In 2016 the new ICLARS-Ashgate book Series on Law and Religion will publish its first three books. A first volume of the proceedings of the ICLARS last conference, edited by Cole W. Durham and Donlu Thayer, and devoted to the relationship between religion and equality (Religion and Equality: Law in Conflict); an analysis of State and Church relations in Scotland, written by Francis Lyall (Church and State in Scotland: Developing Law); and a collection of essays comparing the transformations concerning religion and the States on the two shores of the Mediterranean, edited by Alessandro Ferrari and James Toronto (Religions and Constitutional Transitions in the Muslim Mediterranean). Three very different books that pose a question: what is the “identity” of this new book Series?
Law and Religion is a blossoming field of studies covering two strictly interconnected areas: religious law, that is the legal systems of different religions, and religion law, that is the law of States and international organizations that deal with religions. The increasing religious diversity and visibility that characterize many parts of the world has shown the inadequacy of the traditional systems of regulation of the relations between States, international organizations, and religious communities and has highlighted the need for new legal strategies and tools. This explains the increasing interest for Law and Religion studies and provides us with an initial clue to define the identity of this new Series. Within the “mare magnum” of the studies and researches devoted to the impact of religion on society, the focus of Law and Religion studies is on the legal regulation of religion, considered both from an internal (religious law) and external (religion law) point of view.
This starting point is deceitfully simple. As a matter of fact it raises a number of problematic issues that need to be taken into consideration. First, is it possible to speak of Law and Religion as universal and well defined categories with a univocal content? Obviously it is not. The notions of law and religion need to be contextualized. They do not have the same meaning and do not perform the same social role all over the world. The need to contextualize these categories and to understand how they are conceived in different social settings is a precondition to any attempt to regulate their relationship. It also needs to be remembered that the relationship between Law and Religion differs across time and space. The notion of Law and Religion as two distinct realms, each of them governed by its own rules is not universally accepted. This distinction is unable to explain (and a fortiori to regulate) what is happening in countries where the process of secularization of law did not take place with the same intensity it had in the Western world. For some commentators, the “Law and Religion” category is itself the product of a specific Western history and therefore other categories may be needed to provide a sound legal regulation of religion globally. Only a more intense and continuous dialogue between Law and Religion scholars from different cultural areas of the world can provide an answer. This highlights the first defining characteristic of the ICLARS-Ashgate book Series: its international focus. The Series is dedicated to furthering comparative work by providing a home for analysis of religion and religious law across the globe. For example, Vincenzo Pacillo is currently writing for us a comparative study of immigration and religious freedom, comparing Italy and the UK.
The second problematic issue concerns the law that is taken into consideration by Law and Religion scholars. Too often it is exclusively State and international law, in particular human rights law. But these are only two normative orders among many. Limiting the analysis to the way in which State and international law deals with religion amounts to focusing on just one layer (and sometimes the most superficial) of the complex regulation of religion, neglecting the existence of a normative web made of overlapping and interacting rules. Comparative lawyers have been discussing this topic for a long time and the outcomes of their research can provide useful hints to law and religion scholars. However, there is a risk that Law and Religion studies as practiced by legal scholars is too legalistic, focusing solely upon formal regulation and paying little attention to how it is enforced, experienced and lived. Comparative work can again provide much needed contextualization here. But, as work in that area has shown, this contextualization cannot be done by lawyers only. There is a need for historical, sociological, anthropological knowledge that lawyers may not possess. Without it, no sound and effective regulation of the relations between law and religion is possible. This provides us with our second defining characteristic of the ICLARS-Ashgate book Series: its interdisciplinary focus. Although we will be publishing doctrinal legal analyses, we will also include works that draw upon theology, sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy and so on. Again, some of these will be the main focus of works while other books will combine a number of disciplinary approaches. These disciplinary approaches are designed to build upon rather than replace the doctrinal legal analysis. For instance, Sandy Forsyth is currently writing a book for us on theological and legal approaches to reconciliation.
A third weakness of Law and Religion studies is the gap between religion law and religious law. States are busy enacting rules to answer the demands coming from religious communities, but without a sound knowledge of these communities’ internal law their demands are unintelligible and the answers are likely to be wrong. In publishing work on both religion law and religious law, the ICLARS-Ashgate book Series seeks to underscore how the distinction between religion law and religious law is only made to suggest their interconnectedness. It is designed to encourage Law and Religion scholars to develop links between studies of religion law and religious law and to develop helpful tools to effectively address the problems posed by religious diversity. This is the third defining feature of the Series: its focus on innovation. The Series will publish innovative works, both in terms of new contributions to knowledge but also ideas that can be used to develop policy. For this reason, the Series is especially committed to publishing monographs based on doctoral theses. For example, Megan Pearson is currently developing her PhD arguing for a proportionality approach to religious rights into a monograph for us.
These are big questions that need to be explored in depth. This Series aims to provide the space for this debate. The last twenty years or so has seen religion become the subject of greater attention in academia generally. The studies and researches of Law and Religion need not only to keep up with the progress of other disciplines and fields of studies but also to engage with them, sharing ideas and insights. It is only fitting, therefore, that although the Series will focus on the legal regulation of religion, it will extend further than this because the legal regulation of religion cannot be properly understood without the contributions coming from history, theology, sociology, anthropology and so on. The last couple of decades have seen an explosion of interest in law and religion in many parts of the world. It is now time to develop that further by increasingly ambitious analyses. The ICLARS-Ashgate book Series will provide a home for such scholarship with its focus on being international, interdisciplinary and innovative.
Suggestions, thoughts, queries and proposals for edited collections and monographs to be included in the Series are more than welcome. Please feel free to email Dr Russell Sandberg, the Series Managing Editor, at SandbergR@cf.ac.uk or Alison Kirk, the Publisher, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Silvio Ferrari – Russell Sandberg
Religion and Law in the Czech Republic