Paper Presentation during Journal of Law, Religion & State International Conference on ‘The Rule of Law – Religious Perspectives’, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel, 20-22 November 2016

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For the program of the conference, see:

The call for papers for the conference can be found here:

http://www.ssrn.com/update/lsn/lsnann/ann16021.html.

The original paper proposal which I submitted, read as follows:

Christianity, Liberalism, and the Rule of Law

During the last decade or so the discipline of constitutional law has changed considerably. It has become more comparative, interdisciplinary and theoretical. What has not happened yet, however, is that constitutional lawyers have become more (openly) aware of their philosophical presuppositions. Thus, it is still commonplace for central concepts of the discipline, such as the rule of law, to be treated as if they do not at least partly have their historical roots in religions like Christianity, or as if such religions currently no longer have anything to contribute to these concepts.

This is remarkable, given that for example Michel Rosenfeld has had to concede ‘that there is no consensus on what “the rule of law” stands for, even if it is fairly clear what it stands against. An important part of the problem is that “the rule of law” is an “essentially contestable concept,” with both descriptive and prescriptive content over which there is a lack of widespread agreement.’

In light of the above, the proposed paper will depart from the idea that the concept of the rule of law is somehow intimately connected with Western liberal tradition. As Michael W. McConnell has argued, the history of liberalism in turn goes back further than the Enlightenment of the 18th century. It is probably more accurate to regard the 16th century Reformation as having given rise to liberalism, with its emphasis on the idea of individual conscience.

McConnell has also elaborated upon the similarities between some of the core doctrines of liberalism and particular Christian theological principles. Of these different connections, the one between the notion of limited government and the idea of the separation of church and state will be singled out, i.e. libertas ecclesiae or the ‘freedom of the church’. As McConnell puts it, ‘[i]n this view, religious freedom comes into being not as a result of ontological individualism but as a result of the jurisdictional separation between these two sets of authorities. (…) While theological in its origin, the two-kingdoms idea lent powerful support to a more general liberal theory of government. The separation of church from state is the most powerful possible refutation of the notion that the political sphere is omnicompetent – that it has rightful authority over all of life. If the state does not have power over the church, it follows that the power of the state is limited.’

The proposed paper will argue that this prescriptive meaning ascribed to the concept of rule of law by Christianity takes on a renewed relevance at a time when sovereignty claims by religious institutions are increasingly regarded by their critics as incompatible with the idea of state sovereignty being the only legitimate source of sovereignty. Thus, it is unfortunately presented as if a clear choice will need to be made between the jurisdictional approach to religious freedom and the modern liberal view that sees sovereignty within the liberal democratic state as essentially monistic in nature.

Upcoming Speaking Engagement, Seventh International Conference on Religion & Spirituality in Society, 17-18 April 2017, Imperial College London, London, UK

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‘The Religion and Spirituality in Society knowledge community sets out in its conference, journal, book series and online community, to describe, analyze and interpret the role of religion in society. The community’s intellectual project is neutral with respect to the agendas of particular religions or explicit counterpoints to religion such as agnosticism or atheism.’

‘The Seventh International Conference on Religion & Spirituality in Society features research addressing the following annual themes and the 2017 Special Focus.

THEME 1: RELIGIOUS FOUNDATIONS THEME 2: RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY AND SOCIALIZATION THEME 3: RELIGIOUS COMMONALITIES AND DIFFERENCES THEME 4: THE POLITICS OF RELIGION​ 2017 Special Focus: Respecting Difference, Understanding Globalism’

Source, and more information: http://religioninsociety.com/2017-conference.

My own contribution is entitled ‘The Significance of Institutional Religious Freedom for Liberal Democracy’:

Questions surrounding the institutional dimension of religious freedom are among the most fundamental of our time. The reason for this is that they raise important issues regarding liberal democracy as such. As Jean L. Cohen pointed out, one of the reasons for this is because institutional religious freedom puts the sovereignty of the state, which has already eroded externally, also under pressure internally. As a result, the topic of institutional religious freedom is not just relevant to specialists in the right to freedom of religion or belief, or even human rights for that matter, but also from a more general religious studies point of view. Cohen considers it problematic that state sovereignty comes under pressure from communal religious freedom, because this constitutes a return to Medieval times. According to her, the idea of liberal democracy rests upon a monistic sovereignty conception. Although this is certainly a legitimate proposition, and probably the current dominant one, the proposed paper will argue in favour of a more inclusive conception of liberal democracy. According to this conception, within liberal democracy there is also room for those who adhere to a jurisdictional approach to religious freedom, i.e. recognise multiple sovereignties in a liberal democracy.

See: http://cgpublisher.com/conferences/384/proposals/50/index_html.

Participant, Conference on Religion and Power: New Directions in Social Ethics, Princeton University (March 12 & 13, 2015)

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‘Questions about power, justice, and the role of religion in social protest remain as vital as ever. This conference provides a timely occasion to address important practical and methodological issues in the field of social ethics. By bringing theorists and practitioners together, we hope to spark fresh conversations about the ways that the actions and relationships of ordinary citizens relate to various social structures, practices, and expressions of power.’

Speakers included:

Ernesto Cortés, Jr., the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) co-director and executive director of the West / Southwest IAF regional network; and

Luke Bretherton, Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School and author of Resurrecting Democracy. Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life (2014).

For the full conference schedule, see:

http://religion.princeton.edu/religionandpower/conference-schedule/.