The book blog
My new book, The Politics of Islamic Law, presents an approach to the study of religion, comparative politics and law that begins with the contradiction and ambiguity produced by the interplay among sacred texts, institutions of state and society, and actors working with the tools they have at hand. By seeking to understand the development of the category of Islamic law as a “problem-space” for the modern state, the book invites further exploration of how Muslim futures are being framed and discussed, historicizing what David Scott has framed as “the particular questions that seem worth asking and the kinds of answers that seem worth having.” (2004:4) In this exploration the question – ‘whose law?’ – turns out to be as important, if not more important, than the question – ‘which law?’ This generates a new set of questions in the study of the politics of Islamic law: in what domains of Muslim life is Islamic law being raised once again, and by whom? In what domains of Muslim life has Islamic law been made silent? What political compacts and struggles underwrite these claims for presence or absence, and upon what institutional and social foundations do they rely? Over what kind of human subject do they lay claim, and how might this subject speak to the law? To what version of the past do they refer, and to which vision of the future?Read The Politics of Islamic Law: An introduction.
The United States is unique among nations in claiming a heritage of religious freedom and a mission to spread it overseas. This is difficult to dispute. What has become hotly disputed is how this is to be regarded.
An “orthodox” view holds that the United States has played a special role—a providential part, as some would have it—in carrying a universal message of religious freedom to the world. First, American colonies were havens for religious refugees; then the American founding was a milestone for constitutional norms of religious freedom; then, over the subsequent two centuries, the United States became a haven for religious people unwelcome elsewhere: Baptists, Mormons, Mennonites, Muslims, Amish, Catholics, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others.Read Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power.
I would like to thank each of the contributors to this series for their generous engagement with my book, Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion. In this response I address a question that arose in several of the posts: what is the role of the scholar or expert in responding to what comes “after” or lies “beyond” religious freedom? In working on this project I have encountered considerable anxiety concerning what Jeremy Walton refers to as the threat of a “conceptual and political vacuum” arising in the wake of the argument of this book. I am interested in engaging with the concerns that motivate that anxiety. I also want to push back against the insistence that a strong prescriptive stance is required to do the work that I do. There are other paths forward and I’ll discuss a few of them here.Read Religion and politics beyond religious freedom.
Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion 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 Rethinking religion in a political scientific wilderness.
Benjamin 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”.
I 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 Law’s. 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.
Several 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.
Ben 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.
In 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.
Let 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.
Traditionally, Western thought framed human life as evolving in a three-dimensional space: the economic, the political, and the philosophical. Nowadays, as in times past, this tradition sets its origins in classical Athens, a time when the happy and self-sufficient public life of politics and the solitary one of philosophy were nourishing on the surplus generated by the economy. The economy was confined to the private sphere of the household and excluded from the public sphere that was occupied by politics. The Origins of Neoliberalism: Modeling the Economy from Jesus to Foucault retells the history of the West following the less traversed economic side of the story by conducting a philological history that traces the meanings that were attached to the notion of oikonomia in Greek speaking antiquity. Doing so, the book offers a twist on the historical narrative of the present: it argues that the rise of the “economy of the mystery which from eternity has been hid in God who created all things” (Ephesians 3:9) in Greek-speaking Christianity of late antiquity plays a decisive role in this history. By reinserting this too-often ignored chapter, the book goes beyond closing a great gap in the histories of economic thought, philosophical inquiries, and political theory. As the research conducted in the book is of a genealogical nature, The Origins of Neoliberalism holds (and demonstrates) that recovering the mysteries of the economy in early Christianity is of great relevance for any critical engagement with neoliberalism, let alone overcoming it.Read The Origins of Neoliberalism: Modeling the Economy from Jesus to Foucault: An introduction.
Luke 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.
Jonathan Sheehan and Dror Wahrman’s Invisible Hands: Self-Organization and the Eighteenth Century presents a fascinating exploration of the proliferating logics of self-organization across various Enlightenment discourses, ranging from metaphysics and political economy to botany, mathematics, and epistemology. The book reinterprets a wide array of well-known figures and recovers a set of forgotten minor characters who, in different ways, attempt “to rediscover a meaningful world beyond the random motions of an Epicurus or Lucretius, beyond the older pieties of Christianity, and beyond the cold world of Descartes.” The complex language of self-organization that permeated the emerging sciences offered a malleable vehicle that was able to grapple with problems of accident and causality, the mysteries of aggregation, the nature of organic life, and the complexity of modern existence.Read Invisible Hands.
Community 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?.
In 1937, some of the most prominent and influential Protestant leaders in the United States travelled to Oxford for a global gathering with their coreligionists to address the troubles plaguing the world. In profound moments of collective prayer at this multi-national gathering, Protestants asked themselves out loud: “Have I allowed my Volk heritage, through my own ignorance, pride and self-centeredness, to become ‘a middle wall of partition’ between me and those of other races and cultures?” Those gathered at Oxford’s St. Mary’s Cathedral paused and then asked together, “Have I been truly a brother to my fellow-men irrespective of caste, color, creed and nationality?”Read For God and Globe.
Resurrecting 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.
In 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.
It 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.