A New Direction in Law and Religion

Canopy Forum Editorial Staff

Welcome to Canopy Forum!

Law and religion are two of the most complex and pervasive forces in human history.  These two “different but interrelated … dimensions of social experience” continue to shape the lives of individuals and communities around the world.1Harold J. Berman, Interaction of Law and Religion 11 (1974).  See also Stephen V. Monsma & J. Christophen Soper, The Challenge of Pluralism 1 (2d ed., 2008). The mission of Canopy Forum is to foster deeper understandings of law, religion, and the interactions between them.

As scholars debate the meaning of terms like “law” and “religion,” legal and religious phenomena intersect in powerful ways. Religious traditions, for example, often speak in legal terms.  They regulate adherents’ ritual and interpersonal lives, order ecclesiastical communities, and prescribe acceptable modes of interaction with other normative systems. Legal systems, in turn, often regulate “religion.”  Governmental and religious institutions often embody competing forms of allegiance and belonging. States set the bounds of religious liberty and provide legal frameworks in which religious communities can thrive – or not. Some legal norms and political rituals function as forms of “civil religion” in and of themselves.  Because religious worldviews encompass a broad range of human concerns, religious norms often influence political processes and legal norms.

At times, religion and law exist in tension with each other; at others, the two complement and work in concert with each other.  In some places law seeks to control and use religion for its own ends; in others religion aims to co-opt the state to serve ecumenical purposes; in still other contexts, legal and religious spheres are ostensibly kept separate.  In all cases, interactions between these two pervasive forces in human life remain inevitable.

The editors of Canopy Forum believe it is vital to engage these matters intelligently, critically, and constructively. War, climate change, sectarian tensions, resource scarcity, poverty, and migrating populations have put incredible strains on established political, economic, social, and cultural systems. Societies around the world are deeply divided. Not only are we unable to reach agreement on many of the important questions of our day, it often seems that we aren’t even having the same conversations. 

The mission of Canopy Forum is to foster deeper understandings of law, religion, and the interactions between them.

Law and religion play central, if double-edged, roles in such conversations.  Law can be used as a tool of repressive governments – and as a means of resolving conflicts, defining and redressing injustices, and mediating constructive relationships between diverse individuals, institutions, and groups. Religion can be a source of narrowmindedness and bigotry – and also buttress civic virtues by cultivating deep and genuine moral commitments while serving as a powerful check on political excess. 

Amidst the flood of information in our digital age, the editors of CanopyForum pledge to deliver expert analysis and public scholarship to enrich the broader community of readers and learners to become more engaged in contributing to our public discourse.  These include citizens, scholars, lawyers, clergy, journalists, policy makers, and more. We are committed to interdisciplinary analysis, to freedom of inquiry, and to the free exchange of ideas. Scholarly excellence, nonpartisanship, a diversity of perspectives, and public accessibility are our benchmarks; deeper and more nuanced public understandings of law and religion are our lodestar.

As we embark on this new journey, we welcome your participation. 

  • Scholars: Submit your analyses of historical and contemporary phenomena so that we can help make them part of broader public conversations around law and religion issues.

  • Thought leaders: Submit your most compelling, even controversial, commentaries.  Challenge the Canopy Forum community to think in new ways. 

  • Readers: Join the conversation.  Comment, share, and generate active conversations both online and in person about these important topics.  Share with us your constructive and critical feedback and suggestions. 

  • Funders:  Partner with us to enhance and advance this important work.

On behalf of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, welcome to Canopy Forum!

– Canopy Forum Editorial Staff