CLR Forum: Welcome to the Blogosphere!

CLR Forum: Welcome to the Blogosphere!

CLR Forum is an impressive new entry to the law professor blogosphere has been launched by my St. John’s colleagues Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami.  The CLR Forum is the official blog of the St.John’s Center for Law and Religion, a center which in just one year has put itself on the map hosting conferences and significant scholarly exchange in the area of religious legal theory, comparative law and religion, and religion and human rights.  Their coverage is global, and those of you interested in international and comparative perspectives on the intersection of law and religion will find lots to chew on here.  (See, for example, the proceedings of their “Laïcité in Comparative Perspective” symposium, and this discussion on “Christians in the Middle East: Contemporary Human Rights Perspectives.”)   The “Scholarship Round-up” is one-stop shopping for articles, essays, and books on law and religion and related topics. And the CLR Forum also includes useful posts by their research fellows on legal developments, such as this summary of the various anti-Shari’a laws around the USA.

Here’s Mark Movsesian’s [corrected!] recent response to a Ross Douthat op-ed on religion in the presidential election:

Ross Douthat  . . . argues that reporters are absolutely correct to ask candidates who “wear their religions on their sleeves” to explain how their beliefs would influence their policy decisions.  He cautions, though, that reporters should not assume that a candidate shares the most extreme views associated with his or her denomination, or apply a double standard.  If Barack Obama is not identical with Jeremiah Wright, Michele Bachman may not be identical with R.J. Rushdoony. She’ll have to explain.

I think Douthat is right on both counts, but what interests me is the use of the term “theocracy” in American public life. Traditionally, “theocracy” means government by clergy, the sort of thing that exists today in Shia Iran, and, I suppose, Vatican City.  But that is an extremely rare arrangement nowadays, and no one in America, including the overwhelming majority of conservative Evangelicals, would favor it.  I suppose “theocracy” could also mean a state in which religious law applies to civil matters. That arrangement is the norm in classical Islam, but classical Islamic states no longer exist (except in a place like Saudi Arabia), and it remains unclear whether contemporary Islamists will succeed in re-establishing them.  There is no large movement to govern America according to “Christian law” (what would that be, anyway?).  Rushdoony’s Recontructionists are absolutely a fringe movement, even among Evangelicals.

When critics use the term “theocracy” in America today, it seems to me that they mean “too much religion.” A “theocrat” is someone who makes religious arguments for political programs, uses religious imagery in political speeches, or allows religious beliefs to influence policy decisions.  By this definition, America is a theocracy, and always has been.  For example, American politicians on the left and the right have always used religious imagery to win support for their programs.  But if FDR was a theocrat, the word has no explanatory power….

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Welcome to the blogosphere!

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