By Michael A. Helfand Pepperdine
University School of Law
Professor Helfand introduces this symposium on Religious Law in the 21st Century. Helfand notes that a recurring theme in recent debates over the relationship between law and religion is the unique challenge of reconciling conflicts not just between law and religion, but between the law of the nation-state and “religious legal communities” -- that is, communities that primarily experience their religious norms through the prism of legal rules. Muslim and Jewish communities serve as prime examples of such religious legal communities, and the challenges faced by these communities often parallel each other in important ways. Thus, an important subset of contemporary religious controversies -- from circumcision bans to anti-Sharia laws -- emerge as not only conflicts between law and religion, but as conflicts between law and law. And it is to this unique set of questions that the jointly-sponsored program of the Islamic Law and Jewish Law Sections of the American Association of Law Schools was addressed. The program was split into two thematic panels, and the articles in this symposium reflect those themes. The first -- titled “Religious Law in U.S. Courts” -- considered the various contexts in which U.S. courts have been asked to address religious questions that touch upon religious law. The second -- titled “Religious Law in the Secular State” -- considered contemporary issues related to the practice and implementation of religious law in secular democracies. Together, these papers bring new insight to these questions and serve as a springboard for discussion and debate about how religious law will fit into the ever-evolving landscape of the 21st century.
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