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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.