Tag Archives: Religious Traditions

Vidas, “Tradition and the Formation of the Talmud”

Here’s a new one from Princeton University Press, Tradition and the Formation Tradition and the Formation of the Talmudof the Talmud by Moulie Vidas (Princeton University). Interesting thesis with respect to the nature and history of tradition and tradition-mindedness in Judaism. The abstract follows.

Tradition and the Formation of the Talmud offers a new perspective on perhaps the most important religious text of the Jewish tradition. It is widely recognized that the creators of the Talmud innovatively interpreted and changed the older traditions on which they drew. Nevertheless, it has been assumed that the ancient rabbis were committed to maintaining continuity with the past. Moulie Vidas argues on the contrary that structural features of the Talmud were designed to produce a discontinuity with tradition, and that this discontinuity was part and parcel of the rabbis’ self-conception. Both this self-conception and these structural features were part of a debate within and beyond the Jewish community about the transmission of tradition.

Focusing on the Babylonian Talmud, produced in the rabbinic academies of late ancient Mesopotamia, Vidas analyzes key passages to show how the Talmud’s creators contrasted their own voice with that of their predecessors. He also examines Zoroastrian, Christian, and mystical Jewish sources to reconstruct the debates and wide-ranging conversations that shaped the Talmud’s literary and intellectual character.

Kalbian, “Sex, Violence, and Justice: Contraception and the Catholic Church”

Next month, Georgetown University Press will publish Sex, Violence, and Justice: Kalbian_RGB_72dpiContraception and the Catholic Church, by Aline H. Kalbian (Florida State University). The publisher’s description follows.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI published Humanae vitae, the encyclical that reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s continued opposition to the use of any form of artificial contraception. In Sex, Violence, and Justice: Contraception and the Catholic Church, Aline Kalbian outlines the Church’s position against artificial contraception as principally rooted in three biblical commandments. In addition, Kalbian shows how discourses about sexuality, both in the Church and in culture, are often tied to discourses of violence, harm and social injustice. These ties reveal that sexual ethics is never just about sex; it is about the vulnerability of the human body and the challenges humans face in trying to maintain just and loving relationships. 

As Kalbian explores and contrasts the Catholic Church’s stance toward condoms and HIV/AIDS, emergency contraception in cases of rape, and contraception and population control, she underscores how contraception is not just a private decision, but a deeply social, cultural, and political one, with profound global implications. Kalbian concludes that even the most tradition-bound communities rely on justificatory schemes that are fluid and diverse. Taking this diversity seriously helps us to understand how religious traditions change and develop.

Sex, Violence, and Justice will be of interest to students and scholars of Catholic moral theology, sexual ethics, religion and society, gender and religion, as well as to specialists and practitioners in public health.

Chaudhry, “Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition”

Last month, Oxford published Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition, by 9780199640164_140Ayesha S. Chaudhry (University of British Columbia). The publisher’s description follows.

This book examines the challenges and resources that the Islamic tradition offers to Muslim scholars who seek to address this dilemma. This is achieved through extensive study of the intellectual history of a Qur’anic verse that has become especially contentious in the modern period: Chapter 4, Verse 34 (Q. 4:34) which can be read to permit the physical disciplining of disobedient wives at the hands of their husbands.

Though this verse has been used by historical and contemporary Muslim scholars in multiple ways to justify the right of husbands to physically discipline their wives, progressive and reformist Muslim scholars and activists offer alternative and non-violent readings of the verse. The diverse and divergent interpretations of Q. 4:34 showcases the pivotal role of the reader in shaping the meaning and implications of scriptural texts.

This book investigates the sophisticated and creative interpretive approaches to Q. 4:34, tracing the intellectual history of Muslim scholarship on this verse from the ninth century to the present day. Ayesha S. Chaudhry examines the spirited and diverse, and at times contradictory, readings of this verse to reveal how Muslims relate to their inherited tradition and the Qur’anic text.

Law as Tradition: The Inescapability of Tradition

The third feature of law as tradition discussed by Professor Martin Krygier in his article, “Law as Tradition,” besides its pastness and its presence, is its transmission or handing down (“traditus” is often translated as that which is ‘handed’ down, and I have sometimes wondered whether there is a related but somewhat more distant etymological root: ‘tra’ means across, and ‘dita’ means ‘fingers’ in Italian, making ‘tradita’ transliterate to ‘across fingers.’  But probably the root of ‘dita’ is from the Latin, ‘dare’ — to give — making the transliteration, ‘giving across’).  “Traditions,” writes Krygier, “depend on real or imagined continuities between past and present.  These continuities may be formalized and institutionalized as they are in the institutions of law and religion, though they need not be.”  (251) Cultures which have well developed sacred and secular institutions entrust the task of transmission to various sorts of experts (“kings, priests, judges, scholars”), who are arranged in a hierarchy of  tradition-interpreting and transmitting authority.

Krygier makes a nice move at this point.  He writes that the conventional dichotomy between “tradition” and “change” is false because “the very traditionality of law ensures that it must change.  Although authoritative interpreters might police the present to see that it does not stray too far from their interpretation of the past, it is impossible for traditions to survive unchanged.”  Change can occur deliberately (as when, for example, a new revelation or a new legislation is then incorporated into the tradition) or, in the case of written traditions, simply as a feature of the interpretive instability in the reading of a text (not the wild indeterminacy of text, just its lack of fixity).  In written traditions, “the past becomes available for controversy . . . . Written traditions are continually subject to modification.  Their transmission necessarily involves interpretation of writings.  This ensures change.”  (252)  That is because, in a tradition, texts do not stand alone but must be interpreted so as to be consistent and coherent with the tradition itself.  Krygier is not describing only, or even primarily, the interpretive tradition of the common law:

[G]iven the impossibility of univocal interpretation of most complex texts, there is a sense in which legislation forces interpreters to rely more rather than less heavily on tradition than does the common law. For a relevant statute, still more a code, forces itself on an interpreter. Its words cannot be sloughed aside as dicta or dissent; they have to be interpreted. Since their meanings often will be plural, and since later lawyers nevertheless have to give meaning to them, they are bound to repair to interpretations which have become settled and accepted and/or to canons of statutory interpretation which, as we have seen, are highly traditional. (254)

This is an interesting point, and one might extend it to constitutional interpretation.  Here’s a passage from Edward Shils’s wonderful book, Tradition, quoted by Krygier, which seems pertinent to constitutional interpretation today:

It might be the intention of the recipient to adhere ‘strictly’ to the stipulation of what he has received but ‘strictness’ itself opens questions which are not already answered and which must be answered. If it is a moral or a legal code, or a philosophical system, the very attempt by a powerful mind to understand it better will entail the discernment of hitherto unseen problems which will require new formulations; these will entail varying degrees of modification.  Attempts to make them applicable to particular cases will also enforce modification. Such modifications of the received occur even when the tradition is regarded as sacrosanct and the innovator might in good conscience insist that he is adhering to the traditions as received. (Shils, 45)

Philpott, “Just and Unjust Peace”

Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation (OUP May 2012) by Daniel Philpott (Notre Dame). The publisher’s description follows.

In the wake of massive injustice, how can justice be achieved and peace restored? Is it possible to find a universal standard that will work for people of diverse and often conflicting religious, cultural, and philosophical backgrounds?

In Just and Unjust Peace, Daniel Philpott offers an innovative and hopeful response to these questions. He challenges the approach to peace-building that dominates the United Nations, western governments, and the human rights community. While he shares their commitments to human rights and democracy, Philpott argues that these values alone cannot redress the wounds caused by war, genocide, and dictatorship. Both justice and the effective restoration of political order call for a more holistic, restorative approach. Philpott answers that call by proposing a form of political reconciliation that is deeply rooted in three religious traditions–Christianity, Islam, and Judaism–as well as the restorative justice movement. These traditions offer the fullest expressions of the core concepts of justice, mercy, and peace. By adapting these ancient concepts to modern constitutional democracy and international norms, Philpott crafts an ethic that has widespread appeal and offers real hope for the restoration of justice in fractured communities. From the roots of these traditions, Philpott develops six practices–building just institutions and relations between states, acknowledgment, reparations, restorative punishment, apology and, most important, forgiveness–which he then applies to real cases, identifying how each practice redresses a unique set of wounds. Continue reading