that future historians may well see President Obama’s redefinition of our civil religion–what she calls his “innovative form of pluralistic post-religious civil discourse”–as one of his “greatest achievements.” I assume she’s not being ironic.

It’s easy to chuckle at Bass’s earnest enthusiasm, but she may be onto something. America is now, and will for the foreseeable future remain, an overwhelmingly Christian nation. That’s just demography. The percentage of Americans who adhere to non-Christian religions, although growing, remains very small. But, since around 1990, there has been a large increase in people who claim no religious identity at all–the so-called “Nones.” By some accounts, Nones now make up about 20% of the general population and about 30% of young Americans. These are dramatic numbers, indeed.

The sort of all-inclusive, vaguely spiritual language Bass cites seems crafted to appeal to Nones. Surveys show that Nones don’t object to spirituality as such. Rather, they object to organized religions, especially organized religions that make exclusive truth claims. So the president’s language may reflect a recognition of a new force in American politics. If the evangelical imagery of George W. Bush was, as critics complained, a kind of dog whistle to call out his base, perhaps the New Age imagery of Barack Obama is a kind of dog whistle to call out his. It seems to be working. According to Bass, in the 2012 election, Nones overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama.

REMINDER: Register for the 2014 Lumen Christi Conference!

Just a gentle reminder that the 2014 Conference on Christian Legal Thought is only a few weeks away! The conference is sponsored by the Lumen Christi Institute at the University of Chicago and the Law Professors Christian Fellowship and occurs in conjunction with the annual AALS meeting, which is being held in Manhattan this year. This year’s conference celebrates the life and thought of Professor Jean Bethke Elshtain and explores the theme of public engagement with law and religion. It’s a topic that should be of broad interest in this period of great ferment in the field.

The schedule is below. Please register here!

Friday, January 3, 2014, 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm

The University Club

One West 54th Street, New York, NY 10019

Conference Topic: Public Engagement With Law and Religion: A Conference in Honor of Jean Bethke Elshtain

Noon: Registration, Luncheon, and Opening Remarks

1:15 pm – 2:45 pm: Session One. Public Engagement With Law and Religion: The Thought of Jean Bethke Elshtain

Chair: Zachary R. Calo (Valparaiso University School of Law)

* Thomas C. Berg (University of St. Thomas School of Law)

* Eric Gregory (Princeton University, Department of Religion)

* Charles Mathewes (University of Virginia, Department of Religious Studies)

2:45 pm – 3:00 pm: Coffee Break

3:00 pm – 4:30 pm. Session Two. Public Engagement With Law and Religion: Journalistic Perspectives

Chair: Marc O. DeGirolami (St. John’s University School of Law)

* Matthew Boudway (Associate Editor, Commonweal)

* Susannah Meadows (Contributor, New York Times)

* Rusty R. Reno (Editor, First Things)

4:45 PM – 5:15 pm: Vespers

5:15 pm: Reception