Tag Archives: Religion and Society

Why Protect Religion?

Tocqueville understood

A growing number of legal scholars question whether a justification exists for protecting religion as its own category. Yes, the text of the First Amendment refers specifically to religion, they concede, but that’s an anachronism. As a matter of principle, religion as such doesn’t merit legal protection. Instead, the law should protect individual conscience, or private associations generally. In fact, it’s not just scholars. In the ministerial exception case a couple of years ago, the Obama Administration argued that the Religion Clauses did not even apply and that the Court should decide the case under more general associational freedom principles.

The Justices unanimously dismissed the Obama Administration’s argument in Hosanna-Tabor, and there seems little chance the Roberts Court will read the Religion Clauses out of the Constitution. But history shows that constitutional text is not an insurmountable barrier, and those of us who think religion as such does merit special protection will need to find arguments beyond the bare language of the First Amendment. In fact, in an increasingly non-religious society, we’ll have to find arguments that appeal to people without traditional religious commitments.

Here’s one such argument. Religion, especially communal religion, provides important benefits for everyone in the liberal state–even the non-religious. Religion encourages people to associate with and feel responsible for others, to engage with them in common endeavors. Religion promotes altruism and neighborliness and mitigates social isolation. Religion counteracts the tendencies to apathy and self-centeredness that liberalism seems inevitably to create.

Tocqueville saw this in the 19th century. Egalitarian democracy, he wrote, encourages a kind of “individualism.” It trains each citizen to look out for himself according to his own best judgment and discount the needs of the wider society. Self-reliance is a good thing; at least Americans have long though so. But the attitude poses two great dangers for liberal society. First, it makes it difficult to motivate people to contribute to the common projects on which society depends: public safety, schools, hospitals, and the like. Second, it makes it easier for despotism to arise. The despotic state desires nothing more than for individual citizens to feel isolated from and indifferent to the concerns of others, so that the state can easily divide and dominate them all.

Tocqueville saw that voluntary associations could lessen these dangers. Religious associations are particularly useful in this regard. They are uniquely good at promoting social engagement–secular as well as religious. According to sociologist Robert Putnam, for example, regular churchgoers are more likely to vote, serve on juries, participate in community activities, talk to neighbors, and give to charities, including non-religious charities. And when it comes to defying state oppression, no groups are more effective than religious associations, which can inspire members to truly heroic acts of resistance, as dictators down the centuries have learned.

To be sure, religions don’t always encourage civic fellowship; to the extent a religion promotes sedition or violence against other citizens, society does not benefit. And perhaps, as Gerald Russello suggests, the non-religious have come so to distrust religion that they will view its contributions as tainted and objectionable from the start. But in encouraging greater social involvement, religion offers benefits to everyone, believers and non-believers, too. It’s worth reminding skeptics of this when they argue that religion, as such, doesn’t merit legal protection.

Sandberg, “Religion, Law and Society”

9781107027435This June, Cambridge University Press will publish Religion, Law and Society by Russell Sandberg (Cardiff University). The publisher’s description follows.

Issues concerning religion in the public sphere are rarely far from the headlines. As a result, scholars have paid increasing attention to religion. These scholars, however, have generally stayed within the confines of their own respective disciplines. To date there has been little contact between lawyers and sociologists. Religion, Law and Society explores whether, how and why law and religion should interact with the sociology of religion. It examines sociological and legal materials concerning religion in order to find out what lawyers and sociologists can learn from each other. A groundbreaking, provocative and thought-provoking book, it is essential reading for lawyers, sociologists and all who are interested in the relationship between religion, law and society in the twenty-first century.

Janes & Houen (eds.), “Martyrdom and Terrorism: Pre-Modern to Contemporary Perspectives”

9780199959853This June, Oxford University Press will publish Martyrdom and Terrorism: Pre-Modern to Contemporary Perspectives edited by Dominic Janes (University of London) and Alex Houen (University of Cambridge). The publisher’s description follows.

In recent years, terrorism has become closely associated with martyrdom in the minds of many terrorists and in the view of nations around the world. In Islam, martyrdom is mostly conceived as “bearing witness” to faith and God. Martyrdom is also central to the Christian tradition, not only in the form of Christ’s Passion or saints faced with persecution and death, but in the duty to lead a good and charitable life. In both religions, the association of religious martyrdom with political terror has a long and difficult history. The essays of this volume illuminate this history-following, for example, Christian martyrdom from its origins in the Roman world, to the experience of the deaths of “terrorist” leaders of the French Revolution, to parallels in the contemporary world-and explore historical parallels among Islamic, Christian, and secular traditions. Featuring essays from eminent scholars in a wide range of disciplines, Martyrdom and Terrorism provides a timely comparative history of the practices and discourses of terrorism and martyrdom from antiquity to the twenty-first century.

Quero & Shoji, “Transnational Faiths”

Next month, Ashgate will publish Transnational Faiths: Latin-American Immigrants and Their Religions in Japan by Hugo Córdova Quero (Graduate Transnational FaithsTheological Union) and Rafael Shoji (Pontifical Catholic University).  The publisher’s description follows.

Japan has witnessed the arrival of thousands of immigrants, since the 1990s, from Latin America, especially from Brazil and Peru. Along with immigrants from other parts of the world, they all express the new face of Japan – one of multiculturality and multi-ethnicity. Newcomers are having a strong impact in local faith communities and playing an unexpected role in the development of communities.

This book focuses on the role that faith and religious institutions play in the migrants’ process of settlement and integration. The authors also focus on the impact of immigrants’ religiosity amidst religious groups formerly established in Japan. Religion is an integral aspect of the displacement and settlement process of immigrants in an increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural and pluri-religious contemporary Japan. Religious institutions and their social networks in Japan are becoming the first point of contact among immigrants. This book exposes and explores the often missed connection of the positive role of religion and faith-based communities in facilitating varied integrative ways of belonging for immigrants. The authors highlight the faith experiences of immigrants themselves by bringing their voices through case studies, interviews, and ethnographic research throughout the book to offer an important contribution to the exploration of multiculturalism in Japan.

Johnson, “Monastic Women and Religious Orders in Late Medieval Bologna”

Next month, Cambridge will publish Monastic Women and 9781107060852Religious Orders in Late Medieval Bologna, by Sherri Franks Johnson (University of California, Riverside). The publisher’s description follows.

Sherri Franks Johnson explores the roles of religious women in the changing ecclesiastical and civic structure of late medieval Bologna, demonstrating how convents negotiated a place in their urban context and in the church at large. During this period Bologna was the most important city in the Papal States after Rome. Using archival records from nunneries in the city, Johnson argues that communities of religious women varied in the extent to which they sought official recognition from the male authorities of religious orders. While some nunneries felt that it was important to their religious life to gain recognition from monks and friars, others were content to remain local and autonomous. In a period often described as an era of decline and the marginalization of religious women, Johnson shows instead that they saw themselves as active participants in their religious orders, in the wider church and in their local communities.

Junker-Kenny, “Religion and Public Reason”

9783110347326This March, De Gruyter published Religion and Public Reason: A Comparison of the Positions of John Rawls, Jürgen Habermas and Paul Ricoeur by Maureen Junker-Kenny (Trinity College, Dublin). The publisher’s description follows.

This book compares three approaches to public reason and to the public space accorded to religions: the liberal platform of an overlapping consensus proposed by John Rawls, Jürgen Habermas’s discourse ethical reformulation of Kant’s universalism and its realization in the public sphere, and the co-founding role which Paul Ricoeur attributes to the particular traditions that have shaped their cultures and the convictions of citizens.

The premises of their positions are analysed under four aspects: (1) the normative framework which determines the specific function of public reason; (2) their anthropologies and theories of action; (3) the dimensions of social life and its concretization in a democratic political framework; (4) the different views of religion that follow from these factors, including their understanding of the status of metaphysical and religious truth claims, and the role of religion as a practice and conviction in a pluralist society. Recent receptions and critiques in English and German are brought into conversation: philosophers and theologians discuss the scope of public reason, and the task of translation from faith traditions, as well as the role they might have in the diversity of world cultures for shaping a shared cosmopolitan horizon.

Johnson & Vanderbeck, “Law, Religion and Homosexuality”

9780415832687This May, Routledge will publish Law, Religion and Homosexuality by Paul Johnson (University of York) and Robert Vanderbeck (University of Leeds). The publisher’s description follows.

Law, Religion and Homosexuality is the first book-length study of how religion has shaped, and continues to shape, legislation that regulates the lives of gay men and lesbians. Through a systematic examination of how religious discourse influences the making of law – in the form of official interventions made by faith communities and organizations, as well as by expressions of faith by individual legislators – the authors argue that religion continues to be central to both enabling and restricting the development of sexual orientation equality. Whilst some claim that faith has been marginalized in the legislative processes of contemporary western societies, Johnson and Vanderbeck show the significant impact of religion in a number of substantive legal areas relating to sexual orientation including: same-sex sexual relations, family life, civil partnership and same-sex marriage, equality in employment and the provision of goods and services, hate speech regulation, and education. Law, Religion and Homosexuality demonstrates the dynamic interplay between law and religion in respect of homosexuality and will be of considerable interest to a wide audience of academics, policy makers and stakeholders.

Qasmi, “The Ahmadis and the Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan”

Next month, Anthem Press will publish The Ahmadis and the Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan by Ali Usman Qasmi (Lahore University of Management Sciences). The publisher’s description follows.The Ahmadis and the Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan

‘The Ahmadis and the Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan’ traces the history of the political exclusion of the Ahmadiyya religious minority in Pakistan by drawing on revealing new sources. The Ahmadis believe Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadiyan (1835–1908) was a prophet (in a nuanced understanding of this term) and promised messiah. This led to the group’s condemnation as infidels during the colonial period, setting in course a painful history of religious exclusion.

Part I of this volume traces the development of the anti-Ahmadi movement from its origin in Punjab province, where an agitation movement was launched calling upon the central government to declare the Ahmadis officially non-Muslim. After the movement intensified, leading to proclamation of martial law in Lahore in 1953, the Punjab government held a court of inquiry, which released its report in 1954. The proceedings of the Munir-Kiyani inquiry commission has now become available to scholars, and is a key focus of analysis. Part II focuses on the developments in Pakistan’s politics that created a discursive space where legislative measures against the Ahmadis could be deliberated and adopted by the national assembly, and argues Pakistan’s first general elections in 1970 reflected the entrenchment of religious leaders in Pakistan’s power politics. The national assembly’s 1974 session saw Ahmadis unanimously declared as non-Muslims; the records of this session’s debates are extensively reviewed in this book.

A truly path-breaking study, this work goes beyond merely chronicling the details of anti-Ahmadi violence and the legal and administrative measures adopted against them, to address wider issues of the politics of Islam in postcolonial Muslim nation-states and their disputative engagements with the ideas of modernity and citizenship.

Reichberg & Syse (eds.), “Religion, War, and Ethics”

9780521738279Next month, Cambridge University Press will publish Religion, War, and Ethics: A Sourcebook of Textual Traditions edited by Gregory M. Reichberg (International Peace Research Institute, Oslo) and Henrik Syse (Peace Research Institute). The publisher’s description follows.

Religion, War, and Ethics is a collection of primary sources from the world’s major religions on the ethics of war. Each chapter brings together annotated texts – scriptural, theological, ethical, and legal – from a variety of historical periods that reflect each tradition’s response to perennial questions about the nature of war: When, if ever, is recourse to arms morally justifiable? What moral constraints should apply to military conduct? Can a lasting earthly peace be achieved? Are there sacred reasons for waging war, and special rewards for those who do the fighting? The religions covered include Sunni and Shiite Islam; Judaism; Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity; Theravada Buddhism; East Asian religious traditions (Confucianism, Shinto, Japanese and Korean Buddhism); Hinduism; and Sikhism. Each section is compiled by a specialist, recognized within his or her respective religious tradition, who has also written a commentary on the historical and textual context of the passages selected.

Cammett, “Compassionate Communalism”

Next month, Cornell University Press will publish Compassionate Communalism: Welfare and Sectarianism in Lebanon by Melani Cammett (Brown University).  The Compassionate Communalismpublisher’s description follows.

In Lebanon, religious parties such as Hezbollah play a critical role in providing health care, food, poverty relief, and other social welfare services alongside or in the absence of government efforts. Some parties distribute goods and services broadly, even to members of other parties or other faiths, while others allocate services more narrowly to their own base. In Compassionate Communalism, Melani Cammett analyzes the political logics of sectarianism through the lens of social welfare. On the basis of years of research into the varying welfare distribution strategies of Christian, Shia Muslim, and Sunni Muslim political parties in Lebanon, Cammett shows how and why sectarian groups deploy welfare benefits for such varied goals as attracting marginal voters, solidifying intraconfessional support, mobilizing mass support, and supporting militia fighters.

Cammett then extends her arguments with novel evidence from the Sadrist movement in post-Saddam Iraq and the Bharatiya Janata Party in contemporary India, other places where religious and ethnic organizations provide welfare as part of their efforts to build political support. Nonstate welfare performs a critical function in the absence of capable state institutions, Cammett finds, but it comes at a price: creating or deepening social divisions, sustaining rival visions of the polity, or introducing new levels of social inequality.

Compassionate Communalism is informed by Cammett’s use of many methods of data collection and analysis, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis of the location of hospitals and of religious communities; a large national survey of Lebanese citizens regarding access to social welfare; standardized open-ended interviews with representatives from political parties, religious charities, NGOs, and government ministries, as well as local academics and journalists; large-scale proxy interviewing of welfare beneficiaries conducted by trained Lebanese graduate students matched with coreligionist respondents; archival research; and field visits to schools, hospitals, clinics, and other social assistance programs as well as political party offices throughout the country.