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Law on Trial 2017: Religion On Trial

The School of Law’s annual ‘Law On Trial’ event, a week-long programme of free to attend public lectures and panel discussions will this year focus on the theme of religion. It will be: ‘Religion On Trial’. Running from Monday 12th to Friday 16th June 2017, the event brings together academics, recognised internationally as authorities in their field, both from the School of Law's own ranks and from around the world.


These are free events, however booking is required via the links below.

Monday, 12th June 2017 - “Why Does Liberalism Find It So Hard To Cope With Religious Identity?”

  • Professor Akeel Bilgrami (Columbia University)
  • Professor Akeel Bilgrami’s lecture will consider why liberal political and constitutional doctrine finds it so hard to cope with the concept of identity, in particular religious identity, as it surfaces in Politics. He will focus on Islamic identity and the case of free speech and blasphemy, as for example, in the aftermath in liberal democratic states of the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. The lecture, in constructing this argument, will seek to steer past the usual communitarian critiques of liberalism to more underlying considerations of practical reason and moral psychology and show their relevance to the most fundamental aspects of politics and the law. The lecture will argue that the most fundamental issues are not about community vs the individual but rather about the mentality of liberalism versus the mentality of identity politics, looking to questions of commitment both in constitutions and in deep religious commitments.
  • Book your place for this event here

Tuesday, 13th June 2017 - “Babylon System: Prophecy and Political Advocacy in Marley’s Lyric”

  • Professor Patricia Tuitt (Birkbeck)Dr Kevin Barker (University of Suffolk) and poet/author Kwame Dawes
  • Abstract: "Babylon system is a vampire, sucking the blood of the sufferah" (“Babylon System”). In Rasta iconography and cosmology, Babylon represents a complex spiritual and political force that allows Rastas to explore issues of diaspora, oppression and liberation with the contemporary space.  Reading the use of “babylon” in Marley’s oeuvre offers a remarkable insight into his poetic skills, his prophetic vision and his political clarity. This lecture will feature discussion and insight from poet and author Kwame Dawes.
  • Book your place for this event here

Wednesday, 14th June 2017 - "Islamic Law and Gender Justice"

  • Qudsia Mirza (Birkbeck)
  • Reformist and progressive scholars are reinterpreting the sources of Shari’a in order to challenge interpretations of the Qur’an and the Hadith literature within the classical Islamic tradition which have given rise to a normative gender hierarchy. They are engaged in an epistemological project of challenging interpretations that have produced theological, legal and ethical principles that conflict with contemporary notions of gender equality.
  • This panel addresses a number of key questions pertinent to the development of the contemporary reformist movement, particularly in the area of Islamic feminism. How do reformists/feminists conceptualise the notions of gender and equality in their interpretations of the tradition? To what extent does a reconfiguration of gendered rights entail a reliance upon the notion of an Islamic ‘purity of origin’ and a discourse of authenticity? How do reformists reconcile the needs of modernity with the classical tradition, particularly in their choice of interpretive methodologies?
  • Book your place for this event here

Thursday, 15th June 2017 - “Islamic Finance: the Middle East, Malaysia, and the West"

  • Daniele D'Alvia (Birkbeck)
  • The panel aims at providing an in-depth account of Islamic conceptions of gharar in contrast to current Western conceptualisations of risk, using the respective financial legal frameworks of both as criterion. One of the more decisive stakes of the difference of approaches distinguishing Islamic and contemporary Western legal orders today concerns the regulation of financial markets; rather than focussing exclusively on the study of classical Islamic finance’s features such as the prohibition of interest (riba) or usury and its criminalisation, the panel will therefore approach its object according to a comparative-legal-studies agenda. This proceeding should enable us to investigate whether and how the definitions of risk and uncertainty — crucial features of our financial markets — can be understood as preferentially related to specific features of Islamic law. Instances of legislative accommodation of Islamic finance as well as legal transfers/transplants will serve us as clues and examples destined to grant an unprejudiced study and evaluation, and an open-ended reflection of whether Islamic finance can, both despite and because of its difference to Western finance models, represent itself also as a source (as opposed to: only as an address) for legal borrowing and transplants.
  • Book your place for this event here

Friday, 16th June 2017 - “Demystifying Secularization"

  • Dr Marinos Diamantides (Birkbeck) and Dr Anton Schutz (Birkbeck)
  • This session is devoted to a recently published book, co-authored by School of Law members Dr Marinos Diamantides and Dr Anton Schutz: “Political Theology: Demystifying Universalism”. Anton Schutz will speak on the topic: “Religion, Secularization, Christianity”.
  • Religious communities, creeds, rites, confessions, are not immune against new sociological trends (“spectacularization”, “extended labelling approach”, “new mediators”, etc.) which currently replace an increasing number of matters with forms of representing those matters. The new tendency, sometimes referred to as “populism”, has, as far as religions are concerned, also an effect on the economy of power structures: it tends to substitute mass-media-generated authorities for internal hierarchies. At the same time, a growing reliance on the form of comparison gives rise to new differential evolutions, as an outcome of which the general term “religion” acquires an increasingly different sense according to each religion specifically. This, in turn, transforms the specific endowment of certain religious communities by transforming them, from versions of, or variations about, the generic theme “religion”, into fully fledged forms of social existence (giving rise to identities that increasingly reside in incompatible belonging, rather than mere faith), while certain other communities rely, on the contrary, on their privileged relationship to the becoming secular and modern of modern secular society.
  • Book your place for this event here

About Law on Trial 2017: Religion On Trial

In light of various scholarly efforts (history, theology, sociology, hermeneutics) we are able to analyse what the experience of past years has allowed us to conclude regarding the dependence of power networks upon communitarian structures based on religion. Doubtlessly, religious evolution needs to be read autonomously. Even so, the new world-wide take-off of religion allows us to grasp:

• Longstanding South-North confrontations, the worldwide defeat of institutionalized socialism and the neoliberal exacerbation of global inequality, have generated an immense suck for plausible programs. Political principle has lost its credibility and is no longer able to channel such promises. How can religion found a new power politics?

• How can standard versions of liberalism be modified, put upside down, replaced, etc., in order to enable religious forms absent from its own genesis to find their place?

• Modernity, historically speaking, is the result of efforts in favour of dividing up that which makes sense inside of religion, from that which makes sense outside of religion. Modernity's religion does not include everything. Yet, on closer look, not all religious traditions sit equally well with such a divide. Friday’s lecture will discuss the relevant aspects of Christianism.

• An important percentage of the world’s population is born into one or the other forms of Islam. This gives rise to encounters with diverse issues, as they used to be flourishing, in non-Islamic cultures, outside of religion. By means of which concepts and operations does Islamic international economy function in international economy today? What is the state of the questions of Feminism and Gender studies in the Islamic world today? Two of our sessions will deal with these questions.

• The world of religions today includes an important number of non-standard religions. The case of the Rastafarians extends as far into the history of music as into that of religiously inspired spirituality. One of our sessions will be devoted to the Rastafarians.

The undecidable encounter of the post-religious and the post-secular — challenges, persistences, shifts

The matter of legally equal, sociologically equifunctional religions is often identified with that of a number of large and readily identifiable ‘main’ religious communities, a small number easily to be counted on the fingers of one hand. Yet, through looking back to an often conflict-ridden past, and diverging from each other throughout, even these happy few share one common experience: the exposure to the inhospitable (for religions) environment of modernity.

The evolutionary path of human society leads in a direction in which an increasing number of people give ever more of their time and attention to such tasks, motives and operations, as are imposed by their short-term chances and risks, moves and exploits, and ever less, to the rights and the claims religion, through its rites, narratives, and collective identity-building, imposes upon them. The ever-growing shares of urban populations world-widehave obviously worked as a de-religionized factor as well.

The time in which the de-religionizing trend has been inverted into a re-religionizing trend coincides paradoxically with the moment in which the campaign promoted under the triumphalist heading of "globalisation" (itself one of a whole cluster of ambivalent innovations setting in around the 1980s) is unfettered, staging a world-wide attempt of upgrading capitalism as a program of secular salvation world-wide. However, the retour en force of religion has subjected religion to a wholly new agenda, which is often more relevant politically and legally than religiously.

The week’s events will look into the matter of religion, taking as its starting point the present state of an evolution that only a few decades ago very few people, if any, would have considered possible. Needless to add, the interest of the manoeuvre is in the observation of the present role of religion — it is not in the comparison or the assessment of particular religious communities.

Past Law on Trial Events

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