Peer-Reviewed articles published or accepted for publication
Journal of the American Academy of Religion, May 2018
The esteemed scholar Michael Cook has recently argued that political freedom is “not an Islamic value” but is in tension with Islam. This paper contends that Cook is mistaken. It moves in four steps. First, I consider the very idea of an “Islamic value,” sketching a non-essentialist way of conceiving such a thing. Next, I show that the particular “liberal” notion of political freedom that Cook rightly claims is absent is but one of three distinct conceptions of political freedom: he neglects to consider the possible presence of an alternate “republican” conception. Then, taking some of the very evidence Cook cites along with the case of al-Ghazali, I show that this republican conception figures in Islamic thought and practice. I conclude by considering some broader interpretive issues that bear on this matter and have wider significance. Political freedom, it turns out, is an Islamic value after all.
THE NEW GENEALOGY OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Journal of Law and Religion, forthcoming
This article pursues an immanent critique of “the new genealogy of religious freedom” (NGRF) and sketches an alternative proposal. NGRF claims that religious freedom is incoherent, systemically biased, oppressive, ideological - and necessarily so. Its critique deploys a methodology inherited from Nietzsche and targets a vision of religious freedom associated with “foundationalists” like Kant and Rawls. This article calls both the methodology and the vision into question. NGRF’s version of genealogy proves self-destructive and incoherent, veering toward nihilism and unable to account for its own status as critique. NGRF’s attack on foundationalist religious freedom is effective, but it presupposes – and targets – conceptions of freedom, neutrality, and power that we needn’t endorse. For foundationalists and genealogists alike, these assumptions define religious freedom. This article rejects those assumptions and that vision of religious freedom. It sketches a pragmatist, dialectical vision of religious freedom rooted in alternate conceptions of power, freedom, and neutrality and a corresponding strategy for legally defining “religion,” inheriting the strengths of genealogy and foundationalism while avoiding their weaknesses.
SIN, CONSENT, AND APPARENT CONFUSION IN ABELARD'S ETHICA
Journal of Religion, forthcoming
Despite recent attention, work on Peter Abelard’s ethics has tended to overlook the Ethica’s textual and philosophical difficulties in favor of rational reconstruction or broader cultural relevance. This article therefore elucidates the Ethica’a conceptions of sin and consent, addressing neglected complexities concerning the will/consent relation. Against dominant perspective in which natural law constitutes consents as sinful, I contend that for Abelard one sins if and only if one consents contrary to what one believes is right for one’s consents and that when one consents to D one consents to D under every morally relevant description of D one can supply at time of consent.
MORE TO LOVE: THOMAS AQUINAS ON INFUSED AND ACQUIRED MORAL VIRTUE
The Virtuous Life: Aquinas on the Moral Virtues, eds. Harm Goris and Henk Schoot (Leuven: Peeters, 2017), 47-72
Thomas Aquinas holds that acquired and infused moral virtues are compatible. They can be had and used together by a Christian. More than that, they should be. For Thomas, Christians ought to pursue and use the acquired virtues. To fail to do so is a failure of discipleship. It is a failure of love. This view has recently come under attack. This article seeks to resolve that debate by defending and elucidating the compatibility of acquired and infused virtue and answering key objections raised by critics of this interpretation. I especially hope to show how the compatibilist interpretation actually honors many of the very commitments that motivate these critics. As it turns out, their best reasons for endorsing incompatibilism are really reasons to embrace the compatibilist interpretation. Moreover, the textual and theological case against incompatibilism seems compelling. I move in three steps: first, elucidating the grammar of habit specification; then filling out my argument and addressing objections; and finally, illustrating Thomas's vision and explaining why he would think Christians should pursue acquired virtue.
KILLING AND THE WRONGNESS OF TORTURE
The Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, 26.1 (2016), 181-198
How can just warriors prohibit torture absolutely while still allowing that killing can be just? The best arguments for torture’s wrongness and impermissibility seem to suggest that killing, too, is always wrong. If torture is wrong because it attacks imago Dei, why isn’t killing wrong too, for killing seems at least as much an attack as torture? This question, which seems to force a choice between paci sm or countenancing “just torture” alongside just war killing, has scarcely been asked in Christian ethics. Nigel Biggar and Darrel Cole are among the only Christian ethicists even to consider this question. They leverage these issues to argue for torture’s permissibility. Against such views, this essay shows why torture but not killing is always wrong, what so distinguishes torture from just war killing that it but not killing should be categorically prohibited. I elucidate three features that distinguish torture from just war killing and establish torture as always wrong: its intention and proximate end, its violating as opposed to destructive character, and its context of domination. I conclude by showing how these features are illustrated and exempli ed by practices documented in the 2014 US Senate report on torture.
AN UMMA OF ACCOUNTABILITY: AL-GHAZALI AGAINST DOMINATION
Soundings, 98.3 (2015), 260-288
This article elucidates the place of domination, or subjection to another’s arbitrary power, in al-Ghazali’s political thought, especially Counsel for Kings. Scholars have long thought con- ceptions of liberty unimportant to or absent from medieval Islamic political thought but have neglected the possible pres- ence of conceptions of liberty as non-domination. Drawing on recent work stressing his lifelong political engagement and self-understanding as his age’s “reviver” (mujaddid), this article argues that al-Ghazali is deeply concerned with domi- nation and implicitly forwards a robust conception of liberty in terms of non-domination. In form and substance, Counsel for Kings would establish and publish theologically grounded relations of reciprocity and accountability by which political power would be constrained against arbitrariness. With others who conceive of liberty as non-domination, al-Ghazali identifies flattery as a special threat to liberty and deploys his doctrine of “commanding right and forbidding wrong” (hisba) as an antidote to it and to domination more broadly. By it, and other means, he advances a non-dominating politics of mutual recognition, or can be read as doing so, even if other strands of his thought push in different directions.
INTRINSIC GOODNESS AND CONTINGENCY, RESEMBLANCE AND PARTICULARITY: TWO CRITICISMS OF ROBERT ADAMS’S FINITE AND
Studies in Christian Ethics, 25.4 (November 2012), 418-441
Robert Adams’s Finite and Infinite Goods is one of the most important and innovative contributions to Christian ethics in recent memory. This article identifies two major flaws at the heart of Adams’s theory: his notion of intrinsic value and his claim that ‘excellence’ or finite goodness is constituted by resemblance to God. I first elucidate Adams’s complex, frequently misunderstood claims concerning intrinsic value and Godlikeness. I then contend that Adams’s notion of intrinsic value cannot explain what it could mean for countless finite goods to be intrinsically valuable. Next, I articulate a criticism of his Godlikeness thesis altogether unlike those he has previously addressed: I show that, on Adams’s own account of Godlikeness, a diverse myriad of excellences could not possibly count as resembling God. His theory thus fails to account for a whole world of finite goods. I defend my two criticisms against objections and briefly sketch a more Aristotelian and Christian way forward.
JUST LIES: FINDING AUGUSTINE’S ETHICS OF PUBLIC LYING IN HIS TREATMENTS OF LYING AND KILLING
Journal of Religious Ethics, 38.4 (December 2010), 661-697
Augustine famously defends the justice of killing in certain public contexts such as just wars. He also claims that private citizens who intentionally kill are guilty of murder, regardless of their reasons. Just as famously, Augustine seems to prohibit lying categorically. Analyzing these features of his thought and their connections, I argue that Augustine is best understood as endorsing the justice of lying in certain public contexts, even though he does not explicitly do so. Specifically, I show that parallels between his treatments of killing and lying along with his “agent (auctor) – instrument (minister)” distinction, in which God is the true agent or “author” of certain acts and humans are merely God’s instruments, together imply that he would regard certain instances of public lying as permissible and even obligatory. I buttress my argument by examining several key but neglected passages and responding to various objections and rival interpretations. Throughout, I challenge standard interpretations of Augustine’s ethics of killing and lying and seek to deepen our overall understanding of these dimensions of his thought. In so doing, I contribute to ongoing discussions of public and private lying and to the task of relating Augustine’s thought to contemporary debate and deliberation on war, killing and lying.
COMPARISON AND THE UBIQUITY OF RESEMBLANCE
Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 78.1 (March 2010), 226-258
Since at least the nineteenth century and arguably centuries earlier, comparison has figured prominently in the study of religion. It continues to do so today, especially in the subfield of comparative religious ethics (“CRE”). This article considers the implications for comparative work more broadly and CRE in particular if we take seriously Nelson Goodman’s insight that “similarity is relative, variable and context- dependent...[and that] every two things have some property in common.” Specifically, the article first contends that embracing Goodman’s insight helps identify a variety of problems that are rela- tively common in comparative work and are rooted in the challenges posed by the ubiquity and relativity of resemblance. Secondly, the article shows how Goodman can help make our work better by under- lining the necessity of a clear purpose for our comparisons, and it illus- trates the point by considering an exemplary recent work of CRE. Thirdly, it shows that Goodman’s point demands that we welcome a wide diversity of approaches and goals in comparative work. The article concludes with a suggestion about what might hold the subfield of CRE together.