Tag Archives: Religion and Politics

Castagna, “A Bridge across the Ocean: The United States and the Holy See Between the Two World Wars”

This month, the Catholic University of America Press released “A Bridge across the Ocean: The United States and the Holy See Between the Two World Wars” by Luca Castagna (University of Salerno). The publisher’s description follows:

A Bridge across the Ocean focuses on the relations between the United States and the Holy See from the First World War to the eve of the Second, through the combination of American, Italian, and Vatican sources. More than an overall picture of the American and Vatican foreign policy during the first half of the twentieth century, the book analyzes the U.S.-Vatican rapprochement in a multifaceted way, considering both the international and the internal sphere. A Bridge across the Ocean discusses the spread of anti-Catholicism in the United States during the first two decades of the twentieth century, and its repercussions on the American administrations’ behavior during and after the Versailles Conference, together with the changes that occurred in the Holy See’s attitude toward the American church and the White House after the election of Pope Pius XI. Luca Castagna explores the convergence of the New Deal legislation with the church’s social thought, and demonstrates how the partial U.S.-Vatican rapprochement in 1939 resulted from Roosevelt and Pacelli’s common aim to cooperate, as two of the most important and global moral powers in the struggle against Nazi-fascism.

A Bridge across the Ocean deepens our understanding of American and church history during the first half of the twentieth Century, from the church-state relations to the identification of diplomatic strategies and priorities.

Conference: “Liberty and Justice for All” (October 2-5)

The Christian Legal Society will be hosting its national conference, “Liberty and Justice for All,” at the Boston Park Plaza on October 2-5:

Lawyers, law students, professors, judges and friends are invited to join us October 2-5 in Boston. We are excited that we will be hearing from great speakers like Professor Robert George, Dr. Russell Moore, Andy Crouch and John Stonestreet, as well as a wonderful religious liberty panel. And of course, we will continue to offer practical workshops and CLEs covering numerous areas of the law: from estate planning to running a Christian law firm to human trafficking to employment law and ethics, just to name a few.

Details are here

“Family, Religion and Law” (Shah, Foblets & Rohe, eds.)

This past June Ashgate publishing released Family, Religion and Law: Cultural Encounters in Europe, edited by Prakash Shah (Queen Mary University of London), Marie-Claire Foblets (Max Plank Institute for Social Anthropology) and Mathias Rohe (Erlangen-Nurnburg University).  The publisher’s description follows:

PPCspine22mmThis collection discusses how official legal systems do and should respond to the reality of a plurality of family types and origins within their jurisdictions. It further examines the challenges that arise for practitioners, including lawyers and judges, when faced with such plurality. Focussing on empirical research, the volume presents legal and sociological data of unprecedented comparative depth. It also includes a discussion of how members of minority families respond to the need to organise their legal relationships, and to resolve their disputes in the shadow of official legal systems which differ from those of their familial and communal traditions. The work invites reflection, and demonstrates the urgency and complexity of the questions regarding the search for justice in the field of family life in Europe today.

Nedilsky, “Converts to Civil Society”

This month, Baylor University Press released “Converts to Civil Society: Christianity and Political Culture in Contemporary Hong Kong” by Lida V. Nedilsky (North Park University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Converts to Civil SocietyLida V. Nedilsky captures the public ramifications of a personal, Christian faith at the time of Hong Kong’s pivotal political turmoil. From 1997 to 2008, in the much-anticipated reintegration of Hong Kong into Chinese sovereignty, she conducted detailed interviews of more than fifty Hong Kong people and then followed their daily lives, documenting their involvement at the intersection of church and state.

Citizens of Hong Kong enjoy abundant membership options, both social and religious, under Hong Kong’s free market culture. Whether identifying as Catholic or Protestant, or growing up in religious or secular households, Nedilsky’s interviewees share an important characteristic: a story of choosing faith. Across the spheres of family and church, as well as civic organizations and workplaces, Nedilsky shows how individuals break and forge bonds, enter and exit commitments, and transform the public ends of choice itself. From this intimate, firsthand vantage point, Converts to Civil Society reveals that people’s independent movements not only invigorate and shape religious community but also enliven a wider public life.

Rose, “Jewish Philosophical Politics in Germany, 1789-1848″

In August, Brandeis University Press will release “Jewish Philosophical Politics in Germany, 1789-1848″ by Sven-Erik Rose (University of California, Davis). The Publisher’s description follows:

A provocative look at how Jewish intellectuals thought about Jewish religion and existence within a German philosophical tradition 

In this book Rose illuminates the extraordinary creativity of Jewish intellectuals as they reevaluated Judaism with the tools of a German philosophical tradition fast emerging as central to modern intellectual life. While previous work emphasizes the “subversive” dimensions of German-Jewish thought or the “inner antisemitism” of the German philosophical tradition, Rose shows convincingly the tremendous resources German philosophy offered contemporary Jews for thinking about the place of Jews in the wider polity. Offering a fundamental reevaluation of seminal figures and key texts, Rose emphasizes the productive encounter between Jewish intellectuals and German philosophy. He brings to light both the complexity and the ambivalence of reflecting on Jewish identity and politics from within a German tradition that invested tremendous faith in the political efficacy of philosophical thought itself.

“Profane” (Grenda, Beneke, & Nash, eds.)

This month, University of California Press will release Profane: Sacrilegious Expression in a Multicultural Age, edited by Christopher Grenda (Bronx Community College and City University of New York), Chris Beneke (Bentley University), and David Nash (Oxford Brookes University).  The publisher’s description follows:

ProfaneHumans have been uttering profane words and incurring the consequences for millennia. But contemporary events—from the violence in 2006 that followed Danish newspaper cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed to the 2012 furor over the Innocence of Muslims video—indicate that controversy concerning blasphemy has reemerged in explosive transnational form. In an age when electronic media transmit offense as rapidly as profane images and texts can be produced, blasphemy is bracingly relevant again.

In this volume, a distinguished cast of international scholars examines the profound difficulties blasphemy raises for modern societies. Contributors examine how the sacred is formed and maintained, how sacrilegious expression is conceived and regulated, and how the resulting conflicts resist easy adjudication. Their studies range across art, history, politics, law, literature, and theology. Because of the global nature of the problem, the volume’s approach is comparative, examining blasphemy across cultural and geopolitical boundaries.

Sullivan, “A Ministry of Presence”

This September, University of Chicago Press will release A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care, and the Law by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan (Indiana University, Bloomington).  The publishers description follows:

A Ministry of PresenceMost people in the United States today no longer live their lives under the guidance of local institutionalized religious leadership, such as rabbis, ministers, and priests; rather, liberals and conservatives alike have taken charge of their own religious or spiritual practices. This shift, along with other social and cultural changes, has opened up a perhaps surprising space for chaplains—spiritual professionals who usually work with the endorsement of a religious community but do that work away from its immediate hierarchy, ministering in a secular institution, such as a prison, the military, or an airport, to an ever-changing group of clients of widely varying faiths and beliefs.

In A Ministry of Presence, Winnifred Fallers Sullivan explores how chaplaincy works in the United States—and in particular how it sits uneasily at the intersection of law and religion, spiritual care, and government regulation. Responsible for ministering to the wandering souls of the globalized economy, the chaplain works with a clientele often unmarked by a specific religious identity, and does so on behalf of a secular institution, like a hospital. Sullivan’s examination of the sometimes heroic but often deeply ambiguous work yields fascinating insights into contemporary spiritual life, the politics of religious freedom, and the neverending negotiation of religion’s place in American institutional life.

“Christian Faith and Social Justice” (McCracken, ed.)

In June, Bloomsbury Publishing released Christian Faith and Social Justice: Five Views, edited by Vic McCracken (Abilene Christian University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Christian Faith and Social JusticeThe Judeo-Christian tradition testifies to a God that cries out, demanding that justice “roll down like waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). Christians agree that being advocates for justice is critical to the Christian witness. And yet one need not look widely to see that Christians disagree about what social justice entails. What does justice have to do with healthcare reform, illegal immigration, and same-sex marriage? Should Christians support tax policies that effectively require wealthy individuals to fund programs that benefit the poor? Does justice require that we acknowledge and address the inequalities borne out of histories of gender and ethnic exclusivity? Is the Christian vision distinct from non-Christian visions of social justice? Christians disagree over the proper answer to these questions. In short, Christians agree that justice is important but disagree about what a commitment to justice means.

Christian Faith and Social Justice makes sense of the disagreements among Christians over the meaning of justice by bringing together five highly regarded Christian philosophers to introduce and defend rival perspectives on social justice in the Christian tradition. While it aspires to offer a lucid introduction to these theories, the purpose of this book is more than informative. It is purposefully dialogical and is structured so that contributors are able to model for the reader reasoned exchange among philosophers who disagree about the meaning of social justice. The hope is that the reader is left with a better understanding of range of perspectives in the Christian tradition about social justice.

Ndzovuis, “Muslims in Kenyan Politics”

In September, Northwestern University Press will publish Muslims in Kenyan Politics: Political Involvement, Marginalization, and Minority Status by Hassan Ndzovuis (Moi University, Kenya).  The publisher’s description follows:

Muslims in KenyaMuslims in Kenyan Politics explores the changing relationship between Muslims and the state in Kenya from precolonial times to the present, culminating in the radicalization of a section of the Muslim population in recent decades. The politicization of Islam in Kenya is deeply connected with the sense of marginalization that shapes Muslims’ understanding of Kenyan politics and government policies.

Kenya’s Muslim population comprises ethnic Arabs, Indians, and black Africans, and its status has varied historically. Under British rule, an imposed racial hierarchy affected Muslims particularly, thwarting the development of a united political voice. Drawing on a broad range of interviews and historical research, Ndzovu presents a nuanced picture of political associations during the postcolonial period and explores the role of Kenyan Muslims as political actors.

The Necessity of Legal Sacralization

One of the topics of a Libertas Project session concerned the Napoleonmaxim, “Christianity is part of the common law.” There is a fascinating debate between Thomas Jefferson and Joseph Story (both in their unofficial capacities) about the maxim, much of which concerns the accuracy of the translation from the French of the phrase, ancien scripture, as used by a fifteenth century judge named Sir John Prisot (Chief Justice of Common Pleas, as far as I have been able to determine). You can see the debate worked out in this fine volume edited by Professors Daniel Dreisbach and Mark David Hall. The maxim was invoked in 19th century American judicial decisions concerning violations of anti-blasphemy laws as well as Sunday closing laws. But what did the phrase mean, and when did it go out of usage, and why?

In a superb article, When Christianity Was Part of the Common Law, Professor Stuart Banner explores the use and the decline of the maxim. It seems to have been used relatively frequently in judicial decisions of the 19th century, far less frequently in the early 20th, and by mid-century have gone out of usage entirely. Indeed, the last use of the maxim that Banner records is in a 1955 Pennsylvania state court decision that I assign my students in criminal law–Commonwealth v. Mochan–involving a prosecution for “persistent, lewd, immoral, and filthy” phone calls. Banner concludes that the maxim had almost no tangible legal effect on the substance of the 19th century blasphemy and Sunday closing law prosecutions. Those cases were about disturbing the peace in general, not about specific injuries done to Christianity that the law could remedy.

Does this mean that the maxim was functionally useless. Not at all. The maxim did not go to the substance of law, but to its nature. And the fact that the maxim falls out of use in the early twentieth century has as much or more to do with our changing conception of the common law as it does with our changing views about religion. The common law in the older view had an existence independent of the particular statements of judges: it was founded on sources much broader than the positive commands of authorized government functionaries. Those sources, which included Christian sources, sacralized the common law; they rendered it greater and deeper than positive law. One can see this view in a nineteenth century Pennsylvania blasphemy case, Updegraph v. Commonwealth, in which the court said of the common law: “It is not proclaimed by the commanding voice of any human superior, but expressed in the calm and mild accents of customary law.”

What Edmund Burke saw as the political, legal, and constitutional value of establishment is quite similar to the functions that the maxim served in 19th century America. These both were ways in which law was sacralized. The idea was to remind officials that they are subject to a greater power, and that this greater power is founded on and drawn from sources of transcendence outside the law (see also Town of Greece v. Galloway, as I explained here). In the context of the exercise of judicial power, the sacralizing function of the maxim was to reject the claim that judicial will is all that exists. Just as, in Burke’s view, disestablishment destroys the sacralizing power of law, so, too, does the rejection of the maxim desacralize law in the American experience. Here is Banner:

Where the common law has this sort of existence independent of the statements of judges, it can include systems of thought otherwise external to the legal system without causing any tension. If the common law can be found in our architecture, in our dreams, in our manner of speech—and especially in our prerational judgments as to right and wrong—then there is nothing mystical about the notion that the common law incorporates Christianity.

This view of the common law simply died out. We no longer believe that judges discover the common law. We believe that they, and they alone, make it. When judges render a decision, that decision is not–as the old view had it–“the best evidence of the common law” but not itself the common law. The common law just is the judicial will. If judges recognize the doctrines of Christianity as part of the common law, they are making Christianity the law. That is exactly a reason that the maxim would raise Establishment Clause complaints today where in the past it would raise none.

And yet I wonder what fills the void in place of the sacralizing meta-doctrine that Christianity is part of the common law. There are two possibilities. The first is that the modern state is no longer in need of sacralization or consecration at all. We just know better today. This seems to be the view taken by Banner at the conclusion of his piece.

But a second possibility is very different. It posits that all states—and certainly all modern states whose ambit of power is large and ever-increasing—depend on sacralizing credos and maxims. If the maxim that Christianity is part of the common law is dead, other credos reflected in new maxims inevitably must take its place. No state, and especially no state whose jurisdiction is expanding into realms traditionally overseen by other social powers—can long survive without the consecration of its law.