February 15, 2010

CSLR scholars talk decade's dilemmas

Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR) scholars galvanized discussions around the globe during 2009 on issues of grave importance — religious liberty, international human rights, the application of Islamic law in Muslim and Western societies — to spread a deeper, richer understanding of the challenges the world is facing in the new decade.

“With escalating warfare, terrorism, economic dislocation, and natural disasters, with increasing evidence that our planet is in peril and that the rich and poor, the West and the rest are growing ever further apart, we need to work harder to create greater mutual understanding and cooperation on the fundamentals,” says Director John Witte Jr.  “Now more than ever before, reasoned and robust discussion among all persons and peoples is critical to developing a safe, civilized, and free world for all.  We at CSLR are attempting to do our small part by tackling the tough questions of faith, freedom, and family head on with the goal of increasing understanding across cultural and political chasms.”

This past year, Witte, Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Alonzo L. McDonald Family Foundation Distinguished Professor, offered his expertise on Western legal history, marriage and family law, and religious liberty to various audiences abroad, including Demark, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, and Canada.  He also keynoted the international conference in Geneva, celebrating John Calvin’s 500th birthday and stood at numerous lecterns in the United States, including Colgate University; Harvard; Northwestern; University of Chicago; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Yale; the 5th and 7th Circuit Courts of Appeals, and various smaller colleges.  With 180 articles and 23 books published and five more books under contract, Witte is helping thousands understand the religious sources and dimensions of law, politics, and society.

Senior Fellow Michael J. Broyde, professor of law, kept an equally hectic pace as he helped enlighten audiences about the Jewish perspective on cloning and other biomedical ethics, healthcare reform, and balancing profession and personal ethics in economically challenging times. In the United Kingdom, he was the keynote speaker at Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s Pre-High Holiday Conference, where he spoke about “Understanding Repentance in Interpersonal Sins.” His forthcoming book, “In the Face of Tragedy: Missing Husbands, 9/11 and Jewish Law,” explores the impact of Jewish law on the lives of women who wish to remarry but cannot because their husbands are missing, focusing on 12 women who lost their husbands in the 9/11 terrorist attack.

How Islamic law can and should influence Islamic societies was the focus of Senior Fellow Abdullahi Ahmed An’Na`im’s global lecture tour during the summer and fall of 2009, and his teachings at Georgetown University, where he served as a visiting professor and senior visiting fellow at the Berkeley Center during the fall semester. Speaking before university and governmental audiences in Beirut, Canada, England, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands, he focused on how Islamic law should be handled when Muslims are the majority of a country’s population and when they are the minority in Western countries. He also lectured widely in the United States at the Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.; City University of New York; University of California, Santa Barbara; University of California, Irvine; and University of California, Los Angeles. An-Na`im, who published his legacy book on the subject (“Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari`a,” Harvard University Press 2008), is internationally renowned for his views on Shari`a and his expertise in international law and human rights. He is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory Law.

Increasing understanding of international human rights law in his native South Africa is the focus of Senior Fellow Johan van der Vyver, newly named Extraordinary Professor in the Department of Private Law of the University of Pretoria, which houses a major center on human rights in Africa.  Each summer beginning this year, Van der Vyver will take his 50 years of teaching experience to South Africa, where he is best known as the “doyen” of human rights for launching a campaign of human rights and constitutional reform, organizing the first human rights conference in Cape Town in 1979, and delivering a series of award-winning lectures on human rights that are now anchor texts for the new South Africa. His new book, “Implementation of International Law in the United States,” based on a series of lectures he delivered in Dresden and Trier, Germany, is now under contract with Peter Lang, Germany. At Emory Law, Van der Vyver is I.T. Cohen Professor of International Law and Human Rights and co-director of the project on “Law, Religion, and Human Rights in International Perspective,” sponsored by the Henry Luce Foundation.

Senior Fellow Michael J. Perry is shaping his international human rights teachings at the University of San Diego and at Emory Law to include the concept of political morality, based on his new book, “The Political Morality of Liberal Democracy” (Cambridge University Press 2010). Perry spent the fall 2009 semester at USD as the University Distinguished Visiting Professor in Law and Peace Studies and will return there for fall 2010 and 2011. Back in his post as the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law at Emory Law this spring, he hopes to add into his course the views of his USD students -- many from non-U.S. countries — that the United States uses human rights to influence developing nations. Perry’s latest book, provisionally titled “International Human Rights: Introduction and Overview,” will be published by Routledge in 2012.

Frank Alexander, CSLR founding director and professor of law, continues his mission to reshape mortgage and land use laws, and is expanding this work in 2010 as part of a new national center. An expert in affordable housing and community development, Alexander travels the country to advise local and state governments, draft legislation, and help marshal changes that will make the laws of the land fair and just.  In 2009 he advised and testified before the U.S. House of Representatives and presented to a host of organizations, including the Baltimore City Council, Centers for Disease Control, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Ford Foundation, Georgia House of Representatives, Georgia Institute of Technology, Ohio General Assembly, National Housing Conference, National Vacant Properties Campaign, and University of Florida Levin College of Law.

“It is our hope that not only does this outreach expand and enrich the global discussion, but that our scholars bring back to Emory perspectives that are equally expanded and enriched by their experiences,” says Witte.

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