With dramatic changes sweeping across the Arab world, the role of Islam is once again an international issue. In the West, Islamic civilization and law is often approached with distrust and suspicion. Consider a recent proposal for an Oklahoma Constitutional amendment barring the use of Sharia (Islamic) law in secular courts. Yet, despite this widespread bias, Americans know little about Sharia law. Turning to Judeo-Christian legal traditions, the contemporary American attitude is more conflicted. A pervasive liberal ethos increasingly expresses skepticism about the role of faith in the public square. At the same time, many Americans espouse religious beliefs, and view religion as essential to their modern identity. A recent Supreme Court decision (Van Orden, regarding a public display of the Decalogue) has even affirmed the Judeo-Christian foundation of American law. Nevertheless, Americans also know little about Halakha (Jewish) and Canon (Christian) law.
This course aims to fill this gap by exploring essential themes in Jewish, Christian and Islamic jurisprudence. Evaluating similarities and differences among these Abrahamic legal traditions, the course will examine the following questions: Is law central to these respective religions, and if so, in what manner? What are their respective attitudes to revelation, sacred texts and oral traditions? How much autonomy are humans granted to interpret and adapt sacral law? What is the relationship of law to the state and power? Beginning with a selection of modern religious laws, this course will return to the roots of these religious legal traditions and chart their historical developments. Focusing on each religion, but also mindful of comparative dimensions, the course will underscore seminal legal doctrines and principles of all three legal traditions. Finally, the course will conclude with several case studies analyzing how these religious legal systems approach specific substantive issues (e.g., topics in family and customary law).
*Special topic course