Recent Posts

December 18th, 2014

Hobby Lobby and the question for religious freedom

posted by Andrew Koppelman

We stand unitedWinnifred Fallers Sullivan is arguably the premier scholar of law and religion in the United States. She brings to the field of law an unparalleled degree of sophistication and historical and anthropological knowledge. When she says that all religious freedom laws are rotten at the core, that claim has to be taken seriously. The core of the problem, she writes, is the distorting effect of the demand that the state distinguish the religious from the nonreligious. The religious life of most Americans, “incredibly varied, creative, and entrepreneurial,” has become so disconnected from the law’s understanding of religion that the law should abandon the use of the category, “religion.”

As Sullivan notes, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—the basis of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby suit—was a reaction to the “notorious” Employment Division v. Smith decision, which limited the scope of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. There are reasons for the notoriety and Smith was widely condemned. RFRA passed by overwhelming margins because most Americans thought that the tradition of specifically religious accommodation was valuable. Since Colonial times, Quakers have been exempted from oath-taking and military service. Catholics were permitted to use sacramental wine during Prohibition.

Our choices are clear: either we sometimes accommodate, or we never accommodate.

Read Hobby Lobby and the question for religious freedom

December 16th, 2014

The Supreme Court’s faith in belief

posted by Sarah Imhoff

November 19th, 2014

Minding hermeneutics and history

posted by Brad S. Gregory

November 17th, 2014

Malediction, exorcism, and evil

posted by Thomas J. Csordas

~ More recent posts ~

Recent comments

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Featured

October 21st, 2014

Curses, foiled again and again

posted by Matt Tomlinson

Fijian whale's tooth | Image via Matt TomlinsonIn June 2009, I was interviewing a Fijian Methodist minister on the island of Matuku when the subject of curses came up. I had asked him about mana and sau, terms associated with spiritual power, which are often paired in indigenous Fijian discourse. Mana is anthropologically famous as a term Robert Codrington credited to Melanesians; Marshall Sahlins theorized for Polynesians; and Claude Lévi-Strauss characterized as a “floating signifier,” a sign “susceptible of receiving any meaning at all.” Sau, in Fijian, is often associated with a punitive spiritual force linked to chiefs. If you disobey the chief and you get sick, that’s sau.

When I asked the minister at Matuku about mana and sau, he responded in part by explaining the latter term as follows: “Here’s an example. You say something, [then] it happens. It’s like this, if I should curse you. You will go out today, even if you haven’t heard what I said, you will meet with misfortune. You’ll go and get hurt, eh?…That’s one translation of sau.”

Read Curses, foiled again and again

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September 4th, 2014

Short skirts and niqab bans: On sexuality and the secular body

posted by Jennifer A. Selby and Mayanthi L. Fernando

Introduced in Québec in March 2010, Bill 94 proposed requiring women to unveil their faces if they wanted to work in the public sector or access public services, including hospitals, universities, and public transportation. The bill was eventually tabled and was followed in November 2013 with Bill 60, which demanded in more generalist language the removal of conspicuous religious signs in order to dispense or use public services in the province. These Québécois bills—which have not passed—echo the logic of the April 2011 French law targeting the niqab (face veil) and banning the “dissimulation of the face” in public spaces. Both French and Québécois proponents of these laws cited gender equality and women’s emancipation—which they deemed foundational to French and Québécois values—as their primary goal. Despite Québec’s long insistence that it espouses a third path between Canadian multiculturalism and the French Jacobin model, Québec and France have increasingly converged to promote a model of secularism in which liberty and equality are articulated as sexual liberty and sexual equality. In fact, these niqab restrictions represent a broader secular-liberal discourse—what Joan W. Scott calls “sexularism”—that posits secularism as the best guarantor of women’s sexual freedom and sexual equality and, therefore, as that which distinguishes the West from the woman-oppressing rest, especially from Islam.

Read Short skirts and niqab bans: On sexuality and the secular body

Featured discussion

The state of religion in China

This discussion brings together scholars to understand the relationship between the state and religion in China—past, present, and future.

Featured publication

The Devil: A New Biography

Philip C. Almond’s new book reconstructs the evolution of an embodied, interventionist Devil, from its inception in the sixth century BCE to its decline at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Featured interview

American civil religion in the age of Obama

Joseph Blankholm talks with Philip S. Gorski about his forthcoming book on civil religion, Obama’s messianic burden, and the significance of Émile Durkheim.