Thursday, September 25, 2014
Here's a short piece I did for the Cornerstone blog, which is a project of the Berkley Center's Religious Freedom Project. A taste:
“Religion,” said Justice William Douglas in his Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) opinion, is “an individual experience.” The opinion was a partial dissent, and this statement is partially correct. But, it does not tell the entire story. Many “religious experiences” are those of monks, mystics, and prophets—and of salesmen, coaches, teachers, and cops. But, many are also of peoples and tribes and congregations. As Justice Douglas’s colleague, Justice William Brennan, insisted in Corporation of the Presiding Bishop v. Amos (1987), “[f]or many individuals, religious activity derives meaning in large measure from participation in a larger religious community. Such a community represents an ongoing tradition of shared beliefs, an organic entity not reducible to a mere aggregation of individuals.” “Religion” is famously difficult (some would say “impossible”) to define and the distinction between “religion,” on the one hand, and “culture,” “tradition,” “identity,” and “politics” is much more contested than clear. The idea that it is only, or even primarily, an “individual experience” is relatively new on the scene. In any event, it seems clear that “religion” involves more than—even if it certainly does involve—the commitments, values, beliefs, professions, and practices of particular persons. It also involves—and it is exercised both by and through—communities, families, associations, societies, authorities, and institutions. . . .