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American Society of Comparative Law: Annual Meeting Recap

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Ruth Levush presenting a slide at the conference
Photo by Jenny Gesley

At the end of October 2017, I had the pleasure of participating in the annual meeting of the American Society of Comparative Law (ASCL) both as a panelist as well as an attendee. Rebecca French, a professor at SUNY, Buffalo School of Law and panelist in one of the three plenary panel discussions, described the meeting as “amazing”- I agree with her. The meeting was indeed unique in its scope about the role of faith in law across different jurisdictions, disciplines, and cultures, and enabled an intellectually stimulating review of this topic

The conference included back-to-back sessions by legal academics, experts of other disciplines, and policy makers. Among the speakers were a representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations, a member of Congress, and the Director of Research and Policy of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The plenary panels offered an opportunity to listen to a wide range of views on subjects such as “Law & Faith in Comparative Law,” “Hot Topic: Oppression of Religion Minorities,” and on “Reflections on Religion, Faith and the Law: Bridging Differences.”

There were several very interesting concurrent panels including “Law and Religion in East Asia: Connected Socio-Religious Themes in Divergent Legal Traditions,” “Religion, Legal Norms, and Institutions,” and “Constitutions and the “Return” of Religion in Secular and Majority-Muslim States.” Tariq and I participated in a session chaired by the Law Library of Congress Director of Legal Research Peter Roudik. This session was titled “Women’s Rights and Religious Divorce Law: From Contradiction to Coexistence.” While many question the feasibility of coexistence of women’s rights and religious divorce law, as the title suggests, it was refreshing to see that our audience understood the complexity and challenges presented by the application of religious-based matrimonial relations law.

Tariq Ahamd presenting a slide at the conference
Photo by Jenny Gesley

Evaluating the conflicting themes expressed by panelists, especially regarding the utility of “bridging [religious] differences” vis-a-vis separation of state and church in Western cultures, I thought of the challenges expressed by the Keynote Speaker  Marta Cartabia, Vice President of the Constitutional Court of Italy. In her speech titled “Religious Pluralism in Constitutional Adjudication,” Judge Cartabia reflected on whether neutral application of the law, in the absence of religious accommodations, protects religious freedoms of minority communities.

The Law Library of Congress has extensive legal collections on religious legal systems and sources from around the world. Our website also contains a number of relevant sources on matrimonial laws and other relevant topics of comparative law, faith and religion. In particular, we would like to draw your attention to law reports on these topics: Israel: Spousal Agreements for Couples Not Belonging to Any Religion—A Civil Marriage Option? and Israel: Extrajudicial Sanctions Against Husbands Noncompliant with Rabbinical Divorce Rulings.

Several blog posts on matrimonial relations and religious law are also available on the website, including:

You may also find Jenny’s post on The Relationship Between Church and State in Germany interesting in this context.

We were glad to be part of the annual ASCL conference this year in Washington D.C. and look forward to further explore and assist policy makers, researchers and the public alike, to better understand and address the challenges in this field.

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