How to think theologically about rights – Stanley Hauerwas

It is quite an overwhelming experience reading the biography and list of Hauerwas’ works. Mostly because it reads like a celebrity’s rather than a theologian’s. I have heard the hype around Hauerwas; how he has been labelled ‘America’s Best Theologian’, holds some prestigious titles and won prestigious scholarships. I have also made a pitiful start of reading his A Community of Character – a book that is, apparently, in the top 100 most important books on religion in the 20th century. Look him up for yourself. It doesn’t take long to see that Stanely Hauerwas is ‘big-wig’ in this type of scholarship.

However, if you watch his interviews, he does seem like a person who has not really strived for his success and accolades. Not to say that his writing, or reading is equal to zero effort – but just that he appears to be a man that lives and breathes the profound. Whose mind is constantly wired in the abstract, the nuanced, and the critical. A man who would have been thinking and writing about these things regardless of where it took him in his career.

An interesting man that will probably take a fair bit of time to unravel and understand. I hope to get to know him through his writings over the years. If your interest has also been piqued somewhat, have a look here: https://divinity.duke.edu/faculty/stanley-hauerwas.
What I like about this list is that he also includes his own recommendations for reading.

The following excerpts are from an article that he wrote for the Journal of Law and Religion in 2015. It touches on a topic that has been nagging at my intellect for a while. It does appear, in some ways, ‘blasphemous’ for a person to disagree with human rights, and even down right contradictory for a Christian to speak out against our modern day standards of elite ethics and virtue. In this article, Hauerwas comically relays this sentiment and states, “I take it to be a mark of our times that a theologian may have worries about whether God exists, but we cannot call into question the status of rights”. He goes on to offer an important counter-rhetoric to how we, as Christians, should be questioning rights, and more specifically, ‘rights language’. By using the works of Simone Weil and Rowan Williams, Hauerwas attempts to provide a way to interact with rights language, without having to necessarily prescribe to the narrative of its ultimate, end-goal importance.

It has made me further question how rights language is not used in the Bible. How Jesus did not come stirring up people’s entitlement to certain rights in order for people’s inherent value to be shown, but rather, in order to do so, he gave up everything he had, including his life.

It has also reminded me of the work of Martti Koskeniemmi, who focuses on international human rights law as a language, and the power and limitations of that language. Unfortunately, I will have to brush up on my research to give you more detail, but I do remember his work leading me to affirm the belief that rights, and especially when looked at as merely a language, are just a means to an end. They are not our overall goal. This is correlative to Hauerwas’ belief that rights should merely serve as a tool to harbour “thick moral relationships” between one another. He argues that they should serves as reminders or these relationships, and cannot be “mistakenly assumed to be more basic” than virtues, such as kindness.

Perhaps the language of rights does further propel the notion of entitlement.

I know I may have stirred up some questions, so please read on, for Hauerwas has done this topic much more justice than what I could here at this time.
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‘The Study of Law and Religion in the United States’, John Witte

John Witte is the Director of the Centre for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University. Emory is known for its robust scholarship in Law and Religion studies, with Witte as a great contributor. Find a select bibliography and more information about Witte at: http://law.emory.edu/faculty-and-scholarship/faculty-profiles/witte-profile.html. 

The following are excerpts from an article that traces Law and Religion scholarship and its development in the United States. It is clear that the American scholarship in this area is quite overwhelming. This made me wonder what the state of Law and Religion Scholarship is in my own country of Australia, and it appears to be quite the opposite. Australia seems to still be questioning the legitimacy of intersecting law and religion, which does make sense when it is considered that we have had a not too dissimilar mindset from American jurisprudence regarding separation of Church and State. Witte follows the degeneration of the wall of separation for his own society, which calls to question whether similar legal traditions, i.e. Australia, may follows suit.

All in all, an article worth reading as it serves as a great introduction for people who are wanting to venture into the nuances of this scholarship, and for those looking for areas that call for further research. It also serves as a dose of perspective, calling us in our different religious traditions, to approach each other with deep reverence instead of with unease and contention, so that we would not miss the opportunity to deepen our understanding, and our relationship with God.  Continue reading

New Adventures for 2017

A goal that I am trying to achieve this year is to be accepted into a Legal Research Dissertation elective for my University studies.

As the history of this blog probably suggests, I became very interested in the intersection of law and religion. It was only natural I suppose. So, it is just as natural that my proposed thesis topic will be around law and religion, and what it means to be a Christian and engage in the public square.

The next few posts will most probably be quotes and thoughts about the reading I will do in order to prepare for my proposal, due in June. I’ve just heard it’s a good way of documenting research and practising the elusive art of putting down ideas and concepts.

If you have any suggestions about further material I should turn my mind to, please let me know.

Please enjoy this picture of a scenic mountain view. I was trying to exercise my WordPress skills, to again realise, I have close to none. It is a great view though.

landscape-mountains-nature-lake