Tag Archives: Religion and Society

Around the Web this Week

Here are some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

 

Sharma, “Nation, Ethnicity and the Conflict in Afghanistan”

This month, Routledge releases “Nation, Ethnicity and the Conflict in Afghanistan: Political Islam and the rise of ethno-politics 1992–1996,” by Raghav Sharma (O.P. Jindal Global University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Ethnic and tribal loyalties in Afghanistan provided the lethal cocktail for the violent conflict that engulfed the country following the collapse of the Soviet9781472471475 backed government in 1992. The ensuing fighting between mujahideen groups paved the way for the tectonic social and political shifts, which continue to shape events today. What accounts for the emergence of ethnicity, as the main cause of conflict in Afghanistan? What moved people to respond with such fervour and intensity to calls for ethnic solidarity? This book attempts to make sense of ethnicity’s decisive role in Afghanistan through a comprehensive exploration of its nature and perception. Based on new data, generated through interviews, field notes and participant observations, Sharma maps the increased role of ethnicity in Afghan national politics. Key social, political and historical processes that facilitated its emergence as the pre-dominant fault-line of conflict are explored, moving away from grand political and military narrative to instead engage with zones of conflict as social spaces. This book will be of interest to students and scholars working in politics, ethnic studies and security studies.

Raboteau, “American Prophets”

In September, Princeton University Press will release “American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice,” by Albert J. Raboteau (Princeton University).  The publisher’s description follows:

American Prophets sheds critical new light on the lives and thought of seven major prophetic figures in twentieth-century America whose social activism was motivated by a deeply felt compassion for those suffering injustice.k10655

In this compelling and provocative book, acclaimed religious scholar Albert Raboteau tells the remarkable stories of Abraham Joshua Heschel, A. J. Muste, Dorothy Day, Howard Thurman, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Fannie Lou Hamer—inspired individuals who succeeded in conveying their vision to the broader public through writing, speaking, demonstrating, and organizing. Raboteau traces how their paths crossed and their lives intertwined, creating a network of committed activists who significantly changed the attitudes of several generations of Americans about contentious political issues such as war, racism, and poverty. Raboteau examines the influences that shaped their ideas and the surprising connections that linked them together. He discusses their theological and ethical positions, and describes the rhetorical and strategic methods these exemplars of modern prophecy used to persuade their fellow citizens to share their commitment to social change.

A momentous scholarly achievement as well as a moving testimony to the human spirit, American Prophets represents a major contribution to the history of religion in American politics. This book is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about social justice, or who wants to know what prophetic thought and action can mean in today’s world.

The Ten Commandments in the Courthouse

Recently, I visited the New York State Courthouse here in Jamaica, Queens. For readers who don’t know, Queens is one of New York City’s outer boroughs. It is the most ethnically diverse county in the United States, perhaps the most ethnically diverse place in the entire world. About half its population of 2.3 million is foreign born. More than half speak a language other than English at home. About 40% of its residents are white; Asians and African-Americans each make up about a fifth of the population; Latinos a bit more. Statistics on religious affiliation are harder to come by, but apparently about half of the borough’s residents are Christians; of them, Catholics make up the largest percentage, about one-third of the total population. As to the other 50%, Queens has significant numbers of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and people without formal religious affiliation—the Nones. In terms of religious and cultural variety, Queens has it all.

Given the ethnic and religious diversity of Queens, a work of art I saw in the Queens courthouse surprised me. Decorating the building’s central, ceremonial staircase are a pair of two large WPA-style murals, executed when the courthouse was built during the Great Depression. They make up a unified work. The one on the left, titled “Mosaic Law” (above) shows a crowd of Hebrews surrounding Moses as he descends from Mt. Sinai with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, written in Hebrew script. The one on the right, titled “Constitutional Law” (below) shows a crowd of historical figures—Washington, the Framers, and Chief Justices from John Jay to Charles Evans Hughes—gathered around a stone plaque with the words of the Preamble: “We the People.”

In one sense, of course, the murals should not have surprised me. Displaying the Ten Commandments in courthouses is an American tradition. It has become an extremely controversial one, however. Litigants have brought numerous constitutional challenges in the last few decades. Courts have reached different conclusions, based largely on the facts of specific cases. About 10 years ago, the US Supreme Court ruled that the display of the Ten Commandments in one Kentucky courthouse violated the Establishment Clause under the so-called “endorsement test.” A reasonable observer, the Court held, would perceive the display as an impermissible, official endorsement of religion. Such an endorsement would send a message of exclusion to non-adherents and make them feel like outsiders in their own community—like disfavored, second-class citizens.

I stood on the staircase for a while and watched people go up and down. Aside from me, no one seemed to notice the murals at all. And I wondered, how could it be, in a place as religiously diverse as Queens, that no one had objected? How could it be that no one had claimed that the murals made him feel like an outsider, a second-class citizen? With thousands of people from different religious backgrounds passing by these murals every day, surely someone would have taken offense and brought a lawsuit. Were people too polite or intimidated to complain? That hardly seems possible, not in Queens. And if someone did bring a constitutional challenge, wouldn’t it have a good chance to succeed? What explains the quietude—the dog that doesn’t bark?

It seems to me there are two explanations. First, it’s quite possible that people in Queens, even the many people from religious traditions other than Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—all of which venerate the Ten Commandments—do not find the display at all offensive. They likely accept it as the tradition of the society in which they have chosen to live. Many of them have immigrated here at great personal cost and are not put off by American customs. Peter Berger and others have written about this phenomenon in the European context. Although European elites often argue that religious minorities find public Christian displays insulting, he explains, little evidence exists that the minorities themselves actually feel offended. Berger describes this misguided, or pretextual, solicitude for religious minorities as the “‘battering ram’ approach to policy making: secular elites make use of other faith communities in order to further their own—frequently secular—points of view.”

Of course, there are plenty of secular elites in New York City, and many of them are lawyers. So why has no one brought a lawsuit over the display at the Queens courthouse? Here we come to the second explanation: such a lawsuit would very likely fail. For one thing, notwithstanding its earlier decisions, it’s not clear that the Supreme Court would continue to apply the endorsement test to courthouse displays of the Ten Commandments. A couple of terms ago, in the Town of Greece case, the Court applied a different test to uphold the constitutionality of official, legislative prayer. Such prayer is constitutional, the Court said, because it is an important part of American tradition—and also because it does not coerce listeners to participate. Courthouse displays of the Ten Commandments are part of American tradition as well, and they also coerce no one. If the Town of Greece test applies, Ten Commandments displays would be constitutional as well.

The Court is notoriously unpredictable in Establishment Clause cases, though, and it could well continue to apply the endorsement test to courthouse displays. Even so, it’s unlikely the Queens murals would be unconstitutional. True, an observer could perceive a religious message. Perhaps the implication is that our fundamental law is of a piece with its divine predecessor, and that we, like the ancient Hebrews, are united by our worship of God. But observers could draw a variety of other messages as well. One very plausible interpretation is this: our Constitution is part of the great tradition of Western law, in which the Ten Commandments play a vital role. Another would be, these are two parallel episodes of lawgiving: Just as the ancient Hebrews were a community bound by a received law, so are we Americans today—although our law comes, not from God, but from the people itself. Perhaps there is no special meaning at all. Perhaps the artist was simply trying to dignify the building in a way that people of the time would find familiar and appropriate.

In short, the mural is not clearly an endorsement of religion. Moreover, it has been there for about 70 years now. As Justice Breyer reasoned in one of the Ten Commandments cases, the fact that a display has gone unchallenged for decades suggests that people do not perceive it as an insult or a religious endorsement. To remove the mural now, on the ground that it impermissibly endorses religion, would suggest that government has an affirmative hostility to faith—a suggestion bound to insult believers and cause even greater social tension than allowing the mural to remain. Although the Court might not allow the mural to be installed in a courthouse today, the fact that it is already in the Queens courthouse gives it a kind of grandfathered status.

So, it seems likely the mural will remain. If you’re in the neighborhood, go take a look. You might also visit the nearby Rufus King Museum, the home of one of the Framers of the Constitution—though not, as far as I can tell, one of the Framers depicted in the mural—and the last Federalist candidate for President of the United States. What he would have thought of the murals’ constitutionality, I’m pretty sure I know.

Durham & Thayer, “Religion, Pluralism, and Reconciling Difference”

In August, Routledge will release “Religion, Pluralism, and Reconciling Difference,” by W. Cole Durham, Jr. (Brigham Young University)  and Donlu Thayer (Brigham Young University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion, Pluralism, and Reconciling Difference brings together vital and thoughtful contributions treating aspects of mounting worldwide tensions concerning the routlogorelationship between religious diversity and social harmony. Religious pluralism can contribute to tensions in employment, media coverage of religion, and public life generally. Experts from North and South America, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East address these issues and suggest not only how social institutions can reduce tensions, but also how religious pluralism itself can bolster needed civil society.

Llewellyn & Sharma, “Religion, Equalities, and Inequalities”

This month, Routledge releases “Religion, Equalities, and Inequalities,” by Dawn Llewellyn (University of Chester) and Sonya Sharma (Kingston University London).  The publisher’s description follows:

Presenting cutting edge research on how religion can confront and obscure social inequalities in everyday life, Religion, Equalities and Inequalities argues that when 9781472439963religion is left out of social scientific analyses, it can result in incomplete analyses that conceal pathways to social inclusion and exclusion. Bringing together an international and interdisciplinary group of contributors who operate at the vanguard of theoretical and empirical work on how social structures of power, institutions and bodies can generate equalities and inequalities in religion, the collection shows how religion can enable and challenge the inequities that affect people’s everyday lives. Academics and students of religious studies, sociology, politics and social policy will all find this book offers useful insights into the relationship between religion and contemporary culture.

Barone, “Beyond Memory”

In September, SUNY Press will release Beyond Memory: Italian Protestants in Italy and America by Dennis Barone (University of St. Joseph). The publisher’s description follows:

Beyond MemoryIn Beyond Memory, Dennis Barone uncovers the richness and diversity of the Italian Protestant experience and places it in the context of migration and political and social life in both Italy and the United States. Italian Protestants have received scant attention in the fields of Italian American studies, religious studies, and immigration studies, and through literary sources, church records, manuscript sources, and secondary sources in various fields, Barone introduces such forgotten voices as the Baptist Antonio Mangano, the Methodist Antonio Arrighi, and his great-grandfather Alfredo Barone, a Baptist minister to congregations in Italy and Massachusetts. Examining the complex histories of these and other Italian Protestants, Barone argues that Protestantism ultimately served as a means to negotiate between Old World and New World ways, even as it resulted in the double alienation of rejection by Roman Catholic immigrants and condescension by Anglo-Protestants. Though the book focuses on the years of high immigration (1890–1920), it also looks at precursors to post-reunification Protestants as well as Protestants in Italy today, now that the nation has become a country of in-migration.

Leshem, “The Origins of Neoliberalism”

This month, Columbia University Press has released The Origins of Neoliberalism: Modeling the Economy from Jesus to Foucault by Dotan Leshem (University of Haifa). The publisher’s description follows:The Origins of Neoliberalism

Dotan Leshem recasts the history of the West from an economic perspective, bringing politics, philosophy, and the economy closer together and revealing the significant role of Christian theology in shaping economic and political thought. He begins with early Christian treatment of economic knowledge and the effect of this interaction on ancient politics and philosophy. He then follows the secularization of the economy in liberal and neoliberal theory.

Leshem draws on Hannah Arendt’s history of politics and Michel Foucault’s genealogy of economy and philosophy. He consults exegetical and apologetic tracts, homilies and eulogies, manuals and correspondence, and Church canons and creeds to trace the influence of the economy on Christian orthodoxy. Only by relocating the origins of modernity in Late Antiquity, Leshem argues, can we confront the full effect of the neoliberal marketized economy on contemporary societies. Then, he proposes, a new political philosophy that re-secularizes the economy will take shape and transform the human condition.

Mooney, “Clare of Assisi and the Thirteenth-Century Church”

In August, the University of Pennsylvania Press will release “Clare of Assisi and the Thirteenth-Century Church
Religious Women, Rules, and Resistance,” by Catherine M. Mooney (Boston College).  The publisher’s description follows:

In a work based on a meticulous analysis of sources, many of them previously unexplored, Catherine M. Mooney upends the received account of Clare of Assisi’s PennPressBlueLogofounding of the Order of San Damiano, or Poor Clares. Mooney offers instead a stark counternarrative: Clare, her sisters of San Damiano, and their allies struggled against a papal program bent on regimenting, enriching, and enclosing religious women in the thirteenth century, a program that proved largely successful.

Mooney demonstrates that Clare (1194-1253) established a single community that was soon cajoled, perhaps even coerced, into joining an order previously founded by the papacy. Artfully renaming it after Clare’s San Damiano with Clare as its putative mother, Pope Gregory IX enhanced his order’s cachet by associating it also with Continue reading

Dehanas, “London Youth, Religion, and Politics”

In August, Oxford University Press will release “London Youth, Religion, and Politics: Engagement and Activism from Brixton to Brick Lane,” by Daniel Nilsson DeHanas (King’s College London). The publisher’s description follows:

For more than a decade the “Muslim question” on integration and alleged extremism has vexed Europe, revealing cracks in long-held certainties about the role of religion 9780198743675in public life. Secular assumptions are being tested not only by the growing presence of Muslims but also by other fervent new arrivals such as Pentecostal Christians. London Youth, Religion, and Politics focuses on young adults of immigrant parents in two inner-city London areas: the East End and Brixton. It paints vivid portraits of dozens of young men and women met at local cafes, on park benches, and in council estate stairwells, and provides reason for a measured hope.

In East End streets like Brick Lane, revivalist Islam has been generating more civic integration although this comes at a price that includes generational conflict and cultural amnesia. In Brixton, while the influence of Pentecostal and traditional churches can be limited to family and individual renewal, there are signs that this may be changing. This groundbreaking work offers insight into the lives of urban Muslim, Christian, and non-religious youth. In times when the politics of immigration and diversity are in flux, it offers a candid appraisal of multiculturalism in practice.