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Book Recommendation: Law and Religion in China

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: WSW Cc: CGC, Crosstalk Forwarding: Book Recommendation (Law and Religion in China) From: Bruce I have received, by several intermediate steps, a note from
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 12, 2008
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      To: WSW
      Cc: CGC, Crosstalk
      Forwarding: Book Recommendation (Law and Religion in China)
      From: Bruce

      I have received, by several intermediate steps, a note from James Robson
      describing a forthcoming book of interest to this list as well. I venture to
      repeat the substance of it here, for those who, or whose libraries, can
      still afford a book published by Routledge.

      ------FORWARDED DESCRIPTION------

      Dear Colleagues,

      I would like to draw your attention to a new publication by Paul R. Katz
      entitled Divine Justice -- Religion and the Development of Chinese Legal
      Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 2009) [In press].

      The primary goal of this book is to consider the ways in which religious
      beliefs and practices have contributed to the formation of Chinese legal
      culture. It does so by describing two forms of overlap between religion and
      the law: the ideology of justice and the performance of judicial rituals.
      The former extends to the ways in which the gods control all human affairs
      in this life and the next in order to ensure the attainment of justice.
      Because this ideal is rarely realized in earthly courts, many people place
      their faith in underworld deities who have the power to pass judgment on
      both the living and the dead. Such conceptions of the afterlife, which have
      been shaped by both indigenous religions like Taoism and the impact of world
      religions like Buddhism, vary significantly from those of the Middle East
      and Europe, which tend to place less emphasis on the legal nature of
      underworld procedures and punishments.

      The second form of overlap between religion and the law may be found in the
      realm of practice, and involves instances when men and women perform
      judicial rituals like oaths, chicken-beheadings, and underworld indictments
      in order to enhance the legitimacy of their positions, deal with cases of
      perceived injustice, and resolve disputes. These rites coexist with other
      forms of legal practice, including private mediation and the courts,
      comprising a wide-ranging spectrum of practices that I refer to as the
      judicial continuum.

      Individuals ranging from high-ranking officials to commoners have performed
      judicial rituals for centuries. Such rites have also shaped the legal
      histories of overseas Chinese in colonies like Batavia, the Straits
      Settlements, and Hong Kong, as well as those who immigrated to countries
      like Australia and the United States. In Taiwan, a high-tech democracy with
      a vibrant civil society, judicial rituals remain an integral component of
      legal practice, but in China such rites remain largely underground. Inasmuch
      as the effective functioning of any legal system requires a certain degree
      of entirety, the extent to which the Chinese government proves willing to
      tolerate such rites may influence the degree to which people may feel
      confident in their ability to obtain true justice.

      ------COMMENT------

      It will be obvious, I suppose, that the general subject is of importance in
      other parts of the world also also, wherever secular and sacred traditions
      of judgement overlap or impinge, or where (as in early Christianity) two
      sacred systems of judgement collide, or where (as in Melanesia) an overlaid
      and a native tradition of law compete.

      Bruce
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