Past Workshops
Comparative Religious Law

Comparative Religious Law

Coordinators: Don Davis (Languages & Cultures of Asia) and Jordan Rosenblum (Hebrew & Semitic Studies)
Contact: drdavis@wisc.edu or jrosenblum@wisc.edu

It would seem that law and religion would encompass a very large set of interdisciplinary questions and problems in the humanities. In practice, this subfield has more limited focal points that either reduce broader complexities of law and religion to Church-State issues, assume that our world is fully disenchanted and demythologized, or, by contrast, concentrate on safeguarding religious freedom in legal contexts. Lost in most of this scholarship are the sophisticated and historically significant traditions of religious law that have shaped most legal systems around the world. More specifically, law and religion assumes two stable human institutions and tries to study their connections. Religious law, by contrast, assumes a near indistinguishability of these separated entities and begins from conceptual foundations that challenge “natural” categories such as religion, law, ethics, time, state, and rights by focusing instead on revelation, ritual, eternity, community, and obligation. Still, the very idea of comparative religious law is, therefore, almost wholly unheard of.

The faculty and students in this workshop represent major traditions of religious law that cover the globe and span the historical record. We consider religious law to be an important and neglected area of the wider field of law and religion – one that has a unique integrity and that begs for comparative research in order to illuminate both the thematic and the historical connections between traditions. In particular, the significance of religious law for the humanities must be underscored. Politicians, policymakers, and lawyers often write religious law off as hopelessly backward, always in need of reform, restriction, and rejection. Our workshop is not intended at all as some sort of advocacy group, but we would contend that the history of law and religion is inescapably bound up with religious law and that modern legal systems suffer from certain blind-spots precisely because of their structural and pscyhological commitments to deny their historical and continuing connections to religious laws. At the same time, we recognize and intend to explore ways in which religious law has been and can be used for exploitative and oppressive purposes.

Among the questions that a study of religious law enables are: How can sustainable disagreement be a desirable mode of reason and a telos of hermeneutics? Why is the metaphor of ritual still a useful one to understand the place of law in ordinary life? How do we understand normativity and authority outside the institutions and imaginings of the nation-state? How does law serve as a thisworldly theology that provides meaning for human action? What is law’s power in the domain of ethical self-formation and how do we safeguard against law’s totalizing tendencies? Can comparative religious law help to develop legal structures that do not depend on the structural violence of state law? On top of these questions, there are, of course, a host of important issues raised by the continuing and contemporary presence of religious laws both as part of and in competition with state-based laws. How have new media affected the communication of and interpretations of religious law? What are the advantages, but also the limits, of religious law for the preservation of identity and the development of a thriving, but not chaotic, pluralism in the public sphere? How are governments positively incorporating religious laws into state legal structures or, conversely, manipulating religious law authority systems for political ends?

EVENTS


Yonglin Jiang

Visiting Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, Bryn Mawr College

In the Name of Spirits: The Miao Priest as a Lawmaker-Lawfinder

April 26, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

Lubar Commons, 7220 Law

Religious values and practices have played a significant role in shaping legal culture in China’s long history. Even under contemporary secular Communist government, religion and law are still closely interrelated and interact on each other in ethnic minority communities. In the “Miao Territory” at Fenghuang County, Hunan Province, the Miao (or “Hmong” as addressed outside China) society retains rich religious tradition. This talk focuses on its ritual specialist—the Miao priest, examining how he formulates, articulates, and applies community rules. Operating under Miao customary law, the Miao priest serves as one of the center pieces in his society and bridges the ethnic and state laws.

For questions or to join our mailing list, please contact either Don Davis (drdavis@wisc.edu) or Jordan Rosenblum (jrosenblum@wisc.edu).

Sponsored by the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Cosponsored and cofunded by the series on Legal Pluralism, through the Division of International Studies, Global Legal Studies. Also co-sponsored by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, East Asian Legal Studies Center and the UW-Madison China Initiative.

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Clifford Ando

Professor of Classics, History and Law, University of Chicago

Religious Affiliation and Political Belonging in Classical Rome

March 2, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

336 Ingraham Hall

The Romans (like the Greeks) famously lacked a word that corresponds to our “religion.” Classical Latin texts therefore lack, or seem to lack, any means to describe religious affiliation, to say nothing of exclusive ones. As a related matter, scholars of religion since the Enlightenment have tended to regard classical Mediterranean polytheism as inherently tolerant. Finally, recent trends in the study of ancient ritualism have raised questions about the meaning and import of individual investment in rituals conducted by magistrates on behalf of the people, far from the sight of ordinary citizens. In consequence of these views, modern scholars have tended to regard irruptions of intolerance or legal prohibitions in the religious domain as requiring explanation, even as they seem to have robbed themselves of any framework for constructing such. The paper will begin the presentation of an alternative view, arguing that the Romans understood citizenship to have specific religious entailments.

For questions or to join our mailing list, please contact either Don Davis (drdavis@wisc.edu) or Jordan Rosenblum (jrosenblum@wisc.edu).

Part of the A.W. MELLON INTERDISCIPLINARY WORKSHOPS in the Humanities, sponsored by the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Co-sponsored by the DEPARTMENT OF CLASSICS, UW-Madison.

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Jordan Zweck

Professor of English, UW-Madison

November 4, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

Sunday Laws in Old English Texts

On Friday, November 4th, from 1-3 PM, Jordan Zweck (English) will present on Sunday laws in Old English texts.  Readings are available here.

The meeting will be held in Van Hise hall, on either the 12th or 13th floor. Details will be provided soon.

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NORM AND NOUMENON: RELIGIOUS LAW AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES

April 29, 2011 @ 9:15 am

Capitol Conference Room, 5120 Grainger Hall

9:15 Opening remarks
DONALD R. DAVIS, JR.
University of Wisconsin-Madison

9:30 Living by the rules: Law and exegesis in pre-modern India
PATRICK OLIVELLE
University of Texas at Austin

10:45 Break/Refreshments

11:00 “You may neither add to it nor take away from it” (Deut 13:1): Legal revision and hermeneutics in the Hebrew Bible
BERNARD M. LEVINSON
University of Minnesota

2:00 Sufi saint, Shiite imam... and Sunni jurist? The Muslim legal sage in comparative perspective
JONATHAN E. BROCKOPP
Pennsylvania State University

3:15 Break/Refreshments

3:30 Authority in early medieval Canon law: Deferring to the tradition,pioneering new ideas
GRETA G. AUSTIN
University of Puget Sound

4:45 Closing remarks
JORDAN D. ROSENBLUM
University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Mellon Workshop on Comparative Religious Law is supported by the Center for the Humanities, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
with funding from the A.W. Mellon Foundation. Additional funding for the conference from the Center for Jewish Studies.

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Karl D. Shoemaker

On Canon Law

December 1, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

1224 Van Hise Hall

Religious laws are too often written off as hopelessly backward, always in need of reform, restriction, and rejection. In this year-long workshop, faculty and students are invited to consider religious law to be an important and neglected area of the wider field of law and religion.  We hope to explore the historical importance of religious laws and to ask whether modern legal systems suffer from certain blind-spots precisely because of their structural and psychological commitments to deny their historical and continuing connections to religious laws.

For each workshop, a presenter will pre-circulate a short reading or two.  At the workshop, participants will discuss a primary text relevant to the presenter's research.  Together, we will test and develop a vocabulary for the analysis of comparative religious law.  The workshop will meet regularly in Spring 2011 as well and the workshop will culminate in a conference to be held on April 29-30, 2011.

All workshop meetings take place from 1:00-3:00 PM in 1224 Van Hise Hall.

For questions, to receive the readings, or to join our mailing list, please contact either Don Davis (drdavis@wisc.edu) or Jordan Rosenblum (jrosenblum@wisc.edu).

This program is part of the A.W. MELLON INTERDISCIPLINARY WORKSHOPS in the Humanities, sponsored by the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Jordan D. Rosenblum

On Rabbinic Law

November 3, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

1224 Van Hise Hall

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Donald R. Davis, Jr

On Hindu Law

October 6, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

1224 Van Hise Hall