The book blog

July 22nd, 2016

Re-thinking Religion in a Political Scientific Wilderness

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Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomBeyond Religious Freedom makes an extremely important and timely contribution to a conversation that the discipline of political science should be but still isn’t really having. The continued lack of serious, analytically sophisticated attention to religion and religious phenomena by scholars of international relations and comparative politics is all the more baffling given the place of religion in political life around the world today. Religious affiliation has become the central category for a geo-political remapping of the world since 9/11. The results have been depressingly vapid analyses that underscore, once again, the ideological force of Samuel Huntington’s self-fulfilling prophecy, and the bankruptcy of dominant approaches in our discipline that continue to treat religion in the most reductionist, identarian, instrumentalist, and frankly, unthinking fashion. In this regard, Shakman Hurd’s book constitutes a truly novel and vital contribution and I cannot recommend this book highly enough to my co-disciplinarians, whether interested in religion or not. I underscore this point, since many scholars who frequent The Immanent Frame are not mainstream political scientists and are thus unaware of the bleak nature of the wilderness into which rare and prophetic voices like Shakman Hurd’s are crying.

Read Re-thinking Religion in a Political Scientific Wilderness.
July 20th, 2016

Keeping up with “culture”

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Law's ReligionBenjamin Berger’s Law’s Religion: Religious Difference and the Claims of Constitutionalism is a welcome addition to the vibrantly interdisciplinary scholarship on legal secularism. Like other scholarship in this field, it shows how liberal constitutionalism works to demarcate and transform religious life according to its own internal principles. The basic story here is, by now, a familiar one: to declare religion free of state interference is, paradoxically, to require the state to define “religion” so that it can determine which institutions and actors are to be afforded freedoms on the basis of that word. Where “legal religion” differs from “lived religion,” (to recall Winnifred Sullivan’s terms) legal religion not only tends to win the day; it can also shape how actors on the ground conceptualize their own religious lives.

Read Keeping up with “culture”.
July 19th, 2016

Another Law’s Religion

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Law's ReligionI cannot help but see a pun in the title of Benjamin Berger’s book, Law’s Religion: Religious Difference and the Claims of Constitutionalism. I see the pun not in the terms “law” and “religion,” but in the multiple meanings emerging from the possessive marker. I see the pun in Laws. It is a pun of grammar-play, not word-play.

Taken in one way, the possessive ending connotes a proprietary claim. The term law’s religion suggests the idea that law controls religion, holds sway over it. It is this sense of the phrase that appears most prominently in the book. Berger argues that Canadian constitutional law “digests” religion through its own “interpretive horizons,” which contain notably narrow assumptions about the nature of religious time, space, belief, and toleration. Constitutional law does not deal with Canadian religion on its own terms, Berger tells us. Rather, it maintains and deploys its own prototype of religion.

Read Another Law’s Religion.
July 14th, 2016

Making up people

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Law's ReligionSeveral decades ago in an essay entitled “Making Up People,” the Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking wrote that, “if new modes of description come into being, new possibilities for action come into being in consequence.” Benjamin Berger’s new book Law’s Religion: Religious Difference and the Claims of Constitutionalism is generative in exactly this sense: it re-describes and it gestures toward new possibilities for action. Berger begins with a deceptively simple question: were we to take neither legal concepts nor normative political or legal theory but rather the experience of the law as an analytical point of departure, what would this entail for the study of law and religion?

Read Making up people.
July 13th, 2016

Law as religion

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Law's ReligionBen Berger’s book Law’s Religion: Religious Difference and the Claims of Constitutionalism is a work of great insight. I found myself learning from its pages as I taught Canadian Constitutional Law to first year law students this past term. Like most first year Constitutional Law classes, this course helps students understand Canadian federalism, Aboriginal Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The book was particularly valuable as we discussed the cases dealing with freedom of religion and conscience under section 2(b) of the Charter.

Read Law as religion.
July 7th, 2016

Law’s Religion—An introduction

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Law's ReligionIn Theory From the South: Or, How Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa, Jean and John Comaroff consider the juridification of history and politics in the “endemically policultural” postcolonial South, and ask the question, “why the fetishism of law?” “[T]he language of legality,” they offer, “affords people in policultural nation-states an ostensibly neutral medium to make claims on each other and on the state, to enter into contractual relations, to transact unlike values, and to deal with conflicts arising out of them. In so doing, it produces an impression of consonance amidst contrast: of the existence of universal standards that, like money, facilitate the negotiation of incommensurables across otherwise intransitive boundaries” (78-79).

Law’s Religion: Religious Difference and the Claims of Constitutionalism is, of course, not theory from the South. It is a book about law and religion in the north of the Americas. Yet in the concerns that animate the book, and the concepts with which I work, there is something of an affinity with the spirit of this passage. My concern is similarly with the relationship between law and the cultural, with the appeal of certain comforting accounts—however misleading—about the character and function of law, and with the toll that such misleading accounts exact on our social and political lives.

Read Law’s Religion—An introduction.
June 30th, 2016

Democracy as a work in progress rather than a work of progress

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Resurrecting DemocracyLet me begin by thanking the contributors to this book forum for their respective reviews. I am enormously grateful for the gift of time and attention their reviews represent. It is always instructive to see one’s work through the eyes of others, even if one does not always immediately recognize what one then sees! While finding valuable insights and many points for further reflection in all them, this is something of my reaction to Michael Gillespie’s and Jane Wills’s reviews. In responding to their critiques I will put them in dialogue with the reviews by Andrew Forsyth and Richard Wood, who I read as more directly articulating and speaking to the core foci and concerns of Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life. Situating my own response as an interaction between the two sets of reviews will hopefully clarify and help develop some of the book’s central arguments and positions.

Read Democracy as a work in progress rather than a work of progress.
June 2nd, 2016

“Faithful secularity” as the best hope for democracy

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Resurrecting DemocracyLuke Bretherton’s Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life addresses two crucial holes in contemporary understanding of religion and politics: one narrow but important for those interested in faith-based political engagement, the other broad and crucial for all of us interested in the role of religion and secularity in the public sphere. Both are important in 2016, as presidential politics in the United States, terrorism and nativism in Europe, and new forms of authoritarianism elsewhere raise questions that democracy in its current forms struggles to answer.

The narrower theme—albeit plenty broad enough to be worth careful reading—concerns the specific movement that provides the empirical focus for Bretherton’s book: the family of community organizing efforts that emerged from Saul Alinsky’s work from the 1930s to the 1970s and that recently have drawn substantial attention from scholars and thoughtful practitioners. Bretherton’s research shows how the recent emergence of broad-based community organizing (a.k.a. faith-based or institution-based community organizing) into both political prominence and scholarly awareness suggests new ways to address our democratic dilemmas.

Read “Faithful secularity” as the best hope for democracy.
May 25th, 2016

Faithfully secular?

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Resurrecting DemocracyCommunity organizing is faith-based, at least in its best-known form. Since the 1940s, organizers in the mold of Saul Alinsky have worked with local congregations and civic groups to identify issues of shared interest and to marshal energies into action for social and economic change. Scholarship on community organizing, however, is surprisingly sparse. Work that treats religion non-reductively—as more than an interchangeable component in organizing—is sparser still. There are fine sociological studies, and earlier this century, reports of Barack Obama’s three years in Chicago brought bursts of scholarly and journalistic attention. But with Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life, Luke Bretherton joins Romand Coles and Jeffrey Stout as one of the few scholars who treat community organizing as essential to discussions of political theory and the place of religion in the public square.

Read Faithfully secular?.
May 17th, 2016

The challenges of “resurrecting democracy”: Lessons from London

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Resurrecting DemocracyResurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life is a weighty call to “resurrect democracy” and to do so by adopting the practices of broad-based community organizing (BBCO) as developed by Saul Alinsky in 1930s Chicago and subsequently by a range of organizations in the United States and more recently, beyond. The book draws on Luke Bretherton’s experiences as an active participant in the work of London Citizens during the years before and after the financial crisis of 2008. As a theologian and active Christian, Bretherton brings a valuable religious perspective to his analysis of the work of the alliance and its campaigns to support the living wage and responsible lending in the city of London in the wake of the crash.

Read The challenges of “resurrecting democracy”: Lessons from London.
May 11th, 2016

Revitalizing the power of the great in-between

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Resurrecting DemocracyIn his thoughtful The Origins of Political Order, Francis Fukuyama argues that there are three pillars of order that are necessary for the stability of states such as Denmark, Sweden, or the United Kingdom, which he sees as the three best examples of how we might live together: centralized power (including a monopoly on armed force), the rule of law (which applies not just to the people but to the rulers themselves), and accountability (guaranteed not merely through “parchment barriers” but by real checks and balances). The story he tells explains what is necessary for a government of the people and for the people, but it is less compelling as an account of what is necessary for government by the people. Indeed, in focusing on these general structures of governance he overlooks the great in-between, the intermediating associations of civil society such as schools, churches, and unions in which we live much of our lives. Thinkers since Tocqueville have argued that such associations are the bedrock of political life, a point reemphasized in our own time by Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, Jean Bethke Elshtain Elshtain, Robert Putnam, and William Galston, all of whom worry about the danger posed by the erosion of such institutions in the age of globalization.

Luke Bretherton’s Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life not only focuses on these intermediating institutions and their decline, it also presents a model for strengthening them and thereby “resurrecting democracy.”

Read Revitalizing the power of the great in-between.
May 5th, 2016

Paradoxes of international religious freedom

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Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomIt has been almost twenty years since the US Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), which was signed into law in 1998 by then President Bill Clinton. The IRFA inscribed into law and US foreign policy a set of definitions and monitoring protocols, and it mandated the creation of a bureaucracy within the US State Department—the Office of Religious Freedom, which is charged with promoting religious freedom as a core objective of US foreign policy. Under the language and mandate of the IRFA, this office produces yearly reports on religious freedom around the globe, and its work becomes the basis by which the Secretary of State categorizes some countries as “countries of particular concern” for their “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Such a designation can trigger various disciplinary and punitive responses by the US government, including economic sanctions. As Elizabeth Shakman Hurd shows through incisive analysis in her recently published Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion, the impact of IRFA and other efforts to mobilize a religious freedom framework in international relations is far-reaching, not only in practical terms, but also at the level of defining “religion” itself.

Read Paradoxes of international religious freedom.
April 26th, 2016

The new global politics of religion: A view from the other side

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Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomIn the summer of 2013, the international Islamic magazine al-Bayan published its Ramadan issue with a striking cover. Flanked by titles on the Qur’anic and Biblical figure Haman, jihad and the great battles won by Muslims in the month of Ramadan, and an interview with the Iraqi Islamist intellectual ‘Imad al-Din Khalil, the image that the editors chose for the cover article was clearly meant to cause controversy. Casually strewn across a map of the Middle East and North Africa was a simple sibha, a chain of beads used to count repetitive prayers known collectively as adhkar. In recent years, the sibha has come to be associated as a marker of Sufi Mulims, given that non-Sufi reformist Muslims of various stripes have stipulated that it constitutes an innovation in worship and thus a straying from the perfect path laid down by the Prophet himself for praising God. Attached to the end of this sibha, where a bead or other decoration might normally be located, was a small American flag, resembling those lapel pins that US government officials began to wear following 9/11. If the implications of the image itself were not clear, the headline on which it sat most certainly was: “American Infiltration through the Sufi zawiyas.”

Read The new global politics of religion: A view from the other side.
April 21st, 2016

The uncertainty principles of Heisenberg and Hurd

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Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomIn the late 1920s, the theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg wrote a series of scientific papers proposing that the universe could not be known with perfect certainty. His theory, which came to be known as the “uncertainty principle,” blamed the limitations of scientific measurement. Perfect knowledge was impossible, Heisenberg theorized, because scientists changed the quantum universe through the very act of measuring it. Observers could not watch the universe voyeuristically, as though from the sidelines. To sight quantum reality was to alter it.

Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion introduces something like an uncertainty principle into the targeting of religion in international relations. In a manner not dissimilar to Heisenberg, Hurd argues that, in the process of singling out religion for support or censure, governments, lawmakers, advocacy groups and others alter the complex field of social relations that they purport to manage. They change religion through the process of sighting it.

Read The uncertainty principles of Heisenberg and Hurd.
April 19th, 2016

A more anxious freedom

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Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomElizabeth Shakman Hurd’s Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion is notable for its subtlety and intellectual generosity, as well as its breadth and depth of engagement with contemporary scholarship and public affairs. This is also a book with a big, hard-hitting idea of its own. Its primary thesis is crystal clear, timely, and provocative: “religion” cannot serve as the basis for scholarly analyses or the formation of policy. I agree with that: individuals, communities, and events are more complex than the idea of religion can capture; indeed, the very idea of religion often gets in the way of understanding how those things work.

Read A more anxious freedom.
April 14th, 2016

Competing inequalities

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Saba Mahmood | Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority ReportSaba Mahmood’s Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report is a luminous, fiercely argued book. It requires deep and ongoing engagement precisely because Mahmood stages a conceptual-ethical impasse from which there is no easy exit. Her timely intervention reminds us that the predicament of minority religion is neither anachronistic nor resolved. Rather it is ongoing, and immediate.

In what follows, I think with Mahmood and ask how her argument about the intertwined lives of religion and politics, and the crises of recognition they produce, may play out on the Indian subcontinent with its history of Muslim minority, and affirmative constitutionalism.

Read Competing inequalities.
April 12th, 2016

A salutary tremor

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Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomWhat logics, strategies, and effects characterize the category of religion as an instrument for governing social life? What possibilities and foreclosures result from summoning religion to serve novel political ends? Questions such as these subtend much contemporary scholarship on religion; their ascendancy testifies to the puissance of recent deconstructions of the concept of religion, especially those marshalled by critiques of secularism. Rather than conceiving religion as the disavowed other of secular modernity, the burgeoning field of secularism studies has demanded attention to the continual consolidation of “religion” within the problem space of secularism, especially in relation to the dispensation of the modern nation-state. Despite the recent interest in the relationship between secularism and religion, however, the distinctive forms and functions of “religious freedom”—as both a principle for and an object of global governance—have received less attention. Thankfully, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd’s Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion, has arrived to decisively fill this lacuna.

Read A salutary tremor.
April 7th, 2016

The pathologies of religious freedom

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Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomIn the preface to his 1947 essay, Humanism and Terror: An Essay on the Communist Problem, French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote forcefully of the need to push past official accounts and declared principles when assessing the character and justness of a society. Focusing on the lived effects of ideas instead of on “tired sayings” formulated as “venerable truths” was precisely the genius of Marx’s critique of liberalism, Merleau-Ponty explained: “In refusing to judge liberalism in terms of the ideas it espouses and inscribes in constitutions and in demanding that these ideals be compared with the prevailing relations between men in a liberal state, Marx is not simply speaking in the name of a debatable materialist philosophy—he is providing a formula for the concrete study of society which cannot be refuted by idealist arguments.”

Read The pathologies of religious freedom.