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Review of Sacks, _The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning_

December 31st, 2012

Review of Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning. New York: Schocken Books, 2011. 370 pp. $28.95 By Yitzhak Lewis As the title suggests, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ new book, The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning attempts to tackle one of the Modern predicaments of faith head on. The question is how to understand the radical division that exists in contemporary thought between science and religion, and what ought a religious individual make of this division? As Sacks quickly illustrates, this is not merely a perceived division. More fundamentally, it is a division in the way we perceive the world. The lion’s share of the book elaborates the lines along which this division is perceptible and sets up an extensive set of dichotomies to prove (if I may borrow such a scientific word) the very existence of this division in thought. To be clear, Sacks does not argue that this Modern division is merely perceived (or worse, invented by scientists trying to debunk religion). Quite to the contrary, he upholds this division, supporting it with his own empirical arguments (another scientific word) about neuropsychology, physics, political science, sociology and history. By the end of “Part One: God and the Search for Meaning” the attempt to understand this Modern predicament wades forward through a swamp of binary oppositions. The dichotomy Science/Religion has been exegetically elaborated into expertise/authority, future/past, reason/revelation, deconstruction/construction, how/what, function/meaning, form/content, left hemisphere/right hemisphere, body/mind, Athens/Jerusalem, male/female, left-to-right script/right-to-left script, West/East, either-or/both-and, argument/narrative, tragedy/hope, empiricism/imagination, reason/emotion, system/story… The lists go on, but I would not want to belabor the point. Reading these sets vertically one notices that the religious “ideal type” would in fact be the hopeful narrative of an Eastern female in right-to-left script. Or, at least, this is the argument made by a Western male in English. This may seem ironic at first glance but it does, upon deeper reflection, encapsulate the very predicament Rabbi Sacks is trying to understand in this book: the seeming mutual exclusion that Western thought has adopted (or inserted) between science and religion. This insertion, if not taken facetiously ad absurdum, would lead to a more pertinent conclusion: overcoming the Modern predicament of religious faith, Rabbi Sacks would no doubt agree, is not the hopeful narrative attempt of an Eastern Chinese female to be a Western white man. It is the hopeful narrative attempt of a Western white man to remain a hopeful Western white man, that is, not to be excluded from this category in spite of any division Modernity may insert into our perception of the world and irrespective of religious faith. In this sense Rabbi Sacks continues a long line of Jewish thought that deals with questions of faith in the Modern world. It is doubtful that anyone has experienced the Modern predicament of faith as deeply as Rabbi Nachman of Braslav (1772-1810). The tormented master, as his biographer Arthur Green (1981) calls him, speaks of the great power of enlightenment, reason and science: the power to turn faith into a leap, a leap over the division inserted between rational thought and religion, a leap into the abyss of doubt. We live now in the most auspicious time for faith, Rabbi Nachman tells his students (Likkutei Moharan A, 21), since neither the past history of the world nor the coming days of the Messiah will be as felicitous for true faith. Before the enlightenment and the age of reason we were incapable of true faith. Since our knowledge was riddled with prejudice it was not possible to discern reality from imagination, nor truth from preconception, and hence it was impossible to maintain a faith free of prejudice. In the coming days of the Messiah, on the other hand, there will be no need for faith since God will be self evident to all; “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea,” (quoting Isaiah 11:9), the knowledge of God, he explains, not the faith. But now, when science and reason can prove conclusively that God is neither empirical reality nor categorical imperative, now that the abyss of doubt gapes more widely than ever, it is now that adherence to God is truly an act of faith. Only in the age of enlightenment are we truly free to believe.[1] A profound theosophical observation, to be sure, and it is clear how Rabbi Sacks follows in its footsteps. “Debates about religion and science have been happening… since the seventeenth century” he states on the very first page, but it is only now that these categories have been solidified into two distinct and divided ways of perceiving the world that we can fully appreciate what we stand to lose (as the opening chapter of “Part Two: Why It Matters” is titled). Here comes Rabbi Sacks’ liberal democratic insight that will go a long way in updating Rabbi Nachman’s observation: science and reason cannot maintain the inherent value of human beings. This, Rabbi Sacks argues, has been demonstrated by the greatest political projects of the age of enlightenment: the French Revolution, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and Communist China (102). The idea of Man’s creation in God’s image is neither empirically real nor rationally robust. To hold strong by this idea one must leap into the abyss of rational doubt, into the realm over which science and reason have no grasp: religious faith. “Faith is the courage to take a risk” (286 – ‘to take a leap,’ Rabbi Nachman might have corrected), Rabbi Sacks states in the final “Part Three: Faith and Its Challenges”. In the introduction, Rabbi Sacks had made a commendable promise: “Religion has done harm as well as good… This is a shattering fact and one about which nothing less than total honesty will do. We need to understand why religion goes wrong. This is what I try to do in chapter 13” (6). Nearly 250 pages later he has the courage to take the risk. Rabbi Sacks begins this most honest account by asserting that religion goes wrong for several reasons that can and should all be guarded against. It goes wrong when sacred texts are read literally; when coming to terms with the existence of evil reduces monotheism to dualism; when the gap between what is and what ought to be is so large we begin to hope for the apocalypse; when we mix up religion in the political pursuit of power; and when we fail to see there is more than one answer to the central questions of mankind. All of these can and should be guarded against by the traditional institutions of monotheism and interpretation on the one hand and the Modern institutions of secular democracy and civic dialogue. This promise (to deal honestly and openly with the challenges of faith) lies at the heart of Rabbi Sacks’ engagement with questions of Modern faith, and is the key to grasping the broader picture of his ambitious project. It is also its soft spot. When religion goes wrong, he argues, monotheism is reduced (or increased, perhaps) to dualism. Theodicy poses serious challenges to the faithful. “Dualism is thus able to preserve the goodness of God while attributing the suffering of the faithful to a malevolent force” (256). But what does this dualism look like? What are its attributes? “Dualism is a faith of sharp distinctions,” Rabbi Sacks explains, “between body and soul, this world and the next, material and spiritual, substance and form...” (255) What about the sharp distinction between religion and science, we might ask? What of the extensive set of dichotomies the book has lined up in “Part One”, how is that different from Rabbi Sacks’ predecessors who “saw reality in starkly dualistic terms”? While it may seem there is little difference in the way dualism divides between material/spiritual or form/substance and the way Rabbi Sacks has done so, there is in fact a deep theological difference between dualism and binarism. Dualism relegates God to heaven in order to explain how evil reigns on earth. It inserts a division between the divine and heavenly and the evil and earthly. Its aim is to conceptually separate God from the earthly world so as to defend God against blame for the evils of human reality. For Rabbi Sacks, the binarism at the base of “The Great Partnership” is meant to defend God (or religion) against the fact that science reigns over empirical reality. It inserts (or upholds) a similar divide for two reasons. First, in order to prevent Sacks’ binarism from lapsing into dualism, it is imperative to “keep God out of it”, that is, to reground theological dualism in secular (i.e., scientifically proven, historically verifiable) binaries. Second, “The Great Partnership” between religion and science is a partnership based on division. But unilateral division is not partnership. For science to claim its own division from religion is not enough to create a partnership. It’s not even enough to create a division. This is the broader setting of Sacks’ argument. Religion must identify and maintain its own divisions from science. It must explain in fluent, articulate prose – as Sacks does masterfully – what distinguishes it from reason, empiricism and science (good and bad alike). Atheism may deserve better than the “new atheists”, as Sacks suggests, who wish to insist upon science’s division from religion while resisting religion’s claim to a positive division from science. Traditional-minded Jews, on the other hand, have certainly found their right spokesperson.

[1] For more on this see Joseph G. Weiss. Studies in Braslav Hassidism. Jerusalem, 1974

Marion Katz on prayer in Islam

December 30th, 2012

Marion Katz (New York University) has a forthcoming monograph entitled Prayer in Islamic Law and Practice. Here's the blurb:
The five daily prayers (ṣalāt) that constitute the second pillar of Islam deeply pervade the everyday life of observant Muslims. Until now, however, no general study has analyzed the rules governing ṣalāt, the historical dimensions of its practice, and the rich variety of ways that it has been interpreted within the Islamic tradition. Marion Holmes Katz's richly textured book offers a broad historical survey of the rules, values, and interpretations relating to ṣalāt. This innovative study on the subject examines the different ways in which prayer has been understood in Islamic law, Sufi mysticism, and Islamic philosophy. Katz's book also goes beyond the spiritual realm to analyze the political dimensions of prayer, including scholars' concerns about the righteousness and piety of rulers. The last chapter raises significant issues around gender roles, including the question of women's participating in and leading public worship. Katz persuasively describes ṣalāt as both an egalitarian practice and one that can lead to extraordinary religious experience and spiritual distinction. This book will resonate with students of Islamic history and comparative religion.

Conference on “Religious Studies and Rabbinics”

December 30th, 2012

The following announcement of a conference on "Religious Studies and Rabbinics" was circulated via H-Judaic.  
A conference on *Religious Studies and Rabbinics*, co-organized by Elizabeth Shanks Alexander and Beth Berkowitz, will be held at the University of Virginia on February 18-19, 2013.  The goal of the conference is to promote dialogue between the fields of religious studies and rabbinics.   In recent years, scholars of rabbinics have increasingly turned to theories and methods from religious studies to illuminate rabbinic texts and culture. At the same time, the field of religious studies increasingly recognizes the importance of attending to data like that from rabbinic culture, whose legal concerns and exclusively literary remains can complicate existing approaches to religion.  This conference seeks to explore both the opportunities and challenges offered by the encounter between these two fields.   Those interested in attending should be in touch with Deborah Galaski at**   Please see below for a description of the program.   Monday, February 18, 2013*   ***Session I: **Religious Studies, The Humanities and the Secular University   *Kurtis Schaeffer*, "J. Z. Smith on the Humanities... and Human Nature *Charles Mathewes*, “Alexandria between Athens and Jerusalem: Religious Studies as a Humanistic Discipline” *Paul Jones*, “A Cheerful Unease: Theology and Religious Studies”   *Keynote Address *by *Randall Styers*   *Tuesday, February 19, 2013*   ***Session II:  Terms and Stakes in the Encounter*** *Jonathan Schofer*, "Religious Studies and Rabbinics: Past Interactions and Future Possibilities" *Beth Berkowitz*, “Different Religions? Definitions in Rabbinics and Religious Studies”   *Session III: **Challenges and Opportunities in the Encounter*** *Chaya Halberstam*, “The Yoke of Torah: Law and Religion in Rabbinic Judaism” *Elizabeth Shanks Alexander*, “Theology, Religious Studies and Rabbinics” *Ra’anan Boustan*, “Mysticism, Rabbinics and Religious Studies”   *Session IV: **Case Studies*** *Sarit Kattan Gribbetz*, “Time and Religious Identity in Comparative Perspective: Augustine, the Rabbis, and the Roman Calendar” *Jordan Rosenblum*, “Thou Shalt Not Cook a Bird in its Mother’s Milk?: Theorizing the Evolution of a Rabbinic Regulation” *Naftali Cohn*, “Ritual Failure and Ritual Success in the Mishnah: Contemporary Theory For an Ancient Text” *Gregg Gardner*, “Between Religion and Ethics: ‘Acts of Kindness’ (*gemilut hasadim*) in Early Rabbinic Judaism”

New book on “The Nature of Legislative Intent”

December 27th, 2012

Richard Ekins (St. John's College, Oxford) has just published The Nature of Legislative Intent  with Oxford University Press. Here's the blurb:
Are legislatures able to form and act on intentions? The question matters because the interpretation of statutes is often thought to centre on the intention of the legislature and because the way in which the legislature acts is relevant to the authority it does or should enjoy. Many scholars argue that legislative intent is a fiction: the legislative assembly is a large, diverse group rather than a single person and it seems a mystery how the intentions of the individual legislators might somehow add up to a coherent group intention. This book argues that in enacting a statute the well-formed legislature forms and acts on a detailed intention, which is the legislative intent. The foundation of the argument is an analysis of how the members of purposive groups act together by way of common plans, sometimes forming complex group agents. The book extends this analysis to the legislature, considering what it is to legislate and how members of the assembly cooperate to legislate. The book argues that to legislate is to choose to change the law for some reason: the well-formed legislature has the capacity to consider what should be done and to act to that end. This argument is supported by reflection on the centrality of intention to the nature of language use. The book then explains in detail how members of the assembly form and act on joint intentions, which do not reduce to the intentions of each member, before outlining some implications of this account for the practice of statutory interpretation. Developing a robust account of the nature and importance of legislative intention, the book represents a significant contribution to the literature on deliberative democracy that will be of interest to all those thinking about legal interpretation and constitutional theory.

Research fellowships on philosophical investigation of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud and Midrash

December 27th, 2012

The following call for applications for research fellowships in "Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud, and Midrash" comes from the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center:
The Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, in partnership with the John Templeton Foundation, will provide up to two one-year residential awards for advanced scholars and up to four one-year residential awards for post-doctoral students for the purpose of undertaking research on topics in Jewish Philosophical Theology involving the philosophical investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud, or Midrash.  Fellows will be expected to spend the year in residence at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, and to participate in seminars and workshops to be held on these and related topics during the year. Applications are welcome from scholars and students of philosophy, political theory, intellectual history, Bible and Talmud, religious studies, theology, Jewish studies, and related disciplines. An overview of the “Jewish Philosophical Theology” project at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center is available here. A Select Bibliography of relevant scholarship is available here. To apply, please submit the following materials no later than January 31, 2013: 1. Letter of interest. 2. Complete cv. 3. Description of proposed project (including, where relevant, projected table of contents). 4. Published or unpublished work related to the project. 5. Any other materials that you believe would be helpful in helping the selection committee evaluate your fellowship application. 6. Two letters of recommendation (post-doctoral applicants only) All materials must be received no later than January 31, 2013 to assure full consideration. Please direct all correspondence to Ilanit Eisenberg: .

Review of Davidson, _Moses Maimonides: The Man and His Works_

December 24th, 2012

Review of Herbert A. Davidson, Moses Maimonides: The Man and His Works. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005. 584 pp. $65.00. By David Zvi Kalman   Of making many books about Maimonides there is no end, and this seems to be particularly true for biographies of the twelfth-century philosopher, Talmudist, rabbinic authority and doctor. Ten volumes — each written in English, each published in the last century — currently sit on my desk, and there are a considerable number of others, each advocating for a particular audience a particular way of reconciling the unusually large and often contradictory testimony preserved concerning the man’s life and legacy. Within this already-crowded space, Davidson’s biography excels. The exhaustive scope of the book is clear from the very start, as the author moves systematically and chronologically through Maimonides’ life, beginning with all available data concerning the contours of his life story (Chapter 1) and whatever is known about his training (Chapter 2). The rest of the book views Maimonides through the lenses of his major scholarly works, beginning with his now-fragmentary Talmudic commentaries, his monumental commentary on the Mishna, and finally his Book of Commandments (Chapter 3). He then proceeds to the Mishneh Torah (Chapter 4) and the early reception of the Mishneh Torah, along with a great deal of helpful information regarding Maimonides’ responsa and other works which Davidson argues have been improperly attributed to Maimonides (Chapter 5). The structure of these chapters is somewhat arbitrary, but this is largely irrelevant since most readers will find that Davidson’s treatments of individual works serve as excellent and accessible introductions to particular areas of Maimonidean thought. Davidson’s footnotes frequently and helpfully send the reader directly to primary sources, and his index is quite broad and navigable, as well. Chapters 6 and 7 are devoted to Maimonides’ philosophical writings, by which Davidson means the Guide to the Perplexed, since he begins by arguing that the Treatise on Logic has been misattributed. As for the Guide, Davidson’s main contention is that the death of Maimonides’ businessman brother David around 1177 forced Maimonides, who was already in his forties, to devote a large portion of his time and mental energy to procuring a livelihood; as a result, apparent contradictions in his philosophical works are often nothing more than that (p. 322 and elsewhere). In any event, Davidson understands the Guide to be primarily a work of Biblical exegesis and not a profound philosophical treatise. As a result, these chapters will be somewhat of a disappointment for those who wish to delve deeply into the philosophical Maimonides and most certainly for anyone in the school of Strauss, whose hermeneutics of persecution Davidson specifically and emphatically undercuts (the two other biographies of Maimonides published in the last decade do not seem particularly enamoured of Strauss, either). Chapter 8, on Maimonides’ medical writings, is a thorough and well-footnoted study of an often overlooked portion of the Maimonidean corpus. Finally, Chapter 9 treats four short treatises, two of which (the Epistle in Opposition to Astrology and the Epistle on Religious Persecution) Davidson claims have been misattributed. All told, the work is perhaps the single most helpful reference volume I have come across in becoming acquainted with Maimonides. For two reasons, however, it is best read alongside either of two other recent biographies: Sarah Stroumsa’s Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker (Princeton University Press, 2009) or Joel L. Kraemer’s Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization’s Greatest Minds (Doubleday, 2008). This is both a result of several idiosyncrasies within Davidson’s portrait as well as the recent and impressive scholarship that has appeared in the past two decades which Davidson seems to have largely ignored. Besides the anticlimactic reading of the Guide, Davidson has a tendency to resolve tensions between different aspects of Maimonides’ writings by claiming that certain works have been misattributed. The reader is left with an impression of Maimonides as a brilliant but bland “Talmudic student” whose interests were first and foremost in understanding the central texts of the Jewish tradition. As Stroumsa has put it in her book: “There can be no doubt, of course, that the study of the Talmud was Maimonides’ bread and butter (or, as Maimonides would put it, bread and meat). But Davidson’s narrow definition of Maimonides as ‘A Talmudic student’ predetermines his image of what Maimonides could or could not have written” (p. 128). Second, the secondary literature Davidson employs is conspicuously dated — few works published past the early 1990s appear by name. This is unfortunate, given the vast advances that have been made in our understanding of Maimonides and his cultural milieu, not to mention newer Genizah research, which has opened our eyes to the significance of Maimonides’ writings beyond their use in traditional yeshivot. It is this research which is almost totally lacking in Davidson’s study. Of course, it is unreasonable to expect Davidson’s work to cite Stroumsa or Kraemer, both of whose biographies appeared after his. Furthermore, neither Stroumsa nor Kraemer can lay claim to the level of detail evident in Davidson’s work; even today his work is unsurpassed and is therefore of immense value. Nonetheless, it — much like Maimonides’ own works — must be read alongside others.  

Valenta, “Pluralist Democracy or Scientistic Monocracy? Debating Ritual Slaughter”

December 20th, 2012

Markha Valenta (Radboud University Nijmegen) has posted "Pluralist Democracy or Scientistic Monocracy? Debating Ritual Slaughter" on SSRN. Here's the abstract:
Many participants in the recent fierce debate on ritual slaughter in the Netherlands have understood this to be a conflict between religious and secular values, pitting religious freedom against animal welfare. The great variety in viewpoints among all groups involved, however – political parties, religious communities, scientists, the meat industry and engaged citizens – makes it impossible to describe any one standpoint as either religious or secular per se. Rather, the politicisation of this issue emerges out of politicisation of diversity in Dutch society more generally. Yet, another development is equally relevant: the growing, though still largely implicit, distinction being made between ‘involuntary’ minority identities based on biology (race, sex and sexuality) and ‘voluntary’ ones based on personal choice (religion and culture). This distinction is crucial for understanding the pressure being put today on the accommodation of religious difference when it is increasingly perceived as a form of voluntary difference from the norm. When this distinction between ‘congenital’ and ‘chosen’ minority difference is considered more closely, however, from the perspective of contemporary scientific research tracking religion in human neurology and evolution, it turns out to be largely untenable. Correspondingly, scientific expertise offers few, if any, solutions to the question of the place of religious truths in secular democracy, but only changes the terms under which they are politicised.

CFP: Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash

December 19th, 2012

The Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center has just circulated a call for papers for a conference on "Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash." Here's the text of the announcement:
Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash The Hebrew Bible occupies an anomalous position on the contemporary academic landscape. The field of biblical studies produces a steady stream of works on the compositional history, philology, and literary character of the biblical texts. But the ideas that find expression in the Hebrew Scriptures—the metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and political philosophy of the biblical authors—have seldom been explored by the field of biblical studies in a systematic fashion. At the same time, philosophers, political theorists, and historians of ideas, who see the study of ideas as the principal interest of their work, tend to assume that the biblical texts fall outside the scope of their disciplines. The result is that despite general agreement that the Bible has had an unparalleled significance in the history of the West, its ideas have remained, until recently, largely beyond the reach of sustained academic investigation. Much the same can be said about the other classical Jewish sources as well: The Talmud and Midrash seem frequently to explore subjects of intrinsic philosophical interest. Yet these texts remain all but unknown to philosophers, political theorists, and historians of ideas. The ongoing neglect of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and Midrash by philosophers is especially striking given the rapidly growing interest in theological questions in philosophy departments throughout the English-speaking world. Over the last generation, Christian philosophers have labored successfully to introduce “philosophical theology” (or, more recently, “analytic theology”) into philosophy departments at leading universities. In keeping with longstanding Christian philosophical tradition, this discipline has focused on a priori argumentation concerning the concept of God as “perfect being,” and has usually been conducted with little reference to the Bible. As a consequence, philosophical theology has until now continued the larger pattern of academic neglect of the ideas of the Hebrew Scriptures and other Jewish sources. This has also meant that philosophical theology has been of only very limited relevance to Jews, whose tradition of philosophical and theological speculation is largely text-based. This is unfortunate because philosophy as a discipline could contribute much to the elucidation of the Hebrew Scriptures and classical rabbinic texts. The law-oriented emphasis of much traditional rabbinic exegesis has meant that these texts have not usually been investigated using philosophical tools and with an eye for philosophical questions. So we can ask what do philosophical questions and the answers that have been given until now teach us about the Bible and Talmud? What, for example, does the nature of the mind or language, reality or morals, as understood by philosophers, have to offer us in enhancing or extending the insights from these traditional sources? The Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, with the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation, has launched an initiative aimed at developing a Jewish “philosophical theology” that will seek to advance the study of the ideas of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Talmud and Midrash in the academic setting. In the context of this project, the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem invites submissions for an interdisciplinary conference on “Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash,” to be held in Jerusalem on July 22-25, 2013. Invited speakers:  Lenn E. Goodman (Vanderbilt University), Roslyn Weiss (Lehigh University), Kenneth Seeskin (Northwestern University), Alan Mittleman (Jewish Theological Seminary), David Shatz (Yeshiva University). This will be the fourth in a series of annual conferences. For the 2013 conference, the organizing committee will give priority to papers and symposiums exploring Human Action: Justice, Righteousness, Love and Awe. The conference will seek to bring to light the nature and significance of normativity and action in Jewish theology by clarifying the meaning of Jewish theological categories having to do with human evaluation and action, and by fitting them into an overall Jewish account of human life and flourishing. However, superior papers and symposiums will be considered on all subjects relating to the philosophical investigation of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and Midrash. This year both papers and symposiums will be considered for presentation. Paper presentations will be 40 minutes + 20 minutes Q&A. Symposiums should include 3-4 shorter presentations on a single topic, text, or set of texts, and will be 1.5-2 hours including Q&A and discussion. All papers accepted for either format must be submitted in full draft form a month prior to the conference. Those proposing papers should submit abstracts of no more than 1,000 words together with a current CV. Those proposing symposiums should submit an overview and abstracts of no more than 1000 words each, together with a current CV of each speaker. The submission deadline is February 15, 2013. An overview of the “Jewish Philosophical Theology” project at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center is available here. A Select Bibliography of relevant scholarship is available here. For information on past conference and to view this announcement online click here. A limited travel fund will be available to assist scholars and students wishing to attend the conference. Conference papers will be considered for publication in a forthcoming anthology of papers. Please direct correspondence to

Copeland, “Creation Stories: Stanley Hauerwas, Same-Sex Marriage, and Narrative in Law and Theology”

December 19th, 2012

Charlton C. Copeland (University of Miami School of Law) has posted "Creation Stories: Stanley Hauerwas, Same-Sex Marriage, and Narrative in Law and Theology" on SSRN. Here's the abstract:
The essay argues explores the use of narrative in both law and theology in the context of the marriage equality movement. This essay argues that the narrative movement in law, which conceives of narrative as individual constructs that can be strategically deployed in the furtherance of substantive objectives, including the attainment of LGBT equality. By contrast, the narrative theological movement conceives of narrative as constitutive of community and individual identity. The narrative theology movement’s resistance of religion’s quest for relevance in the social order underwrites its turn to narrative as an effort to reclaim the particularity of Christian identity capable of generating normative claims on Christian practice. The essay’s central argument is that criticism of the marriage equality movement might be better understood, and might better understand itself, by recognizing their connection to the narrative theology movement. Through a discussion of liberal theological movements and liberal legal movements (here understood as the marriage equality movement), this essay argues that critics of the marriage equality movement share a similar conception of narrative’s constituting power with the narrative theological movement. Their claims rest on a conception of communal identity constructed through narrative that is capable of making normative claims on the strategic choices of the LGBT equality movement. This essay argues that we might understand battles over the strategy of the LGBT equality movement as a battle over what constitutes the authoritative “canon” that is not very different from the battles within particular religious traditions. Finally, it argues that canons cannot be fixed in perpetuity, but must always be accorded authority by the community. Whether sexual liberation or a rejection of state interference remain “canonical” within the LGBT equality movement cannot simply be “de-canonized” by advocates of same-sex marriage, but neither can they be immunized from assessment regarding their continued authoritative status.

Adam Kirsch’s weekly reflections on Daf Yomi

December 19th, 2012

Literary critic Adam Kirsch continues his weekly column on daf yomi in Tablet, reflecting on inadvertent violation of Shabbat in rabbinic thought. Some excerpts:
The idea that underlies the whole of Tractate Shabbat from the very beginning has been the melachot—the kinds of labor prohibited on the Sabbath. But it was not until this week, in Shabbat 73a, that the Talmud finally does what one might expect it to have done on the first page: actually list the 39 categories of melachot. ... The very first question the Gemara asks about the Mishnaic catalog of melachot, however, is an unexpected one—though after several months of reading Daf Yomi, I find myself recognizing it as a familiar example of Talmudic reasoning. “Why,” the rabbis ask, “do I need the number?” That is, why did the Mishnah preface its list by stating that it would contain 39 items? Surely the reader could have tallied them up himself. But it is a basic principle of Talmudic interpretation that every word, every sentence, of a text is there for a reason—whether it is a biblical verse or a line of Mishnah. What purpose, then, did the Mishnah have in mind when it gave this seemingly superfluous number? “It is to teach,” replies Rabbi Yochanan, “that if someone performed all 39 of them in one lapse of awareness, he is obligated to bring a separate sin-offering (chatas) for each one.” In this way, Yochanan picks up the thread of the long and exceptionally intricate discussion that has been in progress since the beginning of Chapter 7. This is a debate over exactly how to calculate the number of penitential offerings a Shabbat violator is required to bring, which in turn depends on how you define a Shabbat violation. ... What concerns the rabbis in Tractate Shabbat, then, is only an inadvertent violation of the Sabbath, for which the rabbinical punishment is to bring a kind of offering known as chatas, a sin-offering. One effect of this restriction is to make it sound as if, in Talmudic times, deliberately breaking the Sabbath was simply unknown among Jews. The idea that there could be a Jewish community where a large majority of the population simply ignores the Shabbat laws—like, say, contemporary American Jews—would have been unthinkable to the rabbis.