Presenters and Abstracts

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  • Kameliya Atanasova (Assitant Professor of Religion, W&L) and
    Matthew Chalmers (Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion, W&L):
    “Taxes and Turbans: The Status of Samaritans in Early Ottoman Palestine”    abstract
    The Samaritans are an ethnoreligious minority in Israel-Palestine, currently concentrated in the settlements of Nablus and Holon. They are best known to legal historians for a case against the Israeli government between 1992 and 1994 as a result of which they retained rights as Jews under the Law of Return (ḥok ha-shvūt) despite their explicit non-Jewish identity in the eyes of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Their presence in Palestine has, however, often served as a flashpoint for controversy. Under the Ottoman Empire, the Samaritans – as other religious minorities – found themselves in a complicated legal position. On the one hand, they received rights to semi-autonomy, under the millet system. On the other, their visible minority status frequently catalysed both legal and extra-legal clashes with local Ottoman authorities. This paper uses the Ottoman Samaritans in a late sixteenth-century firman (legal issuance) as a site to explore (1) mechanics of status enforcement tied to religious identity and (2) methods of minoritization. By exploring legal status in a context somewhat detached from both “Western” law and Euro-American colonialism, it makes available a comparative resource to consider how scholars can model the status of minority groups beyond the interaction of the west and the rest. Thus, it aims to contribute to the construction of a transnational, diachronic model of the mechanics of status management.
  • David Baluarte (Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Associate Clinical Professor of Law, W&L Law):
    “Family in the Balance: The Human Right to Family Life as a Limit on U.S. Immigration Authority”    abstract
    Non-citizens in the United States are often members of family units rooted in this country and simultaneously deemed unwelcomed “aliens” by the system of immigration enforcement. While a body of international human rights law has developed to assist states in navigating this tension between family status and immigration status, the United States has largely disregarded this guidance and has instead struck its own balance that prioritizes the goal of immigration enforcement over respect for the right to family life. The result is a system of U.S. immigration regulation that systematically violates the human right to family life.
  • Carolyn Baugh (Associate Professor of History, Gannon Univ.):
    “Of Slave Wives and Concubines: Legal Interpretation and Women’s Shifting Status in Early Islam”    abstract
    This paper highlights some status struggles documented in early Muslim legal compendia, manuals, and exegesis where discussions center on rules for sex and marriage in a society attempting to define itself. Part one focuses on rhetorical strategies that support or disallow concubinage and the notion that slaves were legally dealt with “by half.” Part two features anecdotes in which men attempt to use women’s enslavement to push accepted legal boundaries, as well as some creative responses from women. The final portion investigates the truncated legal agency of the slave and how the transition to freedom of the enslaved wife had ramifications for legal debates over the rights of free minor females to “rescind” their marriages.
  • Linda Bosniak (Distinguished Professor of Law, Rutgers Univ. Law):
    “Presence Matters: Territoriality and Legal Status”    abstract
    This paper examines some complexities in the relationship between status under the US immigration-citizenship regime and territorial-locational status. It considers how national territorial presence and non-presence are conceptualized, materialized, and manipulated by and through law. It also addresses ways in which “being here” serves to simultaneously subject and protect legal persons of different statuses in relation to state power.
  • Kristin Collins  (Professor of Law, Boston Univ. Law):
    “Status Without Borders”    abstract
    Several classic accounts of the development of citizenship law have portrayed the diminished relevance of family ties—real or imagined—to political membership as a sign of modernization. Histories of U.S. citizenship law often follow this general narrative arc. For example, constitutional amendments ratified following the Civil War are said to have marked a dramatic shift away from racialized, descent-based assignment of citizenship toward a universal and egalitarian understanding of national membership. There is certainly much truth to this characterization, but the reality is far more complicated. This paper examines a transformational moment in the development of American citizenship law to probe the complex relationship between family status and citizenship. Drawing on an archive of historical records left by late nineteenth-century American consular officials in places like Treaty Port China and Samoa, it shows how family status laws were used to delineate American sovereignty abroad in ways that facilitated the United States’ rapid commercial expansion and emergence as a major global power.
  • Robert Cottrol (Harold Paul Green Research Professor of Law, Professor of History and Sociology, George Washington Univ. Law):
    “Beyond 1619: Looking at Slavery, Race and Justice from a Hemispheric Perspective”    abstract
    The 1619 Project sponsored by the New York Times is helping to renew public interest in the history of slavery and race in the United States. This paper discusses the need to broaden our focus. The history of slavery and race in the United States is part of a much broader history of the enslavement of peoples from Africa and the social exclusion of their descendants in the Western Hemisphere. It is a history that began on the Iberian Peninsula even before the European exploration of the Americas at the end of the Fifteenth Century and it is a history that continues to unfold in the nations of the Americas into our twenty-first century present. This paper looks at the differing systems of slavery and racial exclusion in the Americas and how these systems constructed notions of racial identity and hierarchy. This history is critical to understanding contemporary efforts to achieve racial justice in American societies as diverse as Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the United States.
  • Kevin Crotty (J. Donald Childress Professor, Professor of Classics, W&L):
    “Citizenship as Status in Ancient Athens: The Case of Solon”    abstract
    Rather than begin in a single act of foundation, Athenian democracy evolved over the course of a century. One of its most significant originating moments was the legislation of Solon, traditionally dated to 594 BCE. Solon’s laws gave significant content to the status of citizen, and in so doing, contributed both to the emergence of citizenship as a practical identity, and to the idea of a city as a moral community. At the same time, Solon’s forward-looking legislation may have contributed to the rise of chattel slavery at Athens.
  • Deepa Das Acevedo (Assistant Professor of Law, Univ. Alabama Law):
    “Just Hindus: The Indian Supreme Court’s Sabarimala Decision”    abstract
    What happens when courts reach “good” outcomes through “bad” reasoning? Are there limits to consequentialist jurisprudence? The Indian Supreme Court’s recent decision in IYLA v. State of Kerala offers important insights on both issues. IYLA, decided in September 2018, held that the Hindu temple at Sabarimala may not continue to ban women aged 10–50 from its premises even though many devotees argue the exclusion is religiously mandated. Reactions to IYLA have been vehement and violent, and so far only two women in the prohibited age-range have managed to visit the temple. Perhaps any outcome impinging on religious practice would have elicited such responses. Nevertheless, the Court’s analysis, which disregarded devotee perspectives in its eagerness to acknowledge the previously overlooked perspectives of women, is still problematic insofar as it superficially upholds the Court’s reputation as a progressive institution and creates bad precedent by further damaging the “essential practices” doctrine. This paper situates IYLA within a longer history of disputes over women’s access to Sabarimala. It also draws on case law and legal analysis to demonstrate how the Court’s reasoning paid short shrift to its own doctrines and to conflicting imperatives in the Indian Constitution. The Court’s (and the ruling’s) failures underscore the extent to which winning good outcomes through bad reasoning should be sobering rather than satisfying.
  • Donald R. Davis (Professor of Asian Studies, Univ. Texas, Austin):
    “Master and Servant Law in Medieval India: What Slavery Might Teach Us about the Nature of Work”    abstract
    This paper examines how a thirteenth-century Sanskrit legal text conceptualizes slavery and work in the context of Master and Servant law. Rather than draw a sharp distinction between slaves and workers, this text views everyone from slaves and contract laborers to students, apprentices, and even managers as servants with limited freedom. The way this text and similar legal sources from other traditions categorize the world of work provokes us to rethink whether contemporary discourses have surpassed or merely suppressed continuing experiences of work as a loss of freedom.
  • Mark Drumbl (Class of 1975 Alumni Professor of Law, W&L Law):
    “Coming of Age in War: Child and Adult”    abstract
    Child soldiers receive considerable media attention. Yet they remain poorly understood. One reason is because the status assignation of ‘child’, and the binary reductionism of the contrasting assignation of ‘adult’, masks greater complexities regarding agency, transition, and responsibility. This presentation examines the role of chronology (e.g., ‘birthdays’) in status determinations as opposed to the more ambiguous though often more meaningful process of ‘coming of age’. This presentation maps international law’s predilection with chronology onto the realities of lives lived locally, often very far from centers in which international law is manufactured, where coming of age presents a far more tangible understanding of agency and responsibility despite its liminality and ambiguity. In the end, by reimagining the statuses of child and adult this presentation seeks to reimagine child soldiering and youth violence and to develop more successful strategies to prevent these practices and durably reintegrate formerly militarized and criminalized youth. Reimagining how to prevent child soldiering can additionally support broader goals of building vibrant cultures of human rights, gender and racial equality, and intergenerational equity.
  • Katharine Gerbner (McKnight Land Grant Professor of History, Univ. Minnesota):
    “The Laws of Conversion: Religion, Race, and Slavery in the Protestant Caribbean and Lower South”    abstract
    When English Protestants began to settle slave societies in the Americas, they struggled to define a legal basis for enslavement. Early English colonial laws used religious status to distinguish “Christians” from slaves, who were presumed to be non-Christian. As a result, the baptism of enslaved men and women was usually prohibited, to the frustration of Protestant missionaries. By the early eighteenth-century, however, Protestant lawmakers had begun to insert the term “White” into their lawbooks, using it to replace or supplement the word “Christian.” My paper will show how racial status grew out of ideas about religious difference in the early English colonies and consider the repercussions of this history.
  • Sora Han (Assistant Professor of Criminology, Law and Society, U.C. Irvine Law):
    “A Language Which Is Not One”   abstract
    This paper attempts to theorize the modern problematic of racial slavery and universal freedom as something other than opposing terms. It gleans from the interdisciplinary field of Black Studies, in particular Afro-pessimism, as an occasion for revisiting Lacan’s intricate commentary on the dialectic of slavery and freedom, to raise the specter of abolition as a form of unconscious thinking and action with profound ramifications. For example, if we think of the modern social contract as a forced choice that constitutes the subject, freedom can be understood as an unconscious wish to get free of that originary constitution. Given this, how is freedom to be pursued? And what does social status and the rules of language we use to both challenge and give meaning to subjection have to do with this form of freedom? This paper explores these issues through a protocol of interpreting a language which is not one, or what we might call interpretation without translation.
  • Timothy Lubin (Professor of Religion and Adjunct Professor of Law, W&L):
    “Asymmetries of Status in Civil and Ecclesiastical Polities: Lessons from Religious Exemptions in Ancient India”    abstract
    This paper uses examples from India’s early legal and religious history to argue that, in spite of the many ways in which “secular” and “religious” conceptions of law have paralleled each other, converged, and overlapped, there is a basic asymmetry in how civil and ecclesiastical polities define the status of their members. This asymmetry derives in part from the differing authority structures involved, and in part from the degree to which territoriality defines belonging. Exemptions from generally applicable obligations to royal authority were asymmetrically applied by South Asian kings for sacral and non-sacral beneficiaries, and the distribution of religious exemptions across religious orders was often used to enact an implicit conception of civil religion. The paper concludes by considering the possible aims and effects of such a policy, contrasting it with efforts to formally align a civil polity with a particular ecclesiastical polity. India’s history in this regard may offer instructive comparisons with church-state relations in modern nation-states.
  • Elizabeth Meyer (T. Cary Johnson Professor of History, Univ. Virginia):
    “Greek Metics and Freedmen: Can We Tell the Difference, and Did It Matter?”    abstract
    Ancient Greek city-states, or poleis, had a bewildering number of terms for people who lived in them. In Athens, freedmen seem to be assimilated juridically to the status of metics (resident aliens), although socially there were ways of both denigrating freedmen and obscuring the distinction between metic and freed. Elsewhere we can see that under some circumstances distinctions between metic and freed were made, but not in ways that point to strong juridical differences. By looking at the development of both statuses historically, I propose that the juridical assimilation occurred in Athens because metic status was created first, in an historical context in which distinctions between citizens and foreigners was crucial: an imperial power with a strong economy was attracting many foreigners to the mother city. This line drawn between citizens and foreigners was expressed through the law in both the fifth and fourth centuries BCE; distinctions between foreigners themselves remained of, at best, academic interest. Other areas of the Greek world with both metics and freedmen may have assimilated the two statuses for the same reason: thus Rhodes, a centralized economic power with satellite areas of control on the mainland, seems to show the same development. The distinction Citizen/Other was not just symbolic, but economic and political, whereas Other/Other was mostly symbolic.
  • Mona Oraby (Assistant Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought, Amherst College):
    “Status Conversions: Administering Inequality and Freedom”    abstract
    Why are those marginalized by the law among its most faithful subjects? What explains their counterintuitive fidelity to regimes of recognition? This presentation draws on the case of modern Egypt where religion is a compulsory feature of civil status. This category determines the scope of one’s public and private rights, and non-affiliation is not an option. The last three decades of debate over status conversion, the right to amend religious affiliation on vital records, has revealed that non-Muslims routinely seek recognition of their difference rather than advocate for state indifference toward religion. I argue based on administrative jurisprudential trends and observations of legal counsel and their clients for a rethinking of the relationship between inequality and freedom. Contrary to prevailing scholarly conceptions of the pernicious effect of secular law on religious life, I show the extent to which self-understanding, national belonging, and communal coherence are indebted to the recognition of one’s inequality in relation to others.
  • Michael Satlow (Professor of Religious Studies and Judaic Studies, Brown Univ.):
    “Status or Contract?  The Case of Jewish Marriage”    abstract
    Early rabbis (ca. 70 CE–620 CE) understood marriage largely as a contract, not a sacrament. The terms of this contract were negotiable, but only to a point – certain stipulations would make the contract invalid. This paper will investigate the stipulations that the rabbis thought would invalidate the marriage contract and their interplay with the role that status plays in constituting a legal marriage. This interplay, if the law was being followed and/or enforced (which is itself an ongoing topic of scholarly disagreement), would have had real social ramifications that will also be investigated.
  • Rachel Scott (Associate Professor of Religion and Culture, Virginia Tech):
    “Personal Status Law and Religious Exemptions: Egypt’s Coptic Community and the Question of Inheritance”    abstract
    Article 3 of the 2014 Egyptian Constitution gives Jews and Christians the right to follow their own personal status law. A number of Coptic Christians are now calling for an exemption from Islamic inheritance law, which has been applicable for Christian Egyptians since the 1940s. They argue that Christian law requires that men and women be treated equally in matters of inheritance. The petition for the widening of Coptic personal status law might look like a revival of the judicial autonomy of the Ottoman millet system. However, this paper argues that the judicial autonomy of non-Muslims in contemporary Egypt involves a particular dynamic in which non-Muslims can only apply their own law when an exemption from national law has been given. Negotiating an exemption from national law involves Copts having to make the case that gender equality is an essential principle of Christianity. A number of Coptic public figures and those associated with the Coptic Orthodox Church are making the case that gender equality in inheritance is a Christian principle through references to biblical texts and to medieval Coptic ecclesiastical laws. One of the consequences of the negotiation of this exemption is that Copts are articulating differences between Christianity and Islam—and therefore between Christians and Muslims in Egypt—on questions of gender.
  • Melissa Vise (Assistant Professor of History, W&L):
    “Legal and Religious Concepts of Medieval persona: Blasphemy at the Limits”    abstract
    Book 1, section 5 of Justinian’s Digest, “De statu hominum” (Human Status) begins with a dictate from the Institutes of Gaius: “All our law concerns either persons or things or actions.” I suggest that modern understandings of who or what personae were in the medieval Christian West can be discerned in the legal-theological sphere not only by considering entities’ entitlement to protections from violence but also by reconsidering medieval understandings of violence itself. By studying archival cases of violence against sacred art, I contend first that we must recognize the radically material nature of Western Christian understandings of persona. As a consequence, we must also then categorize linguistic insult not with a presupposed mental or immaterial world of thought, belief, and sign but rather with the material world of which personae partake. The material texture to linguistic violence that I forward relied on the fact that the Western Christian persona demanded the union of soul and body. Seen in this light, we ought not only to re-evaluate conventional understandings of the nature of injuries to honor in the Mediterranean context but also to re-contextualize the interreligious comparison of blasphemy itself.
  • Adnan Zulfiqar (Assistant Professor of Law, Rutgers Univ. Law):
    “Belief as Status: Legal Obligation, Blasphemy and the Boundaries of Moral Community”    abstract
    The normative universe of the premodern Islamic legal tradition revolves around obligation. These obligations are determined by an individual’s status both as an autonomous entity and as part of the collective. The obligations one owes and those that are owed to one are primarily constructed around belief. Belief, and its absence, function as the primary vehicles for affirming or denying an individual’s place within the moral community. In the premodern period, one illustrative example is the context of warfare. Who is obligated to fight, who must be fought, and what obligations are owed in death all depend, though not exclusively, on the belief status of relevant actors. In the modern context, these same premodern considerations of belief status, and associated obligations, are transposed onto a fundamentally different paradigm, the republic, and help shape the contours of the political community. This paper explores the significance of belief status for forming the premodern Islamic moral community and the tensions that arise in its contemporary political application. Specifically, the paper utilizes the example of codifying criminal provisions on blasphemy to demonstrate why premodern obligations around belief status mistranslate into treason today.