October 29, 2007
Religion and Law at Twenty-Five
— Martin E. Marty
"When Religion and Law Meet: The Point of Convergence" was the topic of the twenty-fifth anniversary "look-ahead" conference at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta this past weekend. I had participated in a three-year project there, one of many undertaken and executed at the Center under the direction of Professors John Witte and Frank Alexander. Rather than detail the conference papers from which I learned while preparing the final lecture, I will here focus on what the "convergence" has come to mean.
Quite a few of those scholars who had been "present at the creation" returned, to speak of the changes that had occurred during these twenty-five years. The older-timers remembered that when the Center was first launched under the inspiration of the grand guru of the subject, the very senior Hal Berman, the idea of trying to get professionals in "law" and "religion" to converse and work together was treated mainly with neglect or suspicion. Long traditions of collaboration between the two disciplines were forgotten.
Leaders in the spheres of "Law" and "Religion," like "Medicine" and "Religion," had drifted apart, lost touch with each other, or treated many of each others' concerns and projects with indifference or disdain. Why? Such a distancing seems absurd, given the long history of the common interests and responsibilities of the "religion" and the "law" people. Leaders of both act upon millions of people, and citizenries here and abroad are constantly dealing with both spheres.
Many fault the Enlightenment—the eighteenth century movement which few in law or religion should despise, given its (mixed) blessings and gifts—as well as anti-intellectual versions of nineteenth century religion. The separation paralleled those which, for good or bad reasons, divorced religion from the academy, the clinic, the market. The terrors of "law" and "religion" gone wrong led to mutual mistrust, stereotyping and caricaturing.
But new generations of scholars, represented by the speakers at Emory, now look ahead to better futures. And the pioneering Center at Emory is finding ever more company at other universities and law-and-religion centers, many of which have similarly impressive records, though they are still too easily overlooked by those who deal with law and religion without looking at the philosophical or theological roots and goals of both.
Those gathered at Emory are not united by ideology so much as by vocation and interest. It was not a gathering of those who wanted to bash "Islamo-fascists" or to minimize legal challenges of Muslims who live under shari'ah law, or who wanted to attack Christian Legal Societies or to defend them. The participants were constructive, modeling what they hope will be done elsewhere. The Center's scholars and conferees have published scores of volumes whose contents enhance and advance the conversations and convergences. As a late-comer to these encounters, I have catching up to do, but the sightings of these recent years encourage me to encourage Sightings readers to become acquainted with these excitements and urgencies.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Sightings welcomes submissions of 500 to 750 words in length that seek to illuminate and interpret the forces of faith in a pluralist society. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. The editor also encourages new approaches to issues related to religion and public life.
Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the author of the column, Sightings, and the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Please send all inquiries, comments, and submissions to Kristen Tobey, managing editor of Sightings, at email@example.com. Subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription at the Sightings subscription page.