Monday, March 22, 2010

When church and state collide Conference to examine how faith and law connect in a multicultural society

By Kim McGrath
Office of Communications and External Relations
Published March 20, 2010

Window on Wake Forest

Home to more than 30 Islamic centers and the longest-serving Muslim elected official in the U.S. (state Senator Larry Shaw), North Carolina is a microcosm of the challenges faced by the 300 million Muslims worldwide who live in countries where Islam is not the majority religion.

Although those challenges have become even greater in the wake of the September 11 attacks and the Iraq War, Muslims are not the only religious group coping with the complicated relationship between law and religion. To some extent, all Western societies are struggling to find ways to accommodate non-Christian cultural practices.

Religious and legal scholars, along with a policy advisor from the Department of Homeland Security, will address the conflicts that can sometimes arise between religion and law during a conference on campus on March 23. "The Rule of Law and the Rule of God: A Symposium on Ethics, Religion & Law" will be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Benson University Center's Pugh Auditorium. The conference is free and open to the public, although advance registration is suggested through the conference Web site.

"It is important for people to understand that religion and state are not disconnected and to fruitfully engage in discussions about how law and religion can make distinct contributions to the welfare of humanity," says Simeon Ilesanmi, Washington M. Wingate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Religion, who organized the conference.

"That the United States is immune to issues of religious fanaticism is untrue," Ilesanmi added. "We need to cultivate an attitude of tolerance and speak honestly about how religious texts can be exploited by extremists of all faiths for political gain."

The conference also will explore how other countries are grappling with issues of church and state. For example, in France and Germany, head coverings have brought Islamic gender issues and terrorism fears to the forefront. Meanwhile, Britain is struggling with allowing traditional Islamic Shari's law to coexist with secular law.