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Dissent on Core Beliefs

Religious and Secular Perspectives

Difference, diversity, and disagreement are inevitable features of

our ethical, social, and political landscape. This collection of new
essays investigates the ways that various ethical and religious tradi-
tions have dealt with intramural dissent; the volume covers nine
separate traditions: Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity,
Judaism, Islam, liberalism, Marxism, South Asian religions, and
natural law. Each chapter lays out the distinctive features, history,
and challenges of intramural dissent within each tradition, enabling
readers to identify similarities and differences between traditions.
The book concludes with an Afterword by Michael Walzer, offering
a synoptic overview of the challenge of intramural dissent and the
responses to that challenge. Committed to dialogue across cultures
and traditions, the collection begins that dialogue with the common
challenges facing all traditions: how to maintain cohesion and core
values in the face of pluralism, and how to do this in a way that is
consistent with the internal ethical principles of the traditions.

Simone Chambers is Professor of Political Science and Director of

the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto. She has been
teaching at the University of Toronto since 2002, and her primary
areas of scholarship include democratic theory, ethics, secularism,
rhetoric, civility, and the public sphere. She has published articles in
journals including Political Theory, Journal of Political Philosophy,
Ethics and Global Politics, and Critical Review.

Peter Nosco is Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British

Columbia. He is the author of Remembering Paradise: Nativism and
Nostalgia in 18th-Century Japan (1990), Thinking for Oneself:
Individuality and Ideology in Early Modern Japan (forthcoming,
2016), and the editor of Confucianism and Tokugawa Culture
(1997), and Identity and Individuality in Nineteenth-Century Japan
(with James Ketelaar and Kojima, Yasunori, forthcoming, 2015). He
has served as guest editor for special issues of Philosophy East and
West and Japanese Journal of Religious Studies.
The Ethikon Series in Comparative Ethics

Editorial Board
Carole Pateman, Series Editor
Gavin T. Colvert Robert P. George Sohail H. Hashmi
Peter H. Hoffenberg Will Kymlicka David Miller
Philip Valera Michael Walzer
The Ethikon Series publishes comparative studies on moral issues of current
importance. By bringing together scholars representing a diversity of ethical
viewpoints to focus on the same aspects of its topics, the series aims to broaden
the scope of ethical discourse, to sharpen its focus, and to identify
commonalities and differences among influential moral traditions.


Brian Barry and Robert E. Goodin, eds., Free Movement: Ethical Issues in the
Transnational Migration of People and Money
Chris Brown, ed., Political Restructuring in Europe: Ethical Perspectives
Terry Nardin, ed., The Ethics of War and Peace: Religious and Secular
David R. Mapel and Terry Nardin, eds., International Society: Diverse Ethical
David Miller and Sohail H. Hashmi, eds., Boundaries and Justice: Diverse
Ethical Perspectives
Simone Chambers and Will Kymlicka, eds., Alternative Conceptions of Civil
Nancy L. Rosenblum and Robert C. Post, eds., Civil Society and Government
Sohail H. Hashmi, ed. Foreword by Jack Miles, Islamic Political Ethics: Civil
Society, Pluralism, and Conflict
Richard Madsen and Tracy B. Strong, eds., The Many and the One: Ethical
Pluralism in the Modern World
Margaret Moore and Allen Buchanan, eds., States, Nations, and Borders: The
Ethics of Making Boundaries
Sohail H. Hashmi and Steven P. Lee, eds., Ethics and Weapons of Mass
Destruction: Religious and Secular Perspectives
Michael Walzer, ed., Law, Politics, and Morality in Judaism
William M. Sullivan and Will Kymlicka, The Globalization of Ethics: Religious
and Secular Perspectives
Daniel A. Bell, ed.., Confucian Political Ethics
John Coleman, S. J., ed., Christian Political Ethics
William A. Galston and Peter H. Hoffenberg, eds., Poverty and Morality:
Religious and Secular Perspectives
Simone Chambers and Peter Nosco, eds., Dissent on Core Beliefs: Religious
and Secular Perspectives
Dissent on Core Beliefs
Religious and Secular Perspectives

Edited by
University of Toronto

University of British Columbia
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Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge.

It furthers the Universitys mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of
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Cambridge University Press 2015
This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without the written
permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published 2015
Printed in the United Kingdom by Clays, St Ives plc
A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Dissent on core beliefs : religious and secular perspectives / edited by
Simone Chambers.
pages cm. (The Ethikon series in comparative ethics)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn 978-1-107-10152-4
1. Religions. 2. Conflict management Religious aspects.
I. Chambers, Simone, editor.
bl85.d57 2015
isbn 978-1-107-10152-4 Hardback
Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of
URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication,
and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain,
accurate or appropriate.

Contributors page vi
Acknowledgments x

1 Introduction 1
Simone Chambers and Peter Nosco
2 Liberalism and internal dissent 19
William A. Galston
3 Intramural dissent: Marxism 35
Andrew Levine
4 Dissent on core beliefs in natural law 53
Tom Angier
5 The management of intramural dissent in Judaism 76
Alan Mittleman
6 Christianity and the management of intramural dissent 98
Peter Steinfels
7 Intramural dissent on core beliefs in Islam 128
Meena Sharify-Funk
8 Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 158
Anne Murphy
9 Confucianism and dissent on core beliefs 186
Richard Madsen
10 Intramural dissent in Buddhism 201
Peter Nosco
11 Afterword 220
Michael Walzer

Selected bibliography 229

Index 232


TOM ANGIER teaches in the area of ethics and political theory at the
University of St. Andrews, with a specific focus on ancient Greek philoso-
phers. He also has subsidiary interests in nineteenth-century post-Kantian
philosophy. His publications include Techne in Aristotles Ethics: Crafting
the Moral Life and Either Kierkegaard/Or Nietzsche: Moral Philosophy in a
New Key. He has also edited and contributed to a new volume on the great
moral philosophers, entitled Ethics: The Key Thinkers. His essay on Alasdair
MacIntyres theory of tradition appeared in The European Journal of
Philosophy (published online: December 2011).
SIMONE CHAMBERS is Professor of Political Science and Director of the
Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Reasonable
Democracy: Jurgen Habermas and The Politics of Discourse and many other
book chapters and journal articles. She has also co-edited Alternative
Conceptions of Civil Society (with Will Kymlicka), Deliberation, Democracy,
and the Media (with Anne Costain), and Volumes iv of the Encyclopedia of
Political Science (with Kurian, Alt, Garrett, Levi, and McClain). In 1997 she
received the Best First Book in Political Theory Award from the American
Political Science Association.
WILLIAM A. GALSTON is a senior fellow and Ezra K. Zilcha chair in
Government Studies at the Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, and for-
merly professor in the School of Public Affairs and director of the Institute for
Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Formerly deputy assistant to President Clinton for domestic policy, he has also
served as executive director of the National Commission on Civic Renewal.
His most recent books are The Practice of Liberal Pluralism and Public
Matters: Politics, Policy, and Religion in the 21st Century. He is also the author
of several other books and numerous articles on political philosophy, public
policy, and American politics. He also co-edited Poverty and Morality (with
Peter H. Hoffenberg).

Contributors vii

ANDREW LEVINE is presently a senior scholar at the Institute for

Policy Studies, Washington, DC, and formerly a professor of philosophy
at the University of WisconsinMadison and research professor in philo-
sophy at the University of Maryland at College Park. He has written
extensively on recent liberal theory and on historical figures including
Marx, Rousseau, Locke, and Mill. His recent books include In Bad Faith:
Whats Wrong with the Opium of the People; Political Keywords; The
American Ideology; A Future for Marxism?: Althusser, the Analytical
Turn, and the Revival of Socialist Theory; and Engaging Political
Philosophy: Hobbes to Rawls.
RICHARD MADSEN is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the
University of California, San Diego. He is a co-author (with Robert Bellah
et al.) of The Good Society and Habits of the Heart, which received the Los
Angeles Times Book Award and was jury nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He
has authored or co-authored eight books on China, including Morality and
Power in a Chinese Village for which he received the C. Wright Mills Award;
Chinas Catholics: Tragedy and Hope in an Emerging Civil Society; and China
and the American Dream. He also co-edited (with Tracy B. Strong) The Many
and the One: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Ethical Pluralism in the
Modern World.
ALAN MITTLEMAN is Professor of Jewish Philosophy at The Jewish
Theological Seminary in New York. He teaches and writes in the areas of
Jewish ethics and Jewish political thought. His most recent books are Hope in
a Democratic Age and A Short History of Jewish Ethics. His book Human
Nature and Jewish Thought will be published in 2015. Mittleman has been a
guest professor at the University of Cologne, Princeton University, and the
CUNY Graduate Center. He is the recipient of fellowships from the
Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Center for Jewish Studies of
Harvard University.
ANNE MURPHY, Associate Professor is the Department of Asian Studies
at the University of British Columbia, is a cultural historian of early modern
and modern South Asia, with particular interests in the historical formation of
religious communities in Punjab and northern South Asia, and the Sikh
tradition. Her recent monograph, The Materiality of the Past: History and
Representation in Sikh Tradition, explores the construction of Sikh memory
and historical consciousness around material representations and religious
sites from the eighteenth century to the present. She edited a thematically
related book entitled Time, History, and the Religious Imaginary in South
Asia. Her current research concerns the articulation of secular ideas and
practices in modern Punjabi literature in both Pakistan and India, and the
historical formations of social service or seva as an expression of ethical life
within Sikh tradition. This latter project engages a broader interest in the
viii Contributors

intersection of philanthropic behavior and modernity in South Asia and

PETER NOSCO is Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British
Columbia and a specialist in the intellectual and social history of early modern
Japan. He is best known for his work on early modern Japanese Confucianism,
nativism (kokugaku), underground religions, and popular culture. His current
work is on the individuality and values of the last decades of the Tokugawa
period, and their fate in the early Meiji. He is the author of Remembering
Paradise: Nativism and Nostalgia in 18th Century Japan and the editor of
Confucianism and Tokugawa Culture and Japanese Identity: Cultural
Analyses. He has also contributed chapters on Buddhism and Confucianism
to three other Ethikon volumes, and has been a guest editor of the Japanese
Journal of Religious Studies and Philosophy: East and West.
MEENA SHARIFY-FUNK, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Religion
and Culture Department of Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario;
she specializes in Islamic studies with a focus on contemporary Muslim
thought and identity. Her current research focuses on the construction of
contemporary North American Muslim identity in a post-9/11 context. It is a
continuation of her first manuscript, Encountering the Transnational: Women,
Islam, and the Politics of Interpretation, which examined the impact of trans-
national networking on Muslim womens identity, thought, and activism. She
also has written and presented a number of articles and papers on the politics
of Islamic hermeneutics, Islamic conceptions of peace and conflict resolution,
and the role of cultural and religious factors in peacemaking. Additionally,
Sharify-Funk has two co-edited books, Cultural Diversity and Islam (with
Abdul Aziz Said) and Contemporary Islam: Dynamic, not Static (with Abdul
Aziz Said and Mohammed Abu-Nimer).
PETER STEINFELS is a university professor emeritus at Fordham in New
York City. From 1988 to 1997, he was senior religion correspondent of
the New York Times, where he also wrote Beliefs, a biweekly column on
religion, until 2010. In 2004, with Margaret OBrien Steinfels, he founded the
Fordham Center on Religion and Culture, which they co-directed until July
2012. Earlier an editor at Commonweal and in the field of bioethics, he has
written over 2,000 articles and reviews on topics including church and state,
international affairs, social policy, and biomedical ethics. He is the author of
The Neoconservatives, and A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic
Church in America, and has contributed chapters to twenty other books. He
graduated from Loyola University in Chicago and holds a Ph.D. in modern
European history from Columbia as well as seven honorary doctorates.
MICHAEL WALZER is Professor Emeritus of Social Science at the Institute
for Advanced Study, Princeton. He is the author of In Gods Shadow: Politics
in the Hebrew Bible; Thinking Politically; The Revolution of the Saints; Just
Contributors ix

and Unjust Wars; Spheres of Justice; and On Toleration. He is also a co-editor

of The Jewish Political Tradition, a four-volume set of texts and commentaries
dealing with all aspects of Jewish political experience from biblical times to
the present; a former co-editor of Dissent; and a member of the editorial board
of The Ethikon Series in Comparative Ethics.

The trustees of the Ethikon Institute join with Philip Valera, president, and
Carole Pateman, series editor, in thanking all who contributed to the devel-
opment of this volume.
Special thanks are due to Simone Chambers and Peter Nosco for taking on
the challenging task of editing this book.
We are especially indebted to the Sidney Stern Memorial Trust for their
enabling financial support.
Finally, we wish to express our thanks to Hilary Gaskin, our editor at
Cambridge University Press, for her encouragement, valuable guidance, and
support; and to Rosemary Crawley, assistant editor at Cambridge, for skill-
fully guiding the manuscript through the production process.

The Ethikon Institute

The Ethikon Institute, a nonprofit organization, is concerned with the social
implications of ethical pluralism. Its dialogue-publication projects are
designed to explore a diversity of moral outlooks, secular and religious, and
to clarify areas of consensus and divergence among them. By encouraging a
systematic exchange of ideas, the Institute aims to advance the prospects for
agreement and to facilitate the peaceful accommodation of irreducible differ-
ences. The Ethikon Institute takes no position on issues that may divide its
participants, serving not as an arbiter but as a neutral forum for the coopera-
tive exploration of diverse and sometimes opposing views.

Chapter 1


Simone Chambers and Peter Nosco

Difference, diversity, and disagreement are inevitable features of our ethical,

social, and political landscape. Although difference of opinion is not a modern
phenomenon, the modern world is particularly concerned with the ethical
navigation of difference. What is the range of appropriate responses to deep
disagreement? How should we interact with those with whom we do not see
eye to eye? When does elasticity properly become diversity? These questions
can be addressed to many different actors. States for example are a common
place to start as they are critical agents in managing and navigating pluralism
and difference. We start with traditions rather than states, however, because
traditions are in some sense prior to states. How a state deals with diversity
and pluralism will often be determined by the ethical tradition or traditions
that find a home there.
Traditions have an immense impact on peoples lives. To be brought up as
a Catholic, to think of oneself as a liberal, to be at home within a Confucian
social order, these ways of being in the world carry with them hosts of
substantive implications. Interrogating the ethical messages that various
traditions send about how to treat their opponents and rivals, and examining
how these messages have been played out in the concrete histories of these
traditions have proved to be a very large topic. The chapters that follow
investigate the issues raised and ethical questions posed by one very particular
type of opponent: the fellow traveler. We have asked our authors to lay out the
distinctive features of intramural dissent in nine ethical traditions Buddhism,
Christianity, Confucianism, Islam, Judaism, the religions of South Asia, liber-
alism, Marxism, and natural law followed by a concluding Afterword.
Ethical pluralism is both extramural and intramural, and gives rise to
diverse challenges in different social frameworks. Two earlier volumes in
the Ethikon series tackled the management of extramural diversity, or, more
precisely, how different traditions propose to deal with ethical disagreements
with persons and communities outside the circle of their own adherents. The

2 Simone Chambers and Peter Nosco

Many and the One1 considers the management of such diversity in the
framework of an ethically pluralist national community. The Globalization
of Ethics2 considers it in the looser framework of international society, and
how it affects the willingness and ability to talk to and interact with others
across transnational boundaries. We in this volume concentrate on the char-
acteristics of internal dissent and the strategies for its management.
All moral traditions, both secular and religious, have some combination
of core beliefs, key tenets, and central practices. Survival and continuity of
a tradition depend on the reproduction and continued adherence to those
core beliefs and practices. Nonetheless, disagreement and dissent are not only
inevitable in the ongoing life of a tradition, but would also appear to be
necessary to maintaining a traditions vitality, and it is here that one observes
a Goldilocks-like paradox of dissent. On the one hand, the complete stifling of
criticism and argument would render a tradition static and incapable of growth
and adaptation. On the other hand, a traditions inability to discipline and at
times rein in criticism could equally lead to its demise, as the center cannot
hold endlessly against comprehensive dissent. Indeed, all strong and vibrant
traditions, and of course all the ethical traditions represented in this volume,
have found their own ways to navigate between the Scylla of stagnation and
Charybdis of revolt. The tension between stagnation and change is further
complicated by where one stands. Whether the exit option when dissenters
depart from the fold is good (welcome), bad (regrettable), or neutral is
contingent upon whether we are the ones leaving or the ones left behind.
The boundary between evolution and schism can be variously drawn,
and the strategies of the traditions we examine have shared much but have
also differed in important ways. In religious contexts, dissent has historically
attracted accusations of heresy, apostasy, and schism, while in secular frame-
works, similar charges are more often framed as unprincipled heterodoxy,
deviation from a party line and disloyalty. In both instances, extreme mea-
sures have sometimes been adopted to suppress perceived existential threats
to the tradition. Also to be reckoned with is the fact that intramural disagree-
ment often brings with it an emotional dimension of betrayal, infidelity, and
abandonment. It is not uncommon for traditions to deal more harshly with
internal critics and challenges from within than those on the outside. At times,
the responses of our traditions have been less drastic and ultimately more
productive, as attempts are made to manage, channel, and contain dissidence
in ways that actually strengthen the tradition. Exit is an option that moves one
from intramural to extramural dissent. The line between intra- and extramural

Richard Madsen and Tracy B. Strong (eds.), The Many and the One: Religious and Secular
Perspectives on Ethical Pluralism in the Modern World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 2003).
William M. Sullivan and Will Kymlicka (eds.), The Globalization of Ethics (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2007).
Introduction 3

is difficult to navigate, as evidenced by the fact that all of the traditions

discussed here have their origins in dissent from an existing orthodoxy. The
intensity, character, and quality of the measures taken to manage dissent
depend on many factors, and below we outline a number of such factors and
in the process introduce themes that run though all the chapters.

Authenticity and essentialism

This book, like other Ethikon volumes, is intended to offer a platform for
various ethical traditions both religious and secular to engage in a com-
parative conversation. We asked our authors to articulate how their tradition
has dealt with and managed dissent and disagreement. This required our
authors to construct on behalf of their traditions an initial introspective posit-
ing of a core set of beliefs, without which dissent, let alone its management,
would be meaningless, and so the first point of comparison becomes how each
tradition defines itself.
All traditions have a history, and each of our chapter-authors has had to
strike a balance between the essentializing impulse to define a tradition, and
the historicizing impulse to document its transformation over time. William
Galston in this volume defines a tradition as a way of thinking with a history,
and as we are dealing with ethical traditions, we would simply add a way of
thinking about what matters in life, with a history. All traditions point back in
time to something like a sacred history with authoritative texts, pivotal
historical moments, and founding figures as common components. Our tradi-
tions are themselves epic narratives of sorts, with a genesis that represents
their own rupture with the past. The tradition as narrative will typically
(though not necessarily) have foundational figures whose radical difference
with conventional wisdom goes well beyond that of forerunners. It will also
likely have apostles who sustain the tradition (re)defining its boundaries and
shaping its trajectory.
Some histories are more centered than others. For example, the Abrahamic
traditions and Sikhism have clear central figures, founding moments, and
agreed upon authoritative texts. By contrast, Buddhism, Confucianism, and
Marxism appear less centered, with disagreement often about which texts or
which individuals to think of as pivotal, despite having larger-than-life found-
ing figures. And relative to these, liberalism and Hinduism appear positively
diffuse, though this is surely a consequence of the circumstances surrounding
their respective constructions. One even observes how traditions can interact
and operate in tandem, as in the case of a Buddhist liberal, or Jewish Marxist,
or Confucian Christian. Thus, even though history and narrative continuity
are central elements of all traditions, not all traditions define core beliefs
through a form of historical originalism. Sources of authenticity are actively
contested, as we see when we ask who really speaks authentically nowadays
for doctrines like Buddhism or Confucianism.
4 Simone Chambers and Peter Nosco

Traditions are moving targets if you will, and what is dissent one day can as
easily be orthodoxy down the road. This means that the questions we asked
our authors had a self-referential dimension to them, and thoughtful readers
will likely at times disagree with (indeed dissent from) how our authors depict
their traditions. Traditions are made up of complex multidimensional and
contested narratives. The request to state as clearly as possible the core beliefs
and central tenets of a tradition necessarily led our authors to weigh contesting
claims of authenticity and different understandings of what is fundamental or
essential. The chapters that follow thus represent to some extent intellectual
and spiritual exercises in diplomacy, as well as analysis.
All authors in this volume have had to grapple with the questions of which
actors speak for the tradition and which actions represent the authentic
response to dissent. The challenge posed by issues of authenticity is well
illustrated in Andrew Levines chapter on Marxism. Many individuals and
movements, not to mention parties and regimes have been labeled or have
self-identified as Marxist. But despite this fact, many actions taken in the name
of Marxism, such as the brutal enforcement of orthodoxy in the Stalinist era,
have nothing to do with Marx, who simply did not write about this sort of
thing. The question thus becomes, is the Marxist tradition to be defined in
relation to an authentic originary set of core beliefs found in Marx or can we
think of the tradition as the historical actions done in the name of Marxism?
All traditions have to confront this question to some extent, and not every-
thing done in the name of a tradition or by adherents of the tradition is
representative of how that tradition deals with or how it teaches how to deal
with dissent.
But drawing this line between authentic and inauthentic expressions of
a tradition can be quite tricky. A classic case is the Spanish Inquisition, which
Nietzsche and others have pointed out was not a very Christian undertaking.
But it would be disingenuous to argue that since the Inquisition was an
abhorrent interpretation of Christianity as well as a set of practices that
Jesus is not likely to have endorsed, the Inquisition should then not be
considered as an example of how Christianity has managed dissent. There
are other cases in which this argument might be more persuasive, however.
Liberalism for example endorses toleration, liberty, and non-coercion as the
main principles through which to deal ethically with dissent. But there have
been many professed liberals acting on behalf of liberal states who have
failed quite strikingly to live up to these principles. Here we might want to
identify an inevitable tension between isms and -ists, that is, what ones
ethical tradition says you can do with or to dissenters and what people have
actually done in the name of the tradition.
To navigate this thorny issue, the authors have had to articulate some
version of the tradition for which they claim authenticity and although all
the authors stress that their respective traditions are complex and plural they
nonetheless have had to come down somewhere. This necessarily renders our
Introduction 5

authors open to the charge of essentialism. Perhaps there is no essential core

to Confucianism; maybe Buddhism is different in every era and in every place;
conceivably liberalism is too capacious to be properly captured as one tradi-
tion. These are all possibilities, which the authors themselves often discuss
directly. But the nature of the enterprise is such that some core must be
identified from which individuals and groups dissent.
There are all sorts of ways we may disagree with principles that do not
make us dissidents. Dissidence involves opposition and challenge in a way
that ordinary disagreement may not. But in order to oppose, there has to be a
there there, to borrow a famous phrase from Gertrude Stein. Even in
arguably the most open tradition in our group, the liberalism described by
Galston as entailing the maximum feasible scope for diversity and dissent,
dissent and not mere disagreement are evident. This is because liberalism
has throughout its history had to fend off challenges to prevailing or widely
held ideas. All traditions then, and even the most capacious, open the door to

It is often said that the modern world is characterized by pluralism, difference,
diversity, and disagreement. But it might be more accurate to say that
modernity contains new ways to think about, manage, and perhaps value
pluralism, difference, diversity, and disagreement. Difference and disagree-
ment have always been with us, or as Peter Steinfels says in his contribution,
Christianity looks like one long argument. What changes in modernity, then,
is how we deal with difference or how we value argument.
For all the traditions discussed in this book the transition to the modern
world has had an immense impact on the management of dissent. This impact,
however, has not been uniform. For all religious traditions finding a home
within liberal democracies, but with a special impact on Christianity, the
transition to modernity has brought with it the separation of church and
state on the one hand, and the rise of toleration as a widely held value on
the other. Burning heretics at the stake, capital punishment for apostasy, and
withholding civil benefits from dissenters are no longer possible or accepted
methods of managing dissent in liberal democracies. In modern liberal socie-
ties the tool of excommunication, while still available, no longer carries the
civil consequences that it once did.
For religious traditions at home or in the process of becoming naturalized
in Western liberal democracies, the consequences of secularism and a liberal
political culture go beyond the fact that states no longer enforce orthodoxy.
Liberalism exerts both internal and external pressure on religious traditions
to come in line with the broader culture and to become more liberal in how
they manage dissent. Internal to traditions, we see liberal Muslims, Jews, and
Christians raising dissident voices against conservative and old world methods
6 Simone Chambers and Peter Nosco

of managing dissent. Changing attitudes toward heresy within many Christian

contexts is just one example, and as Steinfels notes, in recent times heresy
trials have become an embarrassment, the very notion of heresy now being
associated with intellectual daring and courage rather than spiritual deforma-
tion. External to traditions, by contrast, we often see traditional practices
held up to public scrutiny and subjected to criticism by non-adherents. As
Meena Sharify-Funk observes, negotiation between Islam and cultural liber-
alism is likely to be prolonged and in some cases difficult.
Ethical traditions that find themselves within a liberal political culture will
understandably resist embracing the maximal toleration of dissent found in
the liberal tradition itself. Another way to articulate this point is to highlight
an important difference between the state, arguably the primary host institu-
tion of liberalism, and the associations of civil society that host ethical
traditions. Pluralist liberal states and liberal societies at large are not con-
stituted by the pursuit of an identifiable good in the same way as associations
and organizations of civil society. So for example, we might disagree with
the way the Anglo-orthodox community forced Rabbi Louis Jacobs from a
leadership role in the orthodox community because he voiced nonconformist
ideas, but it is not illegitimate per se for religious organizations to promote
one common set of core beliefs. This type of creedal policing would be
illegitimate for a liberal state however. Thus liberal states cannot expel
citizens for beliefs at variance with liberal ideology, but a liberal club or
even a liberal party enjoys the latitude to exclude and discipline internal
dissent and dissidents.
Although one cannot complain about the de-legitimization of violence as a
means of managing dissent, the changing circumstances of liberal modernity
pose a significant challenge to the survival of ethical traditions, and in parti-
cular religious ones. The value placed on pluralism and toleration in the
society at large often puts efforts to hold a center together in a bad light.
In modern societies the attempt to manage intramural dissent can have the
ironic effect of provoking dissent. But to maintain coherence and continuity a
tradition must find ways to stabilize a central set of core beliefs and convictions
or risk becoming something else.
All traditions that find themselves within modern liberal political culture,
including and perhaps especially liberalism itself, face the double effect of
freedom. On the one hand, liberal political culture represents an hospitable
environment in which to pursue and practice ones tradition in freedom.
On the other hand, modern values of toleration, pluralism, openness, and
freedom of thought can gently and sometimes not so gently push traditions
onto a centrifugal course where the center is always challenged and sometimes
cannot hold.
There are also centripetal forces at work in modernity that press in
the opposite direction, however. Here, it is instructive to contrast the three
Abrahamic religious traditions with the three historically less centered Asian
Introduction 7

traditions. For Confucianism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, modernity appears

to have pushed them in centripetal directions, encouraging the traditions to
posit static core beliefs that are fundamentally ahistorical. Thinking of them
as isms at all is to impose a conceptual coherence and metaphysical
center where perhaps none ever existed. The move to think about these
three in terms of religion, or even more particularly in terms of ecclesiastic
structures and lineages, can be tied to Western ideas of religion with roots in
the Enlightenment. This in turn of course has links to colonialism and the
Western aspiration not just to profit globally but also to make the world over
in its own image. Therefore the Enlightenment mind imagines a Buddhism
and Hinduism that, because they are religions, must be analogous in some
respects to Christianity.
Indeed there is little question that modernity has encouraged the consid-
eration of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism as religions in the Western
sense, and so seeks to rein in disparate practices and beliefs into the semblance
of a coherent whole. To use Anne Murphys phrase this involves an exercise
in boundary setting, but boundaries like borders need policing. Further, the
push to bring these traditions into and under an Enlightenment conception of
religion has often been exacerbated and complicated by political forces also
pushing centripetally.
There are two primary political forces that push in the direction of con-
solidation and centering and therefore conduce toward stricter management
of dissent. The first is a clear adjunct to the Enlightenment conceptualization
of these dispersed practices as unified religions and involves the state harnes-
sing the power of an ethical tradition for nation building. Peter Nosco
describes how the early modern Japanese state used networks of Buddhist
temples as population registries and instruments of consolidation, and
Richard Madsen describes something similar in the use of Confucianism in
the forging of Chinese identity and state ideology. Similarly, Islam has often
been used for political purposes, whereby its spiritual principles and commu-
nities have served to undergird modern states.
The second modern political force at work in the centering of traditions
is the rise of identity politics. Ethical traditions are exceptionally well
equipped to address questions of who we are, where we came from, and how
we arrived here. They can also be effective instruments of orientation, as they
place us temporally and spatially in our respective here and nows, especially
when reinforced by organic conceptions of society. But when political parties
become host institutions, as for example in the case of Hindu or even Buddhist
nationalists, this introduces a new dimension to the need to manage dissent
effectively, for no longer is it just the cultural survival of a tradition at stake.
Now we begin to see the spoils of the state itself at stake in keeping a
disciplined center alive. Modernity thus looms large in all of these traditions
but it does not produce a singular outcome, and history shows that modernity
can conduce to consolidation as much as pluralism.
8 Simone Chambers and Peter Nosco

Host institutions
As Peter Nosco points out in relation to Buddhism, but with application to all
the ethical traditions discussed in this volume, intramural dissent is managed
in different ways depending principally on the host institutions. These host
institutions are often charged with the task of managing dissent, as well as
inculcating orthodoxy, and appear to fall into two categories. On the one hand,
there are institutions in which there is a coincidence between the goods of
the institution and the goods of the tradition, in the sense that the institutions
exist to be hosts for traditions. Religious institutions such as churches, syna-
gogues, temples, and mosques are the clearest example of this sort of institu-
tion. Monasteries and other religious custodians of culture might represent
interesting outliers, because one can imagine monasteries pursuing internal
goods (for example communism) that are not part of the traditions broader
set of core beliefs and might at times even come into conflict with those
broader values or beliefs. On the other hand, there are host institutions
families, political parties, universities, and of course states that have other
and additional purposes, which do not coincide perfectly with those of the
These two categories of host institutions frequently come into conflict and
tension. Religious institutions such as churches and temples often represent a
near perfect coincidence between the promotion of the core values of their
respective ethical traditions and the promotion of the good of the institutions
themselves. That is to say, the good of the religious institution is defined
almost entirely in a manner that supports and is supported by the good of
the religious tradition. But this is not always true for the second type of
institution, and especially in the modern era when this category of institution
is typically secular, with universities offering a nice example. A Catholic
university has a mission to promote Catholic values and beliefs, but univer-
sities in general are institutions that are defined by the internal goods asso-
ciated with higher education. There is no necessary contradiction between
these two sets of goods, but it is not difficult to see how they might come into
conflict. One of the more visible cases of this is discussed in both the natural
law and Christianity chapters and involves the case of Charles Curran. Curran
developed strongly dissenting views within Catholicism especially with regard
to questions of contraception. As a consequence of his teaching of these views,
in 1967 the trustees of the Catholic University of America decided to deny him
tenure. Student and faculty protest resulted in the reversal of this decision, and
Curran continued as a professor at CUA and continued to dissent. In 1986
the Catholic Church again tried to discipline him, but this time the disciplinary
action was taken with an effort not to violate standards internal to the
university. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith revoked Currans
right to teach theology but did not revoke his tenure or his position as a
professor at the university.
Introduction 9

The 1967 action and the 1986 action provide an interesting study in
contrasts. In the first, doctrinal conformity trumped scholarly and teaching
excellence, but dissent and opposition to this call forced a reversal. In 1986,
however, the Vatican acknowledged that conformity to core beliefs was not an
appropriate criterion to judge academic merit or to award or withhold uni-
versity goods such as tenure and promotion, even though they determined that
they could revoke the credentials and status of Curran as a spokesperson for
the churchs doctrine. In the secular world outside the academy, this would
immediately be recognized as a form of brand protection, but as an example
of intramural dissent within a religious host institution, it continues to provide
fruitful grist for the understanding of both the rationale underlying and the
ethics of managing heterodoxy and dissent.
Modern universities in particular are interesting cases for the question
of managing dissent. Modern universities are central host institutions not so
much for ethical traditions as a whole or in their totality (Catholic University
of America being an obvious exception) but for the intellectuals and scholars
who individually articulate, reflect, and often preserve the traditions. This
is particularly true for ethico-philosophical traditions such as liberalism,
Marxism, Confucianism, and natural law theory, but it is also true for the
ethico-religious traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Islam. In the
case of universities we see a dilemma analogous to the one we encountered
above with regard to liberal political culture. There is a sense in which the very
idea of orthodoxy or even managing dissent is anathema to the university.
Andrew Levine puts this nicely in his discussion of Marxist theory. To be
accountable to an academic community means in principle to go where
the argument leads and to make truth and not solidarity ones first priority.
Disagreements abound but ideas of dissent have no place. We all know of
course that universities and intellectual communities do not always live up to
these lofty ideals. But oftentimes attempts to manage and discipline deviations
from any and all orthodoxies explode into debates about political correctness,
academic freedom, and free speech.
An interesting case study concerned the question of who is and is not
allowed the free use of space in on-campus inter-religious and student centers.
As is well known, modern universities typically dedicate some portion of their
student centers to religious and political organizations with little regard to the
respective ideologies or theologies represented so long as they do not conflict
with the core values of the university community itself. But what does one do
with an organization such as the Collegiate Association for the Research of
Principles (CARP), which became controversial on a number of campuses
not for the substance of the ideas it espoused, which amounted to little
more than a kind of unitarianism, but for its suspected affiliation with the
KCIA-supported Unification Church led by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon
(19202012). Similarly, how should a university respond if one of its official
salaried chaplains represents the doctrines of her/his faith in a manner deemed
10 Simone Chambers and Peter Nosco

unorthodox by the external host institution? Or, to take these questions to

something like their logical conclusion, should a secular university be con-
cerned about hiring Charles Curran to teach Catholic Church history and
dogma? The answer would appear to be obviously not, but the question is
not by itself ridiculous.

Orthodoxy and orthopraxis

An interesting distinction that comes up often in these chapters is between
theory and practice, or orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Some traditions, such as
Buddhism and liberalism, appear to center on a creed or set of core beliefs
and convictions. Others, such as Judaism and Confucianism, are defined in
terms of what Richard Madsen has described in his chapter as orthopraxis.
In Confucianism core beliefs that remain static over time are more elusive,
and Confucianism developed out of certain core practices that later scholars
articulated in the form of core beliefs. This is especially evident in such
Confucian concerns as family values, household continuity, and hierarchical
structures of veneration over many generations. The distinction here is not
fully captured by the simplistic binary of spiritual versus this-worldly, because
even as secular a philosophy as liberalism can be placed within a creedal camp
in that it has roots in such abstractions as rights, individualism, and liberty
more than in lifeworld or semi-ritualized practices.
But identifying the core or heart of a tradition is not necessarily a predictor
of where dissent will be tolerated and where it will not. So, for example,
liberalism is a creed but it does not directly police belief. Liberal states usually
try to inculcate adherence to some general liberal values through schools and
other forms of soft power, but as a state ideology liberalism is more concerned
with behaviors and practices than belief. Citizens are permitted to defend
patriarchal doctrines, but they may not themselves discriminate against indi-
viduals based on gender in hiring practices.
Whether a tradition is concerned with doctrinal dissent or behavioral
deviance also forms a dividing line between traditions that does not always
fall where one might think, and Judaism and Christianity form an interesting
contrast in this respect. Alan Mittleman confirms that Judaism has no creed,
and that behavioral norms rather than right belief are where the tradition
seeks compliance. This view is illustrated in a famous Talmudic adjudication
of a doctrinal dispute between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai.
The Talmud says both are right on the principle of the matter, but that when it
comes to acting in the world, one should follow Hillel. Judaism accordingly has
a long history of tolerating doctrinal disputes and deviation in belief, focusing
instead on behavioral norms. Belief of course is not absent in these discus-
sions, but the focus tends to be on practice and not abstract principles of faith.
Peter Steinfels tells quite a different story with regard to Christianity.
Creedal and core beliefs are central and important loci of difference.
Introduction 11

Steinfels notes that the management of dissent in Christianity has always

been focused on formal and learned dissent rather than lifeworld practices.
Indeed at the practical level of proselytizing, modern Christians have toler-
ated considerable diversity in local ritual practices, especially in missionary
contexts where Christianity is trying to make inroads within an existing set
of cultural practices and beliefs. In the Catholic Cathedral in Tokyo, for
example, the practice has been each August to construct a stage for the
performance of a Bon-odori, which is a traditional folk-Buddhist occasion
analogous to the Feast of All Souls. Many East Asians believe that during
this three-day period, the souls of the dearly departed return, and we are
privileged to be able to commune with them. But this would clearly be at odds
with Catholic teachings, even though the practice is tolerated by Japanese
Catholics and by extension the Catholic Church in Japan. The Vatican might
or might not approve, but, either way, it has not been inclined to intervene. So,
where does one draw the line between what will and will not fall within the
tradition? When salvific propositions are raised, the issues are more critical,
but do such practices as the Bon-odori rise to such a level?
In this brief comparison of Christianity with Judaism but with implications
for all our traditions, the focus on doctrinal disputes versus disputes about
practice has one further twist. Christianitys pre-modern doctrinal disputes
often centered on abstract theological issues such as the nature of transub-
stantiation or the trinity. Such doctrinal disputes appear today, especially
in secular circles, to be so abstract as to lose meaningful purchase. Today,
however, the disputes that elicit the strongest attempts to manage dissent in
Christianity are almost always about what Tom Angier calls life and death
issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and contraception, and wider issues of
human sexual relations, particularly the status of homosexual practice and
same-sex marriage. Purely theological disputes or foundational arguments
such as those between traditional natural law adherents and new natural law
advocates are typically allowed to go where the argument takes them, and in
such instances disagreement does not rise to the level of dissent. But life and
death questions are another matter, and so in a sense Christianity too is
fighting battles at the level of behavioral norms. But these are norms about
the application of Christian doctrine to ones private life and secular issues,
while in Judaism the debates that lead to dissent are often about behavioral
norms that are themselves constitutive of Judaism, such as the observance of
Shabbat or whether women can form a minyan.

The use of violence

The use of violence to manage dissent can be formal or informal, authorized
or unauthorized. As we have seen in our discussion of modernity, the rise of
secularism in many parts of the world has restricted the appeal to the state as
executor and enforcer of orthodoxy. This has had a tremendous impact on the
12 Simone Chambers and Peter Nosco

level and type of violence used against dissenters but it has not of course done
away with violence. First there are still states that play a role in enforcing
orthodoxy. Theocracies like Iran are obvious cases but laws against apostasy
and heresy can be found in many Islamic states that do not rise to the level of
theocracy. Furthermore, liberal states are sometimes dragged into doctrinal
disputes even when they would prefer to maintain neutrality. The Israeli state
has had a difficult time staying clear of the intramural dispute over whether
women may read the Torah and wear Tallitot (prayer shawls) at the Wailing
Wall, often being forced to physically remove the dissenting women. And
there are a number of ongoing legal cases in the United States and Canada
where intramural disagreements about doctrine spill into secular legal juris-
diction and so require state intervention and sanction. The Canadian Supreme
Court, for example, was asked to decide whether Jews are required by reli-
gious law to have a family sukkah or whether the obligation is fulfilled by a
communal sukkah.3 These sorts of cases are rare, however, and liberal states
are generally not in the business of adjudicating doctrinal disputes let alone
enforcing orthodoxy with state-sanctioned force.
When non-liberal states arrest and punish citizens for heresy the violence is
authorized and formal. But violence can also play a role at the other end of the
spectrum: unauthorized and informal. In the 1970s it was not uncommon to
see fistfights break out between Trotskyites and Maoists vying for prime leaflet
distribution spaces on university campuses. In 1982 Peter Nosco, a specialist
in Japanese studies, delivered a lecture on Japanese Confucianism at a major
university in Taiwan, and when he noted that in some respects eighteenth-
century Japan was more consistent with Zhou-dynasty Confucianism than
China at about the same time, the interpreter himself a promising junior
scholar was attacked and beaten about the head by a senior scholar who
found the views objectionable. Few outside the tradition would imagine that a
historical interpretation could elicit so extreme a response. Intramural dis-
agreement can bring violent passions to the fore. But do we really want to say
that this is a form of managing dissent? It might be more accurate to say that
this type of violence often erupts because there is no authorized agent to
manage dissent. The parties do not recognize any common judge in the dispute
and their dispute has nowhere to go but into aggression, name calling, and
At the individual level of scholars brawling at public talks and activists
tussling over turf, the picture is more amusing than menacing. But informal
unauthorized violence can take place on very large scales with devastating
consequences. Mobs enraged by perceived irreverence can turn fisticuffs into
massacres. Like individual acts of aggression, rather than a way of managing
dissent, the explosion of unauthorized and informal sectarian violence can be
seen as evidence of a failure to manage dissent at all. There are cases, however,

Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem (2004) 2 SCR 551. The Court wisely refused to take sides.
Introduction 13

where informal intramural violence is either tacitly or explicitly endorsed

by authority figures in a tradition. In these situations the violence while still
informal does appear to be an intentionally chosen method of dealing with
dissent. Much of SunniShiite violence has this character. But there are
complications that might make us question whether doctrinal dissent is
doing the work here in violent sectarian conflicts. Political dynamics are also
at work in many of these clashes, and ethnic hatred and prejudice can of course
also masquerade as ethical dissent. Intramural dissent can and has flared into
violence but case-by-case empirical studies are needed to make any causal
Another factor in the rigor with which groups are willing to discipline
dissent is the groups relation to power. When proponents of a religion or
ideology are targeted by the state and are forced to take their practices and
convictions underground, their strategies for managing internal dissent will
have to be more extreme than in any above-ground movement in a pluralistic
society. This is because even the slightest intramural dissent in a secret society
runs the risk of rippling the waters above and thereby calling unwelcome
attention to the secret activities. Peter Nosco describes just such a dynamic
with respect to the fundamentalist fujufuse movement within Nichiren
Buddhism. Marxist cells, party membership in pre-revolutionary Russia as
well as communist resistance activity during the Second World War are also
examples of this dynamic.

Overview of the chapters

The hope and aim of this volume, and indeed all Ethikon volumes, is to
contribute to a comparative conversation between and within traditions. It
would be unreasonable of course to ask each author to compare his or her
tradition with others, since few would claim the expertise to do so, and this
would never succeed in achieving the deep level of analysis that we seek in this
volume. Therefore the method of comparison adopted here is to request that
each author address the same set of questions and concerns, thus allowing the
reader easy access to comparative lines of argument. The reader will note then
that for the most part the chapters all proceed along a similar structure. We
first asked authors to set out the key tenets and core beliefs of their tradition,
since without a core it is difficult to imagine dissent. From there the topics
covered various aspects of intramural dissent, such as what priority do tradi-
tions place on maintaining a consensus on core beliefs in relation to other
goods, and how elastic are the traditions prepared to be in defining them-
selves? What consequences do traditions see flowing from dissent, and is there
diversity within the tradition on how to deal with dissent? We asked each
author whether it was possible to identify an authority within the tradition
tasked with articulating and enforcing the core beliefs. Next came the central
question of management: what measures are seen as ethically appropriate
14 Simone Chambers and Peter Nosco

ways of dealing with dissent? Have these standards of management changed

significantly over the course of time? Have these measures and policies with
regard to managing dissent themselves been the subject of internal criticism
within the tradition? Finally, we asked our authors to discuss the scope
claimed by their tradition on behalf of their management strategies. In other
words, we wanted to know if individual traditions have thought that their
approach to dissent might be appropriate for other traditions or in other
institutional settings.
In Chapter 2, William Galston traces a number of intramural debates and
disagreements within liberalism, while at the same time suggesting that liber-
alism as a tradition is hesitant to think of these debates in terms of dissent. The
strong and central place of toleration within liberalism militates against the
suppression of intramural dissent and may make liberalism the single most
elastic of the traditions discussed here. Furthermore, as a philosophical tradi-
tion, liberalism has no recognized authority to manage dissent. Liberalism is
not only a philosophical tradition, however. It has found political articulation
in parties, states, and international rights movements, and it is here that
Galston traces some of the challenges faced by these associations as they
endeavor to keep faith with liberal principles of toleration and maximum
scope for dissent on the one hand, and reproduction and continuity of key
tenets and principles on the other hand.
Andrew Levine in his chapter on Marxism recognizes that philosophical
debates in the academy do not raise issues of dissent so much as questions
of disagreement. He proposes therefore to leave analytic Marxism aside and
focus on Marxist politics broadly construed. But here too there is a problem
with pinning down a particularly Marxist view of intramural dissent. Marxist
politics, most prominently visible in the form of Leninist parties, did not
draw on Marxist theory in developing political strategies and organizational
structures. While these parties claimed Marxist pedigree, the connection was
tenuous at best. Nevertheless, they are part of what is commonly thought of
as the Marxist political tradition. These parties prized and indeed required
unity, and therefore they were not diversity-friendly. But Levine tells us that
it was political exigencies and excesses, and not Marxist theory, that led to
show trials, internment camps, and purges. The sad part of the story is that the
often brutal silencing of dissent associated with Marxist political regimes,
although not properly Marxist, has contributed to a discrediting of Marxism.
Distinguishing itself from our other traditions, Marxism may be effectively
defunct: it will perhaps continue as a theoretical tradition and as such it has
a healthy and open approach to dissent, but it also appears moribund as a
political movement even though the movement need not be closed to dissent.
In Chapter 4, devoted to natural law, Tom Angier brings to light the ways
that natural laws twin affiliations or perhaps identities can come into conflict.
Natural law is a philosophical tradition committed to rational argument and
not dependent on revelation. Angier reads Aquinas as endorsing this view of
Introduction 15

natural law: although God stands behind natural law, it is natural because it
speaks directly to natural man through reason and inclination. But natural law,
especially its Thomistic variation, is also a central pillar in Catholic teaching,
and is thus both an ethico-philosophical tradition as well as an ethico-religious
tradition. Although its religious identity is also founded on rational argument
rather than revelation, natural laws special place within Catholicism intro-
duces issues of dissent not present or relevant to its identity as a philosophical
tradition. This is well illustrated in Angiers comparison of foundational
debates between traditional and new natural law theory on the one hand,
and disagreements about practical issues pertaining to reproduction and sexu-
ality on the other hand. Foundational disagreements have remained philoso-
phical, that is, there is dissension but not dissent from orthodoxy, and the
Church has for the most part let the argument go where it goes. When issues
move from a foundational level to more practical questions of the application
of natural law to ethical choices faced by modern individuals, questions of
conformity and orthodoxy enter the picture. The content of the debates is
still rational argument not revelation, but what changes is the insertion of
authority into the debate, as when the Magisterium or teaching authority of
the Catholic Church has weighed in and attempted to constrain dissent on
natural law teachings.
Echoing a number of other chapters in this volume, Alan Mittleman in
Chapter 5 on Judaism reminds us that our present-day conception of religion
(and perhaps all -isms) is heavily indebted to the Enlightenment. Judaism does
not fit neatly into this picture of religion because it has more to do with
belonging than believing, and issues of dissent therefore have focused more
on behavioral norms than belief. Although the history of Judaism is not with-
out its heretics, excommunications, and disciplinary actions, Mittleman argues
that Judaism has always been open to pluralism especially in the form of
intellectual, theoretical, and theological disagreement. The high value placed
on learning and education on the one hand and the lack of access (certainly in
the Diaspora) to state-sponsored sanctions on the other have contributed to
a tradition of relative tolerance of difference and diversity especially with
regard to theological and philosophical doctrines. Survival, however, dictated
a tighter hold on variations in practice. Strong norms against intermarriage
and conformity in everyday practices that required segregation in all aspects
of life from host cultures have proved more useful to long-term survival than
silencing or disciplining intellectual dissent.
Christianity is perhaps the most deceptively familiar of the traditions
we examine, and Peter Steinfels chapter offers a thorough overview of
Christianitys birth, rise, and trajectory into the modern era. Central to this
story and the natural focus when thinking about intramural dissent is the
massive post-reformation resort to violence from Inquisitions to religious
wars, forced migrations, and persecutions of all sorts that continued even into
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when civil penalties for
16 Simone Chambers and Peter Nosco

religious dissent finally began to disappear. Much of the contemporary story

is thus about recovering from that violent past and finding the right balance
between doctrinal solidarity and consensus on the one hand and toleration,
respect, and freedom on the other hand. As Steinfels tells us, that balance is
not easy to find and many Christian denominations and sects feel themselves
engaged in a rearguard action to maintain core beliefs (especially on sexuality
and gender issues) in the face of a modern pluralist culture. Steinfels points
out that Christianitys failures in the management of intramural dissent have
resulted in any number of successful examples of differentiation through
denominationalism, and are an ironic source of Christianitys capacity to
flourish despite its divisions. Further, the fact that Europeans have been the
ones to initially define religion has obviously tended to affect how religion
has been defined by others, rendering Christianity, as Steinfels observes, the
default religion of Western modernity.
In Chapter 7, Meena Sharify-Funk stresses the diversity and plurality of
Islam, which is probably the contemporary worlds most visible laboratory for
the management of dissent and the violent extremes to which it can be taken.
Islam is deeply heterogeneous. The multiple, cross-cutting, and competing
strands of Islam are not only a source of tension, conflict, and intolerance
between groups but also a resource to draw on in thinking about new ways
of voicing and accommodating dissent. Sharify-Funk carefully lays out and
untangles the differences between Sunni and Shiite, Sufism and Salafism, and
the numerous subdivisions within these strands. She then overlays these
sectarian divisions with a typology aimed at articulating ideological differ-
ences that often cut across sectarian lines, including secularist, progressive
reformist, mainstream revivalist, radical, and neo-traditional variants. Her
conclusion is that there is no single Islamic response to dissent per se, and
what we observe instead is ongoing disagreement over what constitutes a
falling away from truth, and how to address difference and disagreement.
The fragmentation and pluralization of Islam have been complicated by
being entwined with reactions to colonialism and the anti-Western sentiment
that often accompanies a pushback against a colonial past. In the end, Sharify-
Funk is hopeful that modern democratic practices and traditional Islamic
sources are not fundamentally at odds, and that dialogic cosmopolitanism
will become the new Islamic way of dealing with dissent and disagreement.
In Chapter 8, devoted to the South Asian traditions of Hinduism and
Sikhism, Anne Murphy tells a complex story of construction. Hinduism as
such did not exist in the pre-modern period. Texts, practices, traditions,
rituals, and beliefs that are retroactively identified as Hindu today existed
in the pre-modern period, but there was no corresponding self-identification
as a coherent unified tradition with boundaries in need of policing. The
construction of Hinduism is a modern phenomenon born out of many
different pressures and imperatives. Although Hindu and Sikh origins seem
to stand at opposite ends of the heterogeneoushomogeneous spectrum, with
Introduction 17

Hinduism maximally elastic and diffuse while Sikhism is the more bounded
and centered, they share a modern concern with boundaries made necessary
by the politics of identity and power. Hindus must distinguish themselves
clearly from Muslims, and Sikhs must make sure that they are clearly distin-
guished from Hindus. Since this differentiation is substantially in the service of
winning the spoils of representative democracy, questions of dissent are some-
what disingenuous in this context. The pull of political power can be both
exclusionary and inclusionary, as, for example, in the attempt to include Dalit
traditions in a Hindu identity that for many centuries had tried to exclude
the lowest castes from access to its texts, practices, and communal activities. In
the end Murphy suggests that politics and power intervene in a way that makes
it near impossible to discern an authentic Hindu or Sikh way of dealing with
difference and diversity.
As Richard Madsen describes in his chapter on Confucianism, the term
Confucian was coined by Jesuits to describe a complex set of ritual practices
and associated convictions. This Confucianism was subsequently embraced
by a succession of Chinese states, most recently in the twentieth and twenty-
first centuries when some Chinese regimes have posited Confucianism
as the foundation of Chinese national culture. Throughout its history, these
practices and convictions have had close ties with the state and have fre-
quently depended on the state to enforce orthodoxy. Confucian scholars saw
their calling to be in the service of the state, but they also imagined the central
purpose of the state to be assuring the broadest possible conditions of stability
and well-being, allowing households and their members full rein to grow in the
direction of goodness. In theory Confucian scholars enjoyed the privilege of
expressing remonstrance upward, but in practice such dissent from the state
was usually punished. The centrality of the state is thus internal to the core
beliefs and values of Confucianism. Madsen notes that until the twentieth
century there was remarkable consensus, at all levels, on basic Confucian
familial ethics and political ethics, but with the collapse of traditional mon-
archical modes of government throughout East Asia, the central authority
traditionally tasked with defining orthodoxy disappeared. In the absence of
an accepted authority, Madsen describes how contemporary Confucianism
has blossomed into a hundred schools of thought. No longer backed by
monarchs, many of Confucianisms core tenets remain hierarchical and are
perceived to be favorable to authoritarian states and traditional gender roles,
making it difficult for Confucianism to succeed outside East Asia.
Peter Nosco in Chapter 10 approaches the question of intramural dissent
within the Buddhist tradition at a slightly different methodological angle than
the other chapters. Rather than begin by identifying key tenets or core beliefs
in the abstract, he describes four seminal and defining moments of dissent in
Buddhist mytho-history. These cases serve two purposes. First, they tell the
reader something about the origins of the important divisions within the
Buddhist tradition. Second, they invite the reader to think inductively from
18 Simone Chambers and Peter Nosco

these cases in building a picture of the Buddhist way of managing dissent,

which has depended less on Buddhisms core beliefs than on the historical,
political, and social situations in which Buddhism has found itself. Early
Buddhists, for example, in trying to distinguish themselves that is, to dissent
from the brahminical tradition from which they broke, were understandably
concerned with defining orthodoxy and quashing dissent. For most of its
history, however, Buddhism has been remarkably elastic in its capacity to
accommodate itself to its immediate context. When not partnered with poli-
tical or social interests, Buddhists seem quite happy to let a thousand flowers
bloom and each can call itself Buddhist. However, in those rare circumstances
when Buddhists have incurred the wrath of the state and have been forced to
take the practice of their faith underground, their internal management of
dissent has assumed a much higher priority.
Michael Walzers Afterword places the foregoing chapters in three inter-
locking frames. Walzer observes that as traditions take on a more liberal or
quasi-liberal attitude toward internal dissent by which he means as traditions
move away from coercive attempts to force conformity two strategies pre-
sent themselves. The first is what he labels latitudinarianism and the second
denominationalism. In the first we make the tent bigger and in the second we
encourage dissenters to set up their own tents. This is a wonderfully produc-
tive frame through which to compare the routes each tradition has taken into
modernity and into a version of itself compatible with liberalism. The second
comparative question Walzer poses has to do with the relationship of the
tradition to state power. How have traditions used state power (including
soft power fully compatible with liberalism) to manage dissent and how has
the state used traditions to consolidate political power? The final question
takes up what Walzer sees as the most challenging dissident movement on the
horizon: feminist and gay activists in all the traditions (including liberalism)
are the dissidents of today. The future of all these traditions will be shaped by
how they meet this challenge.
Ethical pluralism is a permanent feature of our modern world. It is our hope
that this volume and indeed all the volumes in the Ethikon series help the
reader to navigate this pluralism as scholars, citizens, and persons. Although,
such pluralism poses challenges to all of us at many different levels of our life,
ethical pluralism also opens up opportunities and offers rewards. We hope that
the comparative perspective on traditions put forward in this volume will
contribute to the ways that pluralism enriches our lives.
Chapter 2

Liberalism and internal dissent

William A. Galston

Introduction and key tenets

Liberalism is a way of thinking with a history. That is why it makes sense to
call it a tradition. Like every tradition, it not only develops but also changes
in response to pressures and opportunities, internal and external. While
historical change has its own inner coherence, there is no guarantee that
what emerges historically will be entirely compatible with its original sources.
It is possible perhaps even inevitable that traditions are instances of
what Wittgenstein famously called family resemblances in which each family
member has something in common with some but not necessarily all the
Liberalism originated in two great struggles of the early modern era one
against arbitrary power and privilege, the other against religious war. In
response to these twin ills, liberals have long stood for the core principles of
individual liberty and civil peace.
Regarding the first principle, it became apparent that any coherent account
of individual liberty implied some conception of equality as well: at the very
least, liberty meant equal liberty. Ever since, liberals have wrestled with the
relation between liberty and equality: the further equality is extended, the
more likely it is to collide with liberty, and vice versa.
Regarding the second principle: From the liberal perspective, conflict is
more than the naked struggle for power. It often stems from deep differences,
starting but not ending with religion. The century-long wars of religion proved
that no creed could forcibly silence or extirpate its competitors. The only
alternative to endless war was a modus vivendi that allowed groups and
nations to co-exist despite their differences. From this hard-won (indeed
blood-soaked) wisdom developed the liberal principle of tolerance that
came to occupy such a prominent place in liberal theory and practice.
The liberal principles of liberty and peace pointed toward another conclu-
sion fraught with theoretical and practical significance: if civil authority was

20 William A. Galston

understood as plenipotentiary, with jurisdiction over all aspects of citizens

lives, then civil law could not avoid severe impositions on some citizens
liberty, exacerbating tensions between them and other citizens whose beliefs
and way of life the law favored. The characteristic liberal solution was to limit
the scope of public authority. For example, rather than specifying a single
religion for all citizens, the law would make room for a multiplicity of faiths,
restricting itself to keeping the peace among them and enforcing some mini-
mal civil requirements on all.
A characteristic outlook formed around these core commitments. While
liberals are not necessarily hostile to religion, they tend to be rationalists who
believe in the power of unaided human reason to understand and to improve
the world. They believe in reasoned discussion as the best way of resolving
or at least managing disputes. They believe, if not in the inevitability, at least
in the possibility of progress in human affairs. And they are this-worldly:
whatever our fate in the world to come may be, what happens to us here and
now really matters. So liberals care a great deal about security against violent
death, and they take pain and suffering very seriously. Liberals oppose cruelty
in all its forms, and they support improvements in medicine as the best way of
minimizing pain and extending healthy lives. And because liberals care affir-
matively about how our lives go in this world, they believe that society has
some obligation to create the conditions most conducive to human flourishing.
(The extent of that obligation has long been contested among liberals, and it
remains so to this day.)
Through its historical development, liberalism understood as an ensemble
of beliefs about the purposes and limits of government became linked
empirically rather than conceptually with other emerging features of modern
societies. Of these, four are of particular importance markets, constitution-
alism, democracy, and international organizations. Legally protected forms
of ownership and exchange came to be seen as expressions of individual
liberty as well as vehicles for increasing wealth. Written constitutions helped
to delimit governmental power. Once the US Declaration of Independence
had defined the people as the source of legitimate authority and the well-being
of the people as its legitimate purpose, it was but a small step to the view that
the people should govern themselves, directly or through their elected repre-
sentatives. If government is of the people and for the people, why not by the
people as well?
While it was possible to see liberalism as a purely domestic doctrine, it was
natural to extend it transnationally. The belief spread that liberal polities
were less likely to enter into wars against one another. But the propensity
for peace was not self-executing: the peaceful resolution of international
disagreements implied the creation of transnational institutions and laws.
Liberal internationalism is the effort to bring the anarchic world of relations
among nations under the rule of law, so far as possible. Liberals view the rule
of law as serving both liberty and concord, in domestic as well as international
Liberalism and internal dissent 21

affairs. And they regard their basic principles as the architecture of decent
societies, whatever their differences of culture and history. The Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General
Assembly in 1948, is the distilled essence of that belief.
As every historian of liberalism recognizes, self-styled liberals have always
disagreed vigorously among themselves. Efforts to draw a bright-line perimeter
around the liberal creed stand in tension, not always explicit, with the liberal
commitment to tolerance. Liberals cannot even agree whether, or under which
conditions, tolerance should be extended to the intolerant. A fortiori, they are
reluctant to suppress intramural dissent. In the camp of liberals today, for
example, one finds some thinkers who incline toward libertarianism and others
toward social democracy. The two groups have radically different conceptions
of the relation between liberty and equality, a disagreement with practical as
well as theoretical consequences. But few philosophical liberals are inclined to
end the debate by expelling one of the parties to it.
Another key intramural debate concerns individual agency. Liberals
respect the right of individuals to decide for themselves, and interference
with that right labors under a substantial burden of proof. Still, liberals
concede that agency presupposes at least minimal capacities for reflection
and choice whence the right of parents and guardians to act on behalf of
minors in their charge. Some liberals have gone further, arguing that many if
not all adults fall short of those capacities at least some of the time and that a
measure of external interference may be warranted. Recent discoveries of
pervasive cognitive distortions underlie defenses of liberal paternalism in
public policy.1
Evidence of liberal paternalism can also be found in international affairs.
After proclaiming that Over himself, over his own body and mind, the
individual is sovereign, John Stuart Mill hastens to reassure doubting readers
that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of
their faculties. It excludes not only children and other minors, but also those
backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its
nonage. Accordingly, Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in
dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the
means justified by actually effecting that end.2 For some nineteenth-century
thinkers and colonial administrators, liberal imperialism was anything but
an oxymoron. By the mid-twentieth century, the failure of most colonial
ventures to approach Mills standard of legitimacy had thoroughly discredited
the idea, and it remains so to this day.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow (New York: Penguin, 2011); Richard H. Thaler and
Cass R. Sunstein, Libertarian Paternalism, American Economic Review 93, 2 (May 2003):
Mill, On Liberty, David Bromwich and George Kateb (eds.) (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2003), p. 81.
22 William A. Galston

This is not to say that it is always illegitimate for foreign powers to impose
liberalism at the point of a sword, or that it is never possible to do so. After
the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945, the United States
and its allies tried to do just that, with results that exceeded expectation and
endured. But the circumstances that make such efforts both acceptable and
possible wars of aggression, launched by illiberal powers, leading to total
defeat and surrender of sovereignty are very rare. The Bush administrations
attempt to bring liberal democracy to Iraq and the worlds reaction to that
policy stand as vivid reminders that the circumstances of the post-war world
were exceptional.
As the preceding paragraphs suggest, liberalism enjoys a more than theo-
retical existence. It is in practice that the idea of host associations does real
work. Historically, three such associations polities, parties, and transnational
movements have played such a role. Louis Hartz argued that liberalism
was the United States founding creed and remained so down to the present.3
(It is not clear that this could be said of any other nation.) Whatever ones
views on this much disputed thesis, it is hard to deny that our founding
documents the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, James
Madisons Memorial and Remonstrance are liberal in their inspiration,
or that canonical texts such as the Gettysburg Address and the I Have a
Dream speech are recognizable extensions of that founding commitment.
This is not to say that the United States has been liberal through and
through. As Rogers Smith has reminded us, it has embraced multiple civic
ideals, including decidedly illiberal narratives of ascriptive Americanism that
delimited that status along lines of race, religion, national origin, gender, and
sexual orientation.4 But while Smith insists that the focus on liberalism has
obscured the ubiquity of illiberal practices in American history, he does not
argue that liberalism is compatible with those practices. In the end, as Lincoln
urged, we had to choose between fidelity to our founding creed and the
ongoing acceptance of hierarchy and exclusion. And during recent decades,
Americans have done just that.
Whatever their historical importance, illiberal sources of national unity
race, ethnicity, and religion, among others have been progressively
discredited. To be a twenty-first-century American is to accept the liberal
creed, at least for civic purposes. That is what naturalizing citizens are asked
to affirm explicitly, while those who are citizens by birth are tacitly called
upon to do likewise. Civic education in liberal societies is designed to foster
belief in core liberal principles.
Of course, there is no reliable way of reading citizens hearts and minds,
and, even if there were, a truly liberal state would hesitate to initiate such

Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1955).
Rogers M. Smith, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1967).
Liberalism and internal dissent 23

inquiries. (The House Un-American Activities Committee became notorious

for overstepping this boundary.) In practice, then, membership in a liberal
polity requires behavioral rather than creedal conformity. Some Protestants,
for example, maintain their historical antipathy to the Catholic Church,
but they go beyond the liberal pale only if they try to use law or coercion to
suppress it. Citizens can be fined or jailed if they breach legally mandated
behavioral norms. If transgressions are sufficiently serious, they can be
deprived of key civic rights such as voting. Under some circumstances, the
citizenship of naturalized Americans can be revoked.
Second among host associations are liberal political parties, which came
into being in most parliamentary systems during the nineteenth century. Many
were anti-monarchical; some were anti-clerical. All were dedicated to what
came to be known as bourgeois civil liberties and also to free trade. As the
Industrial Revolution produced new economic and social problems, liberal
parties shifted away from purist laissez-faire stances toward more activist
agendas that regulated working conditions and offered at least minimal
guarantees against economic dislocation.
Parliamentary parties often imposed party discipline on key votes: to
remain in good standing, individual members were required to support their
leaderships position. Leaders could withdraw their support and endorsement
from members who failed to comply, and they sometimes did. More
frequently, members who could not conscientiously support their leaders on
momentous issues left the party, either to ally themselves with competing
parties or to form new ones. Because parties, like churches, are in the end
voluntary organizations, discipline can be pushed only so far before those
whose voices are in the minority choose to exercise their right of exit.
Liberal parties divide more frequently over foreign than domestic policy.
In every major war since the mid-nineteenth century, liberals have argued
among themselves about the decision to enter armed conflict, the means
employed to prosecute the conflict, and the domestic restrictions on liberties
that often occurred in wartime situations. During the First World War, the
British Liberal Party split over these issues, and it continued arguing after
the war ended about the appropriate treatment generous or punitive to
be meted out to a defeated Germany. In the United States, divisions within
the Democratic Party over the Vietnam War triggered massive rank-and-file
defections during the 1970s and remained raw for the better part of two
In the American system, party leaders cannot formally delist dissenters
within their ranks. They can deprive them of choice committee assignments
and positions in the internal hierarchy. But here again, the possibility of
rank-and-file exit limits leaderships power to suppress dissent. Indeed, the
exit option serves in part as a way of disciplining leaders.
In addition to polities and parties, there is a Liberal International, which
bills itself as the world federation of liberal political parties. Membership is
24 William A. Galston

voluntary, but each member must adhere to the organizations manifestos,

six of which have been issued since its founding after the Second World War.
The Oxford Manifesto, drawn up and adopted at an International Liberal
Conference in 1947, lays out a broad liberal vision, including: respect for
persons and families; a wide range of civil liberties; true democracy, which
respects minority rights; private property, free enterprise, and free choice
of occupations; security against the hazards of sickness, unemployment,
disability, and old age; and a peaceful world order sustained by a new
international organization, respect for universal human rights, and freedom
of trade, travel, and information among nations. While the Liberal
International makes it clear that the application of these principles will
vary with circumstances, there can be no internal dissent on the principles
themselves, for the simple reason that membership requires their explicit
endorsement. It does not appear that any member has ever departed so far
from these principles in their domestic agendas as to warrant reproof or
expulsion. Indeed, it is not clear that the organizations founding charter
leaves room for such disciplinary procedures, even though its mission seems
to require them.5

Ascertaining the relative standing of core liberal beliefs raises complex
analytical questions, because most liberal values and principles are abstract
concepts to allow for a wide range of specifications. By definition, Maurice
Cranston argued, a liberal is [someone] who believes in liberty.6 But what
does that mean? Liberty exists, potentially, along a number of dimensions
religious, moral, political, civil, and economic. Early liberals tended to focus
on freedom from external interference (negative liberty). Some nineteenth-
century liberals shifted toward positive liberty, understood as freedom from
inner constraints that distort the human will. Many twentieth-century liberals
argued that mere negative freedom without the material means to act effec-
tively on ones choices was no liberty at all. In recent decades, a republican
definition of liberty freedom from the arbitrary power of another has made
its way into the liberal tradition. And agreement on an understanding of
liberty need not yield consensus on particular liberties. Many liberals think
of rights and their protection as the core of liberty. But which liberties do we
enjoy as a matter of moral right rather than positive law? Parallel distinctions
between abstract concepts and specific conceptions can be drawn for each of
the other core liberal values, such as equality and limited government.

For details, consult the documents available at www.liberal-international.org
Quoted in Gerald Gaus and Shane D. Courtland, Liberalism, The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (Spring 2011 edition, available at plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2011/entries/
Liberalism and internal dissent 25

These facts help explain a key ambiguity of contemporary American

discourse: liberalism denotes both a philosophical tradition and a political
creed. Todays political liberals believe that the state may restrict liberty in
economic relations in the name of promoting equality but that public restric-
tions on personal and lifestyle choices are harder to justify. While many
American political conservatives would turn this on its head, they do not
automatically breach the bounds of philosophical liberalism. Libertarianism,
a creed that seems to be gaining ground (especially among young adults),
advocates minimal government intervention in both economic and personal
spheres. While this makes libertarians hard to place on the conventional
leftright political spectrum, they are squarely within the tradition of liberal
theory. Indeed, they insist that they are the real classical liberals and that
todays political liberals and conservatives have both abandoned portions of
the liberal tradition rightly understood.
It is reasonable to believe that the relative weights and priorities among
values such as freedom and equality will vary with the specific understanding
of them that different liberal thinkers and social movements embrace.
In announcing his two principles of justice, John Rawls spoke for a main
current of the liberal tradition.
First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty
compatible with a similar liberty for others. Second: social and economic inequalities
are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyones
advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all . . . These principles
are to be arranged in a serial order with the first principle prior to the second. This
ordering means that a departure from the institutions of equal liberty required by
the first principle cannot be justified . . . or compensated for, by greater social and
economic advantages.7

In short, while the basic liberties of persons establish a zone of equality, they
serve as constraints on the promotion of social and economic equality.
Some contemporary liberals have pushed back against this strict priority:
If economic and social inequalities are grave enough, some limitations on
personal liberties can be justified. For example, they say, when speech is used
to denigrate and marginalize specific groups, authorities may regulate it in
communities such as colleges and universities. Do campus codes prohibiting
hate speech violate or promote liberal values?
To what extent can liberal polities acknowledge sources other than reason
for understanding what is humanly desirable? Liberals in the Rawlsian
tradition embrace the idea of public reason: whatever may be the case for
families and religious communities, citizens are obliged to draw only on shared
civic principles in American terms, constitutional values in debates over
public policy. To be sure, we argue about the content of and priority among
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 6061
(emphasis mine).
26 William A. Galston

those values. But they are in principle accessible to, and the common property
of, every citizen. Citizens may draw upon other sources of value religion and
comprehensive conceptions of the good but only if they can translate these
sources into the common civic discourse.
Other liberals disagree. In circumstances of freedom, they argue, citizens
are bound to develop diverse understandings of value. A free society must
allow all citizens to express their deepest convictions, in public as well as
private life. Liberal politics must not censor some views or declare them out
of order, and citizens should be able to bear public witness to the beliefs that
animate their lives. But the mere expression of personal conviction in ones
own terms is unlikely to carry the day. To be persuasive beyond their own
community, individuals and groups must build bridges between their views
and those of others with different outlooks. Public reason emerges, not
top-down, but bottom-up; not from an a priori decision that some forms of
public discourse are inappropriate, but from the practical demands of political
Other debates roil contemporary liberal theory and practice as well.
Liberals try to strike a balance between personal responsibility and social
provision, using the latter to promote rather than undermine the former.
Judged against that standard, was Bill Clintons welfare reform consistent
with liberalisms core tenets? The issue split his party and led to something
all too rare in American politics principled resignations from his adminis-
tration. Or consider the conflict between equality and freedom of association.
Can the Boy Scouts be compelled to accept gays? Can the church-related
organizations be compelled to fund contraceptive services as part of the health
insurance they offer their employees? Some liberals believe that it is improper
to offer faith-based claims when arguing about public policy. Does excluding
such claims foster or undermine core liberal principles? To what extent do
liberal principles require, permit, or forbid tolerating the practices of illiberal
groups within liberal polities?
Many liberals believe that their commitment to individual liberty precludes
authoritative institutions from promoting specific conceptions of good human
lives. Some reach the same conclusion via the claim that reason cannot achieve
compelling answers to this question. For centuries, in fact, liberal theorists
have expressed skepticism about our ability to generalize about the human
good. John Locke equated understanding of the good with individual tastes:
The philosophers of old did in vain enquire, whether the summum bonum consisted
in riches, or bodily delights, or virtue, or contemplation: And they might have as
reasonably disputed whether the best relish were to be found in apples, plums, or
nuts . . . For . . . pleasant tastes depend not on the things themselves, but their
agreeableness to this or that particular palate.8

John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Peter H. Nidditch (ed.) (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1975), p. 269.
Liberalism and internal dissent 27

Proponents of this view typically understand liberty as negative: As much as

possible, government should leave individuals alone to lead their lives as they
see fit. What moral instruction there may be comes from parents, mentors, and
religious leaders, not the state.
But there has long been a countercurrent. Certified liberals such as John
Stuart Mill have embraced theories of human development with a distinctly
perfectionist cast. And many liberals inspired by Kant see individual auton-
omy as an achievement the fruit of moral cultivation rather than an
endowment. To be sure, both Mill and Kant were critical of direct state
promotion of the human good and saw no contradiction between perfection-
ism and negative liberty. But understandably, many who followed them asked
the obvious question: is it wrong in every respect a per se invasion of liberty
to institute social arrangements and systems of cultivation to promote human
goods and capacities that reason can defend? So liberal perfections are often
at home with a more positive conception of liberty: without the ability to
discern morally relevant differences and to choose freely without inner con-
straints, freedom is a chimera, and these abilities result from intentional
policies, public as well as private. It is not hard to see why clashes between
negative and positive conceptions of liberty often come to a head in debates
about content and pedagogy in public schools.

From the liberal standpoint, intramural consensus on core beliefs has
two valuable consequences. First, deliberation and debate are likely to
be well-ordered, because all parties to them are appealing to the same
principles and goals. This basic structure is far from ensuring agreement,
of course. As we have seen, liberals disagree about the specification of core
concepts and the priority among them. Even when agreement on these
matters is secured, as it often is not, different readings of the empirical
evidence can yield heatedly debated conclusions. During the controversy
over Clintons proposed welfare reforms, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan,
himself a long-time backer of reform, predicted that if Clintons version
were adopted, a million children soon would be homeless and huddled on
outdoor heating grates. If events had borne out his forecast, it would have
been a decisive argument against the reforms. But despite Moynihans
well-informed judgment, they did not.
Second, consensus on core beliefs enables liberals to sidestep foundational
disagreements that are unlikely to be resolved. Rawls propounded a strategy
of overlapping consensus: we can agree on certain beliefs without having to
agree on the grounds of those beliefs. Taking our bearings from free and equal
citizenship means that we can set metaphysics and even moral theory aside.
Without reaching the question of whether this strategy of avoidance is
possible, a glance at the history of liberal theorizing makes it clear that
28 William A. Galston

Rawls concerns were not without warrant. The list of liberalisms possible
foundations includes the social contract (Locke); free economic and social
competition as the antidote to tyrannical concentration of power (Smith and
Madison); the autonomous personality (Kant); individual development and its
enabling conditions (Mill, Green, Hobhouse); and value pluralism (Berlin).
If these foundational differences are in play, practical discussions can hardly
get off the ground.

While it is hard to find liberals in any venue who would cast aside values such
as liberty, equality, or the rule of law there is (as we have already seen)
considerable debate over their meaning and scope of application. There is,
in addition, controversy through the history of liberalism about the core
status of key commitments. For example, nineteenth-century British liberals
saw free trade not just as a policy but as a basic principle. In the twentieth
century, on both sides of the Atlantic, free trade became far more contested
within the liberal camp, and it remains so today, especially among US
Democrats. Free trade works to the advantage of many citizens but worsens
the lot of others. If those harmed are already among the less fortunate
members of society, todays liberals wonder whether the aggregate gains
justify increased inequality.
Another telling example: For early liberals, limited government was among
the core commitments. Today, it is not so clear. Over the past century, liberal
philosophers and their political followers have become increasingly comfor-
table with activist government that tries to manage the economy and provide
security to all citizens against the vicissitudes of old age, disease, poverty, and
unemployment. And even in the social sphere, expanding equal civil rights
voting, access to accommodations, marriage can and often does require
an expansive use of state power. While every philosophical liberal will
acknowledge limits to government in principle, the significance of that
commitment today breaks down along partisan and ideological lines.
One thing is clear: liberals believe must believe in maximum feasible
scope for diversity and dissent. Enforced uniformity of belief is antithetical to
the liberal creed. In the case of West Virginia v. Barnette,9 the Supreme Court
was asked to decide whether the Constitution permitted the government of
a state to compel Jehovahs Witnesses to salute and pledge allegiance to the
American flag, a practice to which this small denomination was conscien-
tiously opposed. A majority of the Court said that government could not do
so. Writing for that majority, Justice Robert Jackson declared that If there is
any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or
petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or

319 US 624 (1943).
Liberalism and internal dissent 29

other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith
therein.10 It is hard to imagine a clearer or more stirring statement of the
official liberal attitude toward dissent.
This attitude stems from the liberal understanding of a good society. The
circumstances of liberty allow for and make inevitable the development and
expression of diversity. So liberals are committed to wide tolerance for these
differences. They regard dissent not only as permissible, but even as desirable.
For liberals, robust debate is an honorific phrase.
Here as elsewhere, liberal practice does not always comport with liberal
principles. Liberals recoil from attitudes that they see as denigrating or
subordinating particular social groups, and there is a perennial temptation to
rule the expression of these attitudes out of bounds. Not all manifestations of
diversity end up endorsing the moral equality of human beings even in an
officially liberal society and liberals experience a tension between freedom
of expression and respect for persons. In my judgment, there is an authenti-
cally liberal way of resolving this tension: liberals should rely on tectonic
shifts in public attitudes rather than the force of law to render illegitimate
the attitudes they abhor. Many gay activists, for example, believe that shifting
public attitudes through persuasion is preferable to court decisions that cut
through evolving public ambivalence in a single stroke.

Inculcation and reproduction

There are three cases to consider, corresponding to different venues within
which liberalism may be operative. As the creed of a liberal polity, it is
reproduced and reinforced through school-based civic education, through
some but not all civil society associations, through authoritative institutions
such as the Supreme Court, and through the pronouncement of influential
office-holders and civic leaders. Each of these sources is open to contesta-
tion. In all these cases, reproduction and reinterpretation are not easily
distinguished. Debates over civic texts in public schools reveal shifting
conceptions of what is to be preserved and what left behind. And landmark
statements such as Abraham Lincolns House Divided address, FDRs
Four Freedoms, and Martin Luther Kings I Have a Dream speech
both preserve and alter the operative liberal creed.
Liberalism can also serve as the ideology of political parties. As such, it is
reinterpreted through political contestation, crystallized in party platforms,
disseminated through messages to individual party members, and enforced
among elected officials through the disciplinary power of party caucuses.
In multi-party systems, it is easier for party leaders to settle on binding creedal
uniformity. In two-party systems, even avowedly liberal parties are bound to

319 US 642.
30 William A. Galston

be diverse coalitions, and the zone of reproducible uniformity will be much

narrower. In such situations, leaders must balance demands for creedal purity
against the requirements for attaining majority status.
Consider, finally, liberalism as an intellectual movement or tendency.
Students and younger colleagues tend to gather around important liberal
thinkers. Seminars, colloquia, conferences, and scholarly publications serve
as key vehicles for transmitting liberal thought. Some leading thinkers have
also used non-academic journals and magazines to transmit and apply liberal
principles. (The late Ronald Dworkins essays in the New York Review of
Books are a notable example.) And liberal thought dominates some academic
institutions elite law schools, for example. Decisions about faculty hiring and
what gets published in prestigious law reviews can have the effect of both
defining and policing the perimeter of legal liberalism.
It is mainly within liberal parties and polities that the duty to uphold core
beliefs becomes a serious issue. Despite Gilbert and Sullivans influential
ditty, it is not quite right to say that children are born into liberal parties.
They certainly cannot be drafted into them and held there against their will.
However compelling liberal principles may be, their authority over liberal
partisans rests on consent.
It makes more sense to say that individuals are born into liberal polities,
in part because the cost of opting out is so high. While naturalized citizens
explicitly consent to core principles, native-born citizens do not. Still, the
social contract tradition tilts strongly toward voluntary rather than natural
duties. That is why remaining within the jurisdiction of a liberal political
community in which one is born is taken to imply tacit consent to its
principles. At the very least, liberal citizenship implies a duty to uphold
core political institutions, whatever ones private misgivings about their
underlying principles may be. As a liberal citizen, one is free to work for
fundamental change, but only through the processes that existing institu-
tions permit.

As a philosophical movement, liberalism contains no authority beyond
what exemplary authors may establish for themselves. Not even the decades
of Rawlsian hegemony in the United States managed to quell intramural
debate about liberalisms foundations, core values, and practical
To some extent, liberal political parties can define what counts as orthodox
and permissible, in speech as well as deed. But parties are only partly hier-
archical organizations. The eruption of dissent remains a constant possibility
if leaders manage sensitive issues poorly, as they often do. And the freedom
of rank-and-file members to leave their party serves as a perennial check on
leaders authority.
Liberalism and internal dissent 31

In some respect, liberal polities enjoy even less authority than do liberal
party leaders. Freedom of speech and the ability to choose how to lead ones
life are protected liberties. While law can regulate conduct and sometimes
reshape attitudes, many Americans harbor reservations about core liberal
principles and institutions. And they are permitted to do so, as long as they
behave toward others as the law requires. In any event, authority to estab-
lish the legal regulation of conduct is widely dispersed in liberal authorities.
Public opinion restricts what legislatures can enact and restrains other
authoritative institutions executives, bureaucracies, even courts at
least in the long run.
As an international movement, liberal declarations and manifestos define
the shared core beliefs of the coalition members. The authority of these
documents rests on the express consent of member parties. While it is possible
that the desire to retain the regard of peer parties restrains the temptations
some experience to deviate from core liberal principles, the liberal interna-
tional movement enjoys only the authority that its members choose to confer
upon it.
It is possible to view international organizations such as the European
Union and the United Nations as embodying liberal principles. The
Universal Declaration of Human Rights enunciates such principles, among
others, and membership in the EU carries with it obligations to uphold
core civil and political liberties. While membership in both organizations is
voluntary, their authority over members is more substantial than is that of the
Liberal International. Uses of this authority can reveal tensions between
transnational principles and the sovereignty of individual liberal polities,
however, and the ability of individual members to resist limits the authority
of transnational institutions.

Management options
Different venues offer a range of tools for managing dissent. Within public
schools, for example, this form of control occurs through decisions about
staff, curricula, and textbooks. It is virtually unimaginable that todays school
boards would knowingly hire racist teachers or use the racist materials that
were commonplace half a century ago.
But the use of this form of control often sparks controversy. As the
movement for same-sex marriage gathers momentum, supporters of a more
restricted conception of marriage openly worry that school texts will be forced
to treat sexual orientation on a par with race and to equate anything less than
full support for marriage equality as akin to racism.
Political parties typically contain structures of authority, and leaders
have various tools at their disposal for managing dissent. They may deprive
dissenters of desirable positions and assignments; they may withhold finan-
cial support from their campaigns; and in extreme cases they may publicly
32 William A. Galston

censure the utterances of rank-and-file members who deviate from party

norms as the leadership of the Republican Party did in the cases of
Rep. Don Youngs reference to Mexican immigrants as wetbacks and
Rep. Todd Akins positing a category of legitimate rape.
As we have seen, core liberal principles limit the ability of liberal
polities to constrain dissent. Still, liberal law and jurisprudence can often
discourage what they cannot prohibit outright. While private educational
institutions may still employ racially discriminatory principles for selecting
students and regulating their conduct, a 1982 Supreme Court decision
renders such institutions ineligible for tax-exempt status. A more recent
decision leaves educational institutions free to exclude groups who reject
norms of gender equality and full acceptance of all individuals regardless
of sexual orientation from participating in subsidies and using common

Internal criticism
Every exercise of authority invites dissent, and the use of authority to regulate
internal dissent is no exception. If you have doubts about Roe v. Wade, can you
be a philosophical liberal in good standing? John Rawls once answered that
question in the negative, generating a storm of philosophical controversy. It is
easy to imagine that leading liberal philosophers will extend the liberal defini-
tion of equality to include what is now called marriage equality. It is one thing
to say that the application of core liberal concepts to new issues can generate
new liberal policies, quite another to say that such contested policies are
inherent in the definition of those concepts. The former is a kind of practical
syllogism whose major premise rests on conceptual specification and minor
premise on empirical findings. Claims of this source may be controversial, but
they are not experienced as coercive; not so for the claim that if you believe in
liberal equality, you have no rational or moral choice but to embrace marriage
equality as well.
As I have insisted throughout, there is no locus of authority within liberal
philosophy. This is less true for liberal polities and parties, and the use of
their (limited) authority to regulate internal dissent generates resistance on
many fronts. Laws can be attacked as unconstitutional; courts can be
attacked for allegedly misinterpreting the constitution (or the fundamental
traditions and basic laws that often take the place of constitutions in liberal
polities without written constitutions). Minorities within liberal parties can
attack majorities for imposing their views on parties through official plat-
forms. Dissenters often argue that their party should be a big tent with
scope for diverse views, while majorities insist that their party must stand
firm on basic beliefs. When the locus of formal authority is clear, as it often
is, dissenters can claim that particular acts represent unwise or inappropri-
ate uses of that authority. The use of authority to censure or expel deviating
Liberalism and internal dissent 33

party members can be especially controversial. Even when the offense is not
contested, the punishment often is.

Most liberals acknowledge that their preferred system for the management of
intramural dissent does not apply to, and cannot be imposed on, other groups.
While liberals tolerate and even cherish diversity and dissent, they understand
that not every organization should be required to do likewise. For example,
the Catholic Church is the quintessential hierarchical organization with a fixed
locus of ultimate authority. To be a priest, professor in a Catholic university, or
even a member of the laity is to be subject to an authority that defines what
counts as permissible dissent and can silence or even expel those who defy that
authority. In this respect, religion is paradigmatic but not unique. The liberal
commitment to limited government implies restrictions on the extent to which
compliance with public norms including tolerance is mandatory for civil
society organizations.
Underlying this limit is a basic difference between civil groups and
political communities: liberals consider the former but not the latter to be
voluntary associations. Dissenting members of civil groups are free to leave
and join other groups or start their own. Exit from political communities is
far more costly; often it is impossible. And founding a new polity is out of
the question. So it makes sense for liberal societies to manage dissent within
civil associations by safeguarding the right of dissenters to exit freely. From
a theological perspective, devout Muslims may believe that abandoning
Islam is impermissible; once a Muslim, whether through birth or conversion,
always a Muslim. No liberal society can back this belief with coercive power.
But equally, no liberal society can forbid Muslims from espousing this
doctrine. Civil groups, both secular and religious, are free to define their
membership and practices, even if that definition contradicts general public
But civil associations are not completely free to order their internal affairs
or to dissent from general public norms. Since Locke, liberals have acknowl-
edged a zone of core norms that political authorities may enforce. Although a
neo-Aztec cult may sincerely believe that its gods require human sacrifice,
liberal authorities may intervene to prevent it from acting on that belief. While
no court would interpret the free exercise of religion to permit human sacri-
fice, the US Supreme Court has ruled in favor of animal sacrifice, a decision
that dismayed many liberals who believe that concern about suffering should
not cease at the perimeter of our species. Some liberal feminists have
argued that protecting womens formal right to exit from communities that
embody gender hierarchies means little if those communities deprive women
of education, occupations, and psychological autonomy. But few if any liberals
would go so far as to subject institutions like the Catholic Church to legal non-
34 William A. Galston

discrimination requirements for the selection of its priests or to liberal norms

about the treatment of dissenters. In short, liberals accept the principle that
their preferred system for the management of dissent cannot be applied to all
groups and institutions within liberal societies, but they disagree as to where
the line should be drawn.
Chapter 3

Intramural dissent: Marxism

Andrew Levine

What is Marxism? The question is complicated and also contentious or,

rather, it was contentious when the name still counted for something politi-
cally, as it did only a few decades ago. Even the denotation of the term is
controversial. One might think that Marxism denotes the thought of Karl
Marx (18181883) and of others who identify with it or are identified with it by
others. However, Marx himself, not without reason, famously declared that he
was not a Marxist,1 and there are good Marxist reasons for excluding from
the fold any strictly theoretical purchase on Marxism that is not also joined
with the kind of politics Marx promoted. That would leave out many academic
Marxists, and others as well.
What is clear is that by the 1870s, a self-identified Marxist current emerged
within the larger European socialist movement. With the founding of the
Second International in 1881, Marxism became the official doctrine of the
leading organization of European socialism, and a point of reference for all
socialists. Over the next hundred years, as distinct and sometimes opposing
tendencies developed within the socialist fold, and as socialist aspirations
came to animate political struggles throughout the world, very different
kinds of socialists represented themselves as Marxists. Nowadays, only a few
dinosaurs do.
Marxists of all sorts share a common history. This is why, however much
they may differ among themselves, Marxist currents, like Christian denomi-
nations, are joined by family resemblances.
What is sometimes called classical Marxism, the Marxism of the Second
International in the years before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, amalgamated

In 1883, shortly before he died, Marx wrote a letter to Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue, both
of whom claimed to represent Marxist principles. Marx faulted them for revolutionary
phrase-mongering and denying the value of reformist struggles. That exchange was the
source of a remark, made famous by Engels: ce quil y a de certain cest que, moi, je ne
suis pas Marxiste. In other words, if they are Marxists, then I am not.

36 Andrew Levine

three distinct, but related, bodies of theory. There is, first of all, a theory of
human emancipation and, along with it, a vision (deliberately underelabo-
rated) of ideal social, political, and economic arrangements. Then there is a
theory of history: historical materialism. This is an account, among other things,
of how the capitalist present under which humanity suffers arose and is
maintained, and of capitalisms future: socialism and eventually communism.
Finally, there is a commitment to the working class as the agent of the desired
epochal transformation from capitalism to communism.
There are also subsidiary bodies of theory. Of greatest importance, histori-
cally and conceptually, is the one that Marx himself devoted most of his life
to elaborating: a political economy or, as Marx would put it, an account of the
laws of motion of capitalist societies. There is also a distinctive purchase on
cultural and historical issues that was of more concern to later generations of
Marxists than to Marx himself. These strands of theory were always more
or less freestanding. By the late twentieth century, the connections between
them had become so frayed that it hardly made sense any longer to think of
Marxism as a comprehensive ideology. At most, it was a collection of theories
that bore only a tenuous connection to one another.
The most vulnerable part of the classical synthesis is the one that joined
the others into an integral whole: its account of the proletariat the (mainly
industrial) working class as the agent of universal human emancipation.
Marx first ascribed this mission to the working class in the 1840s, at a time
when modern industry barely existed in his native Germany or anywhere else
apart from a few cities in northern England. But Marx had already envisioned
a developed capitalist order as his and other societies future; and, in such an
economic structure, it was the workers, Marx reasoned, whose labor is indis-
pensable and whose stake in maintaining the system is nil. This is why, as
Marx and Engels (18201895) wrote in The Communist Manifesto, the work-
ers of the world, the agents of the coming communist revolution, the people
who have a world to win, have nothing to lose but their chains.2
By the dawn of Marxisms Golden Age in the 1880s, Germany and other
industrialized countries did have a substantial working class that was a close
approximation to the proletariat Marx and Engels envisioned four decades
earlier. But the working classes of all developed societies were already becom-
ing integrated into the capitalist system. This process intensified as the years
wore on; workers, empowered by the rise of labor movements in all capitalist
countries and by decades of workers struggles, became less of a proletariat.
And so, Marxs account of historical agency, of how we get from where we
now are to a communist future, became increasingly problematic.
The Leninist notion of a vanguard party was, in part, a response to this
situation. Following V. I. Lenins (18701924) lead, many Marxists came to

David McLellan (ed.), Karl Marx Selected Writings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000),
p. 271.
Intramural dissent: Marxism 37

believe that professional revolutionaries, fighting on behalf of the working

class, were indispensable for inculcating the class-consciousness that earlier
generations of Marxists thought circumstances alone would impress upon the
working class. With this modification, some feasible approximation of the
original synthesis remained in force. But even the Leninist reconstruction of
the classical Marxist view lost much of its appeal as the Communist Party of
the Soviet Union and therefore the Soviet state fell increasingly under the
sway of Joseph Stalin (18781953). As vanguard parties of Bolshevik origin
came to adopt the emblematic Stalinist idea that class-consciousness entailed
support for the Soviet Union even at the expense of workers interests domes-
tically, and as the process of workers integration into the capitalist order
proceeded, the Leninist reconstruction of the original Marxist synthesis also
began to unravel.
In the twentieth century, many Marxist intellectuals rejected Leninism,
and some who did not, Trotskyists especially, nevertheless distanced them-
selves from official Communism. The most creative dissidents came from
Western Europe. These Western Marxists were a heterogeneous lot. Their
ranks included neo-Hegelians like Georg Lukacs (18851971) and Karl
Korsch (18861961), theorists of culture like Antonio Gramsci (18911937),
and the members of the Frankfurt School (Theodor Adorno [19031969],
Max Horkheimer [18951973], Herbert Marcuse [18981979], and others),
existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre (19051980) and Maurice Merleau-
Ponty (19081961), structuralists like Louis Althusser (19181990) and
tienne Balibar (b. 1942), and so on.
Notwithstanding the many insights Western Marxists advanced, and
despite their role in keeping Marxism from degenerating into a justifying
theory of Stalinist practice, they never quite succeeded in reconstructing
anything like the classical Marxist synthesis. Neither did they connect with
the working class or substantially advance understanding of the historical and
economic issues that Marx addressed. For the most part, they focused pro-
grammatically on grand reconstructions of Marxist theory, and on aesthetic
and cultural concerns on the margins of the laws of motion of capitalist
In February of 1956, the Soviet Premier and First Secretary of the
Communist Party of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev (18941971), denounced
the personality cult that had grown up around Stalin in a historic secret
speech delivered to the Twentieth Congress of his party. Though it was hardly
his intention, the political opening Khrushchevs speech brought on weakened
the hold of the increasingly stifling orthodoxy promoted in official Communist
circles, and led to a marked expansion of Western Marxisms influence in
Western Europe in the first instance, but also in the Communist East and
among dissident leftist intellectuals throughout the world.
Western Marxism was of a piece with what was thought of at the time, and is
still sometimes called, continental philosophy. As the name suggests, this
38 Andrew Levine

was mainly a creature of the German and French spheres of intellectual

influence. It involved ways of doing philosophy that its critics denounced
for its grandiosity and obscurity. The contrast was with analytic, mainly
Anglophone, philosophy, which continental critics denounced, in turn, for
its small-minded obsession with clarity and rigor, and for its purported
These much touted differences were overdrawn and misleadingly
described; the real differences were mainly stylistic, and seldom rose to the
level of substantive disagreements on key issues. Nevertheless, each side was
right enough about the other to make geographical origins matter in mid- and
late twentieth-century philosophy departments. Traces of the old continental
analytic divide persist to this day, though post-Kantian German and French
philosophers, including Marx, are now widely studied throughout the
English-speaking world, while analytical philosophy is practiced extensively
in Germany and France.
Partly because continental philosophy evoked near allergic reactions in
leading Anglophone philosophy and social science departments, some analyti-
cally trained academics who had internalized prevailing norms G. A. Cohen
(19412009), Jon Elster (b. 1940), John Roemer (b. 1945), Erik Olin Wright
(b. 1947), along with many others (myself included) from the generation of
1968 set to work to apply the standards of their respective disciplines to
Marxist topics; above all, to Marxs theory of history, and to the normative
issues implicit in Marxist accounts of human emancipation.
Central aspects of Marxist theory were therefore reconstructed and criti-
cized according to exacting standards. The predictable result was that many of
the old sureties had to be abandoned or revised beyond recognition. Also,
many ideas that were once assumed emblematic of Marxism, including some
defining tenets of Marxist economic theory, were effectively folded into the
broad tent of mainstream social science and liberal political philosophy.
Analytical Marxists who remained true to the values that had brought them
to Marx therefore became something Marx and Marxists had long inveighed
against: utopian socialists. They argued for socialism or, more precisely, for
egalitarian justice and uncoerced cooperation on moral, not scientific
(historical materialist) grounds. This is odd because Marxs theory of history,
or some reasonable approximation of it, remains viable, notwithstanding the
scrutiny it has received, and because it resists incorporation into non-Marxist
theoretical traditions.3
Analytically inclined Marxists investigated Marxism to defend it, not
oppose it; and even when they abandoned key Marxist doctrines, they never

I argue in support of this contention in A Future for Marxism?: Althusser, the Analytical Turn
and the Revival of Socialist Theory (London: Pluto Press, 2003), and Engaging Political
Philosophy: Hobbes to Rawls (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001).
Intramural dissent: Marxism 39

succumbed to the temptations of apostasy, as earlier generations of disaf-

fected Marxists had done.
But were they Marxists at all? If a Marxist is anyone who identifies with or
is identified with Marx and Marxism, the answer is plainly Yes. But there is
a difference between doing philosophy on Marx and Marxism and being a
Marxist philosopher. Similar considerations apply mutatis mutandis to politi-
cal theorists, economists, historians, and sociologists.
The difference has to do with accountability. Analytical Marxism was
accountable to the disciplinary standards in force in leading universities in the
English-speaking world. That was its strong point; it enabled its practitioners
to discern Marxisms strengths and vulnerabilities with a degree of clarity that
had seldom been achieved since Marxisms Golden Age. But, for just this
reason, analytical Marxism severed Marxist theory from Marxist politics in a
way and to a degree that was unprecedented in the Marxist tradition.
Nevertheless, in university circles, analytical Marxism came to enjoy a
certain succs destime. This was ironic. For most of its history, Marxism was
a marginal phenomenon in English-speaking universities, especially in the
United States.4 Then, after decades of exclusion, it became respectable
just as it was about to disappear from the larger intellectual and political
The great thinkers of Marxisms Golden Age were not academics, and
neither were some prominent Western Marxists. But even those who did
have university appointments were accountable mainly to political, not aca-
demic, constituencies. For them, academic work was one way, among others,
of doing politics in a Marxist vein.
But the work analytical Marxists did was no more inherently political than
the work of their academic colleagues. When they reconstructed, defended, or
criticized Marxist positions, they held themselves accountable to the same
standards that their fellow philosophers, political theorists, economists, his-
torians, and sociologists did; the difference being that they were interested in
Marx and Marxism while the others, for the most part, were not.
This interest was, in nearly all cases, motivated by socialist values and left-
wing sympathies. But analytical Marxism was remote from those concerns in
ways that Marx and most Marxists, including Western Marxists disdained.
Recall The Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach: the philosophers have only inter-
preted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.6

The situation in Great Britain was a little different, especially for historians thanks to a less
repressive political atmosphere at the height of the Cold War and to the presence of a few
magisterial figures who were too respected to marginalize or dismiss.
The situation was not the same everywhere in the capitalist West. Throughout southern
Europe and especially in France, Marxism was not only academically respectable but almost
de rigueur. Then, at some point in the 1980s, this changed abruptly much like a Paris
fashion leaving only the tail of the comet.
McLellan (ed.), Karl Marx Selected Writings, p. 173.
40 Andrew Levine

For analytical Marxists, questions about intramural dissent therefore make

no sense; one goes where the arguments lead. If they lead away from Marxism
altogether, then so be it. That would be an outcome to regret; but ones first
obligation is to do what Reason requires.
Marx and Marxists after him accorded preeminence to a rather different
obligation: to the working class and ultimately to humanitys communist
future. In this respect, analytical Marxism was apolitical in a way that other
Marxist currents were not. But it did tap into a core conviction of Marx himself
and of many, though hardly all, Marxists. Qua theorists, they followed
the Enlightenment dictate sapere aude!, Dare to know!7 Their first duty was
always to the truth. Unlike adherents of religious traditions or of secular
comprehensive doctrines8 there therefore was no possibility for intramural
dissent within their ranks, even on core issues. Disagreements, yes; but that is
something else altogether.

It is different, though, if we turn from the Marxist theoretical tradition to

Marxist politics.
As the original Marxist synthesis became undone, theory and (political)
practice became estranged, and it became possible for politics to become as
freestanding as the various strands of Marxist theory had become. Marxist
theoretical commitments still tended to block political positions, especially
those that favor the wrong side in the class struggle though, with sufficient
ingenuity, almost anything was possible. To cite an example that has already
been mentioned: nothing could be less in the spirit of Marx or classical
(Second International) Marxism than personality cults organized around
dictators. Yet that is precisely what Marxists boasting orthodox credentials
managed to concoct.
That they could is symptomatic of a deep truth that the most thoughtful
Marxists have long wanted either to evade or deny: that, when the original
Marxist synthesis became unsustainable, the connections joining Marxist
theory and practice became so attenuated that, for all practical purposes,
they hardly exist.
This is why, in discussing the Marxist political tradition, Marxs own think-
ing and the thinking of leading Western and analytical Marxists are of much
less importance than the theory and practice of leading political figures who
identified with Marx and Marxism. The most important of them, for most of
the twentieth century, was, of course, Lenin. His preeminence came from the
fact that he was the first Marxist to lead a successful revolution; it survived and

Immanuel Kant, Practical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 17.
The term comes from John Rawls. It denotes a general, well-integrated conception of what is
of value in human life, along with associated ideals of personal character and associational
relationships. The historical religions are comprehensive doctrines, but so too are some moral
philosophical theories such as Kantianism or utilitarianism.
Intramural dissent: Marxism 41

flourished because he had the good fortune to die before enthusiasm for that
accomplishment began to wane. In a world where everybody loves a winner,
his prestige was without equal. And so, for a time, Leninism became almost
synonymous with Marxist politics. However, even on that understanding,
Leninism and Marxism are not the same.
Lenin was a Marxist. He contributed importantly to Marxist political
economy, helping, like other master thinkers of Marxisms Golden Age, to
bring Marxs account of capitalism up to date in a world where finance capital
assumed an importance it had previously not enjoyed, and where leading
capitalist centers vied with one another to colonize what they could of the
world. Lenin also developed some of Marxs most important contributions
to political theory and philosophy. As a political theorist in the Marxist
tradition he was arguably second to none, including Marx himself,9 and his
writings on philosophical subjects, though underappreciated, were profoundly
Nevertheless, the political tradition that bears his name has little to do with
Marxs ideas or, for that matter, with the evolving consensus view of leading
Second International Marxists. His thinking, set forth in What Is To Be Done?,
and developed in countless texts written over the two following decades, owes
more to a tradition of vanguardist revolutionary practice that goes back at
least to seventeenth-century England, and which is associated with French
Jacobinism and its nineteenth-century continuations. It also owes a great deal
to strains of military doctrine that began to take shape at the time of the
French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. This is not to say that Leninism
is inconsistent with Marxs understanding of revolutionary politics, though
that could be argued. The point is just that Leninism is not derived from any of
the core elements of Marxist theory or, for that matter, from the political
positions Marx or any of his closest associates actually took.
As it is for Marxism generally, it is controversial what Leninism is. The
reasons why mainly have to do with its historical circumstances. In the Russian
Revolution, seizing state power was the easy part; consolidating a new, socia-
list order in the face of civil war, famine, and hostile military interventions

I have so argued in, among others, The General Will: Rousseau, Marx, Communism
(Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993) and The End of the State
(London: Verso, 1987).
Lenins most important writings on philosophy are Materialism and Empirio-Criticism
(1908) and his summary account of Hegels dialectics (1914) in vol. XXXVIII of Lenins
Collected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1965). It was in Materialism and Empirio-
Criticism that Lenin advanced some theses for instance, that all philosophy is either
materialist or idealist and that the choice between them is ultimately political that became
canonical in official Communist ideology. It was for the apparent crudity of these distinc-
tions, and of Lenins unprofessional and most un-academic literary style, that his views
were much derided, especially during the Cold War. See, however, the essays on Lenins
philosophy in Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (London: Verso,
1971), reissued in 1978 and again in 2001.
42 Andrew Levine

was considerably more difficult. But the state Lenin founded survived until
1991, and remnants of the once mighty Communist Party that he did so
much to fashion still exist (though in an enfeebled form). There is therefore
a historical connection between Lenins Bolshevism and the official
Communist (Stalinist and post-Stalinist) versions of Leninism that took
shape in the early years of the Soviet Union and in the Third (Communist)
International, founded in 1919. That much is indisputable. However, the
nature and extent of the affinities joining Bolshevism to what would later be
done in Lenins name are and always have been controversial. Leon Trotsky
(18791940), the most important leader of the Russian Revolution after
Lenin, famously argued that Stalin betrayed what Lenin had begun. Trotsky
launched a Fourth International to restore classical Leninism. That aspiration
has remained alive among his followers, even as the Trotskyist movement
has splintered into minuscule, politically inconsequential sects. Along with
Communists and others, most of them claim that they and they alone are the
true Leninists. It hardly matters which of them, if any, were right, but it does
make identifying what is essential to Leninism all but impossible.
In any case, there is more to the Marxist political tradition than its Leninist
offshoots. There is the politics of pre-First World War Second International
parties, German Social Democracy especially. And there is Maoism, officially
Marxist-Leninist but also very different, if only for the paramount role it
assigns to guerilla warfare and to insurgent peasantries in revolutionary strug-
gles. Other versions of revolutionary politics identified with Marxism emerged
in Asia and Latin America as well. In Vietnam and Cuba they were different
enough to constitute distinct models of their own. There are also examples
that can be teased out of the experience of non-aligned national liberation
movements that never quite identified with Marxism or Leninism, but which
drew on ideas associated with the Marxist and Leninist traditions.
However, with respect to intramural dissent, Marxist politics, broadly con-
strued, knows at most only two very general types: the type associated with
pre-war Second International parliamentary socialism and the type associated
with Lenin. The differences have more to do with political exigencies than
principled convictions and only became salient when Leninist political forma-
tions conquered and held onto state power. In neither case is there anything
distinctively Marxist about these ways of dealing with dissenters. They
hardly differ from standard operating procedure in political contexts that
have nothing to do with Marx or Marxism. And, except in extremis, they are
not even very different from each other.
The parties that formed the Second International, when they were able to
operate openly, emulated the internal workings of bourgeois parties as
much as they could. Unlike their parliamentary rivals, they were joined orga-
nizationally to the labor movements of their respective countries and com-
mitted to establishing socialism, not shoring up capitalism. But none of this had
any bearing on how they handled dissenters. Political parties in parliamentary
Intramural dissent: Marxism 43

systems in the pre-war period generally did enforce party discipline. But the
worst that could happen was that a dissident would be expelled from the partys
ranks. It was the same with pre-war Social Democrats.
When Leninist political organizations were forced underground, as they
often were, they dealt more harshly with dissenters. This was the norm for
revolutionary groups throughout history whenever dissent posed an existen-
tial threat to the group and to its larger cause. Even so, there were, at most,
only differences of degree between the Leninist way of dealing with intra-
mural dissent and the pre-war Second International parliamentary way. In
both cases, peer pressure was the main coercive means, and expulsion was the
principal sanction.
It was different though, when Leninist parties controlled the state, and
when domestic or international tensions were acute. Then what had been a
difference in degree effectively became a difference in kind. The history of
the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the years preceding the Second
World War and in the High Stalinist post-war period preceding the dictators
death epitomizes what can go wrong. But even in relatively quiescent periods,
the penalties accorded dissidents could be harsh. It was the same wherever
Leninist parties were in control. There were shades of difference, of course;
there always are. But when self-identified Leninists were in power, institutio-
nalized revolutionary Terror still could be, and often was, an instrument of
social control.11 In the Soviet Union, from the Khrushchev period on, the
population was, for the most part, kept in line in more benign ways. The
Chinese were not always so fortunate, nor were peoples elsewhere who were
ruled by groups that identified with Maoism.
Very generally, though, it is fair to say that the ways of dealing with
dissidents that emerged in the Soviet Union partly under Lenins aegis but
mostly after his death were adapted, with minor variations, everywhere that
Leninist parties ruled; and that while those ways were not sufficiently at odds
with the letter or spirit of Marxism to count as un-Marxist, neither were they
implied by core Marxist theoretical commitments.
It is also not clear how true to Lenins thinking Leninist parties were,
especially when they operated under conditions unlike those that Lenin con-
fronted. Lenins Leninism was an expression of Jacobin politics applied
to Russian conditions. It was shaped by the repressive nature of the Tsarist
regime, which forced revolutionaries to adopt clandestine modes or

I mean the kind of Terror associated with the most radical phase of the French Revolution
(from September 1793 to July 1794), the kind Hegel brought into his account of Minds
(Geists) trajectory in The Phenomenology of Spirit. So conceived, Terror is an extraordin-
ary, but necessary, phase in the consolidation of revolutionary regimes confronting dire
emergency situations. The terrorism of which we hear so much nowadays political
violence perpetrated mainly by non-state actors intended to frighten and demoralize civilian
populations or sometimes just to express outrage at a prevailing status quo is a different
phenomenon, as are military operations undertaken for similar purposes.
44 Andrew Levine

organization and action. But his followers then went on to hold that to move
history along elsewhere, there must also be vanguard parties comprised of
professional revolutionaries organized along quasi-military lines. In devel-
oped capitalist countries with liberal or quasi-liberal political traditions, this
sort of politics was plainly out of place. Nevertheless, Leninism became a pole
of attraction for many on the Left in developed countries too, thanks in large
part to the perception that it worked.

Key tenets and priorities

Marxism combined a theory of historys structure and direction, a vision of an
ideal, but materially and humanly possible, egalitarian (small-c) communist
society where individuals cooperate voluntarily and therefore neither
need nor have a state, and an account of the working class as the agent of
the epochal historical transformation from capitalism to communism. There is
also a political economic theory, an account of capitalisms laws of motion,
associated with these core positions and a sociological perspective that empha-
sizes class and class struggle. More peripherally, Marxism includes accounts
of cultural phenomena informed by these positions.
As the original Marxist synthesis became undone, thanks mainly to the
growing integration of the working class into the capitalist order, these core
positions and the theories associated with them became increasingly free-
standing. This is why it is mistaken to think of Marxism as a coherent ideology
or that it prioritizes some doctrinal commitments over others. But to the
extent that it nevertheless does, Marxs account of the importance of class
struggle both for understanding the world and for changing it, and his convic-
tion that communism can be humanitys future, would surely top the list.
Another consequence of the breakdown of the Marxist synthesis was a
disarticulation of Marxist politics from Marxist theory. This enabled political
currents that draw mainly on non-Marxist sources to claim a Marxist pedigree,
making twentieth-century Marxisms associations with Leninism possible.
That connection always had more to do with contingent historical circum-
stances than with Marxist theory. It was widely thought otherwise, when
Leninist political movements were still going concerns. But that notion has
become harder than ever to sustain now that Leninisms historical moment
has passed outside a few redoubts in North Korea, Southeast Asia, and
on the Indian subcontinent, where a few parties and sects still lay claim to a
Leninist identity, notwithstanding the fact that they manifest few, if any, real
affinities with Lenins views or with the political initiatives he undertook.
In any event, if we set politics aside and take Marxism to denote a body
of more or less viable theories, it is plain that there is no Marxist view of
intramural dissent. As a creature of the Enlightenment, the Marxist theore-
tical tradition commits its adherents to go wherever the argument(s) lead. Of
course, it seldom works that way because Marxists, like everybody else (and
Intramural dissent: Marxism 45

for much the same reasons), bend logic and evidence to fit desired conclusions.
But it was only in Leninist strains of the Marxist political tradition that
this all-too-human tendency assumed anything like the status of a principled
Within that framework, intramural adherence to certain not necessarily
core beliefs was, at times, essential for assuming leading roles in state and
societal institutions. But that phenomenon had more to do with prevailing
institutional arrangements and with the nature of political parties in the
modern era than with Marxism per se.
It did not even have much to do with the historical Lenin, who many times
proclaimed that the essence of Marxism was the concrete analysis of concrete
situations. Lenin was committed in theory and in practice to taking fresh data
and fresh insights on board, and to adapting programs and policies accord-
ingly. Orthodoxy was never a temptation.
To be sure, some of Lenins self-declared followers and successors did turn
Marxism into a kind of secular religion. But Lenin did not, and it is far from
clear how much, if any, responsibility he bears for this unfortunate turn.
In short, notions of right practice (or observance) and right belief make
little sense in a Leninist context, and even less in a Marxist one. But there is
much that happens in the world that doesnt make sense. And so it was that
Communist states in the Stalin era endeavored to enforce a kind of ortho-
doxy. Indoctrination and censorship persisted, though in an attenuated
form, even after the Stalin era came to an end. Now that all that is left of
those days are bad historical memories, it should be plain just how anom-
alous those practices, along with other manifestations of religious habits of
mind, were.

Leninists believed that vanguard parties must operate with a unity of purpose;
they therefore discouraged intramural dissent (sometimes with tremendous
ferocity). However, they were also officially committed to full and free dis-
cussion of programs and policies not in society at large but within vanguard
They practiced or rather claimed to practice democratic centralism a
procedure according to which programs and policies are debated from the
bottom up, but are decided at the top, by party leaders accountable to the base.
In this way, the base shapes the partys course democratically. Thereafter,
deliberation and debate are over; once the line is set, it is implemented top-
down with single-minded purpose. That, anyway, was the theory. In practice,
democratic centralism was, at best, more aspirational than real. It could hardly
have been otherwise: the arrangement all but invites top-down control. With
party leaders operating like generals, and party members taking orders, demo-
cratic centralism is no more democratic than an army is; in other words, it is
46 Andrew Levine

not democratic at all. With only slight and occasional exceptions, this was the
case with Leninist parties everywhere whether they were in power or not.
The result, very often, was strategic inflexibility if not outright stultification.
This was both a cause and effect of a more general problem: Leninist forms
of political organization tended to stifle liberal and democratic impulses;
inadvertently, but inexorably, they helped propel (big-C) Communist socie-
ties in a totalitarian direction.

Political parties and movements that emphasize unity inevitably discourage
disagreement. In this sense, they oppose diversity. The Marxist political
tradition, its Leninist strains especially, was therefore not diversity-friendly.
However, within the Marxist theoretical fold, the situation was different.
While the active encouragement of differences was rare, many different posi-
tions were advanced within the Marxist ambit, and it was not unknown for
adherents of widely disparate views to engage one another in constructive
ways. Needless to say, however, there were limits, as there are within every
theoretical paradigm. The general outlines of the story famously told by
T. S. Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions holds in the Marxist
case as well.
What was distinctive about Marxism was that, for the most part, Marxist
theorizing was more accountable to political constituencies than to commu-
nities of co-thinkers. Analytical Marxism was an exception. But this is what
one would expect of an academic phenomenon that emerged in a time and
place in which significant Marxist political organizations had either never
existed or else had, long ago, gone missing.
Political accountability affected the nature and extent of theoretical uni-
formity, and also how dissenting views were accommodated. Specific instances
were different enough that it is pointless to generalize. It is fair to say,
however, that, on the whole, the exigencies of real world politics intensified
the spontaneous conservatism Kuhn observed among practitioners of all
entrenched scientific paradigms.
Second International Marxism was comparatively accommodating to
diverse views; official Communist Parties were less so, though in some times
and places Western Marxist forms of dissent were tolerated. Some of the most
distinguished Western Marxists (Georg Lukacs, for example, and Louis
Althusser) were (big-C) Communists.

Inculcation and reproduction

On a theoretical plane, Marxism is no more passed on from parents to children
than, say, Darwinism is. It is not different if we focus on Marxist (or Leninist)
politics, except when parties that identify with Leninism control states.
Intramural dissent: Marxism 47

In other circumstances, having had Marxist parents probably did increase

the likelihood that, when grown up, one would identify with Marxism at least
for a while, especially in times and places where left-wing politics flourished;
recall, for example, the red diaper babies who flooded the ranks of the New
Left. But this was a matter of widespread radicalization, familial socialization,
and individual psychology, not socio-cultural identity. Children of Marxists
are not born into a Marxist faith, and they are certainly not Marxists not
even self-hating ones if they reject their parents ideological convictions or
political affiliations.
Officially Communist countries did, of course, try to inculcate support for
their own regimes. But, in the modern period, this has been the norm every-
where. The Communist way of indoctrinating the young in the states they
controlled seemed particularly salient, if not grotesque, to Western eyes, but
only because their efforts were, on the whole, cruder than what was normal in
Western countries, and also because Western authorities took pains to exag-
gerate the differences. It is also relevant that it is easier to find fault in the
other than in oneself.
In general, though, outside the (long defunct) Communist world, there is
no more presumption that a child of a Marxist will become a Marxist than
that a child of a doctor will go into medicine. This is one very conspicuous
way in which Marxism differs from religions as they (still) function in our

In the heyday of the Second International, when Karl Kautsky (18541938),
who had worked with Engels and edited the three volumes of Marxs Theories
of Surplus Value, was called the pope of Marxism, everybody understood
that the title was at least partly facetious. In the days when Stalin effectively
operated like a pope, an infallible one, no Communist dared be facetious. But
the preposterousness of the situation was widely appreciated, even within
Communist ranks. This was the only moment in Marxisms hundred-year-
plus history for which it makes any sense to talk about any person or institu-
tions having (official or quasi-official) authority to identify and interpret core
beliefs or other shared convictions.
To the extent that expertise, as distinct from rank or office, confers special
prestige (and therefore unofficial or informal authority), it does so in just the
way that is familiar outside religious traditions. If I have a question about, say,
Darwins theory of evolution, Id do best to ask an evolutionary biologist or,
faute de mieux, a philosopher of biology. The idea is to find someone who
knows what he or she is talking about, someone whose opinion can be trusted.
Outside the Stalinist purview that was effectively dispatched more than a half-
century ago, it is the same for Marx and Marxism. There is nothing more to
authority in Marxism than that.
48 Andrew Levine

Management options
There were show trials and something akin to public confessions in the worst
days of the Stalin era. They served to consolidate the dictators power by
eliminating genuine revolutionaries (old Bolsheviks, Eastern Europeans who
had fought against fascism and Nazism), and to inculcate fear in the general
population. A similar phenomenon occurred in China during the Cultural
Revolution, though the Chinese relied more on popular mobilizations than
judicial proceedings.
These latter-day Reigns of Terror were Jacobin excesses. Because Soviet
and Chinese and later Kampuchean and North Korean Communists used
Marxism-Leninism, as they construed it, as a justifying theory for everything
they did, they sometimes defended their use of Terror in Marxist and Leninist
terms. In a similar vein, Maximilien de Robespierre (17581794) and other
leading Jacobins defended the original Reign of Terror by drawing on ideas
of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (17121778) and by appealing to widely accepted
(small-r) republican notions of virtue. These representations were, in both
cases, (strained) rationalizations, not genuine rationales.
It is worth noting too that the crimes that were alleged in these show trials
and mass mobilizations were never exactly doctrinal or ideological. The
accused were said to be agents of foreign governments or to have committed
espionage or, in the Chinese and other Asian cases, to be intractably bour-
geois. No one was faulted for harboring doubts, say, about the labor theory of
value or about Marxs periodization of history. Dissent, such as it was, was
dissent from the partys strategic line. If a dissenter was punished, it was not
for his or her thoughts, but for working objectively against the partys
interests. Core doctrinal commitments were not involved.
Could those who fell afoul of the party come back into its fold? There are
instances of this, especially in the Chinese case. But what made coming back
possible were changed circumstances, not changed convictions. Put differ-
ently, the Revolutions Inquisitors, unlike the ones Rome installed on the
Iberian Peninsula and elsewhere, were not interested in dissidents souls
only in their usefulness (or not) to the vanguard party and the Revolution it
directed. Ironically, this was one of the few Marxist things about them: their
metaphysics was materialist, not theological in their view, there are no
eternal souls to save, only minds to mold in the here and now.

Internal criticism
There is at least one good example within the Marxist political tradition of
dissent centering on a host associations management of dissent; in the
Marxist theoretical tradition there are, of course, no examples at all.
The example I have in mind is the great schism within official Communism
that resulted from the removal of Leon Trotsky from the Soviet Partys
Intramural dissent: Marxism 49

leadership some ten years after the seizure of state power in Russia. This was
followed, in short order, by Trotskys expulsion from the party and exile from
the Soviet Union. The schism was not exactly Trotskys doing; it was part of a
complex power struggle that Stalin engineered. Because Trotsky was an
intellectual, he intellectualized his differences from the Stalinists most
famously, by promoting permanent revolution, in contrast to socialism in
one country. It is far from clear, however, what practical difference this
dispute made by the late 1920s, when it had already become clear that, for
the time being, socialism, if it was to survive at all, would survive, for the
foreseeable future, only in the Soviet Union. Even Trotsky deemed it crucial
to protect the interests of that deformed (or later degenerated) workers
Communists implicitly abandoned the idea of socialism in one country after
the historic Soviet victory in the Second World War, when the Red Army
imposed Communist regimes throughout Eastern and Central Europe. The
Chinese Revolution then sealed the old Stalinist doctrines fate.
Other, more pertinent differences emerged as the Trotskyist movement
took shape during the 1930s, while Trotsky was still alive to keep it together. In
the fight against fascism, official Communists favored popular fronts in
which anti-fascist forces combined across class lines, while Trotskyists favored
united fronts comprised of workers organizations only. The disagreement
was not so much doctrinal as strategic. For Trotsky, the popular front idea was
just one of many examples of unsound thinking on Stalins part. Stalin, in his
view, had mismanaged the Revolution so thoroughly that he had effectively
betrayed it.
The problem, then, was not that official Communists misidentified core
beliefs or misinterpreted them, or that they had put the wrong institutional
arrangements in place. Trotsky did not even object to the nature or gravity of
the sanctions Communists imposed upon dissenters, himself and his closest
comrades excepted. The problem, for Trotsky and his followers, was just that
the actual performance of one duly authorized official, Joseph Stalin, and of
the people around him who made his dictatorship possible, had gotten the
Revolution off course.

Marx started out as a Young Hegelian, an atheist intent not just on disproving
God exists, as some eighteenth-century French materialists had already
done, but on revealing the human meaning inherent in religious ideation.
The extent of Marxs break from what he called his erstwhile philosophical
conscience12 has long been controversial. What is clear is that, as his thinking

McLellan (ed.) Karl Marx Selected Writings, p. 426. The expression occurs in the Preface to
The Critique of Political Economy (1859). It refers to work Marx and Engels did a few years
50 Andrew Levine

evolved and his interests changed, he became less, not more, sympathetic to
His antipathy was taken up and, if anything, magnified, in the thinking of
Second International Marxists. Lenin and those who claimed his heritage were
even more adamant; they were militant atheists. It can therefore be said, with
complete confidence, that even if Marxism did have a preferred mechanism
for managing intramural dissent, classical Marxists and true Leninists would
have greeted the idea that this or any other mechanism should be applied
within religious communities with scorn.
To be sure, in the decades preceding Marxisms demise as a political
presence, there was a great deal of interest, especially in countries with large
Catholic and Leninist political parties, in forming alliances. More than a few
intellectuals on both sides of the historic divide, not just liberation theolo-
gians, investigated the prospects for fusing Marxist and Christian (Catholic)
themes. That enthusiasm waned as Marxism itself did in part, because it
became increasingly clear to Marxists that Catholics couldnt help them,
and clear to Catholics that they didnt need the support of (self-immolating)
Marxist parties in Italy or France or even in Latin America, where Marxisms
decline was less pronounced. It is one of historys many ironies that the anti-
religious views of Marx and classical Marxists, and of Leninists and (most)
Western Marxists, have been vindicated by events, though emphatically not in
the way that they expected.

It is ironic too that, at a time when the major world religions are thriving,
Marxism, as a political force, is effectively spent. One can only wonder why, so
long after eighteenth-century materialists did their foundational convictions
in, and more than a century since Nietzsche focused attention on the death
of the God who held those traditions together, the world religions flourish,
while Marxism has faded from the scene, notwithstanding the viability of
nearly all of its basic contentions except, of course, the pivotal one about
the historic mission of a proletariat with nothing to lose but its chains.
Within living memory, it looked like things would turn out differently that
the world religions would fade away while Marxist ideas, if not Marxism itself,
would contribute substantially toward making a better, more humane, world.
But then the pendulum swung back. This stubborn fact, as Engels called
unwelcome developments like this, cannot be ignored. Enlightened thinkers,
Marxist or otherwise, are obliged, above all, to face reality; and the reality is
that the great world religions are not just still around and doing well, but that

earlier for example, in The German Ideology (1845). It was around this period, when Marx
was still in his twenties, that he rather decidedly distanced himself from the thinking of
Ludwig Feuerbach (18041872), the leader of the Young Hegelian movement.
Intramural dissent: Marxism 51

the more atavistic they become the more anti-modern, violent, and extreme
the better they do. Meanwhile, Marxism is a memory almost everywhere
except in a few, basically apolitical, academic quarters. That is how it goes in
this most ironic of all possible worlds.
Of course, the pendulum can always spring back; perhaps that has already
begun. After all, the relevance, indeed the urgency, of many Marxist convic-
tions has only become more acute in recent years. Marxism as such may never
revive, but distinctively Marxist ideas, key components of the long-gone
grand Marxist synthesis, have never been more timely the Marxist account
of historys structure and direction, for example, and the Marxist vision of
ideal social, political, and economic arrangements.
For several decades, some of the gravest evils of capitalism were dimin-
ished, though never stilled, by social democracy and, in the American case, by
the New Deal-Great Society liberal settlement. Now they are back with a
vengeance. In addition, for reasons that were not much appreciated decades
ago, capitalism has also become, quite literally, a scourge on the landscape.
There is no sounder account of these evils, and of the prospects for a post-
capitalist future, than the one Marx and his close followers provided. We
desperately need the insights they left us; as much or more today as when
Marxism was a live presence on the political scene, a specter haunting the
boardrooms of banksters and corporate moguls, and the hordes of flunkies and
flacks who service them.
No doubt, Marxisms associations with Soviet and Chinese Communism
partly explain why it has gone missing. Whatever the balance sheet on those
historical experiences a more complicated issue than todays conventional
wisdom assumes they certainly had their dreadful side. And it is an undeni-
able fact that they suffered a historic defeat.
Nobody likes a loser. This is especially true when the tables suddenly turn.
Marxisms or rather Leninisms main appeal used to be that Lenin and his
followers actually made a revolution. So did the Chinese Communists and the
Vietnamese and the Cubans. And there was the prospect of more to come, of
a Third World making itself over in the image of the world the Bolsheviks
and Maoists constructed. Those perceptions seem like ancient history now.
Perhaps they were always only illusions in Freuds sense expressions of a
wish. But even if that is all they were, we are still worse off in crucial ways now
that they are gone now that capitalists think that they no longer face any
existential threats and, not unrelatedly, now that hope and change have
become words that stick in the craw.
The Marxism and Leninism we know were creatures of their moment in
history. So, of course, were the world religions that have survived, in one form
or another, for millennia. But religions, especially the Abrahamic ones, exer-
cise, as it were, an ungodly hold over their adherents, not least because they
offer reasons for consolation and hope that evidence cannot refute. They also
contain resources that have enabled them to adapt to changing circumstances
52 Andrew Levine

while maintaining at least a semblance of historical continuity with their

ancestor forms. Marxism could not possibly have done anything like this; it
was too bound to a this-worldly conception of the working class and its strug-
gles; and its political expressions, the historically most prominent Leninist one
especially, were too dependent on conditions that no longer obtain. This is why
it will probably never be revived; the historical chain, once broken, cannot be
In academic circles, interest in Marx and Marxism never quite expired and
could well pick up again. This may already be happening. But for academic
work on Marx to prepare a way for a genuine Marxist renewal, the old issue of
political accountability would have to be faced. That was always a struggle for
Marxists in academic precincts; it will be an even more intractable problem
for future students of Marx and Marxism because robust political movements
that identify with the Marxist tradition are, in all likelihood, a thing of the past.
Even so, the hundred or more years in which Marxist theory and practice
flourished left a treasure trove of elements worth reconstructing, retrieving,
and recycling. The important thing is that this gets done; it hardly matters if it
does not take place under a Marxist banner. Indeed, for as long as memories of
the God that failed remain vivid, it may be best that it does not. But if Marxs
ideas can have their day again, if they can be put to use for changing the world,
we will all be better off for it.
It has been a long time since workers had nothing to lose but their chains.
However, now, with capitalism in chronic decline, with perpetual war the
order of the day, and with humanly caused ecological catastrophes looming,
there is still a world to win, as much or more than there ever was.
Chapter 4

Dissent on core beliefs in natural law

Tom Angier

The natural law tradition in ethics has its origins in ancient Greek philoso-
phy. While the Greek sophists tend to oppose nature and law, viewing
the first as a realm of universal regularities, and the second as a realm of
changing cultural conventions, both Plato and Aristotle suggest that nature
is itself a source of law. For them, that is, nature is not merely a domain to be
described, but begins to take on the role of a prescriptive, that is, normative
or practical guide, so that xs being according to or against nature is no
longer a solecism, but has distinct moral force. And this rapprochement
between nature and law is deepened and made central to ethical theory by
the Stoics.
For the Stoics, both Greek and Roman,1 nature becomes an absolutely
pivotal, indeed the core practical notion: human agents are enjoined to
follow nature, where this is tantamount to living a good life. Although
what this consists in, exactly, is not wholly perspicuous at the level of
detailed, positive norms the Stoics supply a constellation of formal con-
cepts that flesh out the contours of nature, and which will prove highly
influential on natural law theorys later development. According to the
Stoics, nature is normative because it is (a) rational, and (b) divine. It is
natures rational content that partly grounds its prescriptive force for
humans, who are (following Plato and Aristotle) rational animals, and thus
directly addressed by the laws nature embodies. And it is natures divinity

Cicero, Roman statesman and philosopher, is our best systematic source for Stoic ethical
theory. See his De Re Publica (On the Commonwealth) and De Legibus (On the Laws). For
an excellent overview of Stoic ethics, see Jacob Klein, The Stoics, chapter 3 in
Tom Angier (ed.), Ethics: The Key Thinkers (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012), and
Jacob Klein, Stoic Eudaimonism and the Natural Law Tradition, chapter 2 in Jonathan
A. Jacobs (ed.), Reason, Religion, and Natural Law: From Plato to Spinoza (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2012).

54 Tom Angier

that not only bolsters its prescriptive force by demonstrating the elevated
status, as it were, of natural reason but also fills in the sense in which nature
can embody laws or norms in the first place: for God, according to Stoic
theory, operates in and through nature.
It should be clear, then, how far we have come from the sophistic view that
nature and law are opposed. On the Stoic view, nature is thoroughly norma-
tive, being the arena of a host of rational ends, which are inextricably
embedded in its myriad workings. And it is this teleological conception of
nature according to which description and prescription, fact and value
are deeply intertwined, and never finally separable that will be the hallmark
of natural law ethics hereafter. This is true not least of the (arguably) most
impressive and most influential theory of natural law in the Western tradition,
that of Thomas Aquinas (12251274). Aquinas inherits the Stoic framework
above, and though he devotes relatively little of the Summa Theologiae to
natural law per se,2 develops that framework in great conceptual and argu-
mentative detail. Like the Stoics, he holds that God stands behind the natural
law, or, as he puts it, the natural law is grounded in the eternal law. But he
also holds that it is natural partly in virtue of its being accessible without any
recourse to specific religious revelation. And this points to a threefold sense in
which the natural law is, for Aquinas, natural. It is so, first, because of its
content it applies to us in virtue of our nature (ST Ia IIae q. 94 art. 2), rather
than the will of God or some autonomous rational imperative. Secondly, it can
be known naturally, and by all, without any special education, let alone any
religious instruction (ST Ia IIae q. 91 arts. 4, 6). And thirdly, it motivates us
naturally, insofar as it is made apparent in our natural inclinations to feel
and to act (ST Ia IIae qq. 91/4 art. 2).
Now these three marks of Thomistic natural law are crucial for my subse-
quent exposition and argument, for although some authors have treated
natural law theory in an essentially biblical context, that is, as dependent on,
and even as informed by revelation, I shall not be treating it so. Why not,
exactly? First, because Aquinas leaves room for a purely philosophical treat-
ment of the natural law (as I have already indicated), and such treatment

See Summa Theologiae (ST), T. Gilby (ed.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)
Ia IIae q. 94, and more widely, qq. 9097 (on law in general). For a crisp introduction to
Aquinas on natural law, see Terence Irwin, The Development of Ethics: Volume 1 From
Socrates to the Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), pp. 545570. For a trenchant
analytical reconstruction of his theory, see Anthony Lisska, Aquinas Theory of Natural
Law: An Analytic Reconstruction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996). John Goyette, Mark
S. Latkovic, and Richard S. Myers (eds.), St Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law
Tradition: Contemporary Perspectives (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of
America Press, 2004) contains a helpful set of essays on Aquinas and the subsequent natural
law tradition. For introductions to Aquinas moral philosophy more widely, see
Ralph McInerny, Ethica Thomistica: The Moral Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, revised
edn. (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1997), and Vivian
Boland, Aquinas, chapter 4 in Angier (ed.), Ethics.
Dissent on core beliefs in natural law 55

can appeal to a far wider audience than one requiring the antecedent accep-
tance of some particular revelation. Secondly, because the broadly Thomistic
philosophers3 who engage in contemporary controversies over core natural
law beliefs tend to approach these controversies on the basis of exclusively
naturalistic premises. Granted, there are eminent contemporary thinkers who
approach natural law from a more revelation-based point of view, such as the
Thomists Germain Grisez (the father of new natural law theory), Russell
Hittinger, and Jean Porter, and the Jewish natural law theorist David Novak.
But not only are these thinkers less engaged (Grisez excepted) with the issue
of core beliefs and dissent from them, once again they rest their case, in crucial
part, on claims derived from revealed texts. Putting these thinkers on one side,
then, what are the core beliefs that broadly Thomistic natural lawyers, work-
ing from solely naturalistic, non-revelation-based premises, have been con-
cerned with?4

Key tenets
When it comes to the key tenets of natural law theory, we need to distinguish
between its foundational principles on the one hand, and applications of
these on the other. As Ive already outlined, traditional Thomistic natural
law is committed to at least three foundational principles, which are (respec-
tively) metaphysical, epistemological, and moral psychological in kind.
Metaphysically, traditional Thomists hold that human nature is universally
shared, and basically unchangeable.5 In this way, they are true to
Aristotelian essentialism, which posits a single, timeless essence for each
species or life-form. And this essentialism, they take it, precludes any variety
of relativism, subjectivism, or conventionalism: human nature is fixed, as it
were, and determines, ultimately, the truth or falsity of our ethical claims.
These are (on the orthodox side) Ralph McInerny, Anthony Lisska, John Haldane, David
Oderberg, and the self-styled new natural lawyers, especially John Finnis, Joseph Boyle,
Robert George, William May, and Patrick Lee. On the heterodox or dissenting side we
have, principally, Joseph Fuchs, Charles Curran, Richard McCormick, Todd Salzman, and
Michael Lawler.
I should note here that proceeding on non-revelation-based premises is consistent with taking
a broadly theological approach to the natural law, in the sense that one views God as the
ultimate source of natural norms (Aquinas, indeed, and most of those treated in this chapter,
are instances of this approach). I should also note that there is an alternative tradition of
natural law that aims to be purely metaphysical, doing without God altogether. Originating
with Grotius, Pufendorf, and Hobbes, this tradition is taken up by Lon Fuller and (arguably)
Leo Strauss in the twentieth century, and developed by Philippa Foot, Timothy Chappell, and
Michael S. Moore in the twenty-first. I will not be investigating this post-Thomistic tradition,
since it has been shaped wholly independently of the Catholic Church, viz. precisely that body
which as I will show gives clear sense to there being assent to and dissent from the
teachings of the natural law.
It is in virtue of this that the first principles of natural law are altogether unchangeable
(ST Ia IIae q. 94 art. 5).
56 Tom Angier

Epistemologically, they hold that we can know the content and practical
teleology of our nature in two distinct, but intimately related ways: first, by
discerning the functions that structure our form of being qua rational ani-
mals, and, second, by discovering those ends to which we have a settled,
rational tendency or inclination. In some cases, particularly those involving
functions we share with plants and the lower animals (e.g. nutrition), identi-
fying our natural functions will be relatively straightforward. But when
it comes to those functions suffused with rationality viz. that which deter-
mines our essence such identification will have to proceed through our
moral psychology, that is, by deep inspection of those ends embedded in
what Aquinas calls our fundamental inclinations.
In sum, then, the foundational principles of traditional Thomistic natural
law consist, as Alasdair MacIntyre puts it, in an Aristotelian conception
of essential human nature, defining goods in terms of the flourishing of
such a nature and of the satisfaction of its various, hierarchically ordered
inclinations.6 As Ive outlined, this foundational picture relies heavily on
the idea that human life is informed by certain essential functions, and that
these have prescriptive, rather than merely descriptive, force.7 But what
exactly are the inclinations that delineate our rational functioning, and
therefore our fulfillment as human beings? It is at this juncture that Aquinas
moves from foundations to applications in his theory of natural law. Rather
than understanding inclinations in the sense of mere impulses or recurrent
desires, he draws on Aristotles philosophical anthropology8 to erect a hier-
archy of objective, non-contingent ends, grounded in our functioning as a
particular animal species. At the most basic level of functioning, which we
share with all forms of life, we have an inclination to preserve ourselves in

Alasdair MacIntyre, Theories of Natural Law in the Culture of Advanced Modernity,
chapter 5 in E. B. McLean (ed.), Common Truths: New Perspectives on Natural Law
(Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2000), p. 105.
NB: natural law theory sees normativity as built into the very fabric of reality (David
Oderberg, The Metaphysical Foundation of Natural Law, chapter 3 in Holger Zaborowski
[ed.], Natural Moral Law in Contemporary Society [Washington, DC: The Catholic University
of America Press, 2010], p. 45). For the notion of function as vital to natural law reasoning, see
(e.g.) John Haldane, Natural Law and Ethical Pluralism, in Richard Madsen and Tracy
B. Strong (eds.), The Many and the One: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Ethical
Pluralism in the Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), pp. 94, 9697.
Although not a Thomist, Timothy Chappell agrees that bona fide natural law reasoning
must draw centrally on the idea of an essential function or tendency (see
Timothy Chappell, Natural Law Revived: Natural Law Theory and Contemporary Moral
Philosophy, chapter 1 in Nigel Biggar and Rufus Black (eds.), The Revival of Natural Law:
Philosophical, Theological and Ethical Responses to the Finnis-Grisez School [Aldershot:
Ashgate Publishing, 2000], p. 45). Cf. Oderberg, The Metaphysical Foundation of Natural
Law, p. 63.
The locus classicus for this is Aristotles function argument, given in summary form at
Nicomachean Ethics, S. Broadie and C. Rowe (eds.) (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2002), I.7.
Dissent on core beliefs in natural law 57

being, that is, to survive. At the next level up, which has vast structural
ramifications and deep salience for the common good, we have an inclination
shared with other animals, namely the inclination to couple, procreate, and
subsequently to raise our young. And finally, at rationally the most sophisti-
cated level (on Aquinas view), we have an inclination to know truths, truths
about the universe and its origins, but also about social life and its necessary
With this ordering of inclinations and their concomitant functional goods in
place, Aquinas has laid the ground for the primary precepts of the natural
law. One of these is the precept that knowledge is to be pursued, ignorance
to be avoided; another, that we should work for the peace of society, rather
than offend those with whom [we] must live (on pain of becoming social
outcasts, thereby hampering our good). And from these there follow a large
number of secondary precepts, which are either strict deductions from the
primary precepts, or specifications of them (by means of what Aquinas calls
determination10). It should come as no surprise that it is these secondary
precepts which enjoin concrete norms governing (e.g.) procreation, child-
rearing, and the organization of social life that generate the most ethical
controversy, and are hence the locus of marked dissension among natural
lawyers. Indeed, as I will explore below,11 it is at this level of concrete moral
application of the primary precepts that intellectual disputes spill over into
institutional strife: not only between orthodox and dissenting natural
law theorists, but also between the latter and the hierarchy of the Catholic
Church (at whose universities many, if not most, natural lawyers work12). But
at this juncture, I want to tackle a controversy that has arisen at the purely
intellectual and foundational level, viz. that inspired by the challenge to
traditional Thomistic natural law theory by the new natural lawyers.
New natural law theory (NNLT), initiated by Germain Grisez, philosophi-
cally elaborated by John Finnis in Natural Law and Natural Rights,13 and
subsequently developed by him and others (see Note 3), poses a number of

For an efficient outline of Aquinas on the three levels of inclination, see McInerny, Ethica
Thomistica, pp. 4446.
Determination falls short of logical entailment, but still constitutes a form of inference that
is answerable to real moral constraints, ones derived largely from elsewhere in the natural
law. It is best understood as a kind of concrete articulation, or positivization: one that is
reasonable, yet sub-demonstrative.
Starting in the section headed Priorities; for the philosophical detail, see Internal
From the fact that a university is Catholic in affiliation it does not follow that the institutional
church has any control over the academic work, curricula, or wider life pursued therein.
Indeed, in the United States, most Catholic universities and colleges are now substantially
independent of church control. It is only where the hierarchical church does maintain
(at least some) direct control over a teaching institution that natural law dissent can as
we shall see run into significant difficulty.
John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980).
58 Tom Angier

challenges to traditional Thomistic natural law. Centrally, NNLT replaces an

emphasis on human nature and its functioning with an emphasis on human
reason per se. Why so? Because even though humans would be subject to
different norms if they had a different nature, there is no legitimate way
(NNLT contends) to derive norms from nature. Derivation is a logical opera-
tion, and there is no set of premises specifying facts about our nature that
entails evaluative conclusions about how it is good or bad to act. In other
words, Humes moratorium on inferring ought from is is fundamentally
justified,14 and traditional Thomism falls foul of it. In lieu of this metaphysical
route to natural law norms, NNLT follows a rationalistic and primarily
epistemological path. It posits a series of basic goods in Finnis original
version, there are seven15 which are purportedly indemonstrable and
self-evident.16 According to NNLT, then, any rational agent should, upon
reflection, be able to understand these goods as fundamental forms of good
for us. Indeed, the demand for demonstration or proof of this is (it is claimed)
substantively irrational, since these intelligible goods constitute the starting
points of practical reason, and (as Aristotle maintains) first principles are
Having elaborated this apparatus of basic goods, NNLT invokes Aquinas
notion of determination to move from these to particular, concrete goods-
to-be-achieved. And to that extent it aligns itself with traditional Thomistic
natural law theory. But even on this cursory analysis, it can be seen that NNLT
has shifted the intellectual ground significantly. The metaphysics of human
nature, although not banished by NNLT, is bracketed as no more than a
speculative appendage to what is essentially a rationalistic ethics.17 And
this bracketing has knock-on effects elsewhere. Having claimed, for instance,
that no objective priority holds between the basic goods,18 Finnis claims
that the same is true of the types of good specified by Aquinas inclinations
(viz. life, procreation, and knowledge). What appears as a hierarchical ranking
between these is, Finnis contends, merely an irrelevant schematization.19
And this is consonant with NNLTs wider concern to rule out utilitarian

For Finnis on the supposedly fallacious move from is to ought, see Finnis, Natural Law,
pp. 3336, 81, 85, 91, 94.
Namely life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, sociability, practical reasonableness, and
religion. See Finnis, Natural Law, pp. 8690. Over the years, Finnis has given progressively
more fine-grained content to his list of basic goods, but their number has remained constant.
For the changes that have taken place between Finnis, Natural Law, John Finnis, Joseph
M. Boyle, and Germain Grisez, Nuclear Deterrence, Morality, and Realism (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1987), and John Finnis, Is Natural Law Theory Compatible with
Limited Government? in Robert George (ed.), Natural Law, Liberalism, and Morality
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), see Sabina Alkire, The Basic Dimensions of
Human Flourishing: A Comparison of Accounts, chapter 3 in Biggar and Black, The
Revival of Natural Law, p. 76.
Finnis, Natural Law, p. 81. 17 Finnis, Natural Law, p. 36. 18 Finnis, Natural Law, pp. 9293.
Finnis, Natural Law, pp. 9495.
Dissent on core beliefs in natural law 59

reasoning. For on its view, not only do the basic goods display no objective
hierarchy, but they are in fact incommensurable, thereby precluding any
utilitarian weighing of one against the other.20 When it comes to choice
between goods, then, NNLT simply calls upon agents to choose in light of their
own, subjective life-plan.21
Although (as we shall see) the new foundational paradigm propounded
by NNLT has not engendered the kind of institutional strife unleashed by
disputes at the concrete, applied level, it has created its fair share of dissension
among natural lawyers.22 To begin with, the notion of basic yet incommensur-
able goods has come under attack for ruling out not only utilitarianism, but
also any impersonal, well-founded choice between goods. As MacIntyre
adjures, for the Grisez/Finnis theory, individual goods are not understood
in terms of a prior notion of the common good;23 if there is anything akin
to a common good, then, for NNLT, it devolves merely into the aggregate
of individuals life-plans. Besides contravening Aquinas objective,
rank-ordered conception of goods, this threatens to bring NNLT into close
proximity to precisely the kind of Rawlsian, liberal vision of society the
new natural lawyers seek to avoid.24 And as to the actual list of basic
goods proposed by Finnis et al., many natural lawyers remain unconvinced.
Whereas Aquinas reserves the description self-evident and indemonstrable
for abstract claims like man is a rational animal, or the first principle
of practical reason,25 NNLT applies it to a controversial list of goods the
contravening or impeding of which does not seem, in all cases, a self-evident
harm or evil.
More fundamentally, then, the method used by NNLT to arrive at the basic
goods has been found overly aprioristic.26 New natural lawyers appeal to
the deliverances of reason to underwrite these goods, eschewing any appeal
to nature on the grounds that one cannot derive evaluative, practical con-
clusions from purely factual premises. But this is to accept a view of nature

Finnis, Natural Law, pp. 9597. 21 Finnis, Natural Law, p. 93.
McInerny, Ethica Thomistica, Russell Hittinger, A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory
(Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 1987), and Lisska, Aquinas Theory of Natural
Law are three notable book-length treatments essentially aimed against NNLT.
MacIntyre, Theories of Natural Law, p. 105.
For defenses of the claim that the basic goods are incommensurable, see John Finnis,
Natural Law and Legal Reasoning, chapter 6 in Robert George (ed.), Natural Law
Theory: Contemporary Essays (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), pp. 145151, Joseph
Boyle, Natural Law and the Ethics of Traditions, chapter 1 in George (ed.), Natural Law
Theory, and Robert George, Does the Incommensurability Thesis Imperil Common
Sense Moral Judgements? chapter 4 in Robert George, In Defense of Natural Law
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999).
Viz. Good is to be sought and done, evil to be avoided (ST Ia IIae q. 94 art. 2).
John Haldane, Reasoning about the Human Good, and the Role of the Public Philosopher,
chapter 3 in John Keown and Robert P. George (eds.), Reason, Morality, and Law: The
Philosophy of John Finnis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 47.
60 Tom Angier

that, as I argued earlier, is profoundly anti-teleological, and thus at odds

with that affirmed by traditional Thomists. As a corollary of this, moreover,
NNLT crucially alters the role played by knowledge by inclination. Whereas
NNLT treats inclination as a way of rationally discerning goods tout court,
Aquinas treats it as a way of knowing, first and foremost, ones nature.
As David Oderberg puts matters,
the agent, by gaining knowledge of human nature . . . through inclination, grasps
what does and does not fulfill that nature, hence what is good and bad and so a matter
for pursuit or avoidance . . . On what basis could such generalizations be made if
there were no room in ethics for the kind of third-personal, objective, speculative
knowledge about just what it is that fulfills the human species?27
In other words, by bracketing human nature, NNLT effectively occludes the
basis of normative justification it so vitally needs.

We have seen, then, that insofar as natural lawyers form an intellectual
community, foundational disputes between traditional Thomists and
followers of NNLT have led to a good deal of communal dissension.
Indeed, some traditional Thomists may even conceive of NNLT as a form
of dissent from intellectual orthodoxy. But equally, they would never assim-
ilate it to the full-blown dissent that has arisen at the level of concrete
applications of the natural law. Here I am thinking of dissent over core
life and death issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and contraception, and
wider issues of human sexual relations, particularly the status of homosexual
practice and same-sex marriage.28 Not only have these concrete, applied
issues inspired far more intellectual and institutional strife than their foun-
dational counterparts, both traditional Thomists and the new natural lawyers
find themselves, perhaps surprisingly, in agreement over them. For whether
basing their conclusions on knowledge by inclination, proper organic func-
tion, basic intelligible goods, or some combination of these, both camps
agree that any practices that (allegedly) systematically endanger the core,
generic goods of life and procreation are impermissible.29 In this regard,

Oderberg, The Metaphysical Foundation of Natural Law, pp. 7172.
Some take this focus on family and sexual ethics to be unwarranted, to show an obsessive
concern with personal issues to the detriment of more pressing political concerns.
Although the new natural lawyers have made a point of tackling the ethics of war, and of
nuclear warfare in particular (see Finnis et al., Nuclear Deterrence, Morality, and Realism), it
is true that such political issues are generally not the focus of natural lawyers interest. Why
not? In Inculcation and Reproduction, I offer some tentative explanations for why natural
law dissent has been predominantly in the areas outlined, while what could be called macro
political issues have been comparatively ignored.
As Ill document in Internal Criticism, the new natural lawyers have been especially active
in arguing against the above practices, most recently same-sex marriage.
Dissent on core beliefs in natural law 61

then, both traditional and new natural lawyers stand united, and are perforce
deeply opposed to a group of thinkers who, whether justly or not, have been
labeled dissenters proper. Who are these thinkers, and what are their main
normative commitments?
Natural law dissent proper can be usefully divided into two waves. The
first wave consists in those thinkers who reacted against the 1968 papal
encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), which reasserted in unequivocal
terms that contraception by any other means than natural family planning
is against the natural law, and hence immoral. Key figures in this group are
the Jesuits Josef Fuchs and Richard A. McCormick, and Charles E. Curran
(also a priest-academic, but not a member of a religious order).30 What links
these natural lawyers is their critique of traditional Catholic teaching on
artificial contraception, and (subsequently) their liberalizing approach to
most, if not all, the moral absolutes found among the secondary precepts.31
Given this development, Finnis seems justified when he writes that Dissent in
one area has reinforced dissent in others, and in particular that, The formal
attack on the moral absolutes emerges . . . in response to the problem of
contraception.32 The second wave of dissent involves a set of thinkers who,
partly inspired by the 1960s pioneers, have boldly and with less initial
reticence impugned moral absolutes across the board. Key here are the lay
academics Todd A. Salzman, Michael G. Lawler, and Lisa Sowle Cahill, and
the Sister of Mercy, Margaret A. Farley.33
As I shall outline in the next section, both the first and second waves
of natural law dissent have generated firm, critical responses from the institu-
tional Catholic Church: if not from its teaching institutions, to which many
of the dissenters belong(ed), at least from those in the Catholic hierarchy

See, especially, M. E. Graham, Josef Fuchs on Natural Law (Washington, DC: Georgetown
University Press, 2002); Charles Curran, Loyal Dissent: Memoirs of a Catholic Theologian
(Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2006), Transition and Tradition in Moral
Theology (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979); Charles Curran and
Richard A. McCormick (eds.), Readings in Moral Theology No. 6: Dissent in the Church
(New York: Paulist Press, 1988); Richard A. McCormick, How Brave a New World?:
Dilemmas in Bioethics (London: SCM Press, 1981).
By absolutes I mean exceptionless prohibitions, centrally those on abortion, euthanasia,
contraception, homosexual practice, and any form of marriage other than life-long, hetero-
sexual monogamy.
John Finnis, Moral Absolutes: Tradition, Revision, and Truth (Washington, DC: The
Catholic University of America Press, 1991), p. 85; cf. Currans similar diagnosis at
Curran, Transition and Tradition, pp. 17, 37.
See, especially, Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler, The Sexual Person: Toward a
Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2008; fore-
word by Charles Curran); Lisa Sowle Cahill, Theological Bioethics: Participation, Justice, and
Change (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2005); Margaret A. Farley, Just
Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (London: Continuum Publishing, 2006).
Unlike Salzman and Lawler, Cahill and Farley make few references to the natural law tradition
as such, but their arguments pose similar, if philosophically less rigorous, challenges to it.
62 Tom Angier

charged with safeguarding orthodoxy.34 And this suggests that the latter view it
as their priority to minimize dissent not at the foundational level that is, the
level at which traditional Thomists and new natural lawyers disagree but
rather at the concrete, applied level of personal and family norms. Why so?
Partly, I take it, because the institutional church now has comparatively limited
power and financial resources, and the good of purely theoretical and metho-
dological consensus is thought not to warrant the use of these.35 Moreover,
since the 1960s, it has grown wary of the idea that certain intellectual methods
are in principle privileged over others: as well as Thomism, the phenomenolo-
gical method, for instance, flourishes within Church institutions, and was prac-
ticed by no less than John Paul II. But above all, the relevant Church authorities
take it that whatever the rights and wrongs of (say) NNLTs philosophical
foundations it is the concrete, practical conclusions of natural lawyers that
matter most, because these have direct implications for the conduct of life in its
most sensitive and significant aspects. When taken together with the fact that
new natural lawyers are wholly orthodox in their practical conclusions, it is
hardly surprising that the contemporary hierarchy concentrates its fire on those
Ive labeled natural law dissenters in a strict sense.

The consequences for some (albeit few) natural law dissenters have been
severe. The most celebrated case is that of Charles Curran, whose right to
teach at the Catholic University of America was withdrawn by the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1986.36 Having survived
a previous attempt to remove him in 1967, thanks to support from faculty and
students, Curran proceeded to issue many publications that although profes-
sing adherence to the tradition of natural law came increasingly to challenge
the moral absolutes specified above (see Note 31). Drawing largely on
Bernard Hrings personalist model of ethics,37 he argued centrally as

I shall be concerned with such safeguarding only insofar as it appeals to naturalistic,
non-revelation-based arguments, even if revelation is appealed to in addition.
It was not always so. NB the Condemnations (particularly of Aristotelianism) at the University
of Paris in 1277, and in the modern period, Pius IXs anti-modernist Syllabus of Errors
(1864). The Index of Prohibited Books was suspended in its operation only in 1966.
At this time, the Congregation was headed by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, subsequently
Pope Benedict XVI. For documents and essays on the Curran case, see Part Five of Curran
and McCormick, Readings in Moral Theology No. 6. It is important to note that the Catholic
University of America is the only institution of higher education founded directly by the
American Catholic Bishops. It was this close relation to the episcopate that led eventually to
Currans leaving the institution.
See, for example, Curran, Transition and Tradition, pp. 47. Hring (19121998) was a
Redemptorist priest whose most famous book is The Law of Christ (Cork: Mercier Press,
1961; original German, 1954). Teaching in America, he became close to the natural law
dissenters, and although investigated by church officials, was exonerated of fault.
Dissent on core beliefs in natural law 63

I will detail below in Internal Criticism that traditional Thomistic natural

law is too wedded to a physicalist conception of the human person, and that
consequently it rules out a series of practices that are at least tolerable, and at
most affirmable. But this and other forms of argument failed to persuade the
Roman authorities, and, since 1991, Curran has been teaching at the Southern
Methodist University in Dallas. According to the then Cardinal Ratzinger, In
light of [his] repeated refusal to accept what the Church teaches and in light of
its mandate to promote and safeguard the Churchs teaching on faith and
morals throughout the Catholic world, the CDF had no choice but to act
against Curran in the way it did.38
The second wave of natural law dissenters has so far escaped more lightly
than Curran, but censure from magisterial (i.e. Roman) and episcopal
authorities has not been lacking. In June 2012, Margaret Farleys Just Love:
A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics which criticizes natural law prohi-
bitions on divorce, masturbation, and homosexual practice was issued a
notification by the CDF.39 As Cardinal Levada, successor to Cardinal
Ratzinger as Prefect of the CDF, puts it, Farley manifests a defective under-
standing of the objective nature of the natural moral law, and therefore her
book cannot but pose grave harm to the faithful.40 And things look awkward
too for Todd Salzman, who, unlike Farley, still holds a teaching post. His book,
The Sexual Person (2008), written together with Professor Emeritus Michael
Lawler, recapitulates and develops Currans advocacy of a person-centered,
rather than a physicalist understanding of sexual relations. In doing so, it
arrives at strongly liberal positions on marital morality, homosexual practice,
and artificial reproductive technologies. Hence, according to a United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Doctrine report
(September 2010), Salzman and Lawlers work effectively denies natural law
norms in favor of personal preferences. The Committee concludes that this is
clearly in contradiction to the authentic teaching of the Church, cannot
provide a true norm for moral action and in fact [is] harmful to ones moral
and spiritual life.41

Inculcation and reproduction

Even if we accept this reasoning, we might still question why the institutional
Church chooses to move against specifically moral dissent. After all, the
natural law has traditionally been interpreted as recommending, in part, the
pursuit of knowledge (see Key Tenets), and moral knowledge is only one
Curran and McCormick, Readings in Moral Theology No. 6, p. 362. 39 Farley, Just Love.
See www.news.va/en/news/notification-from-the-congregation-for-the-doctrin
See www.usccb.org/about/doctrine/publications/upload/Sexual_Person_2010-09-15.pdf.
Despite being issued by a Committee on Doctrine, this report is strongly philosophical
in content, even if it also makes appeal to revelation. Indeed, Cardinal Wuerl, the
Chairman of the Committee, is a philosopher by training.
64 Tom Angier

species of this. So why target specifically moral natural law dissent? To this
there are, I think, two basic answers: the first negative, and the second positive
in force. First, there has, at least since the Second World War, been relatively
little dissent emerging from natural law thinkers, or from Catholic thinkers
more generally, on non-moral issues. True, there has been systematic eccle-
siological dissent since Vatican II, and some dissent over the relation between
Church teaching and natural science.42 But this has been of limited extent and
Secondly, and more vitally (as I indicated under Priorities), the
Magisterium or teaching authority of the Church believes that dissent from
the concrete moral norms of the natural law has maximally serious implica-
tions for both the socialization of Catholic youth, and the continued well-being
of Catholic adults. Since the 1960s, so the argument runs, dissenting views
have abetted a dramatic increase in the abortion and divorce rates, along with
the failure of many industrialized countries to reproduce themselves. And if
these are grave outcomes, then the opening of marriage to same-sex couples
promises to fray the social fabric still further, with especially deleterious
effects on the well-being of children (see Internal Criticism). So to concen-
trate on dissent from the moral precepts of the natural law is, far from being
irrational or arbitrary, vital to the flourishing of society, and even to the future
of society itself.
More liberal opinion which tends to congregate in Catholic universities,
and especially around natural law dissenters disputes this, of course, arguing
that the proper socialization and well-being of Catholics depend on natural
law dissent being heard, rather than sidelined or silenced. Furthermore, such
opinion also tends to hold that within the category of moral secondary pre-
cepts, Church officials pay far too much attention to sexual, reproductive, and
family norms, and far too little to the political or social teaching of the
Church on justice and peace.43 To this challenge there is perhaps no immedi-
ately compelling answer, but I think at least three observations are in order.
First, while issues of justice and peace are politically pressing, they involve
massive structural problems that most individuals cannot begin to tackle in
their daily, circumscribed lives. So to prioritize such issues would, arguably, be
pastorally counterproductive. Secondly, issues of justice and peace can create
deep tension between different episcopates (e.g. over nuclear weapons and

A key instance of ecclesiological dissent is that of the Society of Saint Pius X, founded in 1970
by Marcel Lefebvre to combat and resist the manifold liturgical and other changes instituted
by Vatican II. As to the relation between church teaching and natural science, the works of
the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin (18811955) on cosmic evolution were heavily criticized in
Pius XIIs 1950 encyclical Humani Generis (Of Humankind), and were issued a reprimand
by the Holy Office in 1962.
For a helpful volume on the churchs social teaching, see Compendium of the Social Doctrine
of the Church, published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (London:
Continuum Publishing, 2006).
Dissent on core beliefs in natural law 65

the death penalty), so to highlight them would be to foment even more

international tension than already exists. And thirdly, there has been com-
paratively little intellectual dissent from the Churchs social teaching (e.g. on
the need to provide fair wages and maternity leave, or to avoid direct targeting
of non-combatants) indeed, almost all natural law dissenters endorse it.
So while there is huge practical failure to implement justice and peace,
intellectually the Church finds itself here with a relatively willing audience.

Even if we allow, however, that the moral precepts of the natural law
(narrowly construed) deserve primary inculcation, and thus greatest protec-
tion by the Church, it might still be objected that Church officials abuse their
authority by treating natural law dissenters in the ways outlined above. As
Yves Congar points out, in the Middle Ages the term Magisterium referred
to the teaching authority of theologians,44 whereas in the modern period its
sense has become narrowed to the teaching authority vested in the College of
Bishops under the headship of the pope. This narrowing has arguably been
prejudicial not only to deep reflection on the natural law, but also to proper
freedom of conscience, with bodies like the CDF insisting on a religious
submission that is unreasonable, and in fact inconsistent with Vatican II
teachings on conscience. As natural law dissenters like Richard McCormick
put things, We shall only grow in knowledge and understanding . . . if accep-
tance of . . . [Church] teaching is completely uncoerced . . . [i.e. not] a form of
paternalism detrimental to personal and corporate growth.45 And this call for
spiritual adulthood or independent judgement46 goes together with a
wider call for the institutional Church to respect the deliverances of such
judgement especially when these reflect majority public opinion.47
Although the issue of institutional authority is liable to provoke some of the
sharpest disputes surrounding the issue of natural law dissent, it is not clear

See Yves Congar, Pour une histoire smantique du terme Magisterium, Revue des sciences
philosophiques et thologiques 60 (1976): 8598. Cf. Congar, Bref historique des formes du
Magistre et de ses relations avec les docteurs, Revue des sciences philosophiques et
thologiques 60 (1976): 99112 (English translation in Charles Curran and Richard
A. McCormick (eds.), Readings in Moral Theology No. 3: The Magisterium and Morality
(New York: Paulist Press, 1982), pp. 314331.
McCormick, How Brave a New World?, pp. 234235.
McCormick, How Brave a New World?, p. 236.
To take just one example, Lisa Sowle Cahill notes (with approval) the extent to which US
Catholic opinion supports Farley [in Just Love]. While Catholics divorce at a rate much
lower than the near 50% of the rest of the country, fewer than 10% of Catholics say divorce
is never justified. A majority of Catholics (64%) favor legal recognition of gay unions,
which is more than other Christian denominations and more than Americans overall. See
love. Cf. Salzman and Lawler, The Sexual Person, pp. 176, 178.
66 Tom Angier

that the institutional Church is without resources to respond to the above

criticisms. For a start, the CDFs 1990 Instruction, entitled Donum Veritatis:
Of the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian,48 acknowledges in its section on
The Problem of Dissent that tensions do arise between theologians49 and
the Magisterium, and that the formers objections [can] contribute to real
progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of
the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments
( 30). But equally, the CDF denies that independent judgement is an
overriding good per se, despite the almost overwhelming plausibility of this
view to many in liberal democracies. In the context of Church teaching, and
especially with regard to specific moral norms of the natural law, every
theologian is answerable, the CDF adjures, to a tradition of interpretation
and set of basic moral orientations that act as constraints on inquiry. So
although it is profoundly sinful to coerce someone into professing the faith,
once faith has been professed, there are limits to what moral claims can
legitimately be made. Indeed, these limits are not merely those set by reason
and tradition, but also by a key datum of faith, namely that Magisterial
teaching, by virtue of divine assistance, has a validity beyond its argumenta-
tion ( 34).50
On dissenters appeal to conscience, Donum Veritatis maintains that
whereas conscience illumines the practical judgment about a decision to
make, this is crucially distinct from deciding the truth of a doctrinal pro-
nouncement ( 38). In other words, conscience is fundamentally a private
monitor of action, rather than a faculty that can determine the truth or falsity
of moral norms. And this argument is elaborated by Dietrich von Hildebrand,
who holds that conscience always presupposes a moral conviction, which does
not originate in conscience, but rather in reasoned argument and substantive
moral sources.51 It follows that while, for example, my conscience tells
me not to have another drink is an item of sense, my conscience tells me
that abortion is wrong is an item of nonsense. As Von Hildebrand sum-
marizes matters, Conscience does not instruct us about whether something
is morally good or evil . . . this question must be answered before conscience
can speak.52 And an equal and opposite mistake to relying on ones
See www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_
Theologians here should be taken in its wide sense, to include not only those who appeal to
revelation, but also natural lawyers who appeal to naturalistic premises (in a broadly theistic
context). See Note 4.
Clearly, this notion that magisterial authority transcends the perceived cogency of its
arguments is very hard to justify according to the canons of post-Enlightenment rationality.
Indeed, I suspect it is impossible to justify such a view apart from strong ecclesiological
commitments to the inspired nature of the Magisterium.
See Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Encyclical Humanae Vitae A Sign of Contradiction
(Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1969), p. 66.
Von Hildebrand, The Encyclical Humanae Vitae, p. 65.
Dissent on core beliefs in natural law 67

conscience to assess moral natural law norms is relying on majority public

(or even majority Catholic) opinion. For not only is such opinion volatile,
admitting of contradiction over even short periods of time, there is no con-
clusive reason to think it is an ultimate arbiter of moral truth. Majorities can,
to put it bluntly, make mistakes and bad mistakes, at that.

Management options
Even if one endorses these claims that moral truth is not simply a major-
itarian matter, that conscience needs to be independently formed, and that
the Magisterium possesses a teaching authority transcending that of other
institutions it does not follow that Church officials have the right to
discipline natural law dissenters in the way that, for example, the CDF
disciplined Charles Curran. Depriving someone of their teaching post is, it
might be said, more reminiscent of the Inquisition than a modern watch-
dog institution. Surely challenges to Church teaching, even teaching of
long standing, can be fruitful and much needed, and the attempt to rein
them in is indicative of a hidebound, authoritarian institution, quick to deny
people their rights and scared of open debate.
In response to this, the case for the Holy See, as the Jesuit David Fitch
puts it, might run as follows.53 To begin with, the Curran debacle is excep-
tional. Many dissenters, like Margaret Farley, work for decades without any
interference: indeed, the notification against her book Just Love appeared
six years after its publication, and at the end of her academic career. Even in
Currans case, the CDF gave him several chances to withdraw his public
denials of Church teaching, denials that began with his collection (in 1968)
of the signatures of over 650 American moral theologians against Humanae
Vitae. Given that this dissent, together with his subsequent, far broader dis-
sent, went beyond the airing of mere moral hypotheses, Church bodies were
justified in depriving Curran of his right to teach at a Catholic University that
is under direct supervision of the episcopate (see Note 36). After all, they were
not burning him at the stake: rather, they were recognizing, institutionally,
that someone hired to teach within the bounds of natural law tradition was no
longer willing to do so.54
And this points to a wider, more fundamental case against dissenters
like Curran, one that might be called the argument from confusion of the
spheres. True, it may be appropriate and fruitful for debate in the mainstream

Fitchs Curran and Dissent: The Case for the Holy See forms a nice counterweight to
McCormicks LAffaire Curran, both contained in part five of Curran and McCormick,
Readings in Moral Theology No. 6.
To speak in this instance of a violation of human rights, Donum Veritatis holds, is out of
place for it indicates a failure to recognize the proper hierarchy of these rights as well as the
nature of the ecclesial community and her common good ( 37).
68 Tom Angier

media to enjoy more or less free rein: this is, arguably, for the common good.
But debate conducted by and within particular institutions particularly
those, like the Church, charged with care of a specific moral tradition, and
the constituency governed by it is subject to different norms. Just as it would
be reasonable for the National Secular Society to remove one of its public
representatives intent on arguing for positions upheld in the Catholic
Catechism, so it is reasonable for the Church, after due process, to withdraw
a teaching license from one of its avowed representatives who, over decades,
persists in arguing for positions propounded (typically, if not exclusively) by
consequentialists and moral relativists.55

Internal criticism
While the ways the institutional Church handles intramural dissent are of
crucial ecclesiological significance, what is of central philosophical interest
is the cogency with which dissenters argue both against core moral positions
developed within the natural law tradition, and for their own, revised
positions. In this section, I will outline what I take to be their four main
arguments, first in the context of debates over contraception (the original
locus of widespread dissent within the Church),56 and second in that of
debates over same-sex marriage (the latest locus of dissent from natural
law teaching).
Both traditional and new natural law theorists hold that contraception by
artificial means is impermissible, on the grounds that it systematically and
intentionally blocks the good of new life, and in the context of acts essentially
ordered to procreation. To avoid this outcome, every conjugal or marital act
of intercourse must, so the argument runs, be open to the transmission of
life. The first dissenting argument against this appeals to a principle of
proportionate good, namely that if a greater good is served such as the
love between spouses, or the preservation of a marriage in the face of financial
hardship contraception57 can be justified. And this argument is closely
related to the further claim that individual contraceptive acts must be viewed
as part of a totality, which includes all the motivations and circumstances

As Donum Veritatis comments, the theologian who is not disposed to think with the
Church . . . contradicts the commitment he freely and knowingly accepted to teach in the
name of the Church ( 37). This is not the trivial point that a club has rules, which members
are supposed to obey; it is the deeper point that undertaking to teach natural law ethics, and
then systematically denying many of its key tenets, spells a lack of integrity. For Curran and
those like him are at no stage forced into such an undertaking, and are free to relinquish it
when they no longer feel able to abide by its requirements.
Here I am particularly indebted to William E. Mays Pre Marquette Theology Lecture,
Moral Absolutes (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1989).
By which I mean, and shall mean from now on, artificial (i.e. not just rhythm-method)
Dissent on core beliefs in natural law 69

relevant to human self-realization and self-development.58 In this way, the

first argument affirms a kind of holism about human acts that natural law
reasoning has tended to deny.
The second dissenting argument targets the so-called physicalism or
biologism of natural law ethics. Whereas transcendent principles like
always act according to right reason, or formal norms like always act
justly and bravely are exceptionless,59 injunctions against particular,
pre-moral types of act such as contraception can never be so, on pain
of absolutizing merely material prohibitions. Such prohibitions pick out acts
in abstraction from any conscious purposes or intentions, and thus restrict
the moral life unduly, to the detriment of any wider significance such acts
can have.60 Furthermore, if natural law teaching against contraception is
essentially grounded in the infertility of contracepted sexual intercourse,
then surely sterile (yet sexually active) spouses, along with spouses practicing
natural family planning, are no less in contravention of the natural law.
This is a claim Curran, among others, is keen to press.61
The third dissenting argument is historicist in form, and amounts to the
view that few, if any specific moral norms hold for all time, in virtue of cultural
and technological changes, which in turn alter the nature of human beings.
The goods internal to sexual relationships, for instance, have, according to this
view, changed markedly with the advent of oral contraceptives, which give
women greater control over their fertility, and thereby fundamentally alter
their (already changing) role in society. Granted, some types of action such
as the direct bombing of civilians, or child-abuse should be seen as practical
absolutes, that is, as virtually exceptionless evils.62 But it remains the case
that all material norms must be understood as open, in principle, to excep-
tions: for as Curran avers, A more historically conscious moral methodology
realizes the need for a more inductive approach to moral theology.63
See (e.g.) McCormick, How Brave a New World?, pp. 231, 237; Fuchs, Personal
Responsibility and Christian Morality (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press,
1983), pp. 131, 139, Christian Ethics in a Secular Arena (Washington, DC: Georgetown
University Press, 1984), p. 75.
See (e.g.) T. E. OConnell, Principles for a Catholic Morality (New York: Seabury Press,
1978), pp. 157159; Fuchs, Christian Ethics in a Secular Arena, p. 72.
See (e.g.) L. Janssens, Norms and Priorities in a Love Ethic, Louvain Studies 6 (1977): 210,
216; Fuchs, Personal Responsibility, p. 191; Fuchs, Christian Ethics in a Secular Arena, p. 74.
Cf. McCormick: biological structure and the processes of nature are accepted as the
determinants of [value] by natural law ethics; but the basic criterion for the [value] of
human actions is the person, not some isolated aspect of the person (McCormick, How
Brave a New World?, p. 222).
See (e.g.) Curran, Transition and Tradition, pp. 3037; cf. McCormick, How Brave a New
World?, p. 221. Curran points out that Pius XII officially acknowledged the morality of the
rhythm method in 1951.
See Janssens, Norms and Priorities, pp. 217218; Fuchs, Personal Responsibility, pp. 140142.
See Curran Transition and Tradition, p. 7; cf. ibid. pp. 1314, and J.-P. Wils, Does the
Natural-Law Approach have a Future? A Hermeneutical Proposal: Nine Objections to
70 Tom Angier

The fourth dissenting argument dovetails with the third by supplying

allegedly Thomistic warrant for the idea that there are exceptions to moral
absolutes. Here dissenters cite Aquinas view that derived, secondary
natural law precepts, because they involve contingent particulars, hold only
for the most part (ut in pluribus see ST Ia IIae q. 94 art. 4). In other words,
those precepts are helpful generalizations, but not universal, exceptionless
moral norms.64 As Curran puts matters, On a more general level one can
and should find great certitude, but as one descends to the particular, the
individual and the specific, the possibility of differing positions exists.65
So just as, for instance, the supreme value of human life leaves room for
legitimate killing (e.g. in war), so the moral centrality of reproduction within
human life leaves room for the legitimate use of contraception.
The response to these four arguments among traditional and new natural
lawyers has been concerted and robust. With regard to the first argument,
NNLT criticizes its implicit proportionalism (i.e. consequentialism), namely
the view that goods can be commensurated and thence summed, in order to
yield a greater good, against which all lesser goods (or greater evils) lose
out.66 But since, as I maintained in Key Tenets above, NNLTs critique of
commensurability is controversial, it would be unwise to rest too much on it.
More promising is an anti-proportionalism that invokes and defends the
traditional scholastic principle that moral absolutes are never to be directly
contravened for the sake of anticipated benefits, however great.67 Since most
dissenters deny this principle, and even think that deliberately intending evil
for the sake of a greater good is positively admirable,68 I suggest it is on this

Natural Law, in Lisa Sowle Cahill, Hille Haker, and Eloi Messi Metogo (eds.), Human
Nature and Natural Law, Concilium International Review of Theology 3 (London: SCM
Press, 2010), p. 69.
See Anthony Kosnik et al. (eds.), Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic
Thought A Study (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), pp. 8898; F. Scholz, Problems on
Norms Raised by Ethical Borderline Situations: Beginnings of a Solution in Thomas
Aquinas and Bonaventure, in Charles Curran and Richard A. McCormick (eds.),
Readings in Moral Theology No. 1: Moral Norms and Catholic Tradition (New York:
Paulist Press, 1979), pp. 164165; Curran, Transition and Tradition, p. 40.
Curran, Transition and Tradition, p. 49.
See (e.g.) Finnis, Natural Law, pp. 118125; Finnis, Fundamentals of Ethics (Washington,
DC: Georgetown University Press, 1983), pp. 86105; Finnis et al., Nuclear Deterrence,
Morality, and Realism, pp. 254261; Finnis, Moral Absolutes, p. 52.
At the level of single acts, this amounts to the claim that in order to be morally good, and thus
choiceworthy, an act must be good as a whole; if it is bad in any of its elements, it is morally
vitiated. See Finnis, Moral Absolutes, pp. 1619, 9698.
Because, that is, it purportedly shows a greater love of the good. Those in the anti-dissent
camp argue that this confuses the greater with the moral good, which incorporates con-
straints on good-maximization. See the essays in Richard A. McCormick and Paul Ramsey
(eds.), Doing Evil to Achieve Good: Moral Choice in Conflict Situations (Chicago: Loyola
University Press, 1978). Cf. Curran, Transition and Tradition, pp. 3738.
Dissent on core beliefs in natural law 71

terrain that natural law anti-proportionalism has the best chance of making
As to the charge that natural law ethics has been led astray by physicalism
or biologism, defenders of the majority natural law view agree that sexual
acts are not reducible to biological structure and the processes of nature.69
But having agreed this, they go on to accuse dissenters of affirming an equal
and opposite mistake, viz. that of dualism according to which human
consciousness, affect, and personality can effectively be sundered from their
grounding in bodily experience. On the contrary, they adjure, the way we
behave bodily especially sexually, where body and personhood are most
intimately and profoundly united has deep, reflexive repercussions. Rather
than constituting a distinct realm, to which we can take up different attitudes
at will, bodily acts (even of an everyday variety) ineluctably shape us and
make us the people we are. So contra the dissenting view, to hold that one can
engage in contraceptive sex in the total, self-giving way essential to truly
unitive sexual activity is, although perhaps well-intentioned, nevertheless
an illusion.70
On the historicity of moral norms, critics of natural law dissent are
prepared to concede that some secondary precepts do vary over time.
New technologies entail new forms of responsibility, and certain norms
may cease to have force outside emergency situations (such as those govern-
ing war). But to reject, in the spirit of Karl Rahner, the whole notion of a
universal human nature in favor of a historically conditioned, concrete
human nature one grounding a radically open-textured form of normative
being is to embrace a species of relativism that needs far more defense.71
After all, it is intuitively very plausible that there are types of act (such as
rape and torture) that are impermissible whatever their historical and
personal context. So even if contraceptive acts do not obviously fall under
this category, legitimating them by appeal to changed historical circum-
stances per se does not succeed.

See McCormick, How Brave a New World?
To bolster this analysis, writers cite Aquinas claim that human acts are never specified
independently of an agents objects, that is, the aims integral to a particular mode of acting
(see ST Ia IIae q. 1 art. 3 ad. 3; De Malo, B. Davies and R. Regan [eds.] [Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2001], q. 2 art. 4c). While these objects are not those of animal instinct,
neither are they determined at will: so it is not open to an agent to construe an act of incest,
say, as an act of genuine, healthy love. On Thomistic practical objects and their role in this
debate, see Finnis, Moral Absolutes, pp. 3839; Finnis, Natural Law (1996), in his Collected
Essays: Volumes IV (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), I.13, p. 204.
See, in particular, Karl Rahner, Basic Observations on the Subject of the Changeable and
Unchangeable Factors in the Church, in his Theological Investigations, Vol. XIV (New
York: Herder and Herder, 1976), pp. 1415. Rahner was a Jesuit who, although he came
under suspicion from the Roman authorities in 1962, was elevated by Pope John XXIII to the
status of expert adviser to Vatican II, and thereby exercised significant influence on the text
of Lumen Gentium.
72 Tom Angier

When it comes to derived moral norms having only general (ut in pluribus),
rather than universal force, Finnis and his followers make an exegetical
argument. According to them, Aquinas claim that such norms are only
generalizations or rules of thumb is itself a generalization, one that does not
apply to moral absolutes. This is made clear, they argue, by Aquinas reiter-
ated claim that, while the majority of secondary precepts are affirmative, and
have exceptions such as you should return what you borrow there are
also negative secondary precepts (albeit a minority) that hold always and
without exception.72 Once again, this is insufficient to show that contraception
falls under the latter category of absolutely prohibited types of act.
Nonetheless, if the new natural lawyers interpretation of Aquinas here is
well-founded, it does close a loophole that dissenters have been quick to
Whatever we conclude about the dialectic between dissenters and their
critics on the issue of contraception, it is clear that substantially the same set
of problems has been generated by the latest natural law controversy, that
over same-sex marriage. The key dissenters here are Todd Salzman and
Michael Lawler, who hold that the natural law tradition, with its ideal of
two-in-one-flesh-communion73 between man and wife, has upheld a
grossly physicalized conception of marital consummation.74 Not only
does this heterogenital conception, with its focus on procreativity, unduly
privilege a particular type of physical act within an overall love-relationship,
it thereby wrongly excludes those who lack the requisite, functioning sexual
organs. This includes homosexual couples, obviously, but also sterile hetero-
sexual spouses viz. those whose intercourse the Church wants to claim is
no less legitimate than that of fertile spouses.75
Salzman and Lawler go on to argue that although, after Vatican II, this
biologically procreative model of marriage ceded some ground to an

See (e.g.) ST IIa IIae q. 33 art. 2c; De Malo q. 7 art. 1 ad. 8. For further references, see Finnis,
Moral Absolutes in Aristotle and Aquinas (1990), in his Collected Essays, I.12, p. 189 n. 9
and Finnis, Moral Absolutes, pp. 9091.
The phrase is taken from NNLT sources. See (e.g.) Robert George, What Sex Can Be:
Alienation, Illusion or One-Flesh Union, chapter 9 in George, In Defense of Natural Law;
Patrick Lee and Robert George, Quaestio Disputata What MaleFemale
Complementarity Makes Possible: Marriage as a Two-in-One-Flesh Union, Theological
Studies 69 (2008): 641662.
Salzman and Lawler, The Sexual Person, p. 165.
Gareth Moore, a dissenting Dominican friar, argues along similar lines. The NNLT notion of
two-in-one-flesh-communion is, he contends, little more than a metaphor (see his Natural
Sex: Germain Grisez, Sex, and Natural Law, chapter 10 in Biggar and Black, The Revival of
Natural Law, p. 225). Indeed, it is effectively a pretext for ruling out certain forms of sexual
relationship as non-marital, and thus (on Catholic premises) as illegitimate. As Moore
writes, Any sexual act, even though not suited to procreation, may be an act of reciprocal
self-giving, an act undertaken willingly and lovingly, and [NNLT] is not entitled to infer
otherwise (p. 230). Cf. Salzman and Lawler, The Sexual Person, p. 166.
Dissent on core beliefs in natural law 73

interpersonal procreative one,76 thus rendering the good of spousal

friendship-love77 at least on a par with that of reproduction, this develop-
ment did not go far enough. Appealing to empirical human nature,78 and a
supposedly concomitant empirical natural law,79 they claim that deep
friendship-love is all that matters in grounding the institution of marriage.
And given that those of predominantly same-sex orientation are equally
capable of such love, not only are homosexual acts . . . when they lead to
just and loving human flourishing . . . thoroughly moral,80 they can constitute
a vital (albeit inessential) component within a married relationship. In this
way, Salzman and Lawler posit an avowedly great good viz. complemen-
tary, just, and loving relationship81 to legitimate same-sex marriage.
Those arguing for traditional, heterosexual marriage on natural law grounds
will, clearly, have to reject this reasoning as proportionalist, that is, as papering
over a serious disvalue in the name of a greater good. But their task is made
difficult by the fact that, whereas the first wave of dissenters simply assumed that
homosexual relationships are (at worst) sinful, (at best) suboptimal,82 and in any
case never marriages, the second wave of dissenters makes no such assumptions.
What arguments, then, can these dissenters be offered to show that same-sex
marriage embodies a positive and significant disvalue? New natural lawyers, who
are at the forefront of this debate, begin by contending that, even if it could be
shown that a predominantly homosexual orientation is essential to certain
peoples nature, it would not follow ipso facto that they should act on that
nature, let alone publicly affirm it through marriage. For peoples nature can
be harmful, both to themselves and to others, and, in such cases, should be
curtailed rather than encouraged.83
This logical point seems weak, however, since many now believe that same-
sex orientation and practice are not harmful. What are needed are reasons to
disqualify same-sex couples from marrying, whatever their alleged nature.
Here NNLT recurs to the central notion of two-in-one-flesh-communion.
As Patrick Lee and Robert George argue, only in heterosexual intercourse is
sex oriented to reproduction (though not every act of coitus actually results in

Salzman and Lawler, The Sexual Person, pp. 182183.
Salzman and Lawler, The Sexual Person, p. 172.
Salzman and Lawler, The Sexual Person, p. 167. A nature, they claim is concrete, socially
constructed (p. 186), thereby echoing not only Rahner, but also the emphasis on historical
conditioning found among first wave dissenters. NB. The unitive meaning [of marriage] is
natural only as socially interpreted in Western culture (p. 188).
Salzman and Lawler, The Sexual Person, p. 168.
Salzman and Lawler, The Sexual Person, p. 168.
Salzman and Lawler, The Sexual Person, p. 191.
See (e.g.) Curran, Transition and Tradition, pp. 7374; Curran, Utilitarianism and
Contemporary Moral Theology: Situating the Debates, in Curran and McCormick,
Readings in Moral Theology No. 1, p. 360.
See (e.g.) Finnis, Marriage: A Basic and Exigent Good (2008), in his Collected Essays,
III.20, pp. 332333 (note).
74 Tom Angier

reproduction); it follows, they claim, that only such intercourse achieves organic
unity between individuals, in the sense that through it they become a biological
unit, or single organism.84 And lest this sound offensively physicalist, they
stress that such organic unity acts as the biological foundation and matrix for
the substantial goods of marriage, which include not only the bearing, but also
the rearing of children.85 It is the latter that, properly understood, provides the
rationale for couples exclusive, life-long (i.e. marital) commitment. For as
Finnis contends, apart from its dynamism towards, appropriateness for, and
fulfillment in, the generation, nurture, and education of children . . . the institu-
tion of marriage . . . make[s] little or no sense.86
While this telescopes a complex argument, developed jointly by several new
natural lawyers,87 its immediate vulnerabilities are plain. There is still the worry
that NNLT has failed adequately to justify its claim that sterile spouses can
engage in reproductive-type acts, at least in any rich or truly unitive sense.
True, Sherif Girgis et al. (among others) are willing to declare that permanently
infertile spouses see their infertility as a tragic limitation, a loss, a regrettable
lack,88 and this has the virtue of making their position self-consistent (since
sterile or more broadly, childless marriages have, in effect, been relegated to
a secondary or defective status). But this still leaves the deeper worry that
making the capacity to bear and rear children so central to marriage simply
begs the question against alternative conjugal models. Robert George admits
that the intrinsic and all-determining value of reproductive-type acts cannot,
strictly speaking, be demonstrated, and that those who deny it adopt a logi-
cally flawless, yet (on his account) false position.89 The suspicion remains,
however, that natural law dissenters are proposing not a false, so much as a
different conception of marriage, one that has so far not clearly been refuted.90

Patrick Lee and Robert P. George, Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 648.
Lee and George, Body-Self Dualism.
See Sex and Marriage: Some Myths and Reasons (1997), in Finnis, Collected Essays, III.22,
p. 385. Cf. Finnis, Collected Essays, III.20, p. 330; Sherif Girgis, Robert Anderson, and Ryan
T. George, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (New York: Encounter Books,
2012), pp. 33, 36.
See, in addition, Girgis et al. What is Marriage?; Lee and George, Body-Self Dualism,
pp. 176185; Finnis, Collected Essays, III.20.
Girgis et al., What is Marriage?, pp. 24, 31). Cf. Lee and George, Body-Self Dualism, p. 180;
Finnis, Collected Essays, III.22, p. 381.
George, Marriage and the Liberal Imagination, chapter 8 in his In Defense of Natural Law,
pp. 143145.
This is so all the more, I take it, if same-sex couples wish to adopt and/or raise children of
their own, since this suggests (at least implicit) agreement with the NNLT view that
child-rearing is central to the good of marriage. It is at this juncture that the debate shifts
to whether same-sex couples make suitable parents, a question bedeviled by disagreement
over the (so far rather limited) empirical evidence. See (e.g.) Lee and George, Quaestio
Disputata, pp. 658662; Finnis, Collected Essays, III.22, pp. 356357 n. 15; Girgis et al., What
is Marriage?, pp. 5862.
Dissent on core beliefs in natural law 75

All in all, then, despite what appears a somewhat inconclusive outcome to the
latest round of the debate between natural law dissenters and their traditional
or NNLT adversaries, at least it seems clear it has been conducted, at the
philosophical level, and like the first wave debate on contraception, with a
good deal of intellectual sophistication and attention to detail (detail I have
not had space to elaborate). And in this respect, it could, arguably, serve as a
model for intellectual debate within other moral traditions.
It is less clear that, at an institutional level, those responsible for handling
natural law dissent have done so, in every case, with the requisite charity or
desirable level of judicious restraint. Nevertheless, when it is considered how
such disputes were handled, on occasion, in the medieval period a period
in which the Church took itself, unlike now, to have more or less direct charge
of the spiritual well-being of the world things have improved significantly.
Moreover, when the treatment of natural law dissenters by Church authorities
is compared to that now often meted out by business corporations to rebel-
lious employees, those authorities may, I suggest, even have something to be
proud of.
Chapter 5

The management of intramural dissent in Judaism

Alan Mittleman

Judaism (and its equivalents in French, German, etc.) is the name given,
since early modern times, to the traditional way of life of the Jewish people. If
left to themselves, the Jews would have preferred to continue to refer to their
complex tradition by such terms as Torah, emunah, or dat.1 These Hebrew
terms get at the various dimensions of the irreducible amalgam of peoplehood,
faith, and law that constitutes Judaism. Although I will henceforth drop the
scare quotes, it is worth retaining them long enough to call attention to what
they imply namely that Judaism is not simply a religion. As Wilfred Cantwell
Smith has argued, the very notion that there is such a thing as religion, in the
sense of a genus of which Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism inter alia are
species, is an artifact of the Enlightenment. For a host of reasons, the partisans
of Enlightenment sought to create a cross-cultural category, religion, which
they could set against philosophy and science, often to the detriment of
the former. A robust and self-sufficient secular domain required a compact
and identifiable, rather than extended and diffuse, religious one. Given that
strategy of constituting (and diminishing) religion, both the abstract cate-
gory and the supposed concrete instances of it generated by the conceptual
move strongly resembled Christianity insofar as creedal elements came first,
ritual ones came next, and legal elements were scanted or criticized as

The first instance of designating the life of Torah by a term such as Judaism goes back to
ancient Alexandria, where Jews had to make their way of life intelligible to non-Jews. The
Greek term iudaismos came into use as a contrast with hellenismos. Although the impetus
in this case seems to have come from the Jews themselves, the need only arose due to
their participation in a foreign culture. Biblical and rabbinic Hebrew lacks a term equivalent
to Judaism. For the sociological factors underwriting the use of such terms, see
Alan Mittleman, Judaism: Covenant, Pluralism, and Piety, in Bryan S. Turner (ed.), New
Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2010).

The management of intramural dissent in Judaism 77

retrograde.2 This construction put the life of Torah onto a Procrustean bed. To
squeeze the historically ramified, categorically untidy phenomena of Jewish
tradition into the framework of religion did (and does) violence to the phe-
nomena at hand.3
The upshot of this for our purposes is that religions are supposed to be
characterized by distinctive beliefs. Judaism, however, has been reticent to
formulate beliefs. Its most robust intellectual enterprise has been the devel-
opment of law, drawn from its scripture (the Torah or Pentateuch) and greatly
elaborated upon by its ancient sages (the Rabbis) in several vast collections,
most notably the Babylonian Talmud. To be sure, the Jews have narratives,
parables, aphorisms, and other non-legal teachings, but no attempt was made
to formulate these into necessary beliefs and then quite controversially
until the twelfth century, when the attempt to specify a set of core beliefs was
initiated by Maimonides (d. 1204). These necessary beliefs were absorbed, to
an extent, by rabbinic culture but also challenged by later, philosophically
inclined successors. By the eighteenth century even so devoted a modernizer
as Moses Mendelssohn (17291786) denied that Judaism required any beliefs
other than those of enlightened reason.4
The Jews have traditionally thought of themselves as a holy people, joined
by covenant with one another and with God. By accepting Gods teaching
(Torah) at Sinai, Israel became a nation. The terms of the covenant what
the Jewish people consented to do when they accepted God as their

For the basic statement of the argument, see Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of
Religion (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991). For a parallel argument, see Timothy Fitzgerald,
The Ideology of Religious Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).
Leora Batnitzky, How Judaism Became a Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
2011). Judaism became a religion as Jewish proponents of legal emancipation and social
equality sought to convince the resistant Christian majority of the German-speaking lands, in
particular, that Judaism was simply a matter of belief, ritual, and liturgy, not of peoplehood
and ethnic-political loyalty. Their motive was to render Jewish life compatible with the
outlook and prerogatives of the emerging modern nation state. This required dismantling
the medieval semi-autonomous Jewish community and replacing it by the functional Jewish
equivalent of a church. See also, Alan Mittleman, The Scepter Shall Not Depart from Judah
(Lanham: Lexington Books, 2000), chapter i.
For the history of controversy over the question of belief, see Menachem Kellner, Dogma in
Medieval Jewish Thought: From Maimonides to Abravanel (Portland: Littman Library, 2004)
and Must a Jew Believe Anything? (Portland: Littman Library, 1999). In brief, classical
Judaism gave scope to a broad range of beliefs through its refusal to specify what Jews
ought to believe. It contented itself with what Jews ought not to believe, as in the judgment
of the Mishna that these are they who have no share in the world to come: he that says that
there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law, and he that says that the Law is not
from Heaven, and an Epicurean (M. Sanhedrin 10:1). For the absorption of and resistance
to Maimonides thirteen beliefs into European rabbinic culture, see Ephraim Kanarfogel,
Varieties of Belief in Medieval Ashkenaz: The Case of Anthropomorphism, in
Daniel Frank and Matt Goldish (eds.), Rabbinic Culture and Its Critics: Jewish Authority,
Dissent, and Heresy in Medieval and Early Modern Times (Detroit: Wayne State University
Press, 2008).
78 Alan Mittleman

sovereign are articulated in terms of commandments (mitzvot), which have

legal force. Although the mitzvot are separable from a political expression
of nationhood, the latter seems to be their ideal framework. Some ancient
teachers, such as Philo, and medieval ones, such as Maimonides, understood
the Torah as a constitution. Thus, Jewish faith has the quality of love, loyalty,
and obligation to a (divine) sovereign (ahavat Hashem), expressed through
fidelity to the constitution (ahavat Torah), as well as concern for the continued
flourishing of the Jewish people (ahavat Israel). Their ancient status as a
political nation living under a sacred law that governed all aspects of life
continued to exert a normative force. There is an irreducible political dimen-
sion to Judaism, which the concept of religion fails to capture. (Spinoza,
16321677, captured it well, only to pronounce Judaism dead, given the
death of its bygone polity.) The long centuries of exile did not dim Jewish
hopes for return to the land, restoration of sovereignty under an anointed king
(the messiah), and the full renewal of the laws of the Torah. The long legacy
of anti-Jewish hatred in both the Christian and Muslim lands heightened the
Jews sense of solidarity and their need for resistance. Political sentiments,
such as the shared memory of a sacred national past and the hope for a
collective, future restoration kept the Jews alive as a people. These sentiments
have had a higher salience in Jewish life than any putative core beliefs. Insofar
as core beliefs play a role in any given Jewish culture, they usually function
as markers of loyalty or, in dissent from them, disloyalty as signs of belonging
or estrangement rather than as stand-alone theologoumena. The social and
political embeddedness, salience, and function of belief are, of course, not
peculiar to Judaism. But the weight the political dimension bears might be.
The stress on behavioral conformity within a legal framework (halakha)
has made a high level of pluralism as to belief possible. Lawrence Schiffman
has argued that the split between Jews and Jewish Christians in the first
century began to occur when the latter became lax about halakha and
Jewish Jews felt that they could no longer marry Jewish Christians. Beliefs
about the status of Jesus, in his view, were not deal-breakers; they could
be accommodated, given shared allegiance to broad patterns of legal obser-
vance.5 Others argue that when Jewish Christians left Jerusalem before the
Roman destruction and ceased to identify with the fate of the city and
their fellow Jews, estrangement set in. A case could be made that forming a
counter-community rather than dissent over core beliefs per se constitutes
heresy or apostasy in the Jewish experience.
Given the conditions of exile, Jews lost the central institutions of their
ancient polity which, first in biblical and then, in transfigured form, in post-
biblical times, brought a measure of coherence to their national life. The
loss of institutions, particularly those capable of coercion through capital

Lawrence H. Schiffman, Who was a Jew? Rabbinic and Halakhic Perspectives on the Jewish
Christian Schism (Jersey City, NJ: Ktav, 1985).
The management of intramural dissent in Judaism 79

punishment, as in antiquity, or through excommunication and civil penalties,

as in the Middle Ages, makes modernity fundamentally different from its
predecessor epochs. In the modern period, at least in the West, belonging to
a Jewish community is entirely voluntary. No modern Jewish community has
a formal mechanism for enforcing conformity in behavior or in putative core
beliefs. Only informal mechanisms such as social pressure or shunning or,
for intensely religious fundamentalist communities, self-segregation from
the environing culture can underwrite thick, shared norms. Voluntary adher-
ence to beliefs and practices rather than sanctioning mechanisms in the
case of deviance is the more crucial force. Where Jews have returned to
a full, sovereign national life in the State of Israel there is no question
of enforcing conformity over core beliefs. As a contemporary Western
democracy, Israel sponsors freedom of belief. That state takes no interest
in citizens Jewish beliefs although it does involve itself in defining Jewish
status and identity with respect to practical halakha (e.g. marriage, divorce,
registry as a Jew). An additional differentiating factor is that modern Jews
have taken democratic pluralism per se to be a compelling value and have
interpolated it into their Judaism. Thus, both the inability of rabbinic and lay
authorities to excommunicate dissenting Jews and the valorization of dissent
as an expression of democratic pluralism distinguish the modern Jewish

Key tenets
Judaism has no creed. Unlike Christianity, which fought significant early
battles over metaphysical doctrines and theologoumena, Judaism focuses
on indicia of loyalty to God and to the Jewish community. An early declara-
tion of such loyalty, which has something of a creedal aspect, is found in
Deuteronomy, Chapter 26. The text envisions a future in which the Israelites
are settled in the land of Israel and, being farmers, are commanded to bring a
basket of first fruits to the place that God will choose and to present the fruit
to the priest. The Israelite individual shall say: I acknowledge this day before
the LORD your God that I have entered the land that the LORD swore our
fathers to assign us. The priest will take the fruit and place it before the altar.
The Israelite will then recite a declaration.
My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers
and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. The
Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us.
We cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our plea and
saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. The LORD freed us from Egypt by a
mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents.
He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O LORD, have given me
(Deut. 26:510)
80 Alan Mittleman

The text is less a statement of beliefs than a ritual script for embedding
the individual within the collective narrative of oppression and deliverance,
memory and gratitude. Its force is to identify the individual with the ancestors;
to make the powerful experience of redemption a present reality, at least
notionally. The ritual awakens a sentiment of belonging and, most signifi-
cantly, of fidelity and love toward God, who effected the redemption. This text
lives on in the Passover liturgy, the Haggadah, which Jews recite at their
ceremonial meal, the Seder, on the first two nights of the eight-day holiday.
In that setting, the original imaginative and emotional aims of the first fruits
ritual are replicated. Although one could extract key tenets or core beliefs
from this text or, indeed, from the ongoing Passover rite, there would be a
certain artifice in doing so. What remains salient for Jews is the willingness to
participate in a ritual that reconfigures idiosyncratic personal identity into an
ideal, shared transpersonal one. Belonging is more primary than believing.
In a slightly less sociological register, Martin Buber distinguished between
two types of faith: Jewish faith (emunah), in which the existential attitude of
trust in God and solidarity with others is most salient, and Christian faith
(pistis), in which the acceptance of salvific beliefs is primary.6 Even for this
modern religious thinker, the role of belief in Jewish faith was minimal and
highly qualified.
Nonetheless, as Max Weber reminds us, belief (Weltanschauung) and
behavior within a context of social belonging (ethos) are typically related.
There must be beliefs that define and distinguish groups, giving semantic
contours to their identities. One would think as Maimonides did that the
belief in one God should constitute a solid, non-negotiable key tenet.7
Maimonides takes the first phrase of the Decalogue, I am the LORD your
God (Exodus 20:2) to constitute the first commandment belief in one God.
His astute medieval critic, asdai Crescas, however, found it self-defeating
and illogical to command belief. One cannot, on his view, be commanded to
believe; belief does not, logically, work that way. One can, through learning,
discovery, reasoning, or intuition come to a belief; but belief as such cannot be
willed. And commandments are matters of the will. We respond to command-
ments through an act of will. Belief, when we come to have it, forces itself upon
us. We cannot will ourselves, for example, to resist the conclusion that 2+2=4.
Crescas thought that one must come to belief in God on ones own. It is
a presupposition of the system of commandments, not an item to be

Martin Buber, Two Types of Faith, Norman P. Goldhawk (trans.) (Syracuse: Syracuse
University Press, 2003).
For Maimonides statement of true and necessary beliefs such that without affirming them
one is not fully and properly Jewish, see his commentary to Mishnah Sanhedrin, Chapter 10,
(elek) in Isadore Twersky (ed.), A Maimonides Reader (West Orange: Behrman House,
1972), p. 417. For an acute interpretation of Maimonides construction of heresy, see James
A. Diamond, Converts, Heretics and Lepers: Maimonides and the Outsider (Notre Dame:
University of Notre Dame Press, 2007).
The management of intramural dissent in Judaism 81

numbered among them. Undoubtedly, Crescas would be horrified, as would

Maimonides, by a Jew who believed in two gods. That would clearly be here-
tical. But Crescas refrains from commanding beliefs, at least beliefs as funda-
mental as this one.
Among modern Jewish religious groups, most give at least lip service to
key tenets. Orthodox Jews should believe in the divine provenance of the
Torah and of its constitutive halakha, as well as in the exclusive authority of its
rabbinic decisors to determine the law. Conservative Jews should believe in
the necessity of halakhic observance for meaningful Jewish life, as well as in
the authority and competence of their rabbis to adjust halakha to contempor-
ary circumstances. The difference between Orthodoxy and Conservatism, at
least at the level of principle, is the willingness of the latter to allow critical
changes based on admittedly non-halakhic considerations such as increased
gender equality or social acceptance of homosexuality, which have come to
assume normative force in the environing culture. Reform Jews need not
believe in the tradition-oriented tenets of Orthodoxy or Conservatism, but
they should believe in the moral core of Torah; they should believe that a truly
Jewish life requires making the world a better place (tikkun olam). Reform
Jews are willing to take a critical scalpel to inherited Judaism far beyond what
Conservative Judaism allows. They believe that one can pare off the entirety
of Jewish law, affirm its ethical core, and practice Jewish ethics without
the existential or phenomenological context of a halakha-shaped traditional
life. The Reform movements selective embrace of traditional elements from
the Jewish past does not change the underlying paradigm in which the
Enlightenment value of autonomy still reigns supreme over traditional values
such as legal piety and deference to the authority of the rabbis.
The history of the American synagogue the main site in which Jews
publicly express their identification with Judaism is one of ever increasing
abandonment of attempts to secure conformity in behavior, let alone in
belief.8 The colonial synagogue, serving the several thousand Jews who lived
in America on the eve of the Revolution, began as a transplant from England.
The English synagogue was able to excommunicate deviant or dissenting
members, although not with the robust (albeit derived) authority of Jewish
communities on the Continent. In eighteenth-century America, however, no
governmental authority stood behind the decisions of the synagogue. Despite
synagogue constitutional documents that allowed these institutions to fine
members for infractions of behavior, in practice dissident Jews could merely
walk away, perhaps founding new institutions or simply dropping out of

For sources see, Daniel Elazar, Jonathan Sarna, and Rela Monson, A Double Bond: The
Constitutional Documents of American Jewry (Lanham, MD: University Press of America,
1992). For interpretation, see Alan Mittleman, Judaism and Democracy in America, in
Dana Evan Kaplan (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to American Judaism (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2005).
82 Alan Mittleman

Jewish life altogether. After the Revolution, synagogues increasingly adopted

the language of the federal and state constitutions in which freedom of con-
science or belief was a cherished value. By the twentieth century, synagogues
were only able to expel members for non-payment of dues. They contracted
from putative holy communities that aspired, in the ancient covenantal way,
to inspire or enforce sacred patterns of behavior, into fee for service organiza-
tions. The introduction of American democratic norms into Jewish life wea-
kened older conceptions of covenantal obligation. Given the social and
political realities of Jewish life in North America, however, the older concep-
tions never had a chance.
It is hard to say what beliefs, if any, function as key tenets today. But
perhaps this situation is not simply a reflex of modern democratic pluralism.
Joseph Davis has shown that consensus over drawing the line between
necessary and heretical beliefs has always been rather fluid. He traces several
phases of shifting frameworks. In the mid-thirteenth century, European Jewish
leaders at least those who banned Maimonides philosophical writings
insisted on the literal acceptance of Talmudic stories (aggadot), as against
Maimonides philosophical allegorizing interpretation, as necessary to belief.
Heresy was comprised of non-literal, or at least non-nave interpretation. Yet
by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Maimonides philosophically inflected
dogmas became regulative; heresy was constituted by dissent from them. By
the seventeenth century, the Jewish mystical movement known as Kabbalah
became the mainstream and dissent from its propositions, such as the transmi-
gration of the soul (gilgul), was heretical. Moses Mendelssohns eighteenth-
century judgment that Judaism had no dogmas and that all of Judaism, at the
level of belief, was fundamentally compatible with reason, became, paradoxi-
cally, a kind of modernist Jewish dogma.9 This shifting field of key tenets
reinforces the view that the social salience and consequences of beliefs rather
than their inherent cognitive character are decisive. Compliance with broad
behavioral norms excuses deviations in belief if such can be ascertained. This
is not to deny that spectacular deviations in belief have proven difficult for
Judaism to manage over the centuries, as in the case of Karaites in the Middle
Ages or Sabbateans and Frankists in early modernity. It is to say that these are
rare and, where possible, resolved by reference to shared behavioral norms.10

Joseph Davis, Drawing the Line: Views of Jewish Heresy and Belief Among Medieval and
Early Modern Ashkenazic Jews, in Frank and Goldish (eds.), Rabbinic Culture and Its
Critics, pp. 161194.
Consider, for example, the claim of some Chabad Hasidim that the late Rebbe, Menachem
Mendel Schneerson, is the messiah. Although critics such as Rabbi Professor David Berger
accused the Chabad messianists of a heresy tantamount to that of early Jewish Christianity,
the broader Jewish community continued to accept the impeccable status of Chabad mes-
sianists as Orthodox Jews based on their observant behavior. See David Berger, The Rebbe,
The Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference (Portland: Littman Library of Jewish
Civilization, 2008).
The management of intramural dissent in Judaism 83

A core belief of classical Judaism, although one considerably weakened by
Jewish emancipation in modernity, is the authority of the rabbis. The ancient
group known as rabbis or sages (akhamim) likely grew out of the Second
Temple era sect called the Pharisees, perhaps in coalescence with the group
known as scribes. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 ce, with
the elimination of competing groups such as Sadducees, Qumran sectarians,
and Zealots, the sages became the dominant force in the shaping of Judaism.
Their collective teaching, known as Oral Torah, expounds the Pentateuch and
other biblical texts (written Torah), which they themselves canonized. The
Pentateuch projects an institution of future authority, which the sages in their
exposition claim for themselves. Thus, Deuteronomy, Chapter 17 describes a
situation where a legal case is too difficult to decide. The Israelites of that
indeterminate future time should go to the place that God will choose (i.e.
Jerusalem) and defer to the priests, Levites, or the judge (shofet), who will
then be in charge. When the judge announces the verdict, the Israelites shall
act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down
to you; you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either
to the right or to the left (Deut. 17:11). The rabbis see in the somewhat vague
allusion to the judge, a foothold for their own authority. Their tradition of
Oral Torah gives them the competence to make legal judgments. The Talmud,
the main collection of Oral Torah, adds that even if the future judges (i.e. the
rabbis) tell you that right is left and left is right, you should believe them;
how much more so when they tell you that right is right and left is left (Sifre
Deut. 154). Their authority, although not dictatorial, should be compelling.
Indeed, the Heavenly Court agrees with the decrees of the human, rabbinic
court (Makkot 23b). God, as it were, waits to learn what the rabbis decide
(Rosh Hashanah 8b). For the rabbis to set aside their own authority and defer
to popular custom, even when they think it is wrong, signifies the priority of
such values as communal unity and compromise over valid rabbinic interpre-
tation of the law.
Precisely this happened in the clash between rabbinic scholars and
entrenched Jewish custom in the case of Kol Nidre. Kol Nidre (all vows) is
an immensely popular ritual that occurs immediately prior to the onset of the
Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The late antique Aramaic text provided
a formula whereby Jews could undo personal vows that they had made over
the previous year that they failed to fulfill, thus wiping the slate clean as they
entered the penitential holiday of Yom Kippur. The rabbis, however, found
this custom legally groundless and railed against it.11 Nonetheless, they could
not eliminate it; fervent piety caused Jews to cling to it and to believe in its

Ismar Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History, Raymond P. Scheindlin (trans.)
(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1993), p. 128.
84 Alan Mittleman

efficacy. By the twelfth century, rabbinic authorities changed the text so that it
referred to future vows (from this Yom Kippur to the next) rather than past
ones, thus depleting the text of its (pseudo) legal character and rendering it
purely symbolic. Rabbinic authority was not therefore entirely suspended and
a principled compromise, at least among Ashkenazi (Western and Central
European) Jews prevailed. In the modern period, the ritual was frequently
attacked by non-Jews who thought it to be proof that the word or oath of a Jew
cannot be trusted. Modernizing rabbis also tried to eliminate the ritual. In
the end, however, Kol Nidre remains a lasting monument to the durability of
folk custom even when rabbinic elites disapprove. Custom can be determina-
tive of law.
A major challenge to rabbinic Judaism arose in the ninth century in the
Karaite (from mikra, scripture) movement. The Karaites rejected the Oral
Law and thus the authority of the rabbis and the cogency of their interpreta-
tion of Judaism. Nourished by trends in Islam, they presented their movement
as a return to (as we would say) authentic, biblical Judaism. The birth of this
movement was partially motivated by beliefs but it also seems to have arisen
through political intrigue as well; Rabbanite (non-Karaite Jewish) sources
trace Karaisms origins to a cynical manipulation of the masses by a failed
candidate for leadership of the Babylonian Jewish community. The response
of rabbinic leaders to Karaism often reflects the desire to contain doctrinal
differences and help return Karaite Jews, after the founding generation, to
the rabbanite fold. Maimonides considers them as children taken captive by
pagans, that is, as forced converts who should not be held responsible for their
views. Maimonides endorses civility and solicitude toward them on the basis
of shared monotheistic faith, despite their rejection of the Oral Law an
extraordinary concession, given his general stringency in favor of complete
adherence to dogmatic belief.12 Karaites are to be considered Jews, although
marriage with them is problematic on legal grounds. This norm was intention-
ally suspended during the Holocaust when Eastern European rabbis led the
Nazis to believe that Karaites were not Jews, in order to spare their lives.

Classical Judaism has an attractive indulgence of pluralism. An oft cited
Talmudic text virtually celebrates the principled hermeneutic disagreements
between the ancient schools of sages known as the House of Hillel and the
House of Shammai. Both these [words] and those [words] are the words of
the living God (Eruvin 13b). But pluralism, of course, has limits. The open-
ended arguments of the academy could lead to chaos in communal life

For an array of sources on rabbinic treatment of Karaites, including those of Maimonides,
see Michael Walzer, Menachem Lorberbaum, and Noam J. Zohar (eds.), The Jewish
Political Tradition, Vol. ii (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), chapter 15.
The management of intramural dissent in Judaism 85

where some minimum of settled law must apply. Thus, the Talmud asserts that
although both Hillel and Shammai speak the words of the living God, the
halakha is in accordance with Hillel. On the level of academic interpretation,
the dispute continues; on the level of practical adjudication, Hillels views
must prevail. As its reason, the Talmud adduces the moral character of the
sages of the House of Hillel. They were humble, patient, pleasant people who
listened to their opponents and took the views of the latter seriously.
Although modern Jews find ancient rabbinic pluralism appealing, not all
pre-modern Jews would agree. Maimonides, for one, found disagreement to
be a sign of political and conceptual disorder. In his comprehensive code, the
Mishneh Torah, he wrote of the relative unanimity of opinion that prevailed
when the Great Sanhedrin existed.
So far as traditional laws are concerned, there never was any controversy. If there
was any, we may be sure that the tradition does not date back to Moses our Teacher.
As for rules derived by means of hermeneutical principles, if they received the
sanction of all the members of the Great Sanhedrin, they were binding. If there
was a difference of opinion among them, the Great Sanhedrin followed the majority
and decided the law in accordance with their opinion . . . So long as the Great
Sanhedrin was in existence, there were no controversies in Israel . . . After the
Great Sanhedrin ceased to exist, disputes multiplied in Israel: one declaring
unclean, giving a reason for his ruling; another declaring clean, giving a reason
for his ruling; one forbidding, the other permitting (Laws of Rebels, Chapter i:34)13
The Sanhedrin stood atop a many-tiered court system. Reliable procedures of
judgment, appeal, and judicial review existed. Maimonides retrojects a kind of
legal utopia, where the law, both written and oral that was revealed to Moses
and passed on to prophets, disciples, and rabbinic sages, was fully understood
and implemented. It was only the dispersion of Israel and the destruction
of its authoritative legal institutions that occasioned the proliferation of
hermeneutic perspectives. Cognitive and legal pluralism is not a virtue on
Maimonides view. They issue from historical powerlessness and lead to the
loss of wisdom.14 His own code, unparalleled in its comprehensiveness, sought
to summarize and replace all the primary sources of the Oral Law, bringing
Twersky, A Maimonides Reader, p. 208. Maimonides also, following the ancient rabbinic
commentary on Pirke Avot, Avot de Rabbi Natan, sees the rise of the ancient Sadducees (and
of their contemporary descendants, the Karaites) in doctrinal disagreement. See his com-
mentary on Pirke Avot, Chapter 1:3, in Twersky, A Maimonides Reader, p. 389. The original
source is Avot de Rabbi Natan, Chapter 5.
It is an open question whether the Jews would have been as indulgent of pluralism as they,
for the most part, were had they been in possession of a state for more of their historic
existence. Would the needs of sustaining a sovereign political community have constrained
the range of permissible beliefs? On the one hand, as a small, diasporic community often at
odds with its host environment, the Jews were constantly confronted with the need to survive
as a collective. Perhaps the experience of statehood would not have made a dramatic
difference in this respect. On the other hand, the existence of a state might have encouraged
the politicization of beliefs, with the rancor and heightened divisiveness that follow. A
86 Alan Mittleman

ultimate clarity and consensus to halakha. Needless to say, Maimonides code

did none of these things; it served as a platform for further commentary and
disagreement. It is typically printed with the glosses of a strongly dissenting
contemporary, Rabbi Abraham ben David. Whether for reasons of principle
or through acceptance of circumstances, a functional pluralism usually pre-
vails over the aspiration to unanimity.
Rigorous insistence on conformity of belief, which mainstream Judaism
has tended to shun, leads to sectarianism. Perhaps mindful of the division of
the Jewish people into sects prior to the Roman destruction of the Temple,
Jews remember that the cost of deep divisiveness is high.

Given the rather open-ended approach of Judaism to core beliefs, where are
the boundaries drawn? What beliefs, if any, are thought to be so threatening
to Jewish survival that those who hold them are marginalized? The last of the
medieval and the first of the modern Jews, Spinoza, was excommunicated
by the Jewish community of Amsterdam in 1656 for his evil opinions and
abominable heresies. Although we do not know precisely what these opi-
nions were, Spinozas eventual writings give us a clue as to the direction he was
likely taking as a young man. He probably rejected the immortality of the soul,
the divine origin of the Torah, the obligatory nature of the commandments,
and the chosen status of the Jewish people. The leaders of the Amsterdam
Portuguese community, themselves recently emerged from the long ordeal of
forced conversion and clandestine Judaism, were keen to rein in heterodoxy.
Spinoza may have fallen afoul of the authorities not merely for his views per se
but for his principled refusal to publicly recant them, while privately main-
taining them, as appears to have been the case with his predecessor, Uriel da
Costa (c. 15851640), and his contemporary Juan de Prado (b. 1614).15 His
views would not only have horrified Jews but also Christians. The ban against
him was not only about his beliefs; it was about demonstrating to the regents
of Amsterdam that the Jews could control their own dissident members and
not cause trouble for the wider polity.
More than two centuries later, the German Jewish philosopher Hermann
Cohen (18421918), an opponent of old-fashioned Orthodoxy, nonetheless
repeatedly affirmed the wisdom of the excommunication on the grounds that
Spinoza advocated pantheism. Cohen thought pantheism a bridge too far for
any authentic Judaism, however open-minded. Thus Cohen, a spiritual des-
cendant of Mendelssohn who eschewed any coercive dimension to Judaism,

glimpse of this may be found in the division of ancient Judaism into sects (Sadducees,
Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots), a phenomenon surely exacerbated by politics.
For a full, nuanced discussion, see Steven Nadler, Spinoza: A Life (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1999), chapter 6.
The management of intramural dissent in Judaism 87

nonetheless would keep excommunication, at least in an intellectual sense,

Jewish history is replete with excommunications or their conceptual
equivalents. Within three decades of Maimonides death, his chief philoso-
phical work, The Guide of the Perplexed, and the philosophical basis of his
law code, the Book of Knowledge, were banned by some of the rabbinic
leaders of northern France and eventually burned. With the rise of the
Hasidic movement in the eighteenth century, traditional authorities excom-
municated Hasidic leaders and followers and were excommunicated by
the latter in turn. In both of these cases, fear of the religious and social
consequences of the views embodied in the new literature was an important
factor. Maimonides Aristotelian views seemed to sponsor a cultural
stance that, in the eyes of traditionalists, led to laxity, skepticism, and disloy-
alty. Maimonides views on resurrection, the soul, creation, and authority
among other topics were volatile. Although there were no fixed orthodox
positions on such matters, proposing views clearly based on neo-Platonic
Aristotelianism, as Maimonides did, was threatening. In the case of Hasidism,
the early critique was based on the social separatism, liturgical innovation, and
the alleged extreme behaviors of the Hasidim. By the nineteenth century, a
more conceptual line of attack developed wherein Hasidism was charged with
neglecting the Torah for its own sake by using it as a vehicle for personal
mystical experience.17
A contemporary example of a bridge too far is so-called Jewish
Christianity. In the United States, evangelical Christians of Jewish ethnic
background claim status as messianic Jews. The Jewish community is unan-
imous in rejecting the legitimacy of such syncretism and refusing to see
messianic Judaism as a denomination, or movement of modern Judaism.
One scholar, an ethnographer of messianic Judaism, questions the intellectual
integrity of American Jews who will unblinkingly accept the legitimacy of
Jewish secularism, even in its most militant expressions, but dogmatically
reject Jewish Christianity.18 This argument has no traction. Jewish Christian
syncretism is deemed (correctly) by most Jews to be unacceptable at this point
in Jewish history. What was a live option in the first century of the Common
Era is a dead-end today, given the intervening history. No amount of
American experimentalism in religion can alter that verdict.
In all of these cases, argument over the permissible range of belief is not the
sole or perhaps the most important driver of criticism and exclusion; it is a

Martin Kavka, Zachary Braiterman, and David Novak (eds.), The Cambridge History of
Jewish Philosophy, Volume 2: The Modern Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2012), pp. 377378.
For the critique of Hayyim of Volozhin, see Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter
Publishing, 1972), Vol. vii, p. 1,417.
Carol Harris-Shapiro, Messianic Judaism: A Rabbis Journey Through Religious Change in
America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), chapter 7.
88 Alan Mittleman

factor, however. The very attempt to raise the category of belief to promi-
nence, to highlight the decisive role of belief in defining belonging, awakens
opposition. This is seen clearly in the case of contemporary Jewish public
criticism of Israel. Although this is not a case of religious dissent per se, the
conversation about Israel in the Jewish community is more critical and divisive
than are strictly religious matters. The Jewish community (reluctantly) accepts
the legitimacy, in the name of democratic principles, of criticism of the Israeli
government but prefers that any such criticisms be made in private, that
they be conditioned on an unequivocal acceptance of Israels right to exist,
that they be made out of love and concern for Israel, and that American Jews
restrain themselves insofar as they are not Israelis and bear none of the
existential costs. The further expectation is that American Jews should be
proud Zionists and that they should be deferential to whatever Israeli govern-
ment is in power. Thus, norms of democratic debate and dissent are in tension
with Jewish survival and solidarity concerns. Some groups and figures typically
on the political Left recurrently relax the tension and claim that robust fidelity
to democratic norms should outweigh tribal considerations. They argue
that what Israel and the Jews most need is greater fidelity to secular canons
of moral normativity, such as the framework of human rights. One current
standard bearer for this view is the journalist Peter Beinart; the current
institutional embodiment is a group called J Street, which aspires to be a
counterweight to the mainstream lobby, the American-Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC).19
Persons and groups such as these can get a hearing, although they are highly
controversial for many in the organized Jewish community (which, it should
be pointed out, is comprised of somewhat less than half of the total American
Jewish community). They are probably on their way to becoming fully main-
stream. Jewish tribunes and groups that advocate harsh and disloyal criti-
cism of Israel are excluded. Figures such as Noam Chomsky or Judith Butler
and groups that align with the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions)
movement are effectively shunned by the Jewish community.20 When they,
often with Palestinian and far Left allies, organize events on university cam-
puses, Jews find themselves torn between the democratic and the Jewish-
solidarity axes of their axiology. Jewish communal spokespersons struggle to
articulate why such speakers violate the academic ethic and should not be
given public forums. They liken the positions of these ideologues to those of
unambiguous hate groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan. Insofar as some on the
radical anti-Zionist Left use their own Jewishness as a cover for the legitimacy

For a statement of Beinarts position, which captures much of contemporary Jewish dis-
sensus surrounding Israel, see Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism (New York: Times
Books, 2012).
For a (partisan) study of such groups, see Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor, The Jewish
Divide Over Israel: Accusers and Defenders (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2008).
The management of intramural dissent in Judaism 89

of their views, the organized community must symbolically disown them by

pronouncing them beyond the pale.21
Within Israel itself, freedom of belief is protected, as mentioned, as a basic
right by the state. The State of Israel is an outgrowth of Zionism, a movement
for Jewish political liberation and cultural renewal originating in the nine-
teenth century. Although Zionism developed out of the millennial religious
longing of the Jewish people to return to the Land of Israel, it transformed that
pious messianic hope into a program of political action. It was, therefore, a
modernist and revolutionary movement, which many traditionalists in Europe
opposed. As such, the founding values of the Israeli democracy are Western
ones rather than categorically Jewish ones. Halakha is not the law of the land;
an amalgam of British, Ottoman, and developing indigenous law is. Most
Israeli citizens are secularists, either by default or on principle. They are
alienated from and sometimes hostile to the large, ultra-traditional religious
community that lives in its own enclaves in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, and other
cities. The accommodations made by the Zionist leaders with that community
at the founding of the state cede control over certain aspects of personal law
and of public decorum in sacred places to representatives of the traditional
community, which is itself riven by divisions into ultra-Orthodox anti-
Zionists, ultra-Orthodox Zionists, modern Orthodox Zionists, traditional
Jews from the eastern communities, inter alia. Many Israelis resent the effects
of this accommodation, such as the shutdown of public transportation and
the closure of shops on the Sabbath, the control of traditional rabbis over
marriage and conversion, the functional exemption of young ultra-Orthodox
men from the draft (although as of 2013 this is under review), etc. One would
imagine that the secular majority would be sympathetic to the complaints
of Jewish religious minorities for more rights, funding, or equal status in the
eyes of the state. But this is not necessarily the case. When the Israeli versions
of Reform and Conservative Judaism or the Women of the Wall feminists
from across the denominational spectrum dissent from the Orthodox,
state-sanctioned status quo, the population has a range of reactions. Some
secular Jews equate Judaism with Orthodoxy full stop and see the dissenters
protest as pointless; they reject not only Judaism but also efforts to reform
or adapt it. Some see the more liberal movements as unwelcome imports
from the Diaspora, irrelevant to Israeli life. Others, including some judges
and civil officials, see their dissent as legitimate expansions of basic rights
under a secular (evolving) constitution. Non-Orthodox Jews abroad typically
see liberal-religious Israelis, as well as the Women of the Wall, as waging
a cause akin to the American Civil Rights Movement; they endorse it

See for example the Anti-Defamation Leagues inclusion of the Jewish Voice for Peace on
its list of anti-Israel hate groups: www.adl.org/press-center/c/anti-israel-groups-polluting-
90 Alan Mittleman

Inculcation and reproduction

The Torah itself is concerned with the education of children in its precepts.
Deuteronomy, Chapter 6, in a section that has something of a creedal char-
acter for subsequent Judaism, commands: Take to heart these instructions
with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children (Deut.
6:67). The Talmud infers a commandment (mitzvah) to educate ones chil-
dren in the Torah (Berakhot 13b). This includes both the written and the oral
tradition (Kiddushin 30a). If one is not able to teach ones child oneself, one
must find a teacher through whose agency one can fulfill ones responsibility.
Eventually, the rabbis established a communal responsibility for the educa-
tion of children. The Talmud relates that Joshua ben Gamla (first century ce)
established a comprehensive network of schools in the Land of Israel (Baba
Batra 21a). Maimonides would excommunicate a city that failed to provide
education as a public good (Laws of Torah Study, Chapter 2). The sages liken
the teaching of Torah to the next generation to the acceptance of the Torah
at Mount Sinai. The world is sustained only by the breath of schoolchildren
(Shabbat 119b), on which float the words of Torah.
The highest ideal of classical Judaism is that of the sage; the person
involved in life-long learning for its own sake. The duty to educate ones
(male) children is directed toward enabling them to participate in this honored
way of life. To some extent, this inculcation is coercive; study should start at
an early age and shape the young Jews cognitive and moral horizon without
his consent. The Talmud envisions age six or seven (Baba Batra 21a), or,
alternatively, nine or ten as the time when education in the commandments
begins (Berakhot 15b). Although Maimonides would make their early learn-
ing sweet, by giving the children honey and treats, he would also discipline
them with a light leather strap. The content of such basic Torah study would
not be beliefs as such, but the Hebrew language and its grammar, the stories
of the Bible, and most importantly the practical commandments that define
the daily life of the Jew, as well as those pertaining to Sabbath and festivals.
An early tradition has the book of Leviticus as the basic curriculum of young
children insofar as the book is concerned with purity regulations and young
children are eo ipso pure.
From the point of view of a contemporary liberal theorist, a comprehen-
sive, sacred system of Jewish education might foreclose discovery, experimen-
tation, and the growth of robust individuality. Such an upbringing, someone
like George Kateb might argue, would sin against human dignity.22 From a
classical point of view, the goal of inculcation and reproduction is not to
produce an army of rabbinic clones but to equip persons for the richest life
imaginable, given the metaphysical and moral assumptions inherent in classi-
cal Judaism. The highest goal, as the eleventh-century philosopher Baya ibn

George Kateb, Human Dignity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), pp. 1112.
The management of intramural dissent in Judaism 91

Paquda taught, is for the Jew to achieve, through disciplined inquiry, a rational
grounding of the entire Jewish way of life. Everything that has been inherited
and inculcated, must be made perspicuous; it must be demonstrated.23 In a
more modern idiom, autonomy is higher than heteronomy. The law must be
made ones own.
This medieval philosophical valorization of something akin to autonomy
grows out of rabbinic literature. A famous Talmudic story (aggadah) has
God holding Mount Sinai over the heads of the Jews (like a cask) and telling
them that if they dont accept His Torah, He will drop the mountain and the
place shall become their grave. The text then remarks that this story consti-
tutes a worrisome objection to the morality of the Torah. If Israel was forced
to accept it, but would subsequently be punished for the violation of its laws,
where is the justice? It raises an apparently justified complaint against
the Torah in the eyes of the nations. The solution is to be found generations
after Sinai. A verse in the Book of Esther has the Jews of that time saying
we establish and we accept (Esther 9:27). What did the Jews establish and
accept? They established as law for themselves what they had accepted long
before at Mount Sinai. In this rather fanciful way, the moral principle of
consent is interpolated into the story. Israel consented to enter into the
covenantal relationship with God and so can be held accountable for cove-
nantal violations. Individual Jews are both members of this covenantal
people and so their standing as responsible agents within the covenant is
not of their own choosing and persons capable of autonomy. They are not, in
the end, normatively free to reject the tradition of their birth. They are,
however, free to accept it in a fully consensual way through study, under-
standing, and love rather than as an accident or burden of history. This is an
instance in which an older notion of corporate, transgenerational belonging
rests uneasily with a modern concept of voluntary association and self-elected
identity. But it is not purely a case of the ancients versus the moderns; clearly,
the ancients had worries about blind group-think as well.

There is, of course, no central agency among the Jews charged with identifying
or interpreting core beliefs. Different Jewish groups have their own autho-
rities, although authority may be too strong a term to use in reference to the
most liberal groups. Nonetheless, even a group as supportive of freedom of
conscience, inclusiveness, and experimentation as the Reconstructionists
was forced to grapple with limits when a rabbinical student at its seminary
challenged existing norms. The student reintroduced ancient Israelite divine
names, such as Asherah, into blessing formulas. Her intention was not to

Baya ben Joseph ibn Pakuda, The Book of Direction to the Duties of the Heart,
Menahem Mansoor (trans.) (Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2004), p. 183.
92 Alan Mittleman

replace the worship of one God with that of pagan divinities, but to claim that
scanted feminine aspects of the divine, expressed in names like Asherah, could
be reincorporated into monotheism.24 She urged an effort to dig up womens
spiritual practices from the past and see what resonates.25 The president
of the school tried to restrict the student to more mainstream expressions of
devotion; when she refused, a trial of sorts was held before the faculty. The
internal deliberations of the faculty are not known, but the end result was that
the student was allowed to remain at the institution and graduate. The pre-
sident sent a letter to all students with guidelines for what forms of worship
were permissible and what must be avoided. Although other factors may have
been in play, the incident seems a straightforward example of how conflicts
over belief (cum-practice) can arise even when tolerance and pluralism are
deeply held norms.
In the Orthodox world, where matters of belief are more sharply drawn, it
is easier to run afoul of rabbinic authorities. An outstanding example dates to
the late 1950s and early 1960s in Britain where one of the leading Orthodox
scholars of the day, a then rising star named Rabbi Louis Jacobs, published a
book in which he accepted the Documentary Hypothesis, albeit arguing that
its acceptance need not damage Jewish faith or the authority of halakha.26 The
Jacobs Affair roiled Anglo-Jewry and led eventually to Jacobs exit from the
Orthodox community. Although local political considerations were involved,
the attempt to marginalize Jacobs was motivated by ideological considera-
tions; the then Chief Rabbi and his supporters were afraid that Jacobs would
legitimize heresy and tilt modern Anglo-Orthodoxy toward American-style
Conservative Judaism. In this case, something resembling a central agency,
the Chief Rabbinate and the London rabbinical court (Beth Din), were
involved. The issue was not entirely Jacobs beliefs but rather his fitness, as
someone who held deviant beliefs, to serve in key public roles sponsored by
the organization over which the Chief Rabbi presided, the United Synagogue.
Had Jacobs been content to remain an academic he might not have run into
A recent controversy in the so-called ultra-Orthodox (haredi) world
involved the Zoo Rabbi, Nosson Slifkin. Rabbi Slifkin is a haredi author
who is fascinated by zoology and wrote several books trying to harmonize
contemporary natural science with classical Jewish teaching. The most neur-
algic point went beyond zoology and evolution Slifkin disputed the belief
that the universe is less than 6,000 years old, as traditional Jewish chronology

Correspondence with the student in question, February 2013.
Cited in Jack Wertheimer, A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America (Hanover:
Brandeis University Press, 1997), p. 168.
For Jacobs own retrospective on the affair, see Louis Jacobs, Beyond Reasonable Doubt
(Portland: Littman Library, 2004).
The management of intramural dissent in Judaism 93

stipulates. A group of twenty-three ultra-Orthodox sages condemned Slifkins

works and called him a heretic, leading to his publisher dropping his work as
well as a loss of income. Nonetheless, the ultra-Orthodox world is a diverse
place and many thought that the ban against Slifkin was wrong and unfair;
that precisely his pious efforts to harmonize science and Torah were neces-
sary. For some, the rabbis who condemned him diminished their authority by
the very act of asserting it.27
Authority in Judaism, at least in the contemporary world, rests on the
willingness of relevant Jewish populations to accept it. While not constituted
democratically, authority is accepted by something akin to democratic con-
sent. Given that there is always a right to leave, no one can be constrained to
live by a leaders authority if he or she chooses not to do so. Of course, there
are strong social pressures, particularly in insular haredi communities, to
remain and high exit costs for those who leave. Authority is accepted on
the basis of expertise extraordinary achievement in the field of Torah
learning for non-Hasidic haredim. In Hasidic communities, authority tends
to be traditional passed on in a line of succession augmented by charismatic
and scholarly (expertise) elements. In the non-Orthodox world, authority
is strictly institutional. To the extent that Conservative, Reform, or
Reconstructionist Jews pay attention to the directives of their institutional
officers at all, their views would be seen as advisory rather than binding. In
theory, for Orthodox and Conservative Jews the views of ones local rabbi (the
halakhic authority or mara datra of ones community) should be authoritative
for ones personal practice, as well as for communal norms. How seriously
one takes this depends on the individual. While tradition-minded Jews will
seek their rabbis decision on matters of halakhic observance, it is probably
rare for Jews to defer to their rabbis on matters of belief. Among Reform
Jews, conscience alone is valorized. Reform theology elevates autonomy to a
signal religious value. Reconstructionism frames the rabbi as a teacher, not a
decisor of Jewish law. On the basis of his or her provision of relevant sources
and context, a Reconstructionist congregation decides democratically what
its policy shall be. The past, as the founder of Reconstructionism, Mordecai
M. Kaplan (18811983), said, has a vote but not a veto.

Management options
The Mishnah presents the case of the rebellious elder (zaken mamre); the
case explores the nature and limits of permissible dissent on (something very
much like) core beliefs. The biblical term elder is understood by the sages to
mean, in Maimonides words, one of the wise men of Israel who is at home in

For a report in the mainstream press, see www.nytimes.com/2005/03/22/science/22rabbi.
html?pagewanted=1. For Rabbi Slifkins own website, see http://zootorah.com/
94 Alan Mittleman

traditional lore, functions as a judge, [and] imparts instruction in the Torah.28

Only an elders opinions put him at risk of punishment, not those of an
ordinary Jew, even a student of the sages. These are opinions, however, of a
publicly salient kind; they are legal rulings, not mere views. His rebellion
consists not of teaching a view at variance with other sages but of prescribing
a course of action based on that variant view. The Mishnah, amplified by the
gemara (the two together make up the Talmud), envisions a situation in which
the elder disagrees with other elders in his town. They go to the towns court to
resolve their dispute. If the court does not have a tradition that can be brought
to bear on the dispute, they go to the court in the next town. Failing a decisive
reply, they go to the court outside the entrance to the Temple Mount in
Jerusalem. Should that court fail to produce a tradition, they proceed to the
court at the entrance to the Temple courtyard. Should that court fail, they go
to the Sanhedrin, meeting in the Hall of Hewn Stones within the Temple
enclosure. The high court votes on the matter and follows the majority
(Sanhedrin 88b). The elder thereupon returns to his town. He may continue
to teach his now authoritatively discredited view but he cannot act on his
ruling or rule that others so act. If permissible academic teaching shifts into
legal decision-making, he becomes liable to capital punishment.
His teaching a matter of sincerely held belief is permissible even after it
has been judged false by the Sanhedrin. Teaching per se is not rebellion.
Ruling on the basis of that teaching is rebellion. There is latitude in terms of
belief but deviant rulings must be precluded, lest controversies (makhloket)
abound in Israel (Sanhedrin 88b). The tolerance, even affirmation of differ-
ent opinions at the discursive level, is of a piece with rabbinic interpretive
pluralism. The public consequences for legal practice are a weightier matter,
however. The Torah has seventy faces, the rabbis say. Any good student of
the sages should be able to come up with dozens of reasons for why something
is impure and an equal number of reasons for why it is pure. But these flights
of hermeneutic fancy must be disciplined when public order is at stake. The
rabbis mean to prevent the Torah from becoming two Torot.
An analogue to this norm is found in late twentieth-century debates about
Jewish status. Traditionally, status was determined by matrilineal descent.
Although the Bible presents figures who are Jewish because of their fathers
(e.g. Solomon), the Mishnah rules that it is the mothers Jewishness that is
determinative (insofar as it is easier to determine who the mother is than the
father in problematic cases). In 1983, the rabbinic body of the Reform move-
ment decided, in a contentious vote, to accept patrilineal descent as a criterion
of Jewish status, along with matrilineal descent. This decision led to much
criticism and condemnation from more traditional quarters, even among those

Mishneh Torah, Laws of Rebels, 3:4, cited in Michael Walzer, Menachem Lorberbaum, and
Noam J. Zohar (eds.), The Jewish Political Tradition, Vol. i (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2000), p. 328.
The management of intramural dissent in Judaism 95

traditionalists generally supportive of pluralism.29 When Reform beliefs

and practices affected only self-identified adherents, they could be ignored,
although certainly not approved of, by more traditional Jews. When these
beliefs veered into practices that had a potential impact on the whole Jewish
population, opposition became vocal. The Reform policy made good sense
internally. With a large and growing number of intermarried families in the
movement, accepting children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers as
Jews increased the ranks. However, it also labeled a whole class of people as
Jews whom the majority of the Jewish world, especially in Israel, would not
accept as Jews. This would complicate, if not weaken, the unity of the Jewish
people. The ability of Jews to marry one another, without a thorough
and emotionally upsetting background check was imperiled. Nor would
these persons be accepted as Jews under Israels Law of Return, thus further
heightening tensions over religious matters between Israel and the American
Jewish community. Critics faulted the Reform movement for its disregard
not of ancient legal precedent that is constitutive of Reform but for its
disregard of klal Israel, the Jewish people in its contemporary length and
breadth. Thirty years on, this issue is no longer hotly controversial but only
because traditional Jews have largely self-segregated from Reform Jews.30

Internal criticism
The various institutional expressions of Jewish religiosity hardly contend with
one another anymore over their respective versions of core beliefs. They do
not seek to convince each other of the truth of their views or of the authenticity
of their practices. The non-Orthodox group most concerned to maintain
halakha, the Conservative movement, edged away from looking over its
shoulder at Orthodoxy with the ordination of female rabbis in 1983. Their
2007 decision in favor of the ordination of openly gay and lesbian rabbis,
as well as their affirmation of religious ceremonies for same-sex couples,
complete the steady alienation from Orthodox expressions of traditionalism.
The dialogue between Conservatism and Orthodoxy is over. At most, the
denominations compete with one another in the religious free market
(where there is one, as in the United States) for adherents. But the competi-
tion is not intense. The liberal movements are in demographic decline and
worried about their survival. Orthodoxy by contrast is highly self-confident
and feels that it owns the Jewish future. Its criticism of the other movements
is existential: you are dying and we are flourishing; your centuries-long
The liberal Orthodox rabbi, Irving Yitz Greenberg, called the decision a first class
disaster (Steven Bayme, Jewish Arguments and Counter-arguments [Hoboken: Ktav
Publishing House, 2002], p. 353).
Jack Wertheimer, All Quiet on the Religious Front? Jewish Unity, Denominationalism, and
Post-Denominationalism in the United States (New York: The American Jewish Committee,
2005), p. 21.
96 Alan Mittleman

experiment in dissent from robustly traditional norms is a failure. The ground

for this widely diffused view is not a philosophical or theological judgment
about the truth or falsity of belief. It is a sociological observation. We
(Orthodoxy) are what works: we have lower rates of assimilation and inter-
marriage; our Jews are more educated (in Jewish matters), connected, and
committed; we are more involved in Israel in terms of visiting, studying,
speaking Hebrew, becoming citizens, etc. Orthodoxy in the late twentieth
and twenty-first centuries is an astonishing tale of success, so much so that
non-Orthodox Jews are urged to emulate its strategies even if they dont fully
embrace its halakhic commitments.31 Orthodoxys stubborn dissent from
modern Jewrys epochal dissent constitutes an enduring and salient internal

Moses Mendelssohns 1783 book-length essay on religion and state,
Jerusalem, is a founding document of Jewish modernity. In it Mendelssohn
argued for a Lockean approach: the state should be neutral with regard to
the religious affiliations and beliefs of its citizens. Those are simply not the
business of the state. Correlatively, religious groups should have no share
in civil authority or power. Religion is about other-worldly salvation; the
state is about this-worldly justice, order, and felicity. Mendelssohn argued
that Judaism, like other religions, must have no share in political life. It should
only teach, preach, and persuade; it must never be able to discipline, punish, or
excommunicate. Its ability to do so in ancient times was a peculiarity of its
theocratic constitution. Gods law and the law of the state were one and the
same. But that condition no longer obtains; Judaism must simply appeal to the
heart and mind through rational suasion and winsome teaching. Mendelssohn
initiated a pervasive domestication of Judaism to Enlightenment norms. Jews
continue to affirm this evolutionary adaptation. To the extent that Judaism
seems to permit, even encourage, questioning, doubt, autonomy, pluralism,
and so on, modern Jews see Judaism as having much to offer the world.
Nineteenth-century figures such as Isaac Mayer Wise and Hermann Cohen
thought that (Reform) Judaism would become the ideal-typical religion of the
United States (Wise) and of Germany (Cohen). Judaism best represented an
enlightened, moral religion of reason.
Mendelssohn had to see such systems of dealing with intramural dissent
as excommunication as historical aberrations. They were not, however.
Although modern Jews do not celebrate, or even remember, the coercive
powers of pre-modern Jewish communities, they are more than historical
artifacts. Unpleasant as they were, coercive powers, exercised on dissenting

This is the approach of Charles Liebman and Bernard Susser, the authors of Choosing
Survival: Strategies for a Jewish Future (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).
The management of intramural dissent in Judaism 97

individuals and groups represented an attempt to construe Jewish community

as something other than a modern voluntary association. A thickly developed,
historically enduring community has laws and sometimes laws have to have
teeth. Mendelssohns gambit to restrict the civil power of religious commu-
nities was daring in its day although it appears as no more than commonsense
now. No friend of democracy would want to revise it too much. But as always
in human affairs, there is no gain without some loss. No one should miss
excommunications, corporal punishments, fines, denunciations, and bans as
ways to police the boundaries of membership. But the loss of the ideal of a
holy community is to be missed. At the least that ideal should serve as a
touchstone for an open-ended conversation about consensus, dissensus, and
Jewish belonging.
Chapter 6

Christianity and the management

of intramural dissent

Peter Steinfels

Christianity is the largest of world religions, with an estimated 2.18 billion
adherents, almost one out of every three human beings. Half of these are
Roman Catholics. Another 600800 million are Protestant Christians tracing
their roots to the churches that broke with Catholicism in the sixteenth-
century Reformation. The Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches that
charted distinctive paths in the first millennium can claim 250300 million
adherents. Churches of the Anglican Communion, with their own mix of
Protestant and Catholic traits, embrace 85 million. Within and beyond these
Christian families one can find an estimated 41,000 distinct Christian
denominations. Among them are millions upon millions of Pentecostal
Christians, in the view of many observers the fastest-growing religious group
in the world.1
Christianity is based on the relatively simple premise that human beings
exist in a state of alienation from both each other and God, and that this
alienation has been healed through the life and saving deeds of a single
person, Jesus of Nazareth . . . [who] is both fully human and fully divine.2
This simplicity notwithstanding, that Christians have nonetheless managed
to disagree fiercely among themselves on matters both large and small is
notorious, and viewed in terms of the history of ideas, Christianity looks like
one long argument. Its first decades were marked by a sharp conflict among its
leaders about its relationship to new Gentile adherents on the one hand, and

The best entry point for understanding such estimates is Global Christianity A Report
on the Size and Distribution of the Worlds Christian Population, www.pewforum.org/
2011/12/19/global-christianity-traditions/ (accessed October 10, 2013); but see also List of
Christian Denominations by Number of Members, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Christianity, in Jonathan Z. Smith (gen. ed.), Lawrence C. Cunningham (ed. for Christianity),
The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), p. 250.

Christianity and intramural dissent 99

to the Jewish matrix from which it emerged on the other. Christianitys first
surviving documents, the letters of Paul to newborn Christian communities,
report all sorts of internal tensions, doctrinal and behavioral. Pauls
responses reveal a tension that will never disappear. At one moment, he
insists that the truth must never be compromised; at the next, he pleads for
transcending differences through love. Christianity quickly confronted the
challenges of classical Greek and Roman culture, of Stoicism, Gnosticism, and
neo-Platonism, and later of Aristotelianism, Renaissance humanism, the new
science of Galileo and Descartes, Enlightenment rationalism, political liberal-
ism, and revolutionary socialism. There is hardly a strand of philosophy or social
theory that hasnt posed questions and proposed answers for Christianity while
creating disagreements along the way.
Christianity is also the default religion of Western modernity. In important
respects, Western modernity was born out of a reaction, by both believers and
nonbelievers, against intramural Christian conflict. Christianitys handling of
those internal conflicts has been subject, by Christians and non-Christians
alike, to scrutiny and critique perhaps more searching than that undergone
by any other tradition of belief. Consciousness of Christianitys past ways of
managing intramural dissent is now internalized in the tradition itself and
shapes its contemporary approaches to that task.
Christianitys propensity for internal differences has already been noted.
What may look like small differences often proved as intractable as
disagreement over obviously core issues. Heated disputes arose in early
centuries, for example, about how to calculate the date of Easter. A major
schism in Russian Orthodox Christianity occurred in large measure over
the question of whether to make the Sign of the Cross on ones forehead,
chest, and shoulders with three fingers held together (representing the
Trinity) or two fingers (representing Christs two natures, human and
divine). Lasting splits have arisen over the proper way to baptize sprinkle,
pour, dunk, immerse to say nothing of when as infants or adults or by
whom and with what words. Henry VIII, erstwhile defender of Catholic
sacramental theology against Lutheranism, separated the Church of
England from Rome over his desire for a divorce and a male heir. It was
far from the first conflict within Christianity over the proper conditions for
valid marriage. Of course, lurking in the background of even the most
seemingly marginal question is always the core one, namely who has the
authority to decide, and on what grounds?
Among other issues dividing Christians have been the proper place in
Christian life of exceptional ecstatic experiences, including visions and
glossolalia, or of icons and other images of the sacred. Christians have debated
justifications for warfare, the prerogatives of secular powers in religious
matters, the relationship between scripture and science, the number of sacra-
mental rituals and their proper forms, and whether the church should
be integrated into society, stand apart from it, or strive to transform it.
100 Peter Steinfels

Christians have disputed over styles of dress, qualifications for clergy, the role
of women, relations with non-Christian faiths, and whether to use leavened or
unleavened bread for the Eucharist. And that is only a beginning.
A handful of questions do stand out as core. What scriptural texts are
authoritative and who possesses the authority to interpret them and prescribe
their use? How can one understand the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit
in a single godhead? How can one understand Jesus as both fully human and
fully divine? Can those who separate themselves by public actions from the
body of Christians be readmitted into the community of the faithful or into its
leadership? How radically has human nature been deformed by alienation
from God and godliness? Do human reason and will retain a capacity to know
and respond freely to God or are they so corrupted that ones spiritual destiny
is utterly dependent on Gods initiative alone? What is the nature of the
church and who truly belongs to it? Are changes in church teaching and
practice over time the work of the Holy Spirit, or are they corruptions from
the apostolic age? Are church-authorized mediators and church-sanctioned
rituals critical to the relationship between God and the individual Christian?
In what sense is Christ present in the Eucharist, the common rite in Christian
worship based on Jesus offering of bread and wine as his body and blood at his
last supper with his disciples?
What would be the basis for resolving such questions? Basically, the
testimony of the apostolic generation, those who had known Jesus or known
his immediate followers. That testimony was found in the scriptures that those
earliest disciples held to be revelatory. Those scriptures to begin with were the
Tanakh, the Jewish biblical texts, known to Christians primarily in their Greek
translation, the Septuagint. Then came the writings of the early Christians: the
letters of Paul and others, the narratives of the four evangelists, and the
apocalyptic vision of the author of Revelation. This apostolic testimony was
also embodied in the rituals and practices of the first Christian communities.
And it was authenticated by the communal memory and wisdom that evalu-
ated and verified which surviving scriptures, rituals, and practices should be
judged authoritative.
Responsibility for preserving and authenticating this testimony as recorded
in scripture and enacted in ritual and practice fell to Christian leaders. Jesus
was understood to have chosen twelve apostles (Greek, apostolos: one sent,
messenger) representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Paul of Tarsus claimed
similar status on the basis of the mystical experience on the road to Damascus
that turned him from a persecutor to a preacher of Christianity. Leadership
passed to co-workers, many of whom Paul names in his letters, in the newly
founded but far-flung Christian congregations. From these fluid local arrange-
ments emerged the pattern of a single leader in each Christian community,
a bishop (Greek, episkopos: elder, overseer), who inherited the mantle of
the apostles. Bishops acted both individually and collectively in synods or
councils. Certain bishoprics, whether in major cities or tracing their roots to
Christianity and intramural dissent 101

particular apostles, claimed preeminence, above all the bishop of Rome, site
of the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul.
The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation challenged the longstand-
ing preeminence of bishops as well as of Rome. Most Protestant groups
banished the title altogether; others retained it; but the powers of leadership
in either case were more limited, usually diffused to congregations or
church-wide assemblies. Offices were often held temporarily and no longer
linked to apostolic authority. Anglicans hewed to something close to the
Catholic and Orthodox patterns, but not without contestation from their
Protestant wing.
Until recent times, human societies have featured a congruence between
governing and religious forces, and even to distinguish between the two has
been for most of human existence anachronistic. Christianity came into a world
where the congruence was relatively relaxed and permissive. The Roman
empire viewed Christianity as a suspect variant of a peculiar group, Jews,
whose religious attachments were pronounced and venerable enough to earn
special exemption from imperial ritual practices. Persecution of Christians for
refusing to acknowledge the empires gods could be brutal but it was mainly
local and sporadic. It did occur, however, in several empire-wide outbursts,
under Emperor Decius in 250 and continued under Valerian in 257259, finally
culminating in the Great Persecution under Diocletian in 303305.
But less than a decade afterward, in 313, Constantine legalized and began
to favor Christianity, and within a century Theodosius (r. 379395) was to
make it the official religion of the Roman empire. In 325 Constantine, seeking
imperial unity, summoned the bishops into the Council of Nicaea to resolve
the Churchs conflict over Arianism the view that Christ, although exalted,
was a creature of God rather than an equal part from all eternity of a single yet
mysteriously trinitarian godhead. Division persisted. In 381 Theodosius con-
vened the Council of Constantinople to try again, and soon he was identifying
heretics and heretical sects and threatening them with harsh punishments.
From then until modern times, rulers, whether motivated by personal religious
belief or political and dynastic calculation, have inserted themselves into
Christianitys internal disputes. In the East, subservience of the church to
the Byzantine emperors and later the Russian tsars prevailed; in the West,
although church and state remained in alliance, the tension never disappeared
despite many efforts to delineate distinct spheres of authority. Confronted
with contested areas, popes made claims of superiority in principle while
rulers usually achieved superiority in practice. As the Roman empire
collapsed in the West, bishops and especially the bishop of Rome took on
civic responsibilities and negotiated protection or accommodation with the
leaders of invading peoples. A convergence of religious and political interests
between Rome and the non-Arian Christian Franks culminated in the papal
crowning of Charlemagne in 800. The pope emerged as ruler of a large swath
of Italy; and as the Frankish empire ultimately evolved into the Holy Roman
102 Peter Steinfels

Empire, bishops, even prince-bishops, became part of the emergent feudal

hierarchy. These blurred but never merged roles were a central factor in
Western Christianitys attempts to manage internal conflicts, which until
modern times were played out against the background assumption that
political unity and religious unity went together.
Intramural dissent created three major divisions in Christianity and count-
less minor ones. The first of the major divisions occurred after 451, when the
Council of Chalcedon agreed on a formula defining the complex matter of
Jesus two natures, human and divine. While the Chalcedonian definition
satisfied Latin and Greek Christians of the Roman empire, two groups of
dissenters remained unreconciled. Some non-Chalcedonians continue today
in the Coptic churches of Egypt and Ethiopia and in the Apostolic Orthodox
churches of Georgia and Armenia. Only small remnants survive of the
non-Chalcedonian churches that flourished beyond the imperial eastern
borders. Arab Christians in southeastern Turkey and south around the Holy
Land and Syrian Christians once constituted a remarkable Church of the East
despite persecutions from Persian rulers. Much of this non-Chalcedonian
Christianity was swallowed by expansion of Islam, and its history has shrunk
in Christian consciousness.3
The second division occurred gradually between Greek-speaking
Orthodox Christians of the eastern empire and the Latin-speaking
Catholic Christians in the west. The division was less over core beliefs than
political, cultural, and spiritual distancing, reflected in rivalry between
Constantinople and Rome and culminating in the mutual excommunications
in 1054 of the patriarch of Constantinople and the pope in Rome.
The third division was of course that of the sixteenth-century Reformation in
Europe, separating Catholic Christians from Protestant Reformers. Catholics
united around the pope. Protestants grouped into Lutherans, Calvinists, and a
host of Anabaptist and radical sects, with Anglicanism balancing uneasily in
the middle. The Reformation divided a European Christendom that had
entered an age of competing political units and dynasties, which proceeded to
yoke religious fervor with armed might. Printing was only one of the social
factors that made this division a popular conflict of an entirely different magni-
tude than previous ones. Questions of core beliefs and religious authority
metamorphosed or metastasized into a war of sharply defined religious
identities, truth against error, light against dark, Christ against Antichrist.
The massive post-Reformation resort to violence from Inquisitions to
religious wars, forced migrations, and persecution of all sorts was a nadir in
Christianitys attempts to assure unity and quash dissent. Now intramural
dissent took two forms, between Catholics and Protestants on the one hand,

Robert Louis Wilken, The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), pp. 195237; also Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity:
The First Three Thousand Years (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), pp. 231254.
Christianity and intramural dissent 103

and within the ranks of Catholics and Protestants on the other. The conse-
quent civil and social penalties against religious dissenters lasted until the
late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Despite major setbacks, these
disabilities were very slowly lifted, often by political and church leaders for
purely pragmatic reasons, although these practical accommodations were
accompanied by theological and philosophical rationales that gradually
stiffened tolerance among religious groups into a principle while leaving
open issues of tolerance and conformity within groups.
Jump to Mass on the first Sunday of the penitential season of Lent in the year
2000, when John Paul II, leader of a Christian body known for condemning
unorthodox views, begged pardon for the divisions which have occurred among
Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth and for the
distrustful and hostile attitudes sometimes taken towards the followers of other
religions. Seven high Vatican officials confessed a list of church sins that clearly
referred to religious wars and Inquisitions as well as injustice toward Jews,
women, indigenous cultures, the poor, and others.4
The millennium apology represented something much wider than a Catholic
phenomenon. Ecumenical movements to not only tolerate but overcome
divisions among Christians through prayer, study, and practical cooperation,
particularly among Protestant Christians, dated back to the nineteenth and
early 20th centuries. Intramural argument over core matters remains a serious
issue for Christianity overall and within its major families and its tens of
thousands of smaller bodies. But contemporary views on managing it had come
to depart radically from the practices of the past.

Key tenets
It has often been pointed out that Christians in their classic creeds do not
declare that they believe that, but rather that they believe in, or as Cardinal
Joseph Ratzinger, future Pope Benedict XVI, reminded believers, The
essence of Christianity is not an idea, not a system of thought, not a plan of
action [but rather] a Person, Jesus Christ.5 Faith, for Christians, is thus not

Homily of the Holy Father, Day of Pardon, Sunday, 12 March 2000, Vatican website, www.
pardon_en.html (accessed October 10, 2013). The entire series of prayers asking forgiveness
for sins of the church and responses from the pope can be found at Universal Prayer,
Confession of Sins and Asking for Forgiveness at www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/docu
ments/ns_lit_doc_20000312_prayer-day-pardon_en.html. A news report on the event can be
found at Alessandra Stanley, Pope Asks Forgiveness for Errors of the Church Over 2,000
Years, New York Times (March 13, 2000), www.nytimes.com/2000/03/13/world/pope-asks-
Introduction to Romano Guardini, The Lord (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1996),
p. xiv. Ratzinger has expressed this idea in many places, for example The basic form of
Christian faith is not: I believe something, but I believe you (Faith and the Future
[San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009], pp. 2930; original German publication, 1970).
104 Peter Steinfels

primarily assent to a set of propositions but trust in a person, whom they

experience as alive.
It would be nave, however, to think that the person can be separated
utterly from tenets about the person or a larger framework of beliefs.
Indeed, it may be a commentary on the vast edifice of complicated teachings
that Christianity has erected, in many cases in response to internal disputes,
that Christian spiritual leaders have so often had to remind the faithful that the
object of their faith is a person, not a compendium of doctrines. The first
Christian preaching took the form of a story about that person. It was a story
framed within the story of Israel and its covenant with a God who created the
world and had liberated the Israelites from slavery. In the fullness of time, the
story went, the God of Israel had sent Jesus, who in word and miraculous deed
announced a new reign of healing and reconciliation, but was nonetheless put
to death. God, however, raised him from the dead and thus confirmed him as
Messiah, or in Greek Christos, the Anointed One of Israel, who will come
in glory to judge the living and the dead and to fulfill the promise of a
transformed and everlasting life.
The first Christian professions of faith were simple ones: Jesus is the
Christ. Jesus is the Lord. Jesus is the Son of God. The phrases are now
familiar, but in their original context they carried a freight of disruptive
meanings, religious and political. Jesus is the Lord, for example, put
Christians at odds with both Jewish guardians of strict monotheism and
Roman guardians of the imperial cult. Such professions of faith may have
been associated with baptism, the cleansing water rite that marked a person
as a follower of Jesus and a member of the messianic community he had
Over the next two centuries Christianity moved from these simple affirma-
tions to fuller creeds. Why this evolution? Christians were convinced that in
their experience Jesus Christ was alive and, as he had promised, animating
them and their assemblies through the Spirit of God. From the start they had
used forms of Godly language in connection with Jesus, but they were also
committed, like Jesus himself, to Israels monotheism. So they groped for
ways to understand Jesus and the Spirit within a single godhead. And they did
so in a Hellenistic environment that was a cauldron of competing philosophi-
cal doctrines and esoteric cults. Christian thinkers felt compelled to fend off
notions that would threaten their beliefs while trying to articulate them by
drawing on available abstract concepts.
From the fourth through seventh centuries, church councils devised and
revised complex, subtle formulations of basic beliefs. These councils sought
precise language to protect Christian belief that Jesus was truly God and truly

See Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004),
pp. 7980.
Christianity and intramural dissent 105

human. Particulars of Jesus life were added to professions of faith as bulwarks

against those who would subordinate his humanity to his divinity. (Thus the
name of a run-of-the-mill Roman regional governor, Pontius Pilate, sacked for
an outstanding case of police brutality a few years after condemning Jesus to
death, gets mentioned weekly by hundreds of millions of Christians reciting
their Creed.) At the same time, the Trinitarian creeds that emerged affirmed
the one God of Israels monotheism who as almighty Father created all that
exists, but who as eternally begotten Son also became truly human in Jesus of
Nazareth and redeemed humankind, and who as enlivening Spirit was present
in the prophets, in the church, in its reconciling rites and in its hope for
everlasting life.
Noteworthy are what these early creedal formulations leave out. They
make references to scripture but they do not address the issue of which
books should be considered authoritative. Some creeds refer to baptism and
the forgiveness of sins but not otherwise to worship or sacraments, nothing, for
example, about the Eucharistic rite of bread and wine. The creeds refer to the
church but not to bishops or how the church should be ordered. Theological
discussion as well as dispute on these and many other topics was ongoing.
Often there were provisional judgments by individual bishops, local councils
or synods, even theology faculties at medieval universities. In the Catholic
West, these would sometimes lead to papal decrees or rulings of church-wide
councils, for example, the synthetic statement of medieval Catholic belief
issued by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), while in the Orthodox East,
final authority rested with patriarchs and synods of bishops, eventually of
self-governing national churches.
The Reformation era controversies over justification by faith, scripture,
church authority and sacraments produced a raft of Protestant confessions
and the Catholic decrees of the Council of Trent (15451548, 15511552,
15621563). These statements frequently took the legal or semi-legal form of
numbered propositions or condemnations, like Anglicanisms Thirty-Nine
Articles. Sometimes these confessions tried to outline common ground, as
Philip Melanchthons Augsburg Confession, presented to the imperial Diet
of Augsburg in 1530, did for Protestants. Sometimes the confessions drew a
sharp line in the doctrinal sand: the 1619 Canons of Dort drawn up by a synod
of Dutch Reformed leaders sharply condemned the party that wanted to
soften the more severe Calvinist teachings on predestination and human
Neither the ancient creeds nor the later confessions say much, if anything
at all, about moral norms. That may surprise modern Westerners, especially
in the United States, where a combination of Calvinist emphasis on moral
discipline and Enlightenment stress on the practical rather than the super-
natural has encouraged a tendency to equate religion, at least Christianity,
with ethics or moral rules. The morality of the new kingdom proclaimed by
Jesus in the Gospels is certainly marked by distinct emphases. The most
106 Peter Steinfels

frequently cited is love, love of God and neighbor, a self-less and forgiving
love; for Jesus this is the essence of all the law and the prophets (Matthew
22:40). Jesus also preached paradoxical reversals: the first shall be last, the
last first; only in dying will one find life; the meek and the humble will inherit
the earth; love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Also
Jesus underlined the importance not just of deeds but of inner states of mind
related to them, not just of shunning adultery, for instance, but of adulterous
lust. Finally, Jesus issued a call to discipleship that involved a degree of
imitation of himself.
This did not constitute anything like a moral code, however. If anything, in
the scriptural accounts of his exchanges with the Pharisees, Jesus challenged
the rigor and specificity of codes of behavior. For Paul, trained as a Pharisee,
questions of morality were intermixed with a complicated argument, of special
significance for Gentile converts, about the priority of grace over Israels law.
But Pauls letters are filled with moral exhortations, with lists of virtues and
vices, with eloquent expansions on the meaning of love and discipleship, and
with specific advice on questions of marriage, celibacy, and partaking of foods
offered to idols. Similar moral exhortations, sometimes detailed but not
systematically codified, characterized the preaching and writing of church
fathers in the following centuries. All told, Christian morality appears to
have combined the inherited moral injunctions of Judaism (the Decalogue)
and blended them with Greek and Roman ethical ideals and philosophical
theories like Stoicism as well as with conventional morality always under the
canopy of imitating Christ and, at least for earlier generations, in expectation
of his imminent return.
That lack of system changed after the sixth century with the emerging
practice of private confessions and, in medieval times, with the moral analyses
of scholasticism. Christianity, like Judaism and Islam, developed a thorough-
going casuistry in order to apply general moral norms to specific cases.
Particular moral tenets have loomed large in Christian disputes over usury,
slavery, and divorce, for example, or sexual norms currently and they have
raised difficult problems of managing dissent. But it would be hard to say that
they have constituted key tenets except to the degree that they reflected
background beliefs, such as the place of reason and experience in interpreting
scripture or the tension between laxism and rigorism in setting church
The final topic that must be mentioned under key tenets is that of church
law. Those early councils of bishops that were hammering out creeds were also
dealing with lesser matters of administration and discipline, everything from
the best form for ordaining bishops to sexual offenses by Christians. In
addressing such questions, church leaders began to refer to precedents and
collections of conciliar canons (Greek, kanon: ruling, norm). In the twelfth
century the Italian jurist Gratian organized nearly 4,000 canonical rulings into
a massive, highly systemized work. It was said to reflect the more legal mind of
Christianity and intramural dissent 107

Western Latin Christianity compared to a more mystical Eastern Orthodoxy.

Anglican and Protestant bodies, although more modestly than the Catholic
code of canon law, have developed their own books of church order and
rulings. At least some of their contents, even procedural ones, are inevitably
linked to key tenets, and thus the line between disagreement over core beliefs
and over apparently organizational issues are easily blurred.

In general, Christianity has been insistent in demanding adherence to its
core beliefs, and it has always honored martyrs (Greek, martys: witness)
who died rather than violate those beliefs. It has been equally sensitive to
the danger of heresy. Heresy was a dominant issue in the life of the early
church, and has continued to figure prominently throughout most of its
subsequent history, wrote Maurice Wiles, Regius Professor of Divinity at
Oxford. The struggle between orthodoxy and heresy is a witness both to
the intellectual seriousness of the main Christian tradition and also to its
fatal tendency to demonize its opponents, especially internal opponents;
heretics were generally regarded as worse than outsiders, since they had
some acquaintance with Christian truth and yet set themselves in opposition
to it.6 Christians have sometimes agreed to disagree but rarely about
core beliefs. If a consensus cannot be achieved, Christians have preferred
to part company and maintain their convictions in separate groups.
Some strands of Christianity, among Anglicans most notably and some
non-denominational evangelicals as well, have prided themselves on their
latitudinarian acceptance of a wide range of beliefs contained within a
common pattern of worship. Other strands, such as Roman Catholics,
Calvinists, and Calvinist-influenced evangelicals, have been intent on main-
taining theological orthodoxy. But even the latitudinarians have limits, as
witnessed by the divisions within Anglicanism today over questions of
ordaining women and accepting homosexual conduct.
A distinction should be made, however, between pastoral practice and
formal challenges to core beliefs or key tenets, whether expressed in teaching
and preaching or embodied in liturgy. Over the centuries Christian mission-
aries have welcomed mass conversions in which formal adherence ran far
ahead of truly internalizing core beliefs. A mixture of Christian beliefs with
lingering pre-Christian ones was undoubtedly widespread in medieval Europe
and is probably the case today in many regions. Folk religion and local or
individual doctrinal eccentricities can be tolerated; formal or learned dissent is
quite another matter.

Heresy, in Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, and Hugh Pyper (eds.), The Oxford
Companion to Christian Thought (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000),
p. 294.
108 Peter Steinfels

Christians have always been aware of the price to be paid for demanding
adherence to key tenets or core beliefs. Division in the church has been seen as
a wound to be prevented or healed if possible. Appeals to unity in Christian
scriptures could hardly be more frequent or stronger. Jesus urges his disciples
to be one as he and the Father are one (John 17:21). Christians experience
communion with Christ and one another in the breaking of the bread. The
creeds declare the church to be one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic.
This thrust toward unity is two-edged. For Paul, it meant that there is
neither Greek nor Hebrew, male nor female, slave nor free in the one Lord
(Galatians 3:28). It also meant defending unity against heresy (Greek, hairesis:
choosing, faction). So the main concern of the traditions leaders was to assure
its integrity and fidelity. When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on
earth? (Luke 18:1.) Fidelity to core beliefs and membership in the commu-
nity that lived by them were critical to the salvation of individual souls.
But Christianity was not a religion only of individual salvation and it
shared the communal outlook of Judaism. Followers of Jesus the Christ
constituted a new Israel looking toward a universal, messianic reign of
peace and justice; indeed, their original expectation that this reign would
be imminent gave the first generations faith a particularly high-voltage
character. In fact, they believed that this reign had already begun within
their own ranks, which implied that to the greatest extent possible they
should be of one mind. Pressures for church unity were reinforced by
pressures for political unity. Heresy was ultimately viewed as potential
contagion, threatening the individuals salvation, the unity of the church,
and the unity of the secular reign.
Of course, ego and power have always played a part in leaders insistence
on assuring unity, just as harsh views of dissidents have always caused leaders
to minimize the cost. Moreover, as Christianity developed complex institu-
tions and structures of authority, gains or losses in assuring unity were often
seen as reflecting on these institutions and structures, which had now become
identified with core beliefs.
Finally, to avoid anachronism and a cerebral distortion of the place of
tenets or beliefs in the lived religion of pre-modern or early modern
Christendom, it is essential to understand its communal nature. Every town
and village was a microcosm of the body of Christianity. Civic rituals were not
separate from sacred ones. Daily, weekly, and seasonal time had a religious
dimension. Communal welfare depended on divine wrath or favor, which
might bring on flood, famine, or bountiful harvest. Tolerating heretical devia-
tions was a high-stakes business. In 1781, Thomas Jefferson could write,
It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no
god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. But as Benjamin J. Kaplan
shows in Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in
Christianity and intramural dissent 109

Early Modern Europe, a century earlier such individualism was unthinkable to

most Europeans. Indulging heresy threatened to do more than pick their
pockets and break their legs even as it endangered their souls.7

Christianity has embraced an enormous diversity of ethnicities, races, lan-
guages, cultures, economies, and political regimes. It has embraced strikingly
diverse theologies and spiritualities not only in the array of separate churches
but even within the larger churches. Think of the faiths musical and archi-
tectural expressions, from the austere to the extravagant, in every regional and
cultural idiom. These are not just different aesthetic tastes, they express
different spiritual and ecclesiastical outlooks.
But given the extent of this historical and global diversity, Christianity has
been surprisingly united on its core beliefs about God and Jesus. Various
Christian thinkers and movements that came to deny the divinity of Christ
found themselves outside Christian ranks despite episodes of temporary
growth such as that of Unitarianism in New England, which in 1822 Thomas
Jefferson expected soon to be the religion of the majority from north to
south in the United States.8 On the other hand, Christians have divided
dramatically on questions about interpreting scripture, the locus and opera-
tion of authority in the church, and the sacraments, all the while agreeing that
these are in fact core questions, whatever ones position.
Internal disagreement ordinarily grows heated less on core beliefs directly
examined than on whether differences on less central but often highly prac-
tical issues entail challenging a core belief. The debate over homosexuality in
many Christian groups provides a contemporary example. The question is not
directly whether an authoritative place of scripture in Christian life must be
abandoned put baldly that proposal would not get much traction but
whether scripture can be legitimately read in such a way that a change in
Christian teaching on homosexuality or homosexual acts can be accommo-
dated precisely without such a radical abandonment. Something similar could
be said about the Catholic Churchs affirmation of religious freedom at the
Second Vatican Council or the possibility of changing its official condemna-
tion of contraception or its limitation of the priesthood to males. What do such
developments entail in regard to Catholic understanding of church authority
as exercised through its hierarchical magisterium and the role of the papacy in
particular? The sheer complexity of scripture or tradition provides grounds for

Benjamin J. Kaplan, Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in
Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007),
pp. 7071.
Letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, November 2, 1822. University of Virginia Library, Electronic
Text Center, Jefferson, Thomas, 17431826. Letters.
110 Peter Steinfels

dissenting views to get a hearing and even retain a following, provided, that is,
that they convincingly avoid a frontal assault on core beliefs.

Inculcation and reproduction

Christianitys core beliefs, along with other beliefs, have been inculcated,
first of all, through regular worship, which involves prayers, singing psalms
and hymns, reading and explication of scriptures, inspired preaching, and
sharing of a sacred memorial meal of bread and wine. Easter was the central
liturgical event of the year, a reliving of Christs passage through death to
life, a time of vigil and baptism. Those seeking baptism were instructed.
Penitents who had fallen away were reinstructed. Eventually a calendar of
liturgical seasons developed. Blessings multiplied. Holy men and women,
especially those martyred, were honored. Hermits and monks presented
new, heroic models of devotion. Images and statues, not without controversy
as noted, directed attention heavenward. Architecture translated Christian
beliefs into space and stone, eventually into unforgettable glass. Monasticism
created centers of daily prayer and learning. Religious rites were integrated
into the cycle of rural life and into the organization of crafts and trade.
Pilgrimages sprung up and mystery and morality plays were performed.
Mendicant friars preached revivals. The rewards and punishments in the
next life for fidelity in this one were vividly portrayed. Aristocrats, clerics,
and well-off townsfolk engaged in the private reading of scripture and
devotional books; printing and literacy brought such individual practices to
a broad segment of the population.
Internal disagreement actually stimulated inculcation. With the
Reformation came catechisms expounding Christian beliefs, often with a
polemical Protestant or Catholic emphasis, in question-and-answer format.
Children memorized answers as they did basic prayers and key passages from
scripture. New religious orders such as the Jesuits, the Ursulines, and the
Brothers of the Christian Schools created schools for lay people, some for
elites or gentry, some for the impoverished. Confraternities mounted proces-
sions and pageants. Methodists promoted open-air preaching and chapel
meetings. Sunday schools educated adults and children. Clergy oversaw
many levels of education, from village schools to academies and colleges.
Parents were responsible for conveying the basics of faith and morality to
children, teaching them prayers, and creating a pious household. The means of
inculcation and reproduction were practically endless, but core beliefs, it
should be recognized, were not necessarily distinguished from a host of
pious ideas and practices that were inculcated with them and often held to
be no less important.
What in Christian history was socially imposed and what was freely chosen?
Wherever one religion enjoys a pervasive monopoly, the likelihood of
choosing another is obviously limited. What is true of religiously monochrome
Christianity and intramural dissent 111

nations or cultures is to a lesser degree true of villages and families. Of course,

one should never discount the quiet or ornery skepticism of a villager or the
creativity of people in patching together their own personal religion that
renders the miraculous powers of the Virgin or patron saints more core
than redemption by Jesus or that mixes fervor with anti-clericalism, moral
laxity, or doubts about the afterlife.
But this question of imposition and choice also touches on one of
Christianitys core discussions. Christianity has always placed a high value
on freedom. For freedom Christ has set us free, writes Paul (Galatians 5:1).
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). Jesus
declares himself the truth and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).
Christianity has traditionally understood freedom more as liberation than as
choice, liberation from slavery to sin, to death, or to the discipline of the law
of Sinai. This liberation is, first of all, a gift of God, like the liberation of
Israel from slavery in Egypt. Christians have divided sharply over the role of
free will or personal choice in this liberation: arguing over the meaning of the
Fall or Original Sin, of grace, of free will, and of predestination. For fallen
humans, what matters primarily is the liberation, regardless of their own role
in it. But Gods offer of liberating faith does demand a personal assent,
however much Christians may contest exactly how that comes about, or
whether it is consistent with infant baptism or only adult believers
Despite understanding the freedom involved in becoming a Christian to be
different from that of joining the Rotary or enlisting in the Army, Christianity
has nurtured modernitys conviction that freedom is central to human dignity
and self-constitution. Religious liberty arose from the competition and conflict
of religious groups and from the belief that a coerced decision of conscience
was a contradiction in terms. Many Christians would reject what might be
called indoctrination, distinguishing it (admittedly at different points or in
different ways) from education, formation, catechizing, evangelizing, or what
is here called inculcation. Humans have a moral obligation to pursue the truth
about religious questions. But ultimately nobody is to be forced to embrace
the faith against his will.9
A wholehearted conviction that mature individuals should be free to
decide whether or not to align themselves with any set of core religious
beliefs does not resolve all problems. In this regard, note that in line with
the stance of many other Christian bodies, Roman Catholicisms landmark
Declaration on Religious Liberty affirms not only the religious freedom of
individuals but also the freedom of religious traditions and institutions,

Declaration on Religious Liberty, #10, Vatican Council II, the Conciliar and Post Conciliar
Documents, Study Edition, Austin Flannery, OP (ed.) (Northport, New York: Costello
Publishing Company, 1987), p. 806.
112 Peter Steinfels

freedom to maintain their beliefs and practices, to inculcate members, to

speak and act out their faith publicly, and so on.10

The central role of bishops throughout Christian history as the agents of
decisions about core belief has already been noted. Naturally, episcopal
leadership was never wholly united; in the early centuries, that was the reason
for gathering the bishops in church-wide councils. Episcopal leadership
was also never without challenge. Christians who had survived torture or
imprisonment for their resistance under Roman persecution were known as
confessors; they often enjoyed a moral authority that could rival the institu-
tional authority of bishops, especially bishops whose conduct under pressure
had been less than courageous.11 Episcopal leadership had to compete on
occasion with charismatic holy men and women, with monastic movements,
or with the itinerant preachers of medieval mendicant orders; and bishops
and popes regularly confronted pressures from kings and emperors; but
episcopal leadership remained the central factor in all management of
intramural disagreement until the Reformation of the sixteenth century
when some Protestant Christian groups substituted other forms of authorita-
tive leadership for bishops.
In a very approximate way, one can say that bishops were selected locally
with the clergy having the primary role but possibly reflecting popular opinion
as well. Ambrose of Milan, who was not yet even baptized, was famously
selected by popular acclamation, spontaneous or possibly manipulated.
The idea that local selection should be approved by the wider church was
symbolized in the recommendation of the Council of Nicaea that not just one
bishop but three from nearby regions should participate in the ordination of a
new bishop. In reality, emperors, empresses, kings, and nobles often played a
decisive role in selecting bishops from among the pool of likely clerical
candidates (whom the rulers had often seeded with relatives or favorites).
Beginning around the turn of the first millennium, this became the subject
of one of the longest-running battles between religious and secular powers
in Latin Christian history. A reform movement cultured in monasteries
attempted to retrieve the selection of bishops from royal or noble power.
Warfare between pope and emperor ensued, both spiritual and military, and
the outcome was compromise: secular rulers could still nominate candidates
but final investiture remained with the church, specifically the pope, which
one could see as either crucially or disappointingly symbolic. This struggle
was of course more complicated than the reform narrative of assuring the

Declaration on Religious Liberty, #4, Vatican Council II, the Conciliar and Post Conciliar
Documents, pp. 802803.
Wilken, The First Thousand Years, pp. 6971; MacCulloch, Christianity, pp. 174175.
Christianity and intramural dissent 113

independence of the church would have it. First, many bishops were de jure or
de facto civil leaders, in the choice of whom secular powers had a reasonable
interest. Second, secular leaders were Christians as well as aggrandizing rulers,
and in notable cases were greater forces for reforming the church than bishops
or popes. In any case, securing independence of appointment from secular
powers became a long-term goal of the papacy, not really achieved until the
nineteenth century.
Meanwhile, the selection of popes, the bishop of Rome, had its own
checkered history. At times the choice fell into the hands of Roman mobs or
brawling families of local nobles. Worldly rule over the papal states only
intensified political calculations in the choice of popes. Gradually the institu-
tion of a college of cardinals evolved along with the complex procedures for
electing a pope that now captivate the media and public. And papal claims to
intervene authoritatively at any level of Catholic life were mitigated by
procedures written into church law and even more by distance, communica-
tions, and the resistance of national clergy and rulers.
The French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and turmoil of the nine-
teenth century undermined many of those national structures. Modern com-
munication and transportation did the rest. Though the papacys external
powers had been weakened, it could effectively exercise the kind of universal
jurisdiction over internal church affairs that it had earlier claimed.
Subsequently papal powers have been limited largely by the sheer size of the
church, the modest size of the papal bureaucracy, and since the Second
Vatican Council (19621965) a theological reemphasis on the role of bishops
and of consultation generally in the church.12
In varying ways Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches have also
struggled at times to limit government or other secular influence over the
choice of top leaders. Authority in the Orthodox Christian world rests with
the episcopal synods of the more than a dozen autocephalous national
churches and entities, many of them headed by patriarchs. Among them
the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople holds a primacy of honor
although none of actual jurisdiction. The Patriarch of Moscow with its
claims to be a third Rome has become something of a rival, with
Constantinople and Moscow each enjoying a sphere of influence among
the national hierarchies.
In the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury enjoys a
similar primacy of honor and moral authority without jurisdiction; working
authority rests with the separate episcopacies of the thirty-seven national
churches in the Anglican Communion, which often share power with

For recent accounts, see John W. OMalley, SJ, A History of the Popes: From Peter to the
Present (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010) and What Happened at
Vatican II (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008), chapter II
The Long Nineteenth Century.
114 Peter Steinfels

assemblies of clergy and laity or, at least technically in the British case, even
with Parliament and the Crown. The selection of new bishops rests to a great
extent with local clergy and lay delegates. The Lambeth Conference of
Anglican bishops, which meets regularly to pronounce on issues of church
and world, has no jurisdiction over member churches and wields its moral
authority at the price of avoiding clear decisions.
Authority in Protestant Christianity varies tremendously from denomina-
tion to denomination. Who ordains a minister? Who sets church policy? Who
credentials ministers as pastors? How partial or complete is the power of
individual congregations to choose or dismiss pastors? What church-wide
assemblies operate and how often and who participates and what is the import
of the decisions for church life? How do major leaders emerge as prominent
pastors, as elected officials, as recognized thinkers or scholars, as public
personalities? Some of these questions are also pertinent to leadership in the
more traditionally ordered branches of Christianity, but they are essential to
understanding the workings of authority in Protestantism. A few generaliza-
tions are possible: Protestantism emphasizes the priesthood of the faithful
and deemphasizes the need for intermediaries between the individual believer
and God in interpreting scripture and core beliefs; Protestantism, like all
human institutions, needs leaders nonetheless. The quest for them has
alternatively emphasized election; learning; self-selection through training,
examination, and promotion by established leaders; charismatic personality
and entrepreneurial skills.

Management options
What mechanisms has Christianity employed, first, for determining which views
were perilous to the core of the tradition or the life of the church and, second, for
actually enforcing those determinations? Of course, the first resort for resolving
disputed questions, as well as for raising them, has simply been vigorous argu-
ment, not infrequently marked by odium theologicum straining Christian charity.
When argument did not establish consensus, bishops, whose early emergence
has already been described, became the key decision-makers, as did the succes-
sor leadership, much more diffuse in nature, found in Protestant churches.
As already indicated, serious disputes were submitted in the early church
to synods or councils of bishops. Though synods and councils continued
to function in the West, the bishop of Rome the pope emerged first as
the court of final appeal and eventually claimed a universal competence to
intervene in disputes at any level and then to teach proactively even on
matters not in dispute. Still, councils took on special importance whenever
the papacy fell into disarray. An extended battle over whether councils or the
papacy was the supreme authority ended in a formula stressing their coopera-
tion. That left the papacy with the upper hand administratively, but councils,
held with papal approval, possessed exceptional moral authority.
Christianity and intramural dissent 115

Other mechanisms also had roles. During the Middle Ages, theological
faculties at the University of Paris, Oxford, and elsewhere rendered judgments
on theological controversies, sometimes by invitation from the hierarchy,
often on their own initiative. Civil rulers, especially in the East, always wielded
considerable influence in promoting theological views. Lutheranism could
probably not have survived if Elector Friedrich III of Saxony had not provided
the excommunicated Martin Luther a refuge from imperial edict, and one of
the most consequential theological presentations in Christian history was
Luthers before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the 1521 Diet of
Once councils, creeds, confessions, and catechisms delineated orthodox
and heretical beliefs and practices, these documents became the basis for
preaching or educating the faithful, for shaping all the vehicles of inculcation
mentioned above, but, if challenged, how could these rulings be enforced?
Sometimes dissenters willingly recanted or fell silent out of deference to an
official judgment. Often more forceful measures came into play. Advocates of
controversial positions were deposed from offices they held or banished from
their cities, as was Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, who was ultimately
vindicated and celebrated for his stance in the battle over Arianism. To this
day, Christian churches may demote or depose officials who question impor-
tant teachings or violate ritual or moral norms. The Catholic Church has
frequently ordered well-known theologians to cease publishing or teaching
their opinions. A number of them were vindicated when the Second Vatican
Council endorsed their positions, for example, the American Jesuit John
Courtney Murray who helped draft the Councils Declaration on Religious
Liberty. In many instances, however, dissenters could maintain their views
only under threat of much more serious penalties excommunication, for
example, which under Catholic canon law cut off the dissenter from receiving
the sacraments and exercising any church office. Protestant groups practiced
parallel forms of exclusion, which could be quite consequential even among
the pacifist Anabaptist bodies that rejected any forms of civil coercion.
In fact, as long as rulers believed themselves obliged to assure the ortho-
doxy of their particular strand of Christianity, civil coercion of varying sorts
was more often the rule than the exception. By act of Parliament, the
English were supposed to adhere to the Thirty-Nine Articles. From 1672 to
1824, adherence was a precondition for holding any office in the nation.
Ordination required an oath subscribing to the Articles. Subscribing to the
Articles was necessary to matriculate at Oxford or receive a degree from
either Oxford or Cambridge. Similarly, the Calvinist moderates who lost out
at the Synod of Dort were expelled from their pulpits and in many cases from
the Netherlands. When the political climate changed, they recovered,
although their views remained officially condemned until 1795.
One can specify any number of ways in which dissenting views came under
official pressure. Dissenters could be barred or removed from university or
116 Peter Steinfels

seminary posts or from prominent pulpits. In early centuries, heterodox writ-

ings were simply not copied and thus lost to history either because they fell
under official condemnation or copyists had other priorities. During the first
centuries of printing, church and state often worked hand in hand to censor
works judged heretical or subversive, categories that frequently overlapped.
The Index of Forbidden Books was established by Pope Paul IV in 1557 and
not formally abolished until 1966.
Some of these procedures continue to operate. In 1979, the Vatican
removed Hans Kng, an outspoken critic of Vatican actions, from his chair
of Catholic theology at the University of Tubingen for unacceptable theolo-
gical positions. In 1991, Charles Curran lost his position in the Catholic
University of Americas theology department for writings on moral theology;
he had doubtlessly made himself a target by organizing public dissent to
Pope Paul VIs 1968 encyclical reasserting the churchs condemnation of
contraception. Repeated election victories by conservative candidates for
top offices in the Southern Baptist Convention made possible a gradual
purge from Southern Baptist seminaries of administrators and professors
who did not meet the conservatives standards of biblical inerrancy. The
requirement to submit instructional material for theological approval con-
tinues in Roman Catholicism, at least in principle, and a number of Protestant
denominations similarly oversee religious education texts.
Defenders of freedom of inquiry may find even these vestigial controls
distressing, but they should not be exaggerated. Kng and Curran, for exam-
ple, not only retained highly visible academic platforms and esteem in their
disciplines but also remained Catholic priests in good standing. Church
authorities can control their own seminaries, but this no longer provides
much leverage over theological discourse as theology has shifted from church
institutions to universities (and their divinity schools) and, especially in the
Catholic case, from clergy and members of religious orders, to lay people.13
These lingering mechanisms for managing intramural dissent can hardly be
compared with those of pre-modern or early modern times. The severest
measures against heresy involved imprisonment or even death. In 380 a local
council in Spain condemned the dualistic teaching of Priscillian. This
world-rejecting aristocrat nonetheless went on to be elected a bishop but
was then tried, condemned, and burned at the stake by an upstart emperor
in Gaul in 385, the first Christian to fall victim to such a practice. Not long
after this, in the context of increasing imperial decrees of punishment for
heretics, Augustine, a formative thinker for Western Christianity, took a
fateful step. As bishop of Hippo in North Africa since 395, he was confronted
with a particularly disruptive heresy, Donatism, a rival church of the pure
rooted in denunciations of Christians who had compromised with imperial

See discussion in Peter Steinfels, A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church
in America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), pp. 241252.
Christianity and intramural dissent 117

persecution almost a century before. After extended efforts to refute and win
over Donatists, in the course of which Augustine repudiated the use of force,
he finally justified imperial repression. He never advocated use of the death
penalty; to the contrary, he personally pleaded that condemned Donatists be
spared. But deploying examples from the Hebrew scriptures and from Jesus
parables, he constructed an argument in favor of a pedagogy of fear that
would bring heretics back to the church. Given his stature, this established a
powerful precedent.14
It was some six centuries before burning heretics was revived; but in the
twelfth to fourteenth centuries, as definitions of heresy proceeded apace
with the development of church law, campaigns against heresy were institu-
tionalized, and executing heretics became state policy. John Hus, the Czech
precursor of the Reformation, died at the stake in 1415 as did the apocalyptic
Florentine preacher Savonarola in 1498. Once the Reformation split Western
Christianity into warring camps, such executions became widespread.
Calvins Geneva burned the anti-Trinitarian Michael Servetus. Henry VIII
beheaded Thomas More. Queens Mary and Elizabeth, successive Catholic
and Protestant-leaning rulers in England, burned or wrought similarly excru-
ciating deaths on their respective religious opponents. There was no line
between religious dissent and sedition.
One case from Switzerland reminds us of what such procedures entailed.
Michael Sattler was a former monk who largely drafted the 1527 Schleitheim
Confession that became one of the founding documents for Mennonite
and Amish Christians. In May of that year he and other Anabaptists were
arrested by Catholic Hapsburg authorities and condemned to death. The
sentence read:
Michael Sattler shall be committed to the executioner. The latter shall take him to
the square and there first cut out his tongue, and then forge him fast to a wagon and
there with glowing iron tongs twice tear pieces from his body, then on the way to the
site of execution five times more as above and then burn his body to powder as an
His male companions were slain by the sword. His wife, Margaretha, and other
women accompanying them were drowned.15
Such frightful deterrents to heresy inevitably bring to mind the most
notorious means of eliminating dissent, the Inquisition. In fact, one should
distinguish four Inquisitions. The medieval Inquisition consisted of traveling
tribunals that investigated complaints of formal heresy. It received papal
authorization mainly for rooting out the dualist Albigensian or Cathar heresy

MacCulloch, Christianity, p. 304; Wilken, The First Thousand Years, pp. 188189.
William Roscoe Estep, The Anabaptist Story, 3rd edn. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans,
1996), p. 57. Chapter III A Superlative Witness is devoted to Sattler. Also: C. Arnold Snyder,
The Life and Thought of Michael Sattler, Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History
(Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1984).
118 Peter Steinfels

in thirteenth-century southern France and northern Italy, which was also

combatted by preaching but ultimately crushed through a brutal crusade.
The Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions operated, by papal delegation,
under the monarchies of Spain and Portugal from 1478 (Spain) and 1536
(Portugal) until the eighteenth century. They were the instruments primarily
of a ruthless class and racial suppression by Old Christians of rising groups of
New Christians, converts or descendants of converts from Judaism and
Islam who were suspected of secretly adhering to their prior beliefs. These
Inquisitions also swept up the small number of Iberian Protestants and uncon-
ventional Catholic adherents, some in high places, of an interior, mystical
spirituality. Eventually the Inquisitors occupied themselves largely with
policing the Iberian Peninsula against small-scale irreligious conduct (village
atheism, blasphemy, bigamy, superstition). The Roman Inquisition, the fourth
of the series, was a resurrection by Pope Paul III in 1542 of the medieval
version, now aimed at combatting Protestantism or its offshoots under central
papal control. Its rulings were in principle church-wide, but its effective reach
never extended beyond Italy.
The term Inquisition, especially the Spanish Inquisition, has achieved
mythic status as shorthand for religious repression. Only in the last century has
the history of its different instantiations been rescued from anti-Catholic
polemics and Catholic apologias. Historians have compared its procedures
and penalties, including the use of torture and gruesome executions, to those
of contemporary European justice generally. When possible, the numbers of
victims, charges, acquittals, convictions, and sentences have been compiled.
The political and social contexts, the long-range consequences, and the
constraints operating on the Inquisitions have been explored.16 Summing
up the historiography since the mid-1970s of the most infamous of the
Inquisitions, one historian writes:
It is now acknowledged that the Spanish Inquisition was a far less repressive
instrument of ideological control than had hitherto been thought, and that torture
and the death penalty were only rarely applied almost exclusively during the first
two decades of its existence. By comparison, other European countries, including
England, France and Germany, continued to burn heretics until well into the seven-
teenth century.17
Seeing the Inquisitions in the context of the generally appalling practices of
medieval or early modern European systems of justice should not dull anyone
to the human suffering they inflicted in the name of religion; nor were those
unimaginable pains the whole story. The Inquisitions public procedures were
designed to instill fear, even if most towns were rarely visited by Inquisition

Helen Rawlings, The Spanish Inquisition (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), and
Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision (New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 1998).
Rawlings, The Spanish Inquisition, p. 2.
Christianity and intramural dissent 119

tribunals and its punishments less consequential than the discord, suspicion,
recriminations, and family quarrels that malicious denunciations left in their
wake. And thinkers and religious leaders who fell under suspicion had reason
to fear arrest or conviction and to fear that fear would also keep others from
coming to their defense.18
It would be unrealistic to ignore an even more powerful fear that oper-
ated in all management of intramural dissent: the fear of hell. To violate
authoritative teachings was to risk eternal damnation, and the consequences
of that were vivid in Christian imaginations. Not even a comparably intense
trust in Gods mercy could make that fear completely disappear, at least
until recently. The decline in the belief in hell or the likelihood of being
damned (an understudied topic) plus the withdrawal of state power from
religious disputes plus Christian shame at the atrocities perpetrated in the
name of the faith have radically altered Christianitys options for dealing
with intramural disagreement. In recent times heresy trials have become
an embarrassment, the very notion of heresy now being associated with
intellectual daring and courage rather than spiritual deformation.
Acquittals became as likely as convictions and did little more than remove
an offender from a church office.
During the nineteenth century, popes like Pius IX eliminated or margin-
alized internal dissent from Catholic liberals and proto-Christian
Democrats. A witch hunt against modernists in the early twentieth
century, carried out under Pope Pius X with a network of denouncers and
a sweeping Oath Against Modernism, chilled Catholic thinking for
decades. But the Second Vatican Councils vindication of theologians
who earlier suffered sanctions remains an albatross on church authorities
attempting to discipline dissenters. Pope Paul VIs 1968 encyclical reassert-
ing papal condemnation of contraception was widely rejected by Catholic
opinion, even among the clergy, and Paul VI never issued another encycli-
cal. Successor popes have become more prolific than ever in issuing lengthy
theological statements, but many of these documents have taken a personal
and discursive turn rather than clearly declaring norms. Condemnations
issued by the Vaticans Congregation for the Defense of the Faith usually
stir as much opposition as acceptance. A Vatican effort to require episcopal
mandates for Catholics teaching theology in Catholic colleges and univer-
sities, along with other controls over these institutions, has fallen into
desuetude. Vatican criticism of womens religious orders in the United
States proved a public relations disaster. Censure by Rome or episcopal
conferences of particular theological works usually assures that these books
become, at least by the standards of theology, best-sellers.
In general, the power of Catholic authorities to manage dissent has
narrowed to the use of norms (e.g. about official papal positions on sexual

Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, p. 172.
120 Peter Steinfels

morality and the ordination of women) as litmus tests for the selection of
bishops who will affirm those norms publicly and inculcate them, under the
guidance of Rome, through seminaries, diocesan offices, parishes, educational
programs, publications, and other organizations. With a declining number of
priests and a greater reliance on an increasingly independent-minded laity, the
levers for exerting effective control grow fewer and fewer.

Internal criticism
The burning at the stake of Priscillian in 385 elicited outrage from Martin of
Tours and Ambrose of Milan, two eminent Christians later declared saints.
Such opposition to pursuing and penalizing heresy was long overshadowed by
justifications for executing heretics set forth by thinkers of the rank of Thomas
Aquinas. Just as the Reformation era was setting Christian against Christian,
Europes leading Christian humanist, Desiderius Erasmus, protested that
using violence against heretics was un-Christian and futile in addition,
since it only stimulated more heresy. Erasmus friend, Thomas More, by
contrast, wrote a Dialogue on Heresies that argued in favor of suppressing
them by force or, if necessary, by death. Six years later, he would himself be
beheaded by Henry VIII for refusing to swear support for the English kings
break with Rome. Sebastian Castellio, a French Protestant humanist who was
the most outspoken of those protesting Calvins burning of Michael Servetus
in Geneva, is cited as one of the first campaigners against forcible suppression
of heresy. His 1553 work Concerning Heretics is said to have triggered the
arguments for religious toleration that over the course of the next century ran
through the Netherlands to England. The American colonies, with Roger
Williams above all but also William Penn and Lord Baltimore, saw a parallel
debate. With the exception of Spinoza, most of these advocates of toleration
were moderate Protestant Christians and made their case on Christian
Many themes were sounded by different thinkers during this auto-critique:
the need for theological minimalism in identifying and returning to core
beliefs; a plea for modesty in claiming certainty; doubts about the zeal of
church authorities; the impossibility of plumbing and measuring conscience;
the contradiction between using force to ensure church unity and Christs
teaching; the incompetence of civil authorities in religious matters. Internal
criticism by Christians eventually overlapped but never coincided with
criticism by Enlightenment skeptics. Change came about with the loosening
of the bonds between church and state and the secularization of life as more
and more areas of human activity commerce, politics, law, science, journal-
ism, art escaped the direct sway of church authorities.

For a solid account, see Perez Zagorin, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the
West (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003).
Christianity and intramural dissent 121

The nineteenth-century removal of legal religious disabilities and in the new

United States separation of church and state sprung from conflicts between
groups of Christians who had coalesced into separate churches Catholics,
Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Baptists, and so on. It could be argued that the
nineteenth century saw a religious mobilization that temporarily strengthened
the identities of different churches and their ability to manage internal dissent.20
In the long run, assimilation, mobility, intermarriage, and secularization
undermined those identities and that ability.
Today virtually any attempt to manage intramural dissent in Christian
churches provokes further dissent. Among Protestant bodies, this usually
focuses on the necessity or pastoral appropriateness of any action that seems
to exclude or stigmatize fellow believers. Among Catholics, criticism often
focuses on the procedures of Vatican offices or local bishops. The Catholic
Theological Society of America has repeatedly come to the defense of
censured theologians; in turn, it has criticized official procedures and proposed
Richard R. Gaillardetz, the editor of a volume containing extensive criti-
cism of the American bishops 2011 censure of a book by Sister Elizabeth
Johnson, acknowledges, We live in a time when authority is almost habitually
viewed with suspicion.21 A major question, raised by another contributor to
that volume, is whether these disputes have become irrelevant in a world
where the environment in which beliefs are inculcated and reproduced is
one of visual media, digital communications, and consumerist mentalities.
How does church teaching really function in the twenty-first century?22
Three case studies drawn from the United States illustrate the challenge.
The hallmark of evangelical Christianity has long been resistance to liberal
Christians accommodations with natural science, history, archaeology, and
textual criticism in understanding scripture. For decades the Southern Baptist
Convention, the United States largest Protestant denomination, has tried to
root out even the slightest deviations from biblical inerrancy. Confronted by
the denominations essentially congregational structure, the defenders of
inerrancy embarked on a conscious plan to win the annual election to the
Conventions presidency for a stretch of at least a decade. From this office,
they systematically replaced trustees and presidents of Southern Baptist

The fortunes of Christianity after the French Revolution and during the Industrial Revolution
are recounted in MacCulloch, Christianity, chapter 22, Europe Re-enchanted or Disenchanted
(18151924); Charles Taylor, in A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard
University Press, 2007), portrays these cross-currents in two chapters, Nineteenth-Century
Trajectories, pp. 377419, and The Age of Mobilization, pp. 423472.
Richard R. Gaillardetz (ed.), When the Magisterium Intervenes: The Magisterium and
Theologians in Todays Church (Collegeville, MI: Liturgical Press, 2012), p. 294.
Vincent J. Miller, in Gaillardetz (ed.), When the Magisterium Intervenes, chapter 7,
When Mediating Structures Change: The Magisterium, the Media, and the Culture
Wars, pp. 154174.
122 Peter Steinfels

seminaries and institutions of higher education, of the denominational

publishers and news service, of agencies overseeing Sunday School education,
public affairs, foreign missions, and so on sometimes by dismissals but mostly
by attrition. To a large extent, this long march through Southern Baptist
institutions succeeded, even at the cost of alienating distinguished leaders
and institutions and quite likely losing members. And of course the battle is
For Roman Catholicism, the gravest recent difficulty in managing
intramural dissent was posed by its condemnation of contraception. In the
1960s, facing new moral arguments about the anovulant pill as well as alarms
about population growth, Pope John XXIII appointed and his successor,
Paul VI, enlarged a papal commission to reexamine church teaching. The
majority of commission members recommended reconsidering the ban and
their arguments were leaked to the public in 1967, at a time when the Second
Vatican Council had primed many Catholics for a change. When Paul VI,
in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, nonetheless reaffirmed the official
condemnation, the church suffered a major crisis of authority, which spread
from shrugging off the reasserted ban to questioning all sex-related teaching
and on to even further areas. The crisis contributed to a sharp drop in Mass
attendance and an exodus from the priesthood.24 In 1993, the Rev. Avery
Dulles, SJ, a theologian and future cardinal respected in all sectors of
American Catholicism, warned of the ripple effect the controversy was
having: the alienation of priests and people and the elimination from church
leadership of otherwise qualified theologians and potential bishops.25
Indeed, under John Paul II, whose papacy stretched from 1978 to 2005,
this ripple effect continued apace, leading to a more conservative hier-
archy often perceived as focused on little more than opposition to legalized
abortion and same-sex unions while failing to prevent the sexual abuse
of minors by members of the clergy. Beginning with differences over contra-
ception, the Catholic campaign to manage dissent appeared only to have
metastasized it.
The surprising resignation in 2013 of John Paul IIs successor, Benedict
XVI, followed by the election of Pope Francis, a reformer, has opened a new
chapter in the Catholic approach to dissent. Francis has challenged the priority

There are many accounts of the remaking of the Southern Baptist Convention. Nancy
Tatom Ammerman, Baptist Battles (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990) is
one. The conservative leaderships perspective can be found in an online column by
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, www.albert
mohler.com/2006/06/14/the-southern-baptist-reformation-a-first-hand-account/. Mohler on
the never-ending struggle: www.albertmohler.com/2010/08/16/the-inerrancy-of-scripture-
the-fifty-years-war-and-counting/ (accessed October 23, 2013).
The Rev. Andrew M. Greeley, a leading sociologist of religion, argued this in many places.
Avery Dulles, S.J., Humanae Vitae and the Crisis of Dissent, Origins (April 22, 1993):
Christianity and intramural dissent 123

his predecessors put on quelling dissent and that conservative hierarchies put
on combatting abortion and same-sex marriage. He has done this by way of
personal comments (e.g. Who am I to judge? said of gay men sincerely
seeking God) and institutionally (urging the 2014 Synod of Bishops on the
Family to debate freely and, when sharp disagreements surfaced, declaring
that he would have been worried if they had not). He has stressed mercy and
pastoral outreach over anxiety about maintaining moral standards. At the
Synod on the Family contraception itself was oddly ignored; but other topics
that would scarcely have been on the table if Catholics had not already divided
over sexual morality the sacramental status of divorced and remarried
Catholics, cohabitation, same-sex unions made headlines.
Despite Francis openness, it is not yet clear how the clashing views on such
matters will be resolved. Will the pope issue a final ruling, like Paul VIs
Humanae Vitae? Will he and the church abide by whatever the required
two-thirds majority approves at the follow-up Synod in 2015? Will dissent be
managed only by some longer-term evolution of overwhelming consensus
uniting bishops and pope alike? Or perhaps not be managed at all?
While moral disagreement over same-sex attractions and relationships has
increasingly riled Roman Catholicism, it has become a much more deeply
divisive issue for Anglicanism worldwide and for many older, mainline
Christian denominations in the United States. The first voices calling for a
new Christian understanding of the experience of gay and lesbian people were
raised in the wake of the churches engagement in the struggle for racial
equality followed by feminist-inspired challenges to barriers to womens
ordination. Mainline Protestant leadership often viewed gay and lesbian
arguments for equal treatment in the light of these earlier struggles.
Congregants were much more divided. Many identified with the evangelical
backlash to dramatic changes in sexual norms marking the late 1960s and
1970s. It was one thing for their churches to pass resolutions opposing
discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, and criminal
justice. It was something else to alter language bearing on sexual morality
and all that this implied for church membership, ordination, marriage, and
public rituals.
Again and again such changes were proposed to the churches governing
assemblies, conferences, or conventions of delegates that meet at intervals of
several years. Again and again the proposed changes were rejected. National
caucuses and lobbies advocating gay and lesbian equality formed in every
mainline church. Matching, usually evangelical groups emerged as well.
Church-wide assemblies were preceded by intense lobbying. At the meetings,
gay and lesbian sympathizers wore identifying garb and, in the face of adverse
votes, mounted protests. Both advocates and opponents of change enlisted
local congregations and regional bodies. Church policies were tested by
ordained minsters who declared themselves in gay or lesbian relationships,
by candidates for ordination who did the same, and by blessings of same-sex
124 Peter Steinfels

unions. Church trials or rulings about withdrawing ministerial credentials or

barring ordinations generated publicity and personalized the conflict without
being decisive.
Meanwhile, theological debate focused above all on the handful of
biblical passages condemning same-sex relations and secondarily on what
weight should be given to personal experience and current social science,
alongside scripture and tradition, in theological reflection. Virtually every
denomination appointed commissions to study the issue. Same-sex orienta-
tion and acts could not be evaluated apart from judgments on larger issues
such as the authority of scripture and the meaning of sexuality in general.
Yet to delve into these larger issues vastly enlarged the range of likely
A 1991 Presbyterian Church (United States) study reexamining all sexual
morality, for example, stirred outrage. By contrast, a 1991 United Methodist
Church study focused on homosexuality alone and was a particularly interest-
ing example of trying to manage internal disagreement. The committee agreed
on a long list of matters: (1) that the Bible deals with homosexual acts in
relatively few passages; (2) that all of these seven references are negative;
(3) that the biblical writers had no concept of sexual orientation as a funda-
mental component of personality; (4) that scholars are divided about how to
interpret these passages and how to apply them today; (5) that the church has
recognized some scriptural directives as no longer applicable, for example
those about stoning idolators or about women not speaking in church; (6) that
biblical statements on sexuality cannot be considered binding today just
because they are in the Bible but must be considered in the light of the basic
biblical message and of their socio-cultural contexts; (7) that the church
includes substantial numbers of homosexuals whose gifts manifest the work
of the Spirit; (8) that the church cannot teach that gay and lesbian persons
are generally dysfunctional or prone to seduce or corrupt others; that
although it cannot be authoritatively said whether sexual orientation is fixed
before or after birth, the church cannot teach that sexual orientation, either
heterosexual or homosexual, is deliberately chosen; and (9) that the emo-
tional intensity of discussions of homosexuality arises from fear that any
change in Christian standards about sexuality will contribute seriously to the
erosion of the whole.
Despite these agreements, the committee remained divided on the bottom
line. For the majority, the present state of knowledge and insight in the
biblical, theological, ethical, biological, psychological and sociological fields
does not provide a satisfactory basis upon which the church can responsibly
maintain the condemnation of homosexual practice. The minority replied
that the present state of knowledge about all those fields does not provide a
satisfactory basis upon which the church can responsibly alter its previously
held position.
Christianity and intramural dissent 125

In May 1992 the denominations General Conference voted 710238

to maintain the position that homosexual practice was incompatible with
Christian teaching, rejecting the view that the phrase be deleted because of
the churchs lack of a common mind.26 For most denominations this
standoff remained the pattern for decades. Passionate appeals and actions
publicly challenging church teaching elicited minor accommodations.
But church-wide assemblies regularly rejected fundamental change. Each
cycle produced rumors and threats of schism, followed by laments over
divisiveness and pleas for moratoriums on the debate. An exception was
the traditionally liberal United Church of Christ, advantaged by its congre-
gational polity. In the 1970s it began leaving decisions about accepting
clergy in non-celibate same-sex relationships to individual congregations.
In 2003, after decades of bending church rules, the Episcopal Church
(United States) achieved some closure by consecrating a bishop living
openly in a monogamous same-sex partnership and six years later would
open all official leadership positions to such individuals. This precipitated a
crisis in the Anglican Communion. Several Anglican churches in Africa,
later joined by conservative leaders from other continents, threatened to
split the global Anglican Communion. After protracted consultations under
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, his successor as leader of
Anglicanisms mother church, Archbishop Justin Welby, concluded that
a break was probably irreparable.27
In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America dropped opposition
to clergy in same-sex monogamous relationships, and the Presbyterian Church
(USA) soon followed suit. All these groups have suffered from declining
numbers, and decisions about homosexuality appear to have increased the
losses and encouraged competition from rival Episcopal, Lutheran, and
Presbyterian churches.
The United Methodists have resisted the trend toward changing their
teaching. The May 2012 General Conference voted once again to retain
the incompatible phrase rather than approve compromise agree to
disagree alternatives. But agitation continues. Prominent clergy have
officiated at same-sex marriages or ordained individuals in same-sex unions.
The denominations Judicial Council has managed to avoid any decisive
ruling. Regional leaders have argued that clergy can simply disregard the
churchs position as unjust, and clergy increasingly do so without incurring
any serious penalties. The air is filled with talk of schism or of leaving the

For the reports and debates as of 1991, see Peter Steinfels, Ideas and Trends: What God
Really Thinks About Who Sleeps with Whom, New York Times (June 2, 1991), Methodist
Panel Is Split on Homosexuality Issue, New York Times (August 28, 1991), and Beliefs,
New York Times (September 28, 1991).
Trevor Grundy, Archbishop Justin Welby: There Is A Possibility that we will not hold
together. Religion News Service. www.religionnews.com/2014/12/09/archbishop-justin-
welby-possibility-will-not-hold-together/ (accessed December 10, 2014).
126 Peter Steinfels

matter to local congregations.28 Maintaining the denominations position has

not kept the United Methodists, too, from declining in numbers, for some
members simply because of the interminable nature of the conflict.
In the twenty-first century, at least in settings like the United States,
Christian churches can no longer look to the coercive power of civil autho-
rities nor cultural hegemony nor strong denominational identity nor unequi-
vocal legal leverage over local congregations nor unchallenged control over
academic theology and the formation of clergy nor the old-time fear of hell to
assure conformity of belief. Of course the reality differs from one Christian
group to another, but what appears generally determinative is the relation-
ship of the mass of believers to the surrounding culture. Roman Catholics,
for example, long felt at odds with Protestant America, of which the churchs
stance on contraception was one sign. That tension ended with the election of
John F. Kennedy and the Second Vatican Council, and without it the highest
church authorities were unable to quell massive theological and grass-roots
dissent on contraception. Southern Baptists, in turn, long carried the banner
of a defeated and besieged region and transferred those sentiments from a
defense of segregation to the defense of biblical inerrantism and with
corresponding court battles about teaching evolution in public schools.
In short, the theological cause of inerrancy rode the emotional waves of
political polarization, regional identity, and the culture wars, but for how
much longer?29
Mainline Protestantism was not long ago the dominant culture, and when
that, with the participation of mainline dissenters, began to shift on same-sex
relations, there was little to keep mainline denominations from eventually
shifting with it. The United Methodist Church is the exception that proves
the rule. Just as an Anglican shift on homosexuality has been challenged
by African Anglicans whose theological views coincide with attitudes found
in their local cultures, the margins of votes needed to sustain the United
Methodist position has come from delegates living outside the United

Timothy C. Morgan, Is Gay Marriage Destroying the United Methodist Church? Progressives
Violate Ban on Same-sex Unions, Sparking Fresh Talk of Schism, Gleanings, a blog of
Christianity Today. www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/june/is-gay-marriage-
destroying-united-methodist-church.html?paging=off. Consulted December 10, 2014. Sarah
Pulliam Bailey, Methodists Resolve Gay Marriage Complaint Against 36 Pastors Without
a Trial, Religion News Service. www.religionnews.com/2014/10/06/methodists-resolve-gay-
marriage-complaint-36-pastors-without-trial/ (accessed December 10, 2014).
See Neil King, Jr., Evangelical Leader Preaches a Pullback from Politics, Culture Wars,
Wall Street Journal (October 22, 2013): 1.
Daniel Burke, Methodists Uphold Policy that Calls Homosexuality Incompatible
with Christian Teaching, Religion News Service (May 4, 2012): www.religionnews.
Christianity and intramural dissent 127

Pointing to division of powers within the church and delegated representatives
to church-wide assemblies, some older Protestant Christian denominations
view their polity, including their mechanisms for managing intramural dissent,
as forerunners to liberal democratic institutions. There is a pride in Protestant
advocacy of freedom of conscience and of the right to form groups by means of
a common covenant. At present, Catholic Christianity, still at a loose end over
how internal dissent can best be managed, probably sees its past record of
managing intramural disagreement as more of a model not to be emulated by
others. As for Christianitys other great families, Anglicanism is in turmoil
about intramural dissent, Orthodoxy is in stasis, and Pentecostalism remains
too fluid and congregational for larger patterns to jell.
Christians believe that their teachings about forbearance, honesty, and so
on would serve all kinds of organizations. But most Christian bodies, while
happy to exist legally as voluntary associations, also believe themselves to be a
very particular type of voluntary association, shaped by humans but called into
existence by God. Christians do not assume that Christianitys own ways of
managing intramural dissent would necessarily be appropriate to secular or
even other religious associations and vice versa.
Chapter 7

Intramural dissent on core beliefs in Islam

Meena Sharify-Funk

Introduction: primary sources in Islam

The Arabic word, muslim, means the one who surrenders. In the religion of
Islam, a Muslim is one who surrenders to the will of al-Lah (which, translated
from Arabic, literally means the God).1 For Muslims, guidance for living in
accordance with Gods will may be found in the Holy Book of the Quran as
well as in the Prophet Muhammads example and model.
Surrendering to and following Gods will necessarily means dissent from
the norms that do not express this will. For centuries, this has presented
Muslims with a threefold challenge: first, discerning Gods will amidst the
complexity of authoritative texts and lived contexts; second, navigating
genuine disagreements concerning what is right, true, and incumbent upon
believers; and third, deciding on the most appropriate mode of dissent and
manner of expression. A key position of this chapter is that focusing keenly on
dilemmas associated with the latter two issues the diversity of Islamic truth
claims and the question of how dissent ought to be expressed can provide
contemporary Muslims with a means of deepening their engagement with
textual sources, and enriching communal dialogue about the nature of Gods
will for humanity within a contemporary context of global life.

Islams sacred book: the Quran

As the sacred scripture of Islam, the Quran is a book slightly shorter than
the New Testament in Christianity.2 For Muslims, the Quran is Gods final
guidance to humanity, authored by God and revealed to the last Prophet,
Arabic-speaking Christians (for example Syrian Orthodox or Roman Catholic) also use the
name, Allah, to refer to the One God.
Some material on primary sources and key tenets for this chapter is adapted from my
co-authored section (with William Rory Dickson) on Islam published in Doris Jakobshs
edited volume, World Religions: Canadian Perspectives (Toronto: Nelson Publishers,
2013), pp. 150200.

Intramural dissent on core beliefs in Islam 129

Muhammad. Resembling parts of the Old and New Testaments, the Quran
warns of the Day of Judgment, exhorts Muslims to charity, kindness, and
justice, and recounts stories of the prophets of old. The Quran further con-
tains commandments and prohibitions, from which key aspects of Islamic law
are derived. If there is one theme to draw from the text, it is undoubtedly the
overwhelming reality of God, who simultaneously transcends all thought and
imagination and yet whose signs are found in the world and the human soul.
And there are many signs in the heavens and in the earth that they pass by and give
no heed to. (12:105)
We will show them Our signs on the horizons and in their own souls, until it becomes
clear to them that this is the Truth. (41:53)

The Quran permeates Muslim life, not only in prayers, but also on the radio,
television, and in public in most Muslim countries. Those who recite the
Quran with particular skill and grace gain fame in the Muslim world for
their ability to bring Islams sacred scripture to life. The Quran is further
woven throughout classical Islamic literature and poetry. Sufisms great poet
of love Jalaluddin Rumi (d. 1273) was the best-selling poet in America in the
late 1990s.3 He refers to Quranic verses and themes throughout his works. It is
fair to say that the imagery of the Quran has shaped the landscape of Muslim
minds and imaginations for centuries, to a degree rarely paralleled in history
or religions.

The Prophet Muhammads lifestyle: the Sunnah and the Hadith

After the Quran, the second most important sacred source in Islam is the
Sunnah. The Arabic word sunnah literally means trodden path, and more
generally refers to a persons lifestyle or habitual practice. In the context of
Islam, the Sunnah refers to (a) the lifestyle of the Prophet Muhammad, and
(b) the lifestyle of the early Muslim communities of Mecca and Medina.
If the Quran provides ideal guidance for Muslims to live in accordance
with Gods will and command, the Prophet Muhammads behavior in words
and deeds provides the best guide to implement the Quranic command into
everyday life. Therefore, the ideal lifestyle for a Muslim to observe is the way
of the Prophet: how he organized his life spiritually, economically, intellec-
tually, socially, politically in all spheres. In short, Muslims seek to emulate
the way and practice of the Prophet Muhammad, as he is the best example of
how to live the teachings of the Quran. This is why the majority of Muslims
describe themselves as Sunni, the People of the Sunnah. It is important to
note that Shia Muslims also follow the Sunnah. The Sunnah of the Prophet
includes not only his actions, but also his sayings and those actions of others to
which he gave silent approval or tacit consent.

Franklin D. Lewis, Rumi Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teachings and Poetry of
Jalal al-Din Rumi (Oxford: Oneworld, 2008), p. 1.
130 Meena Sharify-Funk

How do Muslims access the Sunnah? The Sunnah is recorded in the Hadith.
Hadith literally means a story, or report. In the context of Islam, Hadith are
written reports about what the Prophet said and did. Starting in the ninth
century ce, scholars of Hadith developed criteria to determine the authenticity
of reports about the Prophet. These scholars analyzed the content of Hadith
texts in light of the Quran, and evaluated the trustworthiness of the transmit-
ters of the Hadith. Each Hadith has an isnad, or chain of transmission support-
ing a Hadith going back to the Prophet. If any one of the transmitters in the
chain is thought to be unreliable, due to a reputation for poor memory or lying,
or if it is deemed historically unlikely that one transmitter in the chain
could have met the next, a Hadith may be deemed to be weak or of dubious
The Sunnah of the Prophet forms the ideal way of life for Muslims. The
Sunnah functions as a pattern of behavior and manners that Muslims strive
to imitate in their daily lives. The Hadith collections provide written
accounts of the Prophets behavior in remarkable detail, including his
style of hair, what foods he preferred, how he sat, ate, and how he interacted
with his wives, etc. For example, following the Prophet, Muslims eat with
their right hands, avoid foods that he disliked, and wear colors he is reported
to have worn frequently. Besides functioning as a pattern of life that unites
Muslim practice around the world, the Hadith (as the written record of
the Prophets Sunnah) are the second most important source of Islamic
law, the shariah.
Due to the diversity of Hadith collections4 and the differences in interpreting
the Quran and the Sunnah, within 500 years of the Prophets death a variety
of legalistic schools would emerge and influence the institutionalization and
regionalization of particular hermeneutical understandings of Islam. While
each legalistic school sought to be comprehensive and authoritative, traditional
legal scholars developed what might be called an ethics of disagreement
with respect to their differences.5 For the most part, Islamic culture was
able to accommodate differences between legalistic schools (madhahib, sing.
madhhab), particularly when larger issues of sectarian identity (specifically
ShiaSunni differences) were not at stake.

There is a tradition that states the idea to codify the Hadith occurred to Umar (the second
Sunni leader of the Muslim community after the Prophet Muhammad); however, it was not
until 300 years after the Prophets death that the collection and codification processes of the
Hadith were seen as definitive collections. In the Sunnite tradition there were six definitive
collections of Hadith and in the Shiite tradition over four collections and each collection was
named after the individuals who collected them. The Sunnite collections are: al-Bukhari (d.
870), Muslim (d. 675), Abu Dawud (d. 888), at-Tirmidhi (d. 892), an-Nasai (d. 915), and ibn
Majah (d. 886). And the four definitive Shiite collections are by: al-Kuluni (d. 939), al-Qummi
(d. 991), at-Tusi (d. 1067), and al-Murtada (d. 1044).
Taha Jabir al-Alwani, The Ethics of Disagreement in Islam (Herndon, VA: IIIT Publishing,
Intramural dissent on core beliefs in Islam 131

Undeniably, providing patronage to legal scholars (the Ulama, or learned

ones) was an important means by which Muslim rulers sought to enhance the
legitimacy of their leadership. The claim to uphold divine will made manifest in
the findings of legal scholars with respect to shariah was a foundation of
legitimacy for traditional Muslim leaders. At the same time, shariah was also
a framework for dissent. Conceived as a protective code in the face of often
arbitrary caliphs, sultans, and emirs, shariah defined fundamental rights and
offered hope that fickle, abusive, and self-serving judgments by rulers might be
constrained. Challenging leaders on the grounds of fidelity to shariah, therefore,
was a primary mode of dissent in pre-modern Islamic culture. This mode of
dissent persists in the present, mixing perennial concerns about justice and
propriety with a cultural politics of authenticity and post-colonial revivalism.

Islam in the global era: discontinuity and continuity

Contemporary Muslims are fragmented on questions pertaining to what
constitutes legitimate dissent, and differ also on the manner in which dissent
ought to be expressed. Much of this fragmentation can be attributed to
modern historical experience, and the nature of the Islamic encounter with
what is often referred to as Western modernity. Having encountered the
ideas of Western liberalism at the receiving end of colonial enterprises,
Muslims are decidedly at odds about where and how the boundary between
authenticity and inauthenticity ought to be drawn. In the face of historical
discontinuity, political polarization, and hermeneutical fragmentation,
various camps of interpretation have emerged, often under labels such as
modernism, traditionalism, and revivalism.
For many Muslims, the colonial experience still looms large over the subject
of dissent. Revival and recovery of authenticity are preeminent priorities, and
restoring continuity with authoritative tradition is closely associated with social
justice priorities and the critique of privileged, Western-oriented elites. In such
cases dissent is primarily directed in one of two directions: outward, against
forces perceived as encroaching on the rights of Muslims and perpetuating
major injustices, or upward, against rulers and politically compromised religious
leaders who are perceived as complicit with a neo-colonial agenda.
For others, the imperatives of inward self-critique and reform exert a more
powerful claim. For those who take this position, contemporary Muslims face
not just the challenge of restoring dignity and cultural continuity, but also the
challenge of rediscovering themselves in a global context and rereading sacred
texts without giving undue precedence to past historical syntheses. Within
this more reformist current of Islamic thought, the scope for internal dissent
is broad, inviting confrontation with what was previously unthinkable or
simply unthought.6

Mohammad Arkoun, The Unthought in Contemporary Islamic Thought (London: Saqi
Books, 2002).
132 Meena Sharify-Funk

Key tenets or core beliefs

Despite the diversity of Muslim peoples and the many different ways Muslims
practice their faith, Muslims are united by the core beliefs of monotheism,
prophecy, and moral accountability.

Like Jews and Christians, Muslims believe that there is only one God who is
the Creator of the cosmos, the world, and humanity. The Quran declares
that Muslims worship the God of Abraham a God who is all-powerful and
all-knowing, as well as merciful and loving. Unlike Jews and Christians,
Muslims believe that the revelation given to Muhammad in the Quran
restores the original, universal monotheism of Abraham. Highlighting what
all three Abrahamic faiths share, the Quran addresses Jews and Christians
as the People of the Book (Ahl al-Kitab), acknowledging that Jews and
Christians too have received a legitimate revelation from God:
Say: People of the Book, let us arrive at a statement that is common to us all: we
worship God alone, we ascribe no partner to Him; and none of us takes others beside
God as lords. (3:64)
In Arabic, the principle of Gods oneness is known as tawhid, a word meaning
to make one. By accepting faith in the one God, Muslims reject what the
Quran deems to be the one unforgivable sin: shirk, or associating any partners
with God. Like the Torah, which states, Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is
one Lord (Deut. 6:4), the Quran states, Your God is one, so devote
yourselves to Him (22:34). For Muslims the oneness of God is the central
belief around which all else revolves.

How does one come to know God and His will for human life? Muslims
believe that God intervenes in human history, selecting particularly righteous
people to convey His guidance. The Quran affirms that God sent prophets
to all peoples, to every nation. One Islamic tradition states that God has
sent 124,000 prophets since the beginning of humanity. According to Muslim
tradition, Adam is both the first man and the first prophet, whereas
Muhammad is the last prophet sent to humanity. He is described as the
Seal of the Prophets. Though previous prophets were sent to a particular
people, the Prophet Muhammad is believed by Muslims to have been sent to
all of humanity, bringing Gods final revelation, the Quran.
Muslims believe that Muhammad was a special type of prophet: a messen-
ger. Whereas some prophets are sent with a narrow mandate to warn a
particular people against wrongdoing and offer moral guidance, messengers
constitute a special type of prophet who brings a sacred law and revelation that
has universal validity for a period of time. The Quran describes five such
Intramural dissent on core beliefs in Islam 133

messengers, known as the prophets of firm resolve: Noah, Abraham, Moses,

Jesus, and Muhammad. Muslims believe that a messenger is like a mirror with
no defect, which perfectly reflects the light of Gods revelation to people. Not
all prophets are messengers, as not all bring a revelation or law, but all
messengers are prophets, in that they are commissioned by God to warn and
guide people. The Quran names a variety of prophets, including Adam, Noah,
Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus.

Moral accountability
Prophets and messengers are sent to guide people to the truth, but also to warn
them of punishment if they fail to heed guidance and if they commit acts of evil
and injustice. Like Jews, Christians, and other peoples of faith, Muslims
believe we live in a profoundly just universe. Though we may not see this
justice fulfilled on earth, according to the Quran, at the end of time all of
humanity will be raised from death and brought before God to account for
their actions while alive. This day is called the Day of Resurrection and
Judgment. The Quran describes how on this day those who had faith and
did good deeds will be rewarded with Paradise: a realm of bliss, happiness, and
pleasure lasting for all of eternity. Those who reject faith, and whose evil deeds
outweigh their good ones, will be punished in Hell: a realm of perpetual pain
and suffering. The urgency of the Qurans reminder to people of their moral
accountability is due to this finality: on the Day of Judgment there will be
no more time for repentance and no further time to make up for lost oppor-
tunities. Ones fate will be determined for all of eternity.
Muslims believe that all people are born in a state of original purity or
naturalness, known as the fitrah. The fitrah is the original human disposition,
the state in which people were created. In this original, primordial state,
people naturally acknowledge the reality of the one true God and incline
toward goodness. However, people are conditioned by their social contexts to
believe many different things and their original nature is corrupted. Muslims
believe the teachings of Islam allow humans to restore their original state of
goodness and recognition of their Lord and Creator. This recognition of God,
or turning toward God is called in the Quran tawbah: a word that means
literally to turn around. Sometimes translated as repentance, tawbah is the
human movement away from falsehood and injustice toward God and beauti-
ful character traits. For Sufis, the mystics of Islam, tawbah is the first step on
the seekers spiritual ascent to God.
As previously mentioned these are the central beliefs that all Muslims are
expected to uphold. Even with all the cultural, ethnic, political, sectarian, and
interpretive diversity of Muslims, one can find adherence to the spirit of these
three beliefs. That said, Islam is more fundamentally a religion of orthopraxis
than orthodoxy, and dissent inevitably emerges when one moves from general
principles to discussion of their practical and behavioral implications.
Authority to define the content of orthodox practice is contested among
134 Meena Sharify-Funk

sectarian groups as well as among scholars with different interpretive tenden-

cies, and questions concerning the authentically Islamic position on a given
matter often seem to beg another question: Whose Islam? Just as there are
many Christianities and Judaisms, so too are there many formulations of
Islamic piety and politics that contend for the attention of Muslims, and that
represent themselves as the only authentic perspective to those who do not
declare themselves believers.

There is much greater unity among Muslims on core precepts and prophetic
history than in discussions over how best to apply and practice Islamic prin-
ciples. Theological positions such as tawhid, concerning the unity of God,
are considered non-negotiable for authentic membership within the faith. In
contrast, questions concerning who has authority to define a particular Muslim
communitys social and (especially with respect to sectarian differences) ritual
practice are a source of greater disputation. These disputes persist despite
the strong priority placed on communal unity and consensus, and are often
sharpened by this same value.
Many ongoing debates within Muslim communities reflect tensions
between authoritative tradition on the one hand, and individual interpretation
and understanding on the other. In the contemporary era, for example, there is
considerable friction among traditionalist, revivalist, and modernist/reformist
approaches to the understanding of Islamic norms and values. Protagonists of
modernizing reform tend to highlight the value Islamic sources place on
reason and using ones God-given faculties of discernment to arrive at ways
of being Islamic that are coherent in the present time and context. However,
traditionalists place a much stronger emphasis on communal unity and adher-
ence to a past consensus of religious scholars. Revivalists, in turn, underscore
unity and obedience to a select subset of behavioral norms, understood to
have been revealed or commanded from the earliest times. Whereas Muslim
advocates of progressive change and principled flexibility underscore the need
for continual interpretive effort (ijtihad) to give direction to faith in ways
that take special account of time and place, more assertively communitarian
thinkers fear fragmentation, individualism, and imitation of non-Muslim
cultures and ideologies, particularly Western liberalism. At the center of
many such debates is the subject of shariah.
The word shariah means literally a path and in pre-Islamic Arabia was
used to refer to a path leading to a source of water. In Islam, the shariah refers
to the sacred law, the divine balance Muslims are to uphold and live by. In
basic terms, the shariah is a code of duties and principles according to which
women and men should structure their lives. Besides the Quran and Sunnah,
another traditional secondary source for codifying shariah was ijma.
Intramural dissent on core beliefs in Islam 135

Ijma literally means consensus, and within Islamic law refers to the con-
sensus of Muslim jurists on a particular issue. In classical Islamic jurisprudence,
ability to demonstrate that all of the jurists of a particular generation of Muslims
agreed upon an issue in and of itself functions as a proof or determination of the
law. As can be imagined, demonstrating the universal agreement of jurists is a
difficult thing to do, and ijma as a result is rarely used as a legal proof, despite its
acknowledged validity as a principle.7 The famous jurist al-Shafii held that ijma
functioned as a proof for the five pillars of the faith: the basic practices of Islam
were so widely affirmed as authentic by the early jurists that their very unanimity
functioned in this case as a binding consensus. Though ijma in a technical sense
was less frequently operative as a universal consensus on less fundamental
guidelines for social aspects of human behavior, the larger principle of adhering
to accepted communal practice has played an important role in the shaping of
Muslim societies and states.
Some Muslim jurists include custom as a further source of law. This does not
refer to an individuals custom, but to the custom of a collectivity, to cultural
practices and traditions.8 Cultural customs that do not contravene the shariah
are to be upheld within a court of law: as long as a peoples customary practice
does not go against Gods commands, it can be acknowledged legally. In this
sense Islam is not meant to replace a peoples culture, but rather refine it in light
of the Quran. Cultural practices that do not contradict Quranic principles are
to be respected and valued for their role in shaping and integrating a peoples
collective life.
Islamic jurists aspire to know shariah as the divine law that guides Muslim
life, revealed in the Quran and Sunnah, yet many reflective thinkers have
acknowledged a distinction between divine law as a transcendent category
and the always unfinished efforts of jurists to know and practically implement
shariah through the process known as fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence. The word
fiqh means understanding and refers to juristic efforts to understand and
implement Gods commands. While fiqh and shariah are frequently conflated
in popular piety, knowledgeable practitioners of the discipline of fiqh within
schools of legal thought have recognized the role of human agency as aspiring to
derive communal norms from sacred sources. Taking human interpretive
agency into account more explicitly has important ramifications for those
who seek to amplify the role of constructive intramural dissent in Islamic

Historically as well as in the present day, intramural dissent among Muslims
has sometimes proven destructive. Less than three decades after the passing of
Muhammad Hisham Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Cambridge: The Islamic
Texts Society, 2003), p. 248.
Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, p. 369.
136 Meena Sharify-Funk

the Prophet Muhammad, for example, Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib, himself a
relative and son-in-law to the Prophet, was assassinated by a member of a
breakaway group known as the Khawarij, who believed the Quran could only
be interpreted literally and without human interpretive mediation. This early
conflict over the extent to which religious sources allow for flexible practice
and the exercise of human judgment is comparable to debates within other
religious systems, and has been evoked as a metaphor for contemporary
rivalries between mainstream Muslims and those who manifest a more
hardline variety of puritanism within which it is acceptable to denounce rivals
as religiously deviant through a practice known as takfir (basically, denoun-
cing someone as a non-Muslim).9
Such inflexibility was not, however, the norm in classical Islamic juris-
prudence. During the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries ce, a number of
legal schools formed around particularly pious and learned scholars of
Islamic law. Students came from around the Muslim world to study with
famed jurists in centers of study such as Medina in Arabia and Kufa in Iraq.
Some of these students spent years learning the methodology of a particular
jurist, which they then transmitted to others, leading to the formation of a
school of legal thought (madhhab). Most jurisprudential schools died out,
leaving only four accepted by Sunnis as orthodox: the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi,
and Hanbali, all named after the founder of the school. Twelver Shias
(see Table 7.1) follow the Jafari legal school, founded by the Sixth Shia
Imam, Jafar as-Sadiq (702765).
Throughout history Muslim empires lent official support and patronage to
legal schools, establishing their rulings as normative in different regions of the
Muslim world. Furthermore, Muslim missionaries transmitted not only the
core beliefs of Islam, but also the school of law in which they practiced the
religion. This has led to the present state of affairs, whereby the surviving legal
schools dominate in certain geographical regions. Despite this apparent geo-
graphic fragmentation, however, the mainstream schools of Islamic law prac-
tice a form of mutual recognition within which the Islamic authenticity of
other schools is accepted as valid. Despite differences in jurisprudence, the
principle of a single Muslim ummah or nation remains highly salient, resulting
in a widely affirmed ethos of religious cosmopolitanism.
The priorities placed on maintaining unity within the ummah and on
institutionalizing the various madhahib of Islamic jurisprudence have been
powerful forces not only for mutual toleration, but also for cultural conserva-
tism. Historically, the emphasis placed on building and maintaining consensus
has resulted in a negative valuation of innovation (bida) in matters of jur-
isprudence. While the need for ijtihad (interpretive effort by qualified jurists)
was acknowledged by the traditional schools of law, specifically in instances

Ahmed Moussalli, Moderate and Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: The Quest for Modernity,
Legitimacy, and the Islamic State (Gainsville: University of Florida Press, 1999).
Intramural dissent on core beliefs in Islam 137

when traditional sources offered no obvious solution to new problems and

historical developments, rulings which departed too far from established
precedent were often rejected as inappropriately innovative and damaging
to Muslim unity. While this skeptical view of new juristic thinking was
intended not just to support religious authenticity but also to prevent destruc-
tive conflict or fitnah (dissension), progressive Islamic thinkers argue for more
relaxed and accommodating approaches to religious reasoning.10

For centuries, sectarian differences have remained far more resistant to
accommodation than differences in jurisprudence. Despite contemporary
voices calling for an Islamic ecumenism that embraces Shia as well as Sunni
practitioners, early differences over religious leadership have led to enduring
intramural rivalries, exacerbated in the last decade by patterns of sectarian
mobilization amidst protracted power struggles in Iraq and Syria. Past ten-
sions among Muslim jurists, philosophers, and mystics also persist, and have
been sharpened in recent generations by the rise of Islamic revival movements
that challenge not only the intellectual systems embraced by Islamic philoso-
phers and the popular piety associated with mysticism, but also the rulings of
state-sanctioned jurists.

Sectarian differences
Following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 ce, existing clan
tensions bubbled to the surface and helped create the trajectory for the
eventual Sunni and Shiite split. After the period of the first four Caliphs
(Rashidun), a powerful, aristocratic Arab clan, the Umayyads (661750)
formed Islams first dynasty. The Umayyads were widely perceived as
favoring Arabs over non-Arab converts to Islam, leading to an exodus of
marginalized Muslims out of the Arabian Peninsula to the fringes of the
growing Islamic empire. The Umayyads saw the legitimacy of their rule in
particular as threatened by the family of the Prophet and his descendants,
whom many of these disenfranchised non-Arab Muslims were drawn to as
carriers of the Prophets spiritual authority.
These tensions came to a head when the Prophets grandson, Hussein, was
killed in 680 for challenging Umayyad authority, an event that Shiite Muslims
commemorate to this day with public mourning during the festival of Ashura.
This festival in particular illustrates the profound guilt and nostalgia at the
heart of Shiite piety, a sense of failing to protect the Prophets family. This
mood is uniquely Shiite, with no real equivalent in Sunni theology. Eventually,
opposition to the Umayyads and support for the Prophets family crystallized

Omid Safi (ed.), Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism (London:
Oneworld Publishers, 2003).
138 Meena Sharify-Funk

in the rise of Islams second great dynasty, the Abbasids (7501258). The first
Abbasid ruler was related to the Prophet, which helped him gain emerging
Shiite support. Unlike the Umayyads, the Abbasids fused Arab culture with
Persian learning and statecraft, creating a more cosmopolitan empire.
However, despite their connection to the Prophets family, the Abbasids
remained a Sunni dynasty, one that was increasingly challenged by a Shiite
dynasty known as the Fatimids (9091171). The Fatimids established powerful
centers of learning, such as al-Azhar in Cairo, that threatened the Sunni
version of Islam. In response, Sunni authorities began to establish their own
centers of learning that would more precisely formulate Sunni teachings. In
particular, one of the first great Turkic dynasties to rule central Muslim lands,
the Seljuks, established a series of universities in cities such as Baghdad, where
Sunni theology and law were standardized, in part to respond to the threat of
the Fatimid theological tradition. These competing centers of learning in the
Fatimid and Seljuk empires would lead to the formation of distinct Sunni and
Shiite schools of thought, enshrining SunniShiite differences in contrasting
theologies and legal interpretations.
The diverging trajectories of Sunnism and Shiism would be cemented under
two of Islams last great empires: the Ottomans (15171924) and the Safavids
(15011732). The Safavid shahs ruled Persia using the Twelver version of
Shiism as the state religion. They recruited a large number of Shiite scholars
from Arab nations, and governed Persia until 1732. They were often vying
with the Ottomans for control of central Muslim lands. In contrast to the
Safavids, the Ottomans were a Sunni empire that supported the Sunni schools
of thought developed under the Seljuks. Sunnism and Shiism were solidified
under these empires as two separate theological traditions that in many ways
continue in these forms to this day. Although present-day SunniShiite clashes
in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon (as well as simmering tensions in Pakistan, Bahrain,
and Saudi Arabia) are by no means an inevitable consequence of the intellec-
tual syntheses that developed during this time period, the past politicization of
sectarian differences has left an imprint on communal attitudes, beliefs, and
narratives. In the absence of a robust, well-developed framework for Islamic
ecumenism, conflicts rooted in problems of political and economic exclusion
have the potential to cascade in destructive ways, with events in one country or
context impacting tensions in other regions.
Table 7.1 provides a broad overview of Sunni and Shiite differences,
with respect to demographics and religious authority as well as politics,
jurisprudence, and ritual practice. Although Shiite and Sunni Muslims do
not generally differ in their most foundational concepts of theology or in
their understandings of Islams place in religious and prophetic history, their
alternative narratives of Islamic history reflect major differences over political
and religious leadership, and present different modes of Islamic practice.
Whereas Sunnis advocate a more egalitarian religious ethic within which
religious and political leadership are in principle open to all Muslims in
t a b l e 7 . 1 Sunni and Shiite Muslims: understanding the two major Islamic communities
Categories Sunni Shiite

Demographics * 8590% of the global Muslim community * 1015% of the global Muslim community.
* Countries in the Middle East, North Africa, Countries such as Azerbaijan, Afghanistan,
South and Southeast Asia with predominant Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Russia have
Sunni populations include Egypt, Morocco, substantial Shiite populations.
Iraq, Lebanon, India, and Indonesia. * Divided into three principal groups:
(1) Twelvers (The Twelve Imam Shiites or
Ithna Ashari): The largest group of Shiites.
Found in Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon,
and eastern Saudi Arabia, and 60% of Iraq.a
(2) Seveners (The Seven Imam Shiites): The
most well-known branch of the Seveners is
the Ismailis. They are found in South and
Central Asia (especially in India); however,
some can be found in East Africa.b
(3) Fivers (The Five Imam Shiites or Zaydis)
are mostly based in Yemen and make up
about 40% of the population there.c
Each of these branches has its own offshoots:
for instance Alevis fall within the Shiite
tradition, mostly in Turkey, while Alawites
(originating from Syria) and Druzes are found
in regions such as Lebanon.
t a b l e 7 . 1 (Cont.)

Categories Sunni Shiite

Succession to the * Prophet Muhammad did not select a religio- * To Shiites, Ali ibn Abu Taleb holds a political
Prophets authority political authority for the ummah (community and spiritual function alongside that of the
of believers) before he died. Prophet. According to Shiite tradition, the
* When Prophet Muhammad died, the leaders Prophet gave Ali preeminent, absolute right to
selected Abu Bakr, who was one of the spiritual leadership. This leadership is known
Prophets closest companions. He was also the as the imamate. Ali, therefore, is known as the
Prophets father-in-law through his daughter First Imam. Ali was revered for his righteous
Aishah. quality, knowledge, and faith.
* Adhere to Ali a name given to the
followers and supporters of Ali and his family.
* Name comes from the Arabic Shiat-i-Ali,
meaning followers of Ali ibn Abu Taleb, who
was the Prophet Muhammads cousin and
son-in-law, through marriage to Muhammads
favorite daughter, Fatimah.
Khilafat/Imamate: first * Believe in the Khilafat (also written as * Due to the great reverence that is given to Ali,
four Khilafahs caliphate) or the idea that the Khilafah is the and to his descendants, they were considered
(Rashidun) supreme religio-political leader of the Islamic infallible.
state after the Prophet Muhammad. * The imamate, according to Shiites, is a divinely
* Revere the Rashidun, the first four righteous established office, an exemplar and model
Khilafahs: Abu Bakr, Umar ibn al-Khattab, of faith and political power vested with special
Uthman ibn Affan, and Ali ibn Abi Taleb. authority to explain to Muslims how the
* Many Sunnis believe in a golden age of Quran should be applied in daily life.
religious ideals from the time of the Prophet * The word imam is also connected to the
Prophetic saying, I am the City of Knowledge,
Muhammad until 661, the end of the and Ali is its Door/Gate. The Imam was the
Rashidun era. gate to the Prophets way of knowing.
* After the Rashidun, the Khilafat retained * This function of the Imam then was passed on
legitimate political authority to rule over by designation to Alis descendants, who
Muslims, whereas the Ulama, or scholars, of would become known as the Imams.
the law, retained religious authority. For some Therefore, according to Shiites, all the Imams
Sunnis, the Sufi saints were also inheritors of became, like Ali, a door/gate/threshold to the
the Prophets spiritual authority. Prophets understanding.
* Reject the Shiite institution of imamate or the * Most Shiites consider the first three caliphs as
idea that Prophet Muhammad nominated Ali usurpers and thus illegitimate religio-political
ibn Ali Talib and thereafter his male rulers of the Muslim community.
descendants on Gods command to be the * For the Ismailis the office of imamate
First Imam of the Islamic state and the global continues with the current, living Imam the
imamate. Aga Khan, who is revered as the 49th Imam.
* The caliphate has remained an ideal for many * The Twelver Shiites await the Mahdi or the
Sunnis. Hidden Imam, who will return at the end of
Ahl al-Beit d and Sahabae * Respect all the Ahl al-Beit. * Adoration of the Ahl al-Beit is central to
* Sahaba are considered to be the most Shiism. Shiites view the Sahaba as guilty of
authoritative sources of information about the preventing their first Imam Ali from
conduct of Muhammad and normative succeeding to the caliphate and hence morally
examples in their own right, immune from culpable.
major sins and beyond criticism. * Follow the Hadith and Sunnah of their
* Do not follow Shiite collections of Hadith respective Imams.
(reports on the sayings and actions of the * Twelver Shiites commemorate the birth/death
Prophet Muhammad). of the Prophet, Fatimah, and the twelve Shiite
t a b l e 7 . 1 (Cont.)

Categories Sunni Shiite

* Do not celebrate the birth/death of Fatimah Imams. Ismailis and the Bohras commemorate
and Shiite Imams; such celebrations are often the birth/death of their Imams.
strongly discouraged, especially by the
followers of the Hanbali tradition.
Islamic legal interpretive * Although there were many different schools of * Most adhere to the Fiqh-i-Jafariyyah of Jafar
traditions legalistic thought that developed historically, as-Sadiq, who was the Sixth Shiite Imam.
only four dominant schools from the Sunnite * Jafari-e-Sadiq based on wide-ranging Hadith
tradition emerged. These schools would be literature collected by the early Shiite Imams.
known as madhahib, which literally means Though sharing much with the Sunni legal
orientation, direction, or movement. schools, Jafari jurisprudence gives authority to
* Hanafi oldest, most widespread and liberal. the Shiite Imams and restricts juristic efforts,
Emphasis is on the role of rationality in such as ijtihad, to applying the rulings of the
jurisprudence. Most Sunni Muslims in the Imams to new situations.
Indian subcontinent and Central Asia, as well * Jafar as-Sadiq also taught Imams Abu Hanifah
as Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, follow the Hanafi and Malik ibn Anas, who founded the first two
School of law. Sunni schools of law.
* Maliki puts emphasis on the importance of * The application of the law varies from branch
public benefit in the law and the traditions of to branch: for instance Ismailis receive their
the Prophet. Legal rulings can be changed if it legal authority from their Imam, currently the
can be shown that they cause harm, because Aga Khan.
the law exists to benefit people. The Maliki
School can be found in regions such as North
Africa, in countries such as Morocco, Tunisia,
and Algeria.
* Shafi based on the integration of both
tradition and reason, it is the development of
Risala, the first systematic articulation of the
sources of Islamic law. Most Muslims in
Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as in East
Africa, follow this school of legal thought, as
well as in some parts of the Middle East.
* Hanbali relies solely on the Quran and
hadith and thus remains a more conservative
legal system. This legalistic school of thought
has been revived by ibn Abd al-Wahhab (d.
1792) in the Arabian Peninsula. It forms the
backbone of the Wahhabi doctrines, which are
followed by the religious establishment in
Saudi Arabia. (Wahhabism: most conservative
but also the smallest in size. It exerts vast
influence due to its organization, missionary
activities, and funding.)
Clerical establishment * No single central authority; however, Ulama * Authority, especially imamate, is based on the
are ranked according to their level of theological belief that the Prophet
knowledge. Muhammads divine light was passed on to his
* Although state authorities at times appointed daughter Fatimah, her husband, Imam Ali, and
clerics to positions of authority, and clerics their male descendants.
were sometimes representatives of the state, in * Different groups of Shiites follow different
general the clerical establishment tended to Imams and their particular lineage. For
function independently of state authority, with instance the Ismailis follow the Aga Khan, who
their own sources of funding (usually is the voice of authority for both spiritual and
endowments) and with their own power base mundane affairs.
among the populace.
t a b l e 7 . 1 (Cont.)

Categories Sunni Shiite

* Twelver Shiism is hierarchically organized with
grand ayatollahs at the very apex (similar to the
structure of the Roman Catholic Church).
Ijtihadf * In the eleventh century ce many Sunnis * Believe that there are superior authoritative
believed there were no longer any qualified individuals who are born for each age and these
mujtahids. Since that time, most Sunni scholars individuals are known as mujtahids. Therefore,
have produced only commentaries upon the gates of ijtihad were never closed.
commentaries. * For the Twelvers, the most important
* The act of independent juristic reasoning still mujtahids are called ayatollahs. These
happens because of the recurrence of new individuals not only decide religious matters
situations. Therefore, a tradition of different but they also control finances and taxes. This
levels of mujtahid developed. For example: tradition would be developed further in
modern times, as seen in the creation of the
(1) Mujtahid Mutlaq: interpreters of the
Supreme Council in the Islamic Republic of
shariah (founders of the four dominant
Iran. Most follow the fatwas of the
marjaal-taqlid (sources of emulation) or grand
(2) Mujtahid Madhahib: lead interpreters of
ayatollahs (varies regionally).
the school (these individuals came to the * For Ismailis, the ultimate source of law is the
consensus that there will be no new codified
living Imam, who is currently the Aga Khan.
schools; rather they interpret the
understanding of Mujtahid Mutlaq).
(3) Mujtahid Masail: interpreters of specific
issues, who gave fatwas, which basically
means formal legal opinions.
Twelver Shiites believe that the Twelfth Imam, Mahdi al-Muntazar, born in Samarra (869) did not die. Son of al-Askari and a
Byzantine princess, Narjis Khatun (granddaughter of a Byzantine emperor), he became known as the Mahdi and the Qaim
(the permanent Imam until the end of time) or the Hidden Imam. The last Imam is considered by Twelvers to be alive and is expected
to return at the end of time.
The Sixth Imam, Jafar as-Sadiq, born in Medina, was a renowned scholar, jurist, and mystic. He is accredited with originating the
official Shiite School of Law. He is also seen as a great Sufi by both Sunnis and Shiites. He had two sons who competed for the Seventh
Imam title: Ismail and Musa al-Qasim. Ismail, eldest son of Jafar as-Sadiq, was born in Medina, and although he died before his father,
Ismailis believe that the imamate passed through Ismail to his son Muhammad. Ismailis would develop one of the most powerful
dynasties in Egypt, the Fatimids (9091171). The followers of Ismail would become known as the Seveners and many branches would
develop: Ismailis, Alawis, Druzes, and Nusayris. For Ismailis, there is a strong relationship between exoteric Islam (doctrines and
practices) and esoteric Islam (Gnosticism). The current spiritual leader of the Ismailis and the 49th Imam, is Harvard-educated Prince
Karim Aga Khan IV. The significance of the Aga Khan is that he is the descendant of the Prophet Muhammads daughter, Fatimah; he
is known internationally for his various charitable works and development projects.
The Fourth Imam, Ali Zayn al-Abidin, was born in Medina (658712/713). Shiites believe that his mother was a daughter of the last
Persian king of the Sassanid dynasty. His descendants would perpetuate the royal blood of the Persian pre-Islamic dynasties as well as
influence Islam with Zoroastrian tendencies. There was controversy over who was the true Fifth Imam. Zayn al-Abidins two sons
who competed for the Fifth Imams title were: Muhammad al-Baqir (676731) and Zayd (d. 740). The Zaydis are known as the closest
Shiite group to the Sunnis. Zaydis, unlike other Shiite branches, accept the caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar; however, they are split
over Uthmans caliphate. They also were heavily influenced by the Mutazilites (Muslim Rationalism) and had their own school of law.
A term used for the descendants of the Prophet through his daughter Fatimah.
Those who are believed to have lived, interacted with, heard, or seen the Prophet Muhammad.
Often translated as independent juristic reasoning or independent interpretation. The technical definition of ijtihad in the context
of shariah is the effort expended in formulating new legal understandings. The individual who performs ijtihad is a mujtahid. Ijtihad is
controversial because there is disagreement over how to interpret ijtihad and who is qualified to be a mujtahid
146 Meena Sharify-Funk

accordance with piety and personal merit, Shiite Muslims accord special
significance to the family of the Prophet Muhammad as a source of religious
and political leadership. While the Shiites can be seen as more elitist in this
respect, their experience is also that of a religious protest movement that often
engaged the more pervasive Sunni current of Islam from a standpoint of
critique and persecution.

Sufism and Salafism

Another source of division among contemporary Muslims is the rivalry
between Sufis and Salafis. This divide has become a major source of polariza-
tion, dramatized in major news events such as the destruction of venerated
tombs and popular Sufi shrines in Libya, Mali, and Pakistan, as well as in the
willingness of Sufi leaders in some countries to tolerate the use of state
repression against opposition movements colored by religious puritanism
and revivalism.
Sufism is a thread that runs through both Sunni and Shiite communities.
Known for its emphasis on mystical philosophies and charismatic ritual
practices, it is historically entwined within Islamic history and culture. Still,
the nature of its relationship with Islamic orthodoxy is contested among some
Muslims. In a 2012 report of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 77
percent of the Muslims of South Asia and about half of the Muslims of the
Middle East and North Africa stated that they consider Sufis as Muslims.11
In regions such as South and Eastern Europe, only about 32 percent felt that
Sufism was part of Islam, while 24 percent of those in Southeast and Central
Asia felt the same.
Many scholars date Sufisms origins to a period shortly after the death of
the Prophet in 632 ce, when some leading religious practitioners became
disillusioned with the growing worldliness of the rapidly expanding Muslim
polity as well as with the emergence of a more institutionalized, formal
religiosity that accommodated hypocrisy and lacked the spiritual dynamism
of the earliest Islamic community. Manifesting emotive dimensions of reli-
gious piety, Sufism emphasizes direct and personal experience of God, under-
stood with a particular emphasis on divine attributes pertaining to love
and mercy. Although Sufis also engage in the daily prayers characteristic of
both Sunni and Shiite piety, they further engage in dhikr (remembrance) as a
means of constantly remembering and invoking God, as per the Qurans
statement that the remembrance of God is the greatest practice. Dhikr is
combined with meditation (fikr) and is carried out alone, in retreats, in a
group setting (with music or in unison), or in daily practices. It involves the
repetition of a Divine Name or a formula based on revelation.

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, The Worlds Muslims: Unity and Diversity Report,
August 9, 2012, www.pewforum.org/2012/08/09/the-worlds-muslims-unity-and-diversity-
executive-summary/ (accessed December 16, 2014).
Intramural dissent on core beliefs in Islam 147

Those who seek communion with God in a Sufi manner aspire to become
friends of God through supererogatory forms of worship, involving a
constant remembrance of the divine and not just fulfillment of required
religious observances. Over time, Sufism came to develop unique ritual
components observed by esoteric and mystical congregations, and empha-
sized the role of saints in expediting personal connection with God. Sufi
popular practices include celebrating saints birthdays or death anniver-
saries and visiting and making pilgrimages to shrines or graves; reciting
poetry and singing to praise God; and devotional dancing (the most popular
and widely known example being that of the Mevlevi Sufi Order of Turkey,
aka the whirling dervishes).
The historical development of Sufism resulted in the emergence and
persistence of brotherhoods (tariqat, or pathways), ranging from loose
inclusive affiliations to strict initiated orders exclusively for members only.
These orders are based on masterdisciple relationships. The differences
between these orders or brotherhoods lay in such aspects as loyalty to the
head of the order (alive or deceased), belief in a particular silsilah (Sufi
chain of transmission and lineage), types of organization, methods of teach-
ing, peculiar practices and rituals, and regional contexts. As a complement
to the religious schools or madrasas of jurists, the Sufis developed the
khanaqah (rest house or lodge) as a traditional Islamic religious institution
and place of gathering.
If Sufism is represented at one end of the spectrum as an understanding
of Islam, then at the other end one usually finds groups that are now referred
to as Wahhabis or Salafis. The term Salafi refers to salaf al-salih, or pious
ancestors, and suggests an effort to reclaim and revive the pure, original Islam
of the first generations of Muslims. Contemporary Muslims who proclaim this
objective often take a quite critical stance vis--vis historically accumulated
Islamic traditions, including those of the major historical schools of law and
especially those of Shiites and Sufis. Embracing a puritanical approach to
Sunni Islamic revivalism, they reject the medieval synthesis of Sufism and
orthodoxy achieved by prominent and influential thinkers, such as the philo-
sopher and orthodox jurist al-Ghazali (d. 1111 ce).
In strongly opposing both Sufism and Shiism, Wahhabi or Salafi Muslims
equate practices of both rival groups with idolatry, which is at odds with strict
monotheism. Veneration of saints and of descendants of the Prophet
Muhammad has been a focus of particularly strong critique, together with
rituals that incorporate music and dance. Historically, Sufism was banned in
Saudi Arabia, until recently when the government gave some freedom to Sufi
orders to function in the kingdom.
Though dating back to the mid-eighteenth century in regions of India,
Nigeria, Sudan, and central Arabia, Salafism is popularly associated with the
teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (17031792). He claimed to
teach a return to the practices of the Prophet Muhammad and of the
148 Meena Sharify-Funk

immediate, first generations of Muslims, the salaf al-salih. Drawing on the

thought of the medieval Hanbali jurist Taqi al-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyya
(12631328), who pointedly denounced key Muslim rulers of his time for
failure to properly administer Islamic law and for permitting the infiltration
of Mongolian rules and practices, ibn Abd al-Wahhab proclaimed a desire to
purify Islam of any foreign or extraneous influences. By forging an alliance
with Muhammad ibn Saud family, he fostered the development of what would
eventually become the official religious framework of Saudi Arabia. He
denounced Sufi and Shiite forms of ritual practice and saint veneration as
bida (innovation) and even idolatry (shirk), and sanctioned the destruction of
Sufi shrines that had become objects of popular piety.
This attempt at a purification process and a return to true or authentic
Islam corresponds with the proclaimed goals of many modern Islamist poli-
tical projects. While some of these projects are decidedly moderate in their
proclaimed goals and actual methods, figures such as Osama Bin Laden and
Ayman al-Zawahiri have found in the puritan impulse a rhetorical framework
as well as an excuse for radical actions directed against internal and external
adversaries. In such cases, the imperative of purifying Islam is closely
associated with a belief that sweeping away deviant practices will somehow
reverse a decline in worldly power and restore Muslims to their historical
Wahhabi (or Salafi) views have been disseminated widely through the
Muslim World League (founded 1962) and are funded through missionary
activity and studies at institutions in Saudi Arabia. These missionaries are, for
instance, sent out to places such as Africa (where Sufi expressions of Islam are
historically dominant) in an effort to convert the Muslims there to Wahhabi/
Salafi understandings of Islam. Although not always embracing all aspects of
the Salafi worldview, movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-
Muslimeen) and Jamaat-i-Islam have often benefited from connections with
Wahhabi organizations and funding. Such revivalist movements reject the
radicalism of groups like al-Qaeda, and often advocate for democratic parti-
cipation. At the same time, their stated goal of building a more authentically
Islamic state is often intertwined with a puritan understanding of Islamic
law that neglects to acknowledge the de facto pluralism and complexity of
traditional legal practice and arguments. This understanding tends to be
inimical to Sufism, which generally upholds an understanding of Islam in
which flexibility and accommodation of difference receive a stronger valua-
tion. It also challenges the well-established, traditional schools of law, and
provides a discourse of dissent for Muslim movements founded on the belief
that mainstream religious establishments have been compromised by obedi-
ence to corrupt political leaders and, by extension, to a world order in which
key Muslim interests have been compromised much as ibn Taymiyya chal-
lenged religious and political leaders of his own time for allowing themselves
to become instruments of an external threat to Islamic culture and values.
Intramural dissent on core beliefs in Islam 149

Inculcation and reproduction

A key textual passage for discussions of both dissent and faith promulgation in
Islam is from the Qurans second surah: Let there be no compulsion in
religion (La ikraha fid-din) (2:255). This principle would seem to provide a
clear rebuke to practices of forcing beliefs on others, or targeting adversaries
on the basis of categorical identities and professed beliefs. Though the passage
has been interpreted in various ways, mainstream Muslims generally recog-
nize La ikraha as a principle of restraint and toleration.
Traditional approaches to intergenerational inculcation of Islamic
beliefs, of course, were formed in a pre-modern context. Within this context,
notions of individual autonomy in deciding between various possible
faiths and belief systems were decidedly absent. Transmitting Islamic
moral teachings to the next generation was seen as a religious duty, and
the no compulsion principle was often regarded in a descriptive manner
how could there be compulsion in teaching a child the path to salvation?
Youth socialization was a pervasive and organic process, and there was no
perceived need, for example, to give equal time to Shiite and Sunni forms of
Islam, or to non-Islamic belief systems. Religious identity was a largely
ascriptive phenomenon, and the established consensus (ijma) for communal
norms was actively protected by the state.
In traditional Islamic contexts, fidelity to Islamic traditions connected
an individual both to the larger community and to their own heritage and
lineage. The association of lineage and status conferred by religious
belonging can be seen quite clearly in traditions that granted a special
prestige to descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. Because of the
immense emphasis placed on the model of the Prophet, there was great
power in connecting to his lineage. For example, the tradition of Seyyeds
or Sharifs (both titles that signify descent from the Prophet) is translated
across cultural, ethnic, and sectarian divides. Such titles transcend tribal
affiliations and dynastic empires. Additionally, the power of lineage is
present in all Sufi orders in the idea of a silsilah, or chain of transmission
from the Prophet.
A key challenge for contemporary Islamic thinkers, felt most acutely
by those living in Western liberal contexts, is how most appropriately
to retain communal values linked to faith identity and proper upbringing
of the young while providing greater space for individual choice and
self-determination. This negotiation between Islam and cultural liberal-
ism is likely to be prolonged and in some cases difficult (as has indeed
been the case for Christianity and Judaism), yet many Islamic thinkers
find in it an opportunity to revisit essential principles and to reconsider
ways in which they might be enacted that create opportunities to
embrace faith with heightened knowledge and awareness, but without
external compulsion.
150 Meena Sharify-Funk

The subject of authority in Islam is complex and often contested. As noted
previously with respect to differences between Shiites and Sunnis, different
sectarian tendencies within Islam have divergent notions with respect to
the role of ancestry and heritage in the conferring of leadership status and
authority. While Shiite Islam placed a particular emphasis on charismatic
leadership linked to the family of the Prophet, Sunni Islam afforded a special
respect to such status but without the same expectation of a convergence
between genealogy and spiritual or political authority.
Such differences notwithstanding, authority within Islam has generally
been much more decentralized than in historical Christianity. Only in rare
cases (for example in the religious life of Ismaili Muslims), however, have
Muslims embraced models of authority in which a single office holds author-
ity comparable to that of a Catholic pope. Although the early caliphate
was intended to involve both political and religious leadership and Muslim
polities have actively sought to institutionalize sources of religious legiti-
macy, all aspirations toward a large-scale, long-term fusion of authority in
a single person, lineage, or institution have failed. With the exception of
post-revolutionary Iran, the contemporary Islamic experience is marked
more by a proliferation of voices claiming authority than by a convergence
of these voices. Increasingly, traditional sources of authority (for example
madrasa education or training at al-Azhar University) must contend with
modern ones, and learned religious figures must compete with religious
autodidacts trained in engineering, medicine, or education. While male
gender, maturity of age, and reputation for religious knowledge still bring a
degree of privilege, authority is contested as never before.
This observation, of course, runs counter to much current commentary on
Muslim politics, which often focuses particularly on contestation surround-
ing the religious legitimacy of the state. Undeniably, modern ideological
notions of an Islamic state, as advocated by Islamic movements as well as
by various existing political entities (including Iran as well as Pakistan and
Afghanistan) have not excelled at cultivating an atmosphere conducive to a
positive ethic favoring intellectual pluralism. The project of creating an
Islamic state, however, is in many respects a reflection of deep insecurity
about the stability and viability of traditional authority structures in the face
of exogenously driven cultural change and growing internal diversity, as well
as external political and economic influences that are perceived as hostile to
Muslim interests.
As the Arab Spring protests in North Africa and the Middle East have
revealed, authority structures in Muslim-majority countries are both brittle
and resilient. They are brittle to the extent to which they can no longer effec-
tively contain and regulate the pluralism of Muslim societies, and resilient to the
extent that few parties Islamist and traditionalist as well as secularist have
Intramural dissent on core beliefs in Islam 151

been willing to place toleration for dissent above narrower ambitions to recon-
stitute traditional authority relations and reshape social norms. Thus far the
Arab Spring has revealed the profound insecurity of all parties, together with a
complete absence of consensus. Competing projects have not yet worked out
norms for co-existence, and each retains the potential for profound intolerance
toward dissent and opposition.
Recent developments underscore the point that Islam is internally plur-
alistic, with different schools of thought, subcultures, ritual manifestations
of piety, and ethical traditions, whose adherents share and negotiate a
historical narrative and sacred texts and cosmologies. In this regard, notions
of Islam and Muslims are fluid and are, at times, driven by political agendas
or movements/organizations, which are steeped in the larger fabric of the
Muslim world. To speak of a single theory of Muslim politics is simply
impossible. As Peter Mandaville states, to study Muslim politics . . . is to
look at the diverse ways in which people who identify themselves as
Muslims in a variety of social locations be they religious scholars, bureau-
crats, intellectuals, merchants, scientists understand, make use of, and
mobilize the symbols and language of Islam around issues of social order,
power and authority.12 This framework allows us to observe the various
ways in which people engage and draw upon religious tradition as they
construct and contest social order. Like members of other religio-cultural
groups, Muslims are adapting and reacting to large-scale, transnational
currents of change in economic, social, and political life. Technological
advancement and ongoing processes of globalization make it impossible
for any society to develop in an entirely isolated manner, and as a conse-
quence tensions and polarities that occur in many societies often have
correlates within Islam. Familiar Western debates about epistemology,
interpretation, authority, and religious knowledge are by no means alien
to Muslim societies, and the divergent positions taken by Muslim thinkers
reflect intellectual as well as existential reactions to the same sorts of
questions that have long engaged Western thinkers, colored in part by
political attitudes and historical experiences with Western societies in
which secular currents are more prominent.
Scholars have identified a range of interpretive tendencies that have
emerged to compete for contemporary Muslim identity. While there is no
universally accepted typology, analysts commonly disaggregate various
currents into tendencies of Muslim secularism and progressive reformism
as well as mainstream Islamic revivalism, radical Islamism, and neo-
Muslim secularists are those who demonstrate the greatest comfort with
what is sometimes characterized as Western modernity, and though often
religious on a personal basis react strongly against programs and belief

Peter Mandaville, Global Political Islam (New York: Routledge, 2007).
152 Meena Sharify-Funk

systems that grant a prominent, substantive role to religious leaders, institu-

tions, and ideas in public life. Having embraced an empirical-rationalist world-
view within which matters of religious conviction cannot be definitively
proven, Muslim secularists value Islam as a cultural heritage or set of princi-
ples while rejecting revivalist politics and efforts to elevate the status of Islam
in education and law. Though generally more comfortable with intellectual
ambiguity and multiple advocacy than those who seek to navigate modernity
on the basis of fixed religious certainties, Muslim secularists do not invariably
model the toleration they profess.
The secularist position shares much in common with progressive
Muslim reformism, yet reformists can be differentiated from secularists by
their greater esteem for religious rituals and communal practice, and by their
stronger valorization of Islam as a source of personal and collective identity.
Where secularists are often indifferent to debates about religious epistemol-
ogy, progressive reformists participate actively in conversations about textual
interpretation and the need for fresh readings of traditional sources.
Mainstream Islamic revivalists part ways with reformists through their
stronger distinction between Islamic and Western cultures. Although revival-
ists see much in modern technology and practice that might be gainfully
incorporated in Islamic societies, they believe Islam carries a unique and
distinctive set of perennial values and practices that are incompatible with
Western-style secularism and individualism. Religious certainties are funda-
mentally knowable, and though certain traditional beliefs may have to be
reevaluated in light of a fresh appraisal of authoritative sources, there is no
need to seek harmony between Islamic and Western practices. Islamic socie-
ties, mainstream revivalists contend, need to recapture their self-confidence
and work toward an alternative modernity animated by its own social and
religious values.
Radical Islamists differ from mainstream revivalists in their appraisal of
the extent to which Islam is threatened by Western values, practices, and
politics. Where mainstream revivalists demonstrate greater confidence in
the staying power and resilience of Islamic culture and values, radical
Islamists believe that Islam has been gravely corrupted by hostile exogen-
ous influences. Rather than a simple revival of fundamental precepts and
practices, radicals perceive a need to purge Islamic societies in a revolu-
tionary manner, displacing rulers who lack certitude and a willingness to
reject neo-colonial influences.
The neo-traditionalist tendency manifests a quite different understanding
of what is essential in Islam, and argues against religious and secular tenden-
cies that in their view reflect a superficial grasp of classical religious sciences.
Neo-traditionalists distrust the revolutionary politics of radicals and the will-
ingness of many revivalists to dispense with traditional authority, deep study,
and respect for past religious syntheses. Against modernists, secularists, and
progressives, neo-traditionalists uphold the continuing authoritative status of
Intramural dissent on core beliefs in Islam 153

traditional beliefs and practices, which they regard as an indispensable bul-

wark against cultural degeneration and spiritual malaise.
These patterns of variation in Islamic thought reflect geography Islam in
Saudi Arabia differs in significant ways from Islam in Syria or Morocco as
well as diverse cultures of interpretation that cut across spatial boundaries.
Islam, its actors, and their actions meanings are contested in ways that have
major implications for IslamicWestern relations, and for internal debates
regarding issues such as democracy and social change. These cultures of
interpretation, of course, do not exhaust the complexity of Islamic thought,
nor are they mutually exclusive and invariant intellectual positions. Still, the
categories can sensitize analysts to different currents of thought. Observers
therefore need to reflect on the following questions, before equating a given
position or pronouncement with Islam as such:
* Which Islam is being invoked, by whom, and for what reasons and
* How is meaning found in modern times (i.e. amidst rapid social and
cultural changes) by reflecting on the past? And what frameworks are
established from these meanings, which, then, lead to a particular
Muslim identity and livelihood?
Contrary to the beliefs of those who project a monolithic Muslim tide,
contemporary Muslims are deeply divided on a wide range of topics. They
differ in their perceptions of the West, their epistemological beliefs, and
their convictions about the relationship between mosque and state. They
also differ in their willingness to accept and legitimize Islams internal
pluralism and hermeneutic diversity. While some are willing to embrace
different ways in which communities of Muslims negotiate Islam, others
take a more inflexible view that negates diversity. The assertion of a singu-
lar, monolithic Islam can result in an oversimplification or even purging of
Islamic history a renewal of selective Islamic philosophies and theologies,
with other historical positions written off as erroneous or un-Islamic.
The actual positions taken by different groups, however, are not always
predictable on the basis of professed beliefs alone. Faced with opposition,
secularists and reformists at times retreat into illiberal alliances with state
and military institutions. Passionate revivalists, though in principle dedi-
cated to shoring up particular forms of social morality in ways that run
counter to liberalism, are at times more genuinely committed to notions of
democratic legitimacy, particularly when they believe that majority opinion
favors their stances.

Management options
As a tradition that calls for human accountability in the face of transcendent
principles, there are many aspects of Islam that encourage dissent,
154 Meena Sharify-Funk

particularly in the face of social injustice. There is a rich history of Muslim

disagreements, many of which have been validated, such as the recognition
within Islamic law of indeterminacy on a range of contested matters. The
fact that Islam has no pope or Vatican means that there is no singular figure
to whom all can turn as a referee on Islamic correctness, yet this lack of
central authority can also be framed as a strength that permits the growth
and development of multiple ways of being Muslim. The challenge for
contemporary Muslims is not to invent principles of pluralism and internal
dissent from scratch, but rather to affirm, update, and reconstitute existing
principles within a modern context.
Like most traditional religious systems, Islam has often wrestled with issues
such as blasphemy, heresy, and the status of non-believers within a majority
Muslim community. While the Quran contains explicit prescriptions for the
recognition of Jews, Christians, and Sabians as people of the Book that is,
as people who follow a divine revelation and who are entitled to special status
within an Islamic polity certain forms of internal dissent (particularly on core
beliefs concerning the unity of God, the sanctity of the Quran, and the
reverence due to the Prophet, but also on convictions concerning the bound-
aries of innovation and the right to exercise communal authority) have not
been welcome. Traditional Muslim practices have sought to protect Islam
from blasphemy and have linked the issue of apostasy not just to public
morality, but also (historically and implicitly) to precedents set in the seventh
century amidst a political rebellion against the early Islamic state.13 In past
centuries, sectarian minorities within Islam tended to seek refuge on the
fringes or margins of the Muslim world, for example in the mountains of
Lebanon and Syria.
Contemporary Islamic reformist thinkers are trying to expand the options
for legitimate dissent, both to allow more space for those who cannot assent on
core doctrinal matters and to prevent the conflation of political disloyalty or
dissent with offenses of a religious nature. In the face of politically exploited
blasphemy laws (for example in Pakistan) as well as political discourse that
seeks to render the other an apostate or terrorist, such reformists are calling
for thicker-skinned and more substantively democratic Islamic responses
premised on self-confidence in Islamic beliefs and reinvigoration of the no
compulsion principle. This entails rethinking certain boundary-defense
mechanisms within a more cosmopolitan and global setting, within which
Islam can find common ground with various other ethical systems, secular as
well as religious. It also requires placing greater weight on individual religious
conscience, and developing greater awareness of the choices made as religious
communities engage and interpret their religious texts.

Asma Afsaruddin, The First Muslims: History and Memory (London: Oneworld Publishers,
Intramural dissent on core beliefs in Islam 155

Some reformists see hope in an emergent cosmopolitan ethos, according to

which many Muslims (especially those living in Western societies) are affirm-
ing hybrid or pluralized identities in which multiple loyalties are mutually
reinforcing rather than mutually exclusive. In such formulations, being
European or Canadian or American need not detract from Islamic identity
and vice versa. Rather, such multiplexity helps to transcend the bifurcation
of the world based purely on Islamic or Western values.14

Internal criticism
While it appears certain that reverence for the Quran and for the Prophet
Muhammad will remain central to Islamic faith and practice, emergent
trends within Muslim communities arguably point toward the possibility
of a medium-term future (as opposed to short-term or long-term) within
which intramural dissent and debate are recognized as valuable to the
search for truth in an Islamic context. The rapid spread of literacy has
made Islamic sources accessible to a far broader constituency than in past
eras, and current turbulence can be viewed not just as a function of eco-
nomic and political variables, but also as a process through which Muslims
are incrementally and sometimes painfully working out new rules for
managing difference and disagreement.
The uncertain trajectory of the Arab Spring does not negate this projection.
The present fragmentation of Muslim polities reflects a larger process through
which Muslims are testing the practical implications of ideological convic-
tions, within a context in which failure to bring tangible improvements on
basic quality-of-life indicators must eventually lead to ideological reform and
revision. A libertarian future appears unlikely, yet rising generations of edu-
cated Muslims are unlikely to settle for systems that punish dissent and distort
its role in promoting general welfare. While social media can be used in
illiberal as well as progressive ways, the emergence of new technological
mediums for communication makes the imposition of totalizing ideology
more difficult than in the past, and potentially helps to normalize difference
and dissent.
In the defense of freer expression within a Muslim context, Islamic sources
offer many potential resources. The Quran, for example, contains multiple
injunctions for believers to use their faculty of reason. Key passages that
call for enjoining the good and forbidding evil (amr bil maruf wa nahi an
al-munkar) lend themselves not just to a conventional moral reading, but also
to readings that highlight the vital importance of multiple advocacy in
enabling public vigilance.

Meena Sharify-Funk, Encountering the Transnational: Women, Islam, and the Politics of
Interpretation (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishers, 2008), p. 19.
156 Meena Sharify-Funk

To an extent, traditional Islamic norms accommodate religious and moral
pluralism, explicitly validating the existence of alternative systems.
Passages in the Quran granting status to Jews, Christians, and Sabians,
for example, recognize that a law and an open way have been given to
more than one people.15 The Quran states that a messenger has been sent
to every nation. Such thoughts, understood within a contemporary global
context, can certainly be interpreted in ways that enable and foster dialo-
gue, while accommodating a plurality of beliefs and convictions. The
Quran itself goes so far as to state that God could have made all people
alike, but did not. While exclusivist and intolerant ways of reading this
scripture are indeed possible, there are solid grounds in Islamic sources
for flexibility in responses to difference.
Such observations do not, of course, negate the reality that it is easier to
respect others when respect is mutual and in situations when adherents to a
belief system feel confident in their worldly standing. Currently, perceived
offenses against Islam and Muslims committed by a Western other
heighten the stakes of intra-Muslim debates, and Muslim minorities living
in Western societies are experiencing a learning curve as they seek reason-
able accommodation for religious practices while still adapting construc-
tively to new situations within which differences in ethical horizons are a
daily reality. The early promise of the Arab Spring has given way to a
turbulence that sharpens longstanding ideological divides and reawakens
latent sectarian rivalries, heightening the challenges of constructive, demo-
cratic Muslim empowerment. Within an atmosphere shaped by high stakes
and bitter contestation, protagonists of divergent ideological and sectarian
tendencies find it easier to overreach or to attribute blame than to engage in
principled outreach that demonstrably affirms social and political space for
the other. Transforming conflicts from zero-sum to positive-sum will
require not just a shift in costbenefit analysis, but also in deeper habits of
thought and feeling.
As suggested previously, much can be gained by suspending the strongly
felt desire for visible unity, by reflecting more profoundly on the reality of
historical and contemporary Muslim diversity, and by legitimizing new ways of
voicing and accommodating dissent. Intra-Muslim dialogue that gives weight,
value, and respect to different ways of being Muslim, and which honestly faces
the costs of some past practices, can only benefit Muslims as they seek to
engage with other moral systems on a principled basis. In turn, revisiting
the subject of dissent in relation both to traditional sources and to modern
democratic practices can be similarly invigorating. Textual injunctions to

See Sohail H. Hashmis article, The Quran and Tolerance: An Interpretive Essay on Verse
5:48, Journal of Human Rights 2, 1 (March 2003): 81103.
Intramural dissent on core beliefs in Islam 157

dissent with others only in the most fitting way can be adapted to new
contexts, granting new meaning and value to political participation, voice,
and engagement. In the broadest possible sense, innovatively traditional
Muslim responses to internal as well as external pluralism can present fresh
opportunities for expression of core Islamic ideas, including the Quranic
principle that the Creator made humanity into nations and tribes not that all
differences might be erased, but rather so that the worlds many peoples
Islamic and not might come to know one another.
Chapter 8

Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions

Anne Murphy

I begin this chapter with appreciation, noted perhaps most famously in recent
times by Amartya Sen in his The Argumentative Indian, of the extensive and
ubiquitous nature of debate and dissent in South Asia.1 This is a common
representation of Hinduism, in particular. For example, the popular online
and print magazine Hinduism Today ran a story in 2006 that declared
Hinduism has a grand diversity among its many sects that all spring from
a single source. Further on the author notes,
Most Hindus believe in the transcendental God as well as the personal Lord or
God, and yet there is within the boundaries of the faith room for the non-believer,
for the atheist or for the agnostic who is assessing and developing his beliefs . . .
There is no such thing as a heretic in Hinduism, for there is no single right
perspective or belief.2

One might think, therefore, that we already know what we need to know about
intramural dissent, at least in Hinduism. Any discussion would then only need
to address other religions in South Asia that might differ from this absolute
tolerance. Things, however, are not so simple. We can see this even in the
quote above: Hinduisms various sects spring from a single source, yet there
is no single right perspective or belief. There is a contradiction in this
assertion of simultaneous diversity and singular origin that suggests that the
ways in which Hinduism exhibits both internal tolerance and intolerance are
more complex than this assertion allows.

Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture, and Identity
(New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005), p. ix. Sen builds on earlier exploration
along such lines by Romila Thapar, Dissent and Protest in early Indian Tradition,
Diogenes 29, 31 (1981): 3154.
page 25 of PDF (accessed June 19, 2013).

Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 159

In the spirit of openness to heterodoxy, I approach the question of the

management of dissent within traditions by considering its relationship to the
formation of boundaries between traditions. We will see that the problem of
boundary setting with the outside directly impacts the management of
dissent within. We examine two traditions: Hinduism and Sikhism. With
Hinduism, an capacious definition of the boundaries of the religion allows us
to see it as tolerant, inclusive, and multi-voiced. This inclusivity also, however,
constitutes a kind of violence on traditions/practices that might today be (and
in the historical past certainly were) seen as distinct; caste in particular plays
an important role in this kind of contestation. There are profound political
ramifications of this dynamic. In the case of Sikhism, which has successfully
articulated a separate identity from Hinduism but is often perceived of as
doing so in narrow terms, we will see how the need to defend against the reach
of Hinduism in its modern form has impacted both external boundary
setting and the institutions and strategies that exist within Sikh tradition to
manage and allow dissent. In both cases, we will see that boundary setting
between traditions fundamentally shapes internal attitudes toward dissent and
It is for this reason that this chapter is constructed under the rubric of
South Asian religions, rather than a single tradition: to allow us to under-
stand how boundaries within and between historically linked traditions are
simultaneously constructed. We cannot of course cover all South Asian
traditions here. Indeed to fully understand religious dynamics in South Asia,
one must include Islam, which has had a broad and longstanding cultural and
religious impact. Islam is covered ably elsewhere in the volume, however, and
will not therefore be examined here. It is important to note, at the same time,
that many of the dynamics visible in what follows, regarding the nature of
boundary formation within and between traditions, are relevant to South
Asian Islam as well. For example, Islam is generally represented seamlessly
with reference to core texts and practices centered in the Arab world. Yet we
can see the very complex and local nature of Islamic thought and practice in
the Ismaili Khoja community, a group originally from Gujarat, western India,
that has since the nineteenth century been identified with a broader Ismaili
Shia identity with the Aga Khan as religious leader. As Teena Purohit has
noted in her recent study of Ismaili Khoja identity, modern efforts to trace a
Persian and Shia Ismaili genealogy for this community at times obscure its
hybrid and South Asian vernacular traditions, as expressed in the sacred canon
of the Khojas, the ginns.3 Through the acceptance of such local articulations
of Muslim identity rather than by privileging Middle Eastern and Persianate

Teena Purohit, The Aga Khan Case: Religion and Identity in Colonial India (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 2012), p. 7. For an account that emphasizes Persian connections,
see Dominique-Sila Khan, Conversions and Shifting Identities: Ramdev Pir and the Ismailis of
Rajasthan (New Delhi: Manohar, 1997).
160 Anne Murphy

formulations new contours of a global Islam emerge, in dynamic interface

with other traditions.4 The effort to define between religions, as well as an
overemphasis on uniformity within, in short, undermines our ability to under-
stand these traditions in full.
By focusing on distinct traditions in conversation, this chapter seeks to
reorient a singular preoccupation with the religious center and a concomitant
preoccupation with dissent about that center, toward an understanding of how
definitions within and outside are constructed simultaneously. The focus is on
nodes of articulation, paired with the core structural units of the chapter, that
provide examples of the direct relationship between boundary setting at the
outside and the quest to define (and often delimit) room for dissent within. With
Sikhism and Hinduism, we compare a tradition that is smaller, relatively
centrally organized and defined (Sikhism), with one that is more dispersed,
decentralized, and which holds a variety of textual formations as core texts
(Hinduism). While therefore very distinctive, the two also feature similar
dynamics as do Islam and all other religions in the region that are shaped
by shared historical circumstances. Particularly important for our understanding
of religion in South Asia is the encounter with colonialism and the reframing of
the idea of religion that occurs in that period. Much of current political
contestation in South Asia, both within traditions and between them, can be
traced to this complicated encounter. Healthy internal debate and dissent persist
in both Hinduism and Sikhism alongside less healthy forms, which can escalate
into conflict and sometimes violence. To understand why and how this is the case
requires both an understanding of recent political and social transformations in
South Asia, as well as the historical underpinnings for those transformations.

Key tenets
Speaking of key tenets invites us to grapple with the definition of
Hinduism overall. A wealth of scholarship has highlighted the recent
provenance of the term and idea of Hinduism.5 Appearing first in Persian
and Arabic sources, the term Hindu was ethnic-geographic in its earliest
uses, referring to the Indus River and those who lived in the region associated
with it.6 The idea of Hindu developed in complex ways in subsequent
centuries, expanding slowly to include a cultural and religious sense. Even
with such senses, however, the early understanding of the term does not match

Teena Purohit, Reading Global Islam Through Messianic Renewal in Dasavatr, in
Anne Murphy (ed.), Time, History and the Religious Imaginary in South Asia (London:
Routledge, 2011), pp. 5569.
David Lorenzen, Who Invented Hinduism? Comparative Studies in Society and History
41, 4 (1999): 630659, and Brian Pennington, Was Hinduism Invented? Britons, Indians, and
the Colonial Construction of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Carl Ernst, Eternal Garden: Mysticism, History and Politics at a South Asian Sufi Center
(Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004 [1994]), pp. 22ff.
Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 161

its usage today. Before the modern period Hindu was most often used in
a contrastive sense along the lines of gentile in Western traditions with
reference to non-Jews, in this case designating a group of traditions that
were not Muslim and not Christian.7 Thus, as I argue elsewhere, we can see
in eighteenth-century Punjabi texts that Sikhs were sometimes contained
within a sense of Hindu in such broad contrastive terms, at the same time
that they were portrayed clearly as representing a separate religious/cultural
tradition alongside other traditions that were portrayed as similarly distinct,
some of which are now included under the umbrella term Hindu.8 This is not
just a terminological issue. If people did not historically call themselves
Hindu in substantive terms, and certainly did not define a Hinduism,
how do we define dissent within Hinduism in historical terms?
Sikhism differs dramatically in this respect. We can understand this today,
because it is now generally accepted as a separate religion from Hinduism.
If the idea of religion is applicable at all in South Asia (which may not be
so; see below), this rings true: Sikh tradition has a founder (Guru Nanak,
14691539) and a canonical text at the center of Sikh thought and practice, the
Guru Granth Sahib. Such features speak strongly for the independence of
Sikhism as a separate religion as it is conventionally understood. Lacking a
single founder or canon, however, does not mean that Hinduism is not a
religion in some unique way such an argument, Will Sweetman has shown,
merely reflects Western biases about what constitutes religion.9 The issue
I highlight here is different. Hinduism as it is construed today includes a range
of traditions that were once understood as independent. Practices associated
with what we can call the brahminical imaginary, to use Wendy Donigers
words for those traditions that accept a special mediating role for ritual
specialists known as Brahmins and that feature major textual formations in
Sanskrit or in conversation with Sanskrit sources are clearly delineated as
fundamentally different, for example, from antinomian yogic practices in the
same texts cited above.10 These were multiple traditions, and Hindu as an
idea did not bind them all into a single one. In short, the modern broad
definition of Hindu does not match the vague sense of the term that existed
in the past as a contrastive term and cannot be used to reliably describe
religious identity in the historical past.

See Lorenzen, Who Invented Hinduism? pp. 639640.
Anne Murphy, The gurbilas Literature and the Idea of Religion, in Anshu Malhotra and
Farina Mir (eds.), Punjab Reconsidered: History, Culture, and Practice (New York and New
Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 93115; and Anne Murphy, The Contours of
Community: Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century Articulations in Sikh Tradition
Will Sweetman, Hinduism and the History of Religion: Protestant Presuppositions
in the Critique of the Concept of Hinduism, Method & Theory in the Study of Religion,
15, 4 (2003): 329353.
Wendy Doniger, The Hindus: An Alternative History (New York: Penguin, 2010), p. 29.
162 Anne Murphy

What complicates this problem of naming, however, is that there is, today,
very much a Hinduism a product of a regrouping and reorganization of
disparate traditions into an entity that became increasingly formalized over
the course of the period of British rule, organized around a core of brahminical
traditions and Sanskrit texts but asserting inclusion of a wide range of diverse
practices and texts. This new Hinduism incorporated a diversity of traditions
that were once quite distinct. Such inclusion was, as will be shown, problematic
for those traditions that countered the ideological and institutional formations
of the brahminical imaginary. Inclusion, in this case, became a form of denial
of their content. Other traditions, such as Sikhism, were successfully posi-
tioned as separate in their rejection of not just brahminical authority, but also
many of the alternative practices (e.g. yogic asceticism) that are now also
included under the broader term Hinduism. The achievement of this articu-
lation, however, was hard won, and the battle to achieve and maintain it in the
modern period has shaped Sikhism internally in profound ways. Boundaries
between, boundaries within: these are deeply connected.
It is therefore both possible and necessary to define Hinduism in a more
limited sense as a set of traditions that identify a body of ritual and related
texts in Sanskrit called the Vedas as a beginning point or conceptual center
created largely but not exclusively by Brahmins and held traditionally as their
special preserve and which adhere to the social and ritual commitments
embodied in later texts that develop in relation to them. This tradition main-
tains a strong connection to Sanskrit cultural production, although this is often
mediated through other elite and/or classical languages (such as Tamil or
Kannada) or expressed in vernacular languages in modes that retain associa-
tion with Sanskrit texts, even if only in symbolic terms.11 This is in fact most
often the tacit operative definition in use, the implied single source referred
to in the article from Hinduism Today cited above. These are traditions we can
more accurately describe as Hindu in the historical past recognizing that
we are utilizing a new historically sensitive sense of the word, neither the
contrastive sense used earlier nor the all-encompassing sense that has come to
be accepted. This is in keeping with Donigers early observation that the term
heretic was used as a catchall for condemning anyone who challenged the
religious and social status quo, that is, the authority of the Vedas and the
Brahmins within Sanskrit sources from this tradition.12 This tradition itself
was, as will be clear, multi-voiced and changed dynamically over time, and

Indeed, the orientation to these texts is often wholly symbolic; Jonathan Parry among many
others has described how religious specialists in the renowned holy city of Benares in North
India made frequent reference to Sanskrit texts, even when they had little direct knowledge
of their content. Jonathan Parry, The Brahminical tradition and the Technology of the
Intellect in Joanna Overing (ed.), Reason and Morality (London and New York: Tavistock
Publishing, 1985), pp. 200225.
Wendy Doniger, The Origins of Heresy in Hindu Mythology, History of Religions 10,
4 (May 1971): 271333, see 280. Brian Smith discusses this definition of Hinduism, with
Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 163

never took a centralized institutional form, so the complexity at the core of

Hindu is maintained even with this narrower formulation.13 As will also
soon be clear, such a definition does not encompass all the traditions named
today as Hindu.14
The core early Vedic texts themselves, however, offer little direction in
understanding historical Hindu tradition as a lived religion (although
perhaps in the modern period they have come closer to doing so, through
the self-conscious revivalist activities of groups like the Arya Samaj, founded
by Dayanand Saraswati (18241883), which embraced the Vedas as the center
of Hindu tradition and eschewed later texts. As Wilhelm Halbfass put it, quite
simply, the Vedic texts contain no Hindu dogma, no basis for a creed of
Hinduism, no clear guidelines for the Hindu way of life.15 In terms
of content, it is the Sanskrit texts called the Puranas (written from 300 to
600 CE) that are animated by the devotional commitments that evolve in the
post-Vedic period. Here we see stories related to a range of deities Shiva,
Vishnu, the goddess that are venerated by Hindus around the world today.
This does not, however, allow us access to a clear definition of Hinduism, for
many of these traditions might be most fruitfully seen as separate traditions:
Shaivite (related to the God Shiva) traditions are of quite a different order
than those of Vaishnavas (related to Vishnu). Indeed, cogent arguments have
been made for seeing them as separate religions, based on rival initiation
ceremonies and exclusive claims to truth (as well as conflicts between them).16

criticism, in Brian Smith, Exorcising the Transcendent: Strategies for Defining Hinduism
and Religion, History of Religions 27, 1 (August 1987): 3255, see 37ff.
The decentralized and diverse nature of brahmanical traditions is rightly observed by
Raf Gelders and S. N. Balgangadhara, Rethinking Orientalism: Colonialism and the Study of
Indian Traditions, History of Religions 51, 2 (November 2011): 101128; see 103104.
Gelders and Balagangadhara, Rethinking Orientalism, p. 128. David Lorenzen has argued
too for attention to the independence of alternate traditions, which he calls by the name
non-caste Hinduism. But such a designation is ultimately self-contradicting, as his own
data show; that such traditions bear the clear impress of subordination to caste Hinduism
does not mean they are not outside it; no relationship of power allows for such neatness. A
comparison makes this clear: we do not question the distinction between Jews and
Christians, even though they are intimately connected in a contrastive relationship that
has constituted for both a means of self-definition and has been hierarchically articulated
in a long history of anti-semitism. They are connected, but this connection does not make
them one. David Lorenzen, Traditions of Non-Caste Hinduism: The Kabir Panth, in
Who Invented Hinduism? Essays on Religion in History (New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2006),
pp. 78101. Originally published in Contributions to Indian Sociology 21 (1987): 264283. See
also discussion in Anupama Rao, The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), p. 22.
Wilhelm Halbfass, The Idea of the Veda and the Identity of Hinduism, in J. E. Llewellyn
(ed.), Defining Hinduism: A Reader (New York: Routledge, 2005), pp. 1629.
See for example Heinrich von Stietencron, Religious Configurations in Pre-Muslim India
and the Modern Concept of Hinduism, in Vasudha Dalmia and H. von Stietencron (eds.),
Representing Hinduism: The Construction of Religious Traditions and National Identity
(Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1995), pp. 5181.
164 Anne Murphy

Other core tenets that develop in the late and post-Vedic period involve
philosophical speculation related to the doctrines of rebirth and karmic
causation that is also visible in traditions now accepted as non-Hindu
Jainism and Buddhism because of their rejection of the authority of the
Veda, as well as divergent understandings of ontology and practice.17 It must
be noted that some Hindu sources in Sanskrit have historically claimed Jain
and Buddhist traditions as internal dissenting traditions; the drive to include
has a long history.
The idea of dharma is central to any formulation of key tenets in
Hinduism. It too is used too broadly to define what is Hindu; Buddhism
and Sikhism utilize the term in allied (although different) ways.18 Even in
clearly Hindu (i.e. brahminical/Sanskritic traditions that are oriented toward
the Veda) contexts, dharma is multifold. Dharma is best viewed as part of the
underlying vocabulary or conceptual toolkit that all religious thought engaged
with in the subcontinent, particularly in the period before Islamic concepts
of religion came to influence ideas of dharma in a dynamic dialogue. In
brahminical traditions, dharma is that which should be done, in the broadest
sense.19 It is elaborated in a wide range of smriti or remembered texts, which
are of a different order than those associated with revelation, the Veda (which
are heard, shrti). Texts known as the dharma-stras and dharma-shstras are
centrally concerned with explicating dharma as custom or cra, or the norms
and standards consciously and deliberately established by the elites of a given
group;20 they do so, however, not by giving definitive answers to questions of
dharma, but by providing encyclopedic responses to questions related to it.
The ideals they explicate are generally encapsulated in a single term:
varnshrama-dharma, or dharma that is associated with ones station in life
(shrama) or caste/color (varna). The stages in life are formulated as that of
the student, householder, retiree, and renunciant; each has its own set of
responsibilities. Varna is defined loosely in broad categories: brahmin (ritual
specialist/scholar), kshatriya (political/military roles), vaishya (merchants),
shudra (artisans and peasants); the first three are of a higher status ritually
than the fourth, and a fifth unstated outcaste category accompanies these
four, marginalized within the broader system. A more complicated and

As Lorenzen notes, many lower-caste people do not accept basic ideas about karma and
reincarnation, suggesting that the ideological foundations of lower-caste religiosity can be
quite distinct from those grounded in Vedic and related traditions (Lorenzen, Traditions of
Non-Caste Hinduism, pp. 8990).
Indeed, as Patrick Olivelle has argued, it was within early Buddhism that dharma became a
core concept (Patrick Olivelle, The Semantic History of Dharma: The Middle and Late
Vedic Periods, in Dharma: Studies in its Semantic, Cultural and Religious History [Delhi:
Motilal Benarasidass Publishers, 2009 (2004)], pp. 6989, 82.)
Paul Hacker, Dharma in Hinduism, in Olivelle (ed.), Dharma, p. 479.
Donald R. Davis, Jr., Dharma in Practice: cra and Authority in Medieval Dharmastra, in
Olivelle (ed.), Dharma, p. 392. See also description in Hacker, Dharma in Hinduism, p. 486.
Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 165

regionally articulated system of caste/class known as jti, however, represents

the lived experience of what we call caste today Dharma is only one of the
stated four goals of life, the others being kma or desire, artha or temporal
success, and moksha or liberation; these are pursued in different ways in
accordance with ones place in life. Yet, even with this detailed explication,
there are no easy answers within the system as to what is the correct way to
live, and the context-sensitive and complicated nature of dharma is crucial to
understanding how dissent is managed with reference to these texts and
As Leela Prasad has so vividly shown, the authoritative texts associated
with brahminical Hindu tradition function in multiple ways. They largely act
as imagined texts, where injunctions and actions come together in an
imagined representation of the normative that is constructed by each
individual or by a community commingling memory and experience
with learning and teaching.21 Dharmashastras in lived experience are thus
a nebulous but dynamic and open-ended cultural background that influ-
ences conceptualizations of conduct and is in turn influenced by them,22
constructed around multiple and diverse opinions on right conduct and right
being. The shastras in this sense are broadly cosmopolitan and inclusive. At
the same time, they acted also to close down options for some members
of South Asian society mainly women and lower castes: The Brahmin
imaginary has no canon, Wendy Doniger explains, but if it did, that canon
would be the body of shastras which spelled out the dominant paradigm
with regard to women, animals, and castes, the mark at which all
subsequent antinomian or resistant strains of Hinduism aimed.23 Indeed,
the varna system defined most starkly that fifth category of those who were
deemed to be outside of it, known by the English term untouchable but in
India in the modern period by various other terms (harijan or people of
God by nationalist leader Mohandas Gandhi [18691948], and as the
depressed classes and dalits or broken men by nationalist and Dalit
leader B. R. Ambedkar [18911956]). The latter term is now used by political
activists, a way of converting a negative description into a confrontational
identity and to become a particular sort of political subject.24 Members of
groups in this category were deemed by higher-caste members to be ritually
unclean and were therefore socially and economically marginalized.25
Many of the resistant strains Doniger speaks of which were marginalized

Leela Prasad, Poetics of Conduct: Oral Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), p. 228. See also Anand Pandian, Tradition in
Fragments: Inherited Forms and Fractures in the Ethics of South India, American
Ethnologist 35, 3 (2008): 466480.
22 23
Prasad, Poetics of Conduct, p. 118. Doniger, The Hindus, p. 305.
Rao, The Caste Question, p. 1.
Christophe Jaffrelot, Indias Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Low Castes in North Indian
Politics (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003), p. 23.
166 Anne Murphy

by and contested the dominant paradigm were not part of something

defined as Hinduism, but should be seen as separate traditions entirely, as
will be discussed. Accepting this does not limit us only to narrow and
exclusive social formations in understanding Hinduism; caste can and has
been rethought in creative ways within these traditions, as we will see. Just as
we cannot limit European Christian culture to racism and anti-semitism
since there is more to this tradition than these intolerant and violent forms
of exclusion, as pernicious and historically significant as they have been
brahminical traditions too have far more to them than caste exclusion. As
Adheesh Sathaye has noted, Brahminical varn a has never been the only
way of structuring Hindu society and in fact has been in continuous competi-
tion with other theories and models of social organization.26 It is thus
crucial that we not fall into the colonial habit of reading caste as essential
and fundamental to South Asian lifeworlds, as Nicholas Dirks has rightly
asserted.27 It has never been the only way of organizing social life (and
hierarchy) in South Asia. But it has a special staying power, as Sathaye
also notes: Still, while caste may not automatically govern the more
nuanced practices that take place on the ground in Indian social environ-
ments, it becomes institutionalized through cultural mediations that make it
seem as if Brahmins are always already in possession of this form of social
power.28 It functioned by design to exclude and include, and this function
needs to be taken seriously if we are to understand Hinduism historically.
One can view the complexity of brahminical engagements with dharma
that is, within an evolving Hindu orientation in the two ancient Sanskrit
epics, the Rmyana and Mahbhrata. As Wendy Doniger puts it, The
Mahbhrata deconstructs dharma, exposing the inevitable chaos of the
moral life;29 the Rmyana exposes the dilemmas that accompany the enact-
ment of dharma, expressing shifting historical understandings of dharma over
the course of the text.30 The Rmyana in particular takes shape in almost
endless vernacular iterations, demonstrating the strong connections among
various traditions that share a sometimes tenuous connection to elite Sanskrit
sources. This is exemplary of the huge range of more locally defined verna-
cular texts that have had real significance in lived religious experience; these
also have often challenged the hegemony of core brahminical texts and
ideologies. Popularizing forces spawned an orientation now known as bhakti,
generally translated as devotionalism, a mode of engagement that took hold

Adheesh Sathaye, Crossing the Lines of Caste: Viswamitra and the Construction of Brahmin
Power in Hindu Mythology (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming),
Nicholas B. Dirks, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2001).
28 29
Sathaye, Crossing the Lines of Caste, introduction. Doniger The Hindus, p. 278.
John Brockington, The Concept of Dharma in the Rmyana, in Olivelle (ed.), Dharma,
p. 234.
Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 167

across all the religions of South Asia in the medieval and early modern
periods. This orientation designates, above all else, a domain of immediacy
and intimacy, and direct experience of the divine. Some of these traditions
retained a strong connection to the texts and core tenets of the brahminical
imaginary, such as is visible in the ecstatic and loving vision of the God Ram
in Tulsidas sixteenth-century Hindi-language Rmcaritmnas, which asserts
the radical accessibility of God to all but maintains general acceptance
of brahminical social formations.31 We see a more challenging vision in the
ca. sixteenth-century Rajasthani-Hindi poetry of Mirabai, who sang passio-
nately of her commitment to the God Krishna outside of the conventions that
define the life of a married woman, and among the Virashaivas, followers of
Basavana, who was born a Brahmin but in the twelfth century challenged the
hegemony of Sanskrit and composed in vernacular Kannada; he distributed
the sacred thread worn by the upper castes to all his followers, in a sense both
reaffirming and destabilizing brahminical authority. Some bhakti figures, such
as the iconoclastic Kabir, who derided Muslims and Hindus alike for their
inattention to the truth within, defined a new path for religious practice and
experience that was not to be contained within the brahminical imaginary. The
multiplicity of voices within and debate-oriented configuration of dharma
itself in fact accounts for the tendency to incorporate dissent within brahmi-
nical tradition. Yet, those like Kabir who fundamentally challenged the social
roles and hierarchies associated with it marked out a place outside; the Sikh,
Buddhist, and Jain traditions provide other examples. None of these traditions
was of course suddenly taken out of conversation with Hindu traditions;
indeed, the form of the dharmashastras was shaped in the early period most
fundamentally by Buddhism, as Patrick Olivelle has shown (see footnote 18).
What is Hinduism then, and what are its key tenets? Hinduism as such
did not exist in the pre-modern period; the practices and texts now included
within it did, as independent and interacting traditions, texts, and practices.
One of the reasons that it is so difficult to reconcile this history with the
term Hindu today, even if we accept that its core is the range of texts and
traditions related to the brahminical imaginary, is that this imaginary
itself has been challenged and modified in fundamental ways in the modern
period. Most self-identified Hindus today eschew the caste system, although
many still accept aspects of the larger conceptual system associated with
it, varnshrama-dharma, and some do not fully recognize the pervasive
injustice of the system. Late nineteenth-century reformer Dayanand
Saraswati, for example, embraced the Vedas as the core of Hindu
religion, but at the same time radically reinterpreted Vedic texts and
beliefs and considered them open to all (not just to Brahmins, as was

On what he calls caste-Hindu bhakti, which have arisen within the orbit of caste
Hinduism to intensify and extend [hegemonic social groups] social, economic and
political control over society, see Lorenzen Traditions of Non-caste Hinduism, p. 92.
168 Anne Murphy

traditional).32 This was a radical reconfiguration of the hierarchies pre-

viously associated with brahminical traditions. To define Hinduism
today as fundamentally based in the varnshrama system, as against those
traditions that countered it, is therefore untenable. Many do accept aspects
of the system, but Hinduism, most Hindus would argue, cannot be defined
by adherence to it. If this is the case, how do we define Hinduism today?
Much as we might like to think this a concern of academics and historians
alone, we do so at our peril. The idea of an overarching Hindu identity
has only illusory connections to past articulations of identity, and the effort
to create a single Hinduism today is a major ongoing political project.
The decision to consider a position as internal dissent, rather than as
separate, is therefore today a deeply political act.

The priorities that are expressed within South Asian traditions and the
disjuncture between current religious formulations and those of the past
reflect a complicated history of encounter with Western understandings of
religion that do not map to South Asian religious worlds; it was in the
colonial period that the definition of Hinduism was formalized and shaped
in accordance with Western understandings of religion as a transhistorical and
transcultural phenomenon. Sikhism, too, as Arvind Mandair has described,
was profoundly shaped within the colonial field in a process predetermined in
meaning and effect by Western knowledge formations, denying the complex-
ity and relationality of pre-modern South Asian cultures.33 The primary
vehicle for the articulation of Sikh community and personal identity at this
time was the Singh Sabha movement, reflecting what J. S. Grewal has called a
new consciousness of common identity, a time of the production of tradi-
tion in a new modern form.34 Harjot Oberoi has argued that in the pre-
colonial period most Sikhs moved in and out of multiple identities grounded
in local, regional, religious, and secular realities . . . [and] several competing
definitions of who constituted a Sikh were possible.35 This older pluralist
paradigm of Sikh faith, he argued, was displaced forever and replaced by a

J. E. Llewellyn, From Interpretation to Reform: Daynands Reading of the Vedas, in
Laurie L. Patton (ed.), Authority, Anxiety, and Canon: Essays in Vedic Interpretation,
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), pp. 235251, 246248.
Arvind-pal Singh Mandair, Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India,
Postcoloniality, and the Politics of Translation (New York: Columbia University Press,
2009), pp. 418, 420 on South Asian heteronomy and p. 414 on premodern complexity.
J. S. Grewal, Sikhs of the Punjab (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990),
p. 145; Tony Ballantyne, Between Colonialism and Diaspora: Sikh Cultural Formations in
an Imperial World (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), p. 35.
Harjot Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in
Sikh Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 2425.
Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 169

highly uniform Sikh identity, the one we know today as modern Sikhism.36
Although this in part rings true, it is also something of an overstatement; as
Tony Ballantyne has since pointed out, such articulations of identity prolifer-
ated at the same time that numerous new identitarian options were available
to Sikhs, in India and in the diaspora.37 As such, the Singh Sabha movement
may reflect not closure, but instead the tensions created by a radical opening
up of new options for Sikhs in articulating their place in the world and as Sikh,
and multiple responses to these new options.
It was the competitive religious environment of the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries that brought about the larger program to define
religious identity among all religious communities in colonial India. It was in
this crucible that Hinduism and Sikhism took their modern forms. Various
reformist organizations, such as the Arya Samaj founded by Dayanand
Saraswati, formulated and positioned representations of Hinduism in the
public sphere; so too did Muslim identity take shape in the representations
of diverse anjuman or religious societies, as well as within more formal
institutions such as Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khans Mohammadan Anglo-
Oriental College (now known as Aligarh Muslim University). For Sikhism,
prior historical articulations of membership in the Sikh community were
reformulated in new terms that emphasized clear and exclusive membership.
This was necessary in colonial India, where representation in new Legislative
Councils in the beginning decades of the twentieth century and before that,
in committees formed by appointment rather than election were configured
with reference to religious identity. The establishment of separate electorates
for Muslims in 1909 was only the most visible example of the central role of
religious identity in governance.38
In the pre-colonial period, Sikh identity was enunciated at multiple points
during the period of the formation of the tradition under the guidance of ten
human embodied Gurus, from Guru Nanak (d. 1539) to Guru Gobind Singh
(d. 1708), and thereafter with reference to the guidance of the granth or text
(known as the Guru Granth Sahib, as the continuing living Guru of the
tradition after the death of the Tenth Guru) and the panth or community.
This is clearly defined in the earliest texts to follow the death of the Tenth
Guru, the gurbils and rahitnme. In 1699, the community took clearer shape
with the foundation of the Khalsa by the Tenth and final human Guru, Guru
Gobind Singh.39 The Khalsa acted to galvanize the Sikh community, to bring it
together in direct relation to the Guru, and radically alter its social formations.

Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries, p. 25.
Ballantyne, Between Colonialism and Diaspora, p. 83.
See for example Kenneth Jones, Religious Identity and the Indian Census, in N. G. Barrier
(ed.), The Census in British India: New Perspectives (New Delhi: Manohar, 1981), pp. 73101.
There is some debate on the date of the foundation of the Khalsa, see Gurinder S. Mann
Gurinder Singh Mann, Sources for the Study of Guru Gobind Singhs Life and Times,
Journal of Punjab Studies 15, 12 (2008): 229284.
170 Anne Murphy

Particularly important was its denial of caste affiliation; this is visible in the
mid- to late eighteenth-century Punjabi-language texts referred to earlier, as
well as in the early example of Sikh historical writing, Gur Sobha or Light of
the Guru, by Sainapati, soon after the death of Guru Gobind Singh.40 While it
is the case that there was no clear articulation of the eschewal of Hindu
identity in such texts, to expect this is anachronistic: there was no Hinduism,
per se, in the eighteenth century to articulate separation from. Separation,
however, was immanent to the articulation of a Sikh communitarian forma-
tion: brahminical traditions were superseded by the Guru, a key indication of
separation, and a challenge to caste was articulated in a wide range of texts.41
As Purnima Dhavan has brilliantly shown, membership in the Khalsa was
worked out in complex ways over the course of the eighteenth century.42
Diversity, as we would well expect, therefore characterized the tradition, as
membership and belonging were worked out.
In the colonial period, such enunciations of Sikh community formation and
individual participation were made more concrete and exclusive. After the
annexation in 1849 of the kingdom of Lahore the sovereign state in Punjab
that had been headed by a Sikh ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh many Sikh
nobles and elites suffered a severe restriction in their political and economic
power. They were able to redeem themselves in 1857, when members of the
East India Company army rebelled. Punjabi troops helped the East India
Company to regain control, and reaped the benefits; after 1858 Punjabis
would dominate in the armed forces.43 Richard Fox has famously argued
that the British almost invented Khalsa Sikh identity in this period, salvaging
Sikh identity from threatened absorption into Hinduism and enforcing
Khalsa-centric norms in a new uniform way.44 This is a severe overstatement;
as has been noted, clear articulations of and debates about Khalsa identity
pre-dated the intrusion of the colonial state into Punjab, and threats to
Sikhism relied upon a rigid definition of participation and identity that created
this perception of threat, rather than describing it. At the same time, it is the
case that the enforcement of Khalsa norms through the army encouraged
adherence and a more uniform articulation of identity was encouraged for
all members of the army.
Multiple forces in the colonial environment have thus made Sikh identity
more defined than it might have been before, drawing on earlier articulations.

The date traditionally given for the text is 1711; Purnima Dhavan argues convincingly for a
date of 1708. See Purnima Dhavan, When Sparrows Became Hawks: The Making of the
Sikh Warrior Tradition, 16991799 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 182
footnotes 5 and 6.
See Murphy, Contours of Community. 42
Dhavan, When Sparrows Became Hawks.
Tai Yong Tan, The Garrison State: The Military, Government and Society in Colonial Punjab,
18491947 (New Delhi: Sage, 2005).
Richard Fox, Lions of the Punjab: Culture in the Making (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1985).
Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 171

With the growing emergence of a single and capacious Hinduism, alongside

the politicization of Muslim identity, internal dissent and diversity within
came to be as much of a threat as a lack of definition from other religions;
the intra and inter were deeply entwined. This accounts for the anxiety
over the singularization of internal definition that characterized the Singh
Sabha movement, as Oberoi points out. The continuation of this discourse
can be seen today in the ways in which Sikhism continues to be described in
both popular and scholarly discourses in terms of identity, rather than by the
content of Sikh teachings or practices: W. H. McLeods well-known book in
1989 was entitled Who is a Sikh? not What does it mean to be Sikh? or even
What is Sikhism?45 The open-ended and inclusive ideas of the Sikh Gurus,
and the practices that they promoted among diverse followers focusing on
the full experience of the all-encompassing, internal and transcendent Word
and the destruction of the ego as a barrier to that full, transformative experi-
ence are lost in a strictly identitarian discourse, and the need to narrowly

The political need for exclusive community membership and definition was
real in the colonial period. Resulting dynamics permeated religious and
social life on multiple levels of colonial governance, making deep and lasting
the impact on South Asian religious traditions. This can be seen for example
in the ways in which religious institutions were administered. The British had
become deeply involved in the management of religious institutions in India
in the eighteenth century, and by the mid-nineteenth century sought to limit
their involvement. Briefly, the solution to this was found with the designation
of managing bodies for such sites, to allow for local control. This was
enforced through a series of acts meant to allow the British Crown
Government of India to divest itself of direct control, and at the same time
provide for (and indeed, enforce) machineries of governance for religious
The status of the owner and the rightful managing body of the religious
institution was defined in strikingly different ways for different religious
communities in British India, reinforcing differences and conflicts among
and within communities. Arjun Appadurai has shown how the colonial states

W. H. McLeod, Who is a Sikh? The Problem of Sikh Identity (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1989).
See detailed discussion in Anne Murphy, The Materiality of the Past: History and
Representation in Sikh Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), Chapters 6
and 8, and Anne Murphy, Defining the Religious and the Political: The Administration of
Sikh Religious Sites in Colonial India and the Making of a Public Sphere, Sikh Formations:
Religion, Culture, Theory, 9, 1 (2013): 5162.
172 Anne Murphy

management of South Indian Hindu temples from 1878 to 1916 functioned to

legally define a sectarian electorate for the temple.47 Caste and sect were
found to define an institutions community within a broad definition of
Hinduism, allowing for local temple control.48 Far more restrictive definitions
were enjoined for Sikhism and Islam.49 The Sikh community was designated as
a single corporate body, responsible for the management of all historically
defined Gurdwaras, through a single representational governing body, the
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (or SGPC, discussed further
below). It is no coincidence then that the Gurdwara Act of 1925 therefore
also engaged in defining formally who is a Sikh, defining the limits of the
community within. In the case of Islam, a homogenized and elite understand-
ing of Islam was followed in the designation of rightful Islamic practice,
marginalizing local customs (as was visible in the management of Ismaili as
well as other sites, returning to the example at the beginning of this chapter).50
Local controls would, however, be maintained for specific endowments, within
this mainstream and generic notion of Islam.
These administrative distinctions had a powerful effect. Hinduism was defined
to allow for diversity and breadth, and Sikhism and Islam were defined in narrow
terms. To put it simply, one would have to prove one were not a Hindu, as
opposed to proving that one were a Sikh or Muslim; Hinduism includes, others
opt out. This formulation has a far wider currency than one might expect. It
directly mirrors Hindu nationalist rhetoric, such as was articulated so clearly in
the understanding of Hindutva or Hinduness expressed by Vinayak Damodar
Savarkar (18831966), as the natural state of Indias inhabitants, where a Hindu
is clearly defined as a member of a nation sharing a homeland, a common
blood, and a common Hindu culture based in Sanskrit.51 This is the basis for
Hindu nationalist hostility toward other religions, as well as its need to sustain
and enforce a monolithic notion of Hinduism. Thus Bhikhu Parekh, prominent
political scientist and member of the English House of Lords, highlights the
great resources that the Hindu religious and cultural tradition holds for
tolerance, but also recognizes the deep-seated tendency [in the tradition] to
freeze differences, to respect them by incorporating them within a hierarchical
system. In the case of those communities or traditions that dare challenge the
hierarchy and demand equality of status and respect, as is increasingly being done
by lower castes, Dalits, non-Brahminic forms of Hindu religious life and non-
Hindu religions, Hindu tolerance is stretched to its limits and throws up crude or

Arjun Appadurai, Worship and Conflict under Colonial Rule (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press, 1981), p. 181.
Appadurai, Worship and Conflict under Colonial Rule, pp. 188189.
Murphy, Materiality of the Past, Chapter 6.
Gregory C. Kozlowski, Muslim Endowments and Society in British India (Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press, 1985).
Christophe Jaffrelot, Hindu Nationalism: A Reader (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
2007), pp. 8596, see 90, 9495.
Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 173

subtle and militant or mild forms of intolerance.52 Part of the problem, indeed, is
inclusivity itself; the praise of Hindu tradition by Amartya Sen with which this
chapter opened thus requires further consideration.

We must always remember this dual aspect of boundary setting: it excludes as
it includes, and vice versa. Brahminical tradition valued heterodoxy, compil-
ing and incorporating alternative views in multi-vocal texts that, while includ-
ing, also functioned to exclude. Thus while it is true that the Vedas are a
reference point for South Asian traditions in general, it is also important to
recognize the contrastive or dissenting forms such reference often took. In
the past, instances of rejection resulted in what we recognize now as new
religions being formed: we name these today as other isms, such as
Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism. In the modern period, the forces of incorpora-
tion have been strong, particularly for traditions at the margins of society that
lack social and economic backing and recognition. Incorporation in some
senses does allow for dissent, as contrasting voices find a place within, but it
also sheers off truly critical aspects of a tradition and enforces homogeneity.
The problematic politics of inclusion are particularly visible, again, with
reference to the thorny issue of caste. Caste developed as a normative model
for social and individual life within Hindu tradition, and those at the margins of
it (outside of the higher three varna) are less easily subsumed in what it means to
be Hindu. One response to the inequities of caste has been conversion.
Ambedkar advocated a rejection of a Hindu identity that culminated in his
conversion to Buddhism in 1956, not long before his death, and the conversion
of significant numbers with him and since.53 Conversion was meant to circum-
vent caste without abandoning ties to Indian cultural identity.54 Another
response is Sanskritization, or the adoption of higher-caste practices by the
lower castes toward the goal of purification and inclusion, a move that
effectively, as Ronki Ram points out, reinforces the structural logic of
Hinduism by asking Dalits to internalize the very same social system that they
would like to contest in the first place.55 Ram argues that the Ad Dharm or
first religion movement emerged independently of the agendas of conversion
to neo-Buddhism and sanskritisation in Punjab in the 1920s to articulate an

Bhikhu Parekh, Some Reflections on the Hindu Theory of Tolerance, Seminar 521 (January
2003): 4853: www.india-seminar.com/2003/521/521%20bhikhu%20parekh.htm (accessed,
January 21, 2014). No pagination provided in online version.
Rao, The Caste Question, pp. 118122.
Janet Contursi, Political Theology: Text and Practice in a Dalit Panther Community, The
Journal of Asian Studies 52, 2 (May 1993): 320339; G. Viswanathan, Outside the Fold:
Conversion, Modernity and Belief (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).
Ronki Ram, Beyond Conversion and Sanskritisation: Articulating an Alternative Dalit
Agenda in East Punjab, Modern Asian Studies 46, 3 (2011): 639702, see 648.
174 Anne Murphy

alternative vision of Dalit empowerment.56 This movement claimed a separate,

ancestral tradition for Dalits that was the first and primary religion of India. The
formalization of this identity as a religious and cultural movement, indeed,
involved all the internal regulations of membership and behavior that one
would expect, and the group was successful in being recognized as a separate,
non-Hindu group in the 1931 census.57 This was in direct response to a
corresponding interest on the part of higher-caste Hindus to claim untouch-
ables as Hindu.58 It would be wrong therefore to construe all forms of Dalit
mobilization as movements out of Hinduism (through conversion) or within
Hinduism (whether that be through the adoption of higher-caste practices and a
concomitant acceptance of the center, or through the expression of dissent).
Ram argues that we should see this as a Dalit homecoming, an already
existing non-Hindu tradition that gives expression to the native religion and
heritage of the Punjabi Dalits as indigenous inhabitants of the land, without
inducing them to get assimilated into the dominant regional cultural patterns or
to convert to another faith.59 To name Dalits in these circumstances (and there
are a lot of them, up to 30 percent of Punjabs population) as Hindu is a
misnaming, to be sure; as Anupama Rao has suggested, in the modern period
Dalit came to name an identity and a community . . . most importantly an
imagined community outside Hinduism and outside religion itself as a
strategy of political emancipation.60
Along such lines, public intellectual Kancha Illaiah has argued that he is
not a Hindu, because Hindu does not describe the religious and social lives
of the dalitbahujan or the Dalit-majority, a term he uses to define both the
Dalits or Scheduled Castes (the official governmental term) and Other
Backward Castes or OBCs, who are also eligible for reservations or pro-
tected guaranteed representation in government schools and employment
due to their economic and social marginalization.61 (It should be remem-
bered that the Scheduled Castes and Tribes represented 24.4 percent of the
Indian population in the 2001 census, and a government report in 2007

Ram, Beyond Conversion, pp. 639, and 668ff. On reasons why neo-Buddhism has not
succeeded, see p. 656.
Ram, Beyond Conversion, pp. 687688, 690, 692696. Ad-Dharmis are listed as Hindu
today. On the census, see Surinder Jodhka, Sikhism and the Caste Question: Dalits and
their Politics in Contemporary Punjab, Contributions to Indian Sociology 38, 1&2 (2004):
165192, see 166, 180.
Rao, The Caste Question, pp. 21, 131.
For quote, see Rao, The Caste Question, pp. 1415, see also p. 11 footnote 18; on Dalit
activism in Punjab and the relationship with Hinduism and other religions see Ram, Beyond
Conversion, p. 633.
Ram, Beyond Conversion, p.663. Rao, The Caste Question, pp. 1415; see also p. 11
footnote 18.
Kancha Ilaiah, Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture
and Political Economy (Calcutta: Samya, 1996), pp. viiix.
Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 175

estimated 41 percent of the population as OBC.62) The coercive nature of

inclusion is visible clearly in the battle between Ambedkar and M. K. Gandhi
over the question of separate electorates for Dalits. Ambedkar had
demanded separate electorates for the depressed classes in 1932, believing
that such electoral reform would transform his caste fellows into a solid
interest group.63 Gandhi opposed this move, and threatened to fast unto
death to force British authorities not to grant them.64 Ambedkar was forced
to acquiesce and untouchables received reservations within a greater
Hindu majority.
While perceived of as championing of the lower castes, Gandhis anti-caste
efforts in general sought to ameliorate caste conditions, not challenge the
system as a whole. Indeed, the structure of law in India today reflects this
compromise: if one converts to Christianity or Islam, one loses the protections
and reservations that are available for the Scheduled Castes, which are
available to Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists (the latter two were added later,
at first only Hindus were eligible).65 In 2013 this is being contested in court.
Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains too are included in the confines of Hindu in legal
terms, that catchall being used for all non-Muslims and non-Christians in India
(a strange echo of its much earlier, contrastive sense). This has been a
continuing source of Sikh discontent, in particular. The Supreme Court of
India took up the issue in 2013, calling into question the requirement that
Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs self-identify as Hindu to do things such as file
taxes. This has real personal significance: many Sikhs resented deeply being
identified as Hindu on official documents, such as those related to marriage.
It was not until May 2012 that Sikh marriages could be registered under the
Sikh Anand Marriage Act, which was originally passed in 1909, instead of
under the 1955 Hindu Marriage Act.

Inculcation and reproduction

Concern over the reproduction of Sikhism and Hinduism to new generations
today is grounded in the paired historical experiences of colonialism and
racism, which engendered the need to defend South Asian religions from
Christian critique. This is clearly visible in the debates that have arisen around
education about Hinduism (and Indian history), as well as Sikhism, both in
India and the diaspora. One commentator, Shrinivas Tilak, has asserted Can
a non-Hindu researcher carry out research on Hinduism? The answer must be

castes_and_sheduled_tribes.aspx and http://censusindia.gov.in/(S(azbrzbjt0yojz
h55yjzvi145))/Census_Data_2001/India_at_glance/scst.aspx. Accessed December 13, 2014.
As Anupama Rao notes, a majority of people demographically in India qualify for
reservations based on backwardness (Rao The Caste Question, p. 169).
63 64
Jaffrelot, Indias Silent Revolution, p. 23. Rao, The Caste Question, pp. 137ff.
Rao, The Caste Question, p. 192.
176 Anne Murphy

a qualified yes; yes, but not on his or her own.66 Even internal representations
need to be controlled; an extreme example of this dynamic was the persecu-
tion of Professor Harjot Oberoi, a Sikh scholar at the University of British
Columbia, in the late 1980s and 1990s for his argument that many now
accepted features of Sikh identity were formalized only in the late nineteenth
century and that pre-colonial boundaries between traditions in South Asia did
not follow the exclusivist logic of Western religions.67 Oberois thesis which is
in keeping with general scholarly views on modern religious identity in South
Asia, it was seen as an attack on the integrity of Sikh identity at a time when a
Sikh separatist movement sought an independent Sikh state in the Indian state
of Punjab and both state-enacted and separatist violence raged.
Along similar lines, textbook representations of both Indian history and
Hinduism have come under careful scrutiny in both India and the Hindu
diaspora. Individuals associated with the RSS or Rastriya Swayamsevak
Sangh, a Hindu right-wing militant organization in the Sangh Pariwar or family
of organizations that constitute the united front of Hindu nationalism, were
appointed to key education positions at the federal level after the 1999 election
of its sister political party Bharatiya Janata Party, in association with its allies in
the National Democratic Alliance.68 The new government initiated a full review
of textbook content and a multi-pronged effort to revise the imagination of the
Hindu past overall. As noted historian Romila Thapar notes in a personal
reflection on the controversy, there was no room in the Hindu nationalist view
for complex and multi-faceted histories: Hindutva history claims a uniform,
monolithic Hindu identity for Indian civilization, often defined as Aryan and
upper-caste. The multiple variant and lesser cultures are either ignored or at
best marginalized.69 This effort to terminate history as a social science and
convert it into a Hindutva catechism, as Thapar describes it, was soon felt
outside India; debate erupted in California in 20052006 over revisions to the
treatment of Hinduism in the states sixth grade history textbooks proposed by
United States-based Hindu organizations.70 The diverse group opposing the

Shrinivas Tilak, Hinduism for Hindus: Taking Back Hindu Studies, in John Stratton Hawley
and Vasudha Narayanan (eds.), The Life of Hinduism (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2006), pp. 271287, 281. For more on recent controversies around non-Hindu treatments
of Hindu religious content, see S. N. Balagangadhara and Sarah Claerhout, Are Dialogues
Antidotes to Violence? Two Recent Examples from Hinduism Studies, Journal for the Study
of Religions and Ideologies 7, 19 (Spring 2008): 118143.
Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries. The author is now the holder of the Chair
previously held by Professor Oberoi, who continues to teach in the Department of Asian
Studies at the University of British Columbia.
Jaffrelot, Hindu Nationalism: A Reader, pp. 269270. See also Sen, Argumentative Indian,
pp. 63ff.
Romila Thapar, The History Debate and School Textbooks in India: A Personal Memoir,
History Workshop Journal 67 (Spring 2009): 8798, see 96.
Thapar, The History Debate, p. 96. The lead organizations in the revision effort were the
Hindu Education Foundation and the Vedic Foundation of Austin, Texas.
Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 177

proposed changes, the Friends of South Asia, was composed of Hindus and
non-Hindus as well as scholars and non-scholars. According to this group,
the proposed changes would have watered down representation of some
elements of Hindu history, such as the caste system, and made unsupportable
historical claims about early India that were parallel to the new additions
to the Indian textbooks, described above.71 Few of them were ultimately
We can see therefore that concerns over reproduction exist both in
South Asia and the Diaspora. For those living outside of South Asia, a
need for control is perhaps even more urgently felt. For any South Asian,
living as a minority community member abroad replicates the racist struc-
tures of colonialism. For Sikhs and Muslims in the post-9/11 environment
in particular, the West has become newly dangerous: a long-time home
for many, it now threatens exclusion and persecution for anyone even
mistakenly associated with new enemies of the state. For Hindus abroad,
there is the inherent difficulty of minority status a new experience for
some who might claim majority status at home. At the same time, such
anxiety abroad corresponds in subtle ways to that produced by the need to
maintain a cohesive Hindu majority identity in the face of the diversity that
stands at the core of the claim to being Hindu. Again we see the dynamic
of the inner and the outer. How does one create a community anew in
an agonistic environment? Many believe the answer lies in hardening a
communitys outer boundaries, while simultaneously clarifying who
belongs within.
Yet, alongside intolerance aimed at internal and external regulation of the
definition of Hinduism and Sikhism, one can also see an expansion of diversity
and tolerance, showing that forces for tolerance persist within both traditions
alongside those that foreclose it. This is evidenced for example by the
proliferation of Sikh interest groups in the diaspora and in India with a
range of perspectives; this has for many entailed a move away from singular
Khalistani interests toward a more dispersed, diasporic articulation of being
Sikh, with diverse religious and political sensibilities (some but not all of which
retain a commitment to a separate Sikh state).72 The last two decades have
also witnessed the founding of numerous new Chairs in Sikh Studies in North
America, featuring scholars with a range of disciplinary perspectives. Scholars

Deepa Ranganathan, Hindu History Ignites Brawl Over Textbooks, The Sacramento
Bee, Thursday January 26, 2006, p. A1; Deepa Ranganathan, State Revises Textbooks on
Hindu History, The Sacramento Bee, Thursday March 9, 2006, p. A5. Press coverage has
been compiled by Friends of South Asia at www.friendsofsouthasia.org/textbook/
PressCoverage.html (accessed December 13, 2014). Robert Murray Thomas, God in the
Classroom: Religion and Americas Public Schools (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2007),
pp. 106107.
Giorgio Shani, Sikh Nationalism and Identity in a Global Age (London: Routledge, 2008).
178 Anne Murphy

of Hinduism, both Hindu and non-Hindu, also offer a range of perspectives.73

Multiplicity is visible alongside a lack of tolerance for it.

Who has the right to adjudicate claims regarding the center and periphery,
the heretical versus the tolerable? In Hinduism, there is no centralized
administrative body or set of institutions, but brahminical and Sanskrit-
oriented orthodoxies have a powerful hold on defining what is correctly
Hindu, as Thapar notes. The practice of outcasting represented a severe
form of regulation: those who were understood to have crossed a line in
behavior could be expelled from their in-caste status, and in this way
relegated to the lower order associated with non-caste exclusion. Such a
disciplinary technique, Anupama Rao argues, drew its force from the
permanent outcasting of one community the untouchables, which in this
way held together the caste order as a structuring negative principle; it was
Hinduisms constitutive outside, its necessary yet excised animating
force.74 In Sikhism, the generally open-ended nature of the thought of the
Gurus as expressed in the Sikh canon, the Guru Granth Sahib, in many ways
invites diversity of opinion. At the same time, there are strong centralizing
forces. The main institutional body is the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak
Committee or SGPC, formed in 1925 with the passage of the Gurdwara
Reform Act. It has been praised by Partha Chatterjee as an example of
the kind of representative public institutions and practices75 that can
accompany minority mobilization within a strategic politics of toleration,76
as one of the first legally constituted public bod[ies] in colonial India for
which the principle of universal suffrage was recognized.77 Harjot Oberoi,
on the other hand, has argued against such a formulation, noting that groups
claiming to represent religious and other minorities regularly collude in
suppressing rights, disrupting lives, stigmatizing bodies, and inflicting pain,
as happened within the Gurdwara Reform movement in the 1920s, when one
Sikh group, the Babbar Akalis, sought an alternative and ultimately margin-
alized vision of the Sikh community, one which sought economic justice.78

Consider, for example, Professor Deepak Sharmas argument for tolerance: www.huffington
post.com/deepak-sarma/censoring-ramanujans-essay-ramayana_b_1119593.html (accessed
August 8, 2013).
Rao, The Caste Question, p. 127.
Partha Chatterjee, Religious Minorities and the Secular State: Reflections on an Indian
Impasse, Public Culture 8, 1 (1995): 1139, see 37. See more detailed discussion in Murphy
Materiality of the Past, 2223.
Chatterjee, Religious Minorities, p. 36. 77 Chatterjee, Religious Minorities, p. 38.
Harjot Oberoi, What Has a Whale Got to Do With It? A Tale of Pogroms and Biblical
Allegories, in Christopher Shackle, Gurharpal Singh, and Arvind-pal Singh Mandair (eds.),
Sikh Religion, Culture, and Ethnicity (Richmond, UK: Curzon Press, 2001), pp. 186206.
Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 179

The SGPC has thus been both criticized and praised in its role as a central
religious as well as political body within the Sikh community since its
founding, with some advocating for a less comprehensive and less political
place for the organization, and others arguing for the extension of its
authority outside of its original domain over the historical Sikh shrines
within the areas associated with the former colonial state of Punjab to
encompass all Sikh shrines around the world. Sikh Gurdwara communities
in Canada have for example debated its reach. In Surrey, British Columbia,
conflict erupted in the late 1990s over whether or not tables or chairs should
be utilized in the community dining area, or langar hall, of Gurdwaras in
British Columbia. While in India it is traditional to sit on the floor, early Sikh
immigrants to BC (present in the province since the early decades of the
twentieth century) adapted to life there by installing tables and chairs in the
langar. The Akal Takhat (a central authority within the structure of the
SGPC) issued a ruling in 1998 that this practice should not be followed, but
not all Gurdwaras or Sikh Temples (as they are called in BC) complied with
the ruling, challenging the power of these central authorities to shape Sikh
life outside of their original mandate. This debate, however, did not take
place in a vacuum, and is not only about a matter of doctrine and practice; as
Kamala Nayar has pointed out, the tables and chairs issue emerged after an
election in an important Gurdwara resulted in the ousting of a group sympa-
thetic to the separatist movement for an independent Sikh state in the Indian
Punjab.79 Tolerance for internal dissent, therefore, is deeply subject to
larger external and political concerns.

Management options
Does Hinduism manage dissent in a fundamentally different way from
Sikhism? Hindu intolerance today is most visibly expressed regarding per-
ceived external threats. Hindu nationalist discourse in India is constructed
around the perception of Hindus as victims and Muslims as perpetrators; such a
characterization has been mobilized within the radical Hindu Right to justify
the persecution and marginalization of Muslims and Christians. Similar
dynamics can be seen internally. As Rajeswari Sunder Rajan notes, there
has been a striking silence in mainstream Hindu communities regarding the
acts of internal and external persecution that have occurred in recent years:
thus it is legitimate to ask why if indeed Hinduism (religion as such) is
debased by Hindutva (politicized religion), as good Hindus have eagerly
claimed such condemnation has not been more in evidence . . . Can Hindu
tolerance still possess any credibility if the Hindu religious establishment will

Kamala Elizabeth Nayar, The Sikh Diaspora in Vancouver: Three Generations Amid
Tradition, Modernity and Multiculturalism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004),
pp. 164165.
180 Anne Murphy

not condemn the politics of hate?80 Rajan thus compares the politics of
tolerance among Hindus in India with mainstream liberal discourse in the
United States, as a kind of tolerance in a hegemonic political mode, with
connotations of prejudice, condescension, and implicitly withheld punish-
ment that lie not far beneath the surface.81 As Michael Walzer has noted,
this understanding of toleration in relation to power is a general feature: it is
often said that toleration is always a relationship of inequality where the
tolerated groups or individuals are cast in an inferior position. Such inequal-
ities can be productive: sometimes, indeed, toleration works best when
relations of political superiority and inferiority are clearly marked and
commonly recognized.82 The problem with the inclusive intolerance within
Hinduism may be that differences are elided but power differentials persist.
Inclusion and intolerance here go hand in hand. Remember Gandhis con-
flict with Ambedkar, discussed above: reform in Gandhis approach to the
amelioration of caste centered on inclusion and purification, taking recourse
to the stronger emotive language of sin, redemption, and empathy by upper
castes, and . . . [calling for] the assimilation of harijans within the Hindu fold.83
A derivative of this approach, the reformation of communities as Hindu, takes a
clear political form today. In the early 2000s numerous philanthropic organiza-
tions explicitly defined their mission as Hinduization: educating tribals and
lower-caste persons in brahminical and caste Hindu belief and practice, a new
and explicitly political form of the Sanskritization described above. After the
Campaign to Stop Funding Hate in the United States exposed the connection
of such programs to proselytization and the persecution of Muslims and
Christians, such overt religious declarations were erased from the organiza-
tions websites and they were recast in more benign terms.84 Such programs are
effective: while it is the case that many Dalits protected Muslims, and continue
to be persecuted in Gujarat and elsewhere, particularly if they convert to
Christianity, recent Dalit and tribal recruits were active participants in the
violence against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.85

Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, The Politics of Hindu Tolerance, boundary 2, 38, 3 (2011):
6786, see 69 and 74.
Rajan, The Politics of Hindu Tolerance, p. 75.
For both quotes, see Michael Walzer, On Toleration (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1997), p. 52.
Rajan, The Politics of Hindu Tolerance, pp. 8384.
The primary aim of the campaign was to prevent the matching of funds to such organizations
by US corporations. Anne Murphy, Mobilizing Seva (Service): Modes of Sikh Diasporic
Action, in Knut Axel Jacobsen and Pratap Kumar (eds.), South Asians in the Diaspora:
Histories and Religious Traditions (Leiden: Brill, 2004), pp. 337372, 363365.
Rajan, The Politics of Hindu Tolerance, p. 84. Arrests related to the violence in Gujarat also
disproportionately impacted Dalits, not the upper castes who played a leading role in the
violence. See Human Rights Watch Report Compounding Injustice: The Governments
Failure to Redress Massacres in Gujarat (July 2003), www.hrw.org/reports/2003/india0703/
Gujarat-10.htm or www.hrw.org/node/12314/section/11 (accessed August 19, 2013).
Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 181

The regulation of individuals as Hindu is a corollary project. For example,

the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or VHP (the World Hindu Congress, another
member of the Sangh Pariwar) has taken aim at Valentines Day as a foreign
import into India, Christian in derivation, and inappropriate to Hindu culture.
One response to the attempt to shut down celebration of the holiday was the
Pink Chaddi campaign, whereby people sent pink underpants to VHP
officials to protest such moral policing. Similarly, a recent campaign to ban
the slaughter of cows in the South Indian state of Karnataka was countered by
beef-eating public celebrations sponsored by local groups (including many
who would be called Hindu in the current general use of the term).86 In
aggregate these individual incidents reveal resistance to the effort to impose
homogeneity and a singular moral order on Hinduism as an emergent social
and religious formation. In this way, they do reflect openness to debate within
the confines of what is Hinduism today. This playful quality, however, must
not mask the coercive nature of some of these efforts; those who opposed
Valentines Day were far from playful in their public condemnation of the
holiday and their campaign was initiated with a violent attack on men and
women at a pub in Mangalore (coastal Karnataka).87
In the case of Sikhism, the more centralized nature of the tradition allows
us to view centralized management efforts more closely. Those who are
deemed to have challenged Sikh fundamental doctrines or practices, for
example, can be called before the Akal Takhat, and hukamnme or orders
issued to dictate practice and doctrine. Infractions can result in the issuance of
tankhh, which we might translate as penance.88 This function acts as a
mechanism through which dissent is defined and managed, and it is generally
used as a way to enforce central theological or doctrinal mandates, such as the
status of a controversial text or regarding conflicts with other groups, or to
enforce normative Sikh practice and provide clarity on identity.89 Other forms
Statewide Protest Against Anti-cow Slaughter Bill, Friday July 16, 2010, The Hindu (online),
www.hindu.com/2010/07/16/stories/2010071651740400.htm (accessed August 8, 2013). Vikhar
Ahmed Sayeed, Beefing Up a Law, Frontline 27, 8, www.flonnet.com/fl2708/stories/
20100423270812100.htm; also available at www.hindu.com/thehindu/thscrip/print.pl?
file=20100423270812100.htm&date=fl2708/&prd=fline& (accessed August 8, 2013).
The Talibans of Mangalore, The Indian Express, January 27, 2009, www.indianexpress.
com/news/the-talibans-of-mangalore/415408/ (accessed August 8, 2013).
Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition: Ethical Perceptions of the Sikhs in the Late
Nineteenth/Early Twentieth Century (New Delhi: Manohar/South Asia Publications, 1990),
pp. 135136. For a compilation of hukamnme, tankhh, and other communications,
see Hukamnme desh, Sadesh, Sr Akl Takhat Shib (A Collection of Edicts, Orders
and Messages Issued from Sri Akal Takht Sahib), Roop Singh (ed.) (Amritar: Singh
Brothers, 2003). Available online at www.sgpc.net/hukamname_Aadesh_Sandesh.pdf
(accessed August 19, 2013).
For example, a hukamnma was issued to urge Sikhs not to visit or associate with members of
Dera Sacha Sauda, a non-Sikh religious center, in response to the charismatic leader of the
centers decision to appear dressed in a way strongly reminiscent of the Tenth Guru in 2007;
he later apologized. Lionel Baixas, The Dera Sacha Sauda Controversy and Beyond,
182 Anne Murphy

of dissent occur at the peripheries, but at times pull away from the center
toward separation. This again is particularly visible around caste. As Surinder
Jodhka has argued, caste must be understood outside of a sole association with
Hinduism as a historical and social phenomenon that has structured social life
in South Asia.90 Thus, while caste is not granted religious significance in
Sikhism, Dalits have not achieved social and economic parity with Jats
(the dominant caste in the Punjab) in Sikh contexts and are highly margin-
alized in Punjabi society. In the much publicized case of the village of Talhan
in 2003, members of the Scheduled Castes protested their exclusion from the
managing committee for a local shrine; conflict and ultimately violence
erupted in the wake of their demand for representation, as Sikhs.91 Jodhka
argues that rather than seeing this as an example of caste oppression, it
should be viewed as assertion, a result of a long history of struggle and
consolidation, which included making claims over resources available in the
Sikh religion.92 Caste therefore challenges Sikhism to fulfill the anti-caste
promise articulated within it. The failure of this promise to materialize has
also pushed some members of the lower castes to other options; Ronki Ram
has argued that the vibrant proliferation of alternative religious centers in
Punjab reflects this.93

Internal criticism
As we have seen, intramural dissent within South Asian religions today is
deeply linked to politics and to power. While core beliefs and practices do
figure in such debates and are open to interpretation and question, it is the
discourse of identity and the politics of representation that stand at the center.
This reflects the deep relationship between representation and religious identity
constituted within colonial governance structures, as well as the majoritarian
representative politics that emerged in the wake of colonial rule. Today this
dynamic functions in a rapidly changing electoral field, where lower-caste
mobilization has challenged high- and middle-caste hegemony, and the specter
of the Muslim other continues to act as a tool for the creation of a Hindu

Economic and Political Weekly 42, 40 (October 2007): 4,0594,065. There are also criminal
charges pending against the leader of the Dera and subordinates: Etmad A. Khan and
Anurag Tripathi, Unholy Den: Operation Jhootha Sauda, http://archive.tehelka.com/
story_main33.asp?filename=Ts0110807investigation.asp (accessed August 9, 2013). For
hukamnme related to the Dera, see www.sgpc.net/akaltakhat_hukum/hukumnama_dera.
asp (accessed 19 August 2013).
Jodhka, Sikhism and the Caste Question, p. 167.
Jodhka, Sikhism and the Caste Question, p. 186.
Jodhka, Sikhism and the Caste Question, p. 172.
Ram, Beyond Conversion, pp. 656, 699. At times, the similarities between these religious
articulations and the Sikh tradition are a source of conflict; see 697ff. See Paramjit Judge and
Gurpreet Bal, Mapping Dalits: Contemporary Reality and Future Prospects in Punjab
(Jaipur: Rawat Publishers, 2009).
Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 183

majority that can incorporate those who might otherwise be outsiders and
competitors for resources.94 The ongoing critique and defense of secularism in
India today reflects the complex ways in which religion has continued to play a
role in shaping governance. The tolerance for diversity of opinion and dissent
within Sikhism is gauged with reference to these dynamics, as well, where
competition has ensued over the political representation of Sikh interests,
and a failure in this regard is construed as capitulation to majoritarian
(and therefore, Hindu) interests at the federal level. Peace has returned to the
Punjab after two decades of violence, but Sikh mobilization continues around
core issues, such as justice for the victims of the state-sanctioned violence
against Sikhs in 1984 after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

There are intrinsic resources within Sikhism and Hinduism that promote
interpretive freedom and the valorization of diversity of opinion and experi-
ence. We can construe, therefore, the strong mobilizations against narrow
definitions of Hinduism, for example, as dissenting responses within Hinduism
itself, even if secular in orientation. This is so first of all because the religious/
secular distinction is a hazy one at best, and second because the traditions now
included in the Hindu frame themselves have been driven by concerns that
conventionally would be defined today as secular (e.g. materialist concerns
and/or a recognition of the human-bound nature of authority). Efforts are
made by spokespeople for the Hindu Right to disallow speaking as a Hindu
outside of a defensive and exclusionary mode; the discourse of the pseudo-
secular and the anti-Hindu functions to stop internal critique. But it
persists, and perhaps the most striking quality of public discourse in India
today is its dynamic and critical nature. As Amartya Sen has highlighted, this
argumentative aspect of Indian society (including both Sikhism and
Hinduism) is perhaps its greatest strength.
Efforts to critique the formation of the religious/secular divide by adher-
ents of Sikhism and Hinduism today challenge the ways in which religions
themselves are managed in our world. There is revolutionary potential in
asking a different question about what it means to express dissent if there is
no religious center, and if boundaries between traditions are rethought;
post-colonial thinking about religion and its valences allows for the destabi-
lization of those forces that seek to homogenize and disallow diversity of
opinion and practice. At the same time, in the world today there is little room
for traditions that do not follow the logic of Western traditions, so a defen-
sive posture persists. Members of diaspora communities of Hindus and Sikhs
are perhaps most under pressure to explain themselves utilizing Western

Rajan, The Politics of Hindu Tolerance, p. 84; see also Jaffrelot, Indias Silent Revolution
and Rao, The Caste Question, p. 282.
184 Anne Murphy

(particularly Protestant Christian) frames of reference, undermining alter-

native ways of being. This was tragically visible, for example, in the ways that
Sikhs in the United States were forced to explain themselves after the violent
attack on a Sikh Gurdwara in Wisconsin in August 2012 by a White supre-
macist. As Sharon Chan wrote eloquently in the Seattle Times after the
attacks and which the Sikh Foundation later posted to its website when
attacks like this happen against Muslims or Sikhs, in her words The question
is not: Whats Ramadan? The question is: What is law enforcement doing
to stop this?95 Thus while asking questions from the perspective of South
Asian traditions might result in a radical decentering and reformulation of
the questions that make so much sense for Western traditions, there is still
little room for these questions in contemporary political and cultural dis-
course and the pressure to explain in Western terms is powerful. This is
keenly felt among adherents, and shapes the forces for dissent and tolerance
within traditions forced to speak in a language not their own.

In Amartya Sens meditation on heterodoxy and debate in Indian traditions,
quoted at the opening of this chapter, he notes the tragic contradiction
between the ways Hinduism is imagined politically today and its more
generous past, where a pride in liberality and toleration . . . contrasts rather
sharply with the belligerently sectarian interpretation of Hinduism which is
now becoming common through its politicization.96 This chapter asks us to
take seriously the historical roots of this transformation. These roots show that
the contradiction Sen highlights and the political ramifications that follow
from it are at the very core of the capacious Hinduism that Sen describes.97
The quest to seek a historical continuity between what we construe in broad
terms as Hinduism today and such an entity in the past undergirds it. There
is therefore a direct logical and historical connection between the capacious-
ness of Hinduism that Sen perceives, and its modern aggressive need to define.
Neither is continuous with pre-modern religious traditions, and inclusivity can
act as a mask for forms of internal and external intolerance.
As Hinduism became hardened as a religious definition in the colonial
period, encompassing a range of previously independent traditions, there have
emerged strong forces to enforce the uniformity that such a name implies. This
new Hinduism has come into being in relation to other traditions, defining
itself in agonistic terms with some (such as Islam) and in aggressively inclusive
terms in others (such as Dalit traditions); in this way, its founding has shaped

Sharon Chan, Silence after Sikh Shooting is Deafening, The Seattle Times August 20, 2012,
http://seattletimes.com/html/opinion/2018958109_sharonsikhxml.html. Accessed August 9,
Sen, Argumentative Indian, p. 46. 97 Sen, Argumentative Indian, p. 49.
Dissent and diversity in South Asian religions 185

its internal features as well as external boundaries in less tolerant ways. At the
same time, every religion in India today must find a place in relation to it, and
Sikh concern for uniformity and clear definition is born of this need. We can
see from these examples that it is imperative to understand the issue of
intramural dissent in Hinduism and Sikhism in complex and interactive
terms. It is not uncommon in scholarly circles to question the idea of
Hinduism; after doing so, most then proceed as if the question had never
been asked. We cannot understand religious dynamics within India today
without understanding the nature of this problem and its multiple effects.
Intramural dissent within each of these traditions depends on the tension
between them, and with other traditions, and cannot be understood outside
of this broader and highly political field.
Chapter 9

Confucianism and dissent on core beliefs

Richard Madsen

What the West calls Confucianism is not really an -ism, and throughout
most of its history it has not had walls or clear boundaries separating it from
society as a whole. To extend the topic intramural dissent to encompass
Confucianism we have to expand our intellectual horizons to a point where
concepts based on a Western historical experience must take on new and
deeper meanings.
Confucianism is a Western name, first coined by the Jesuit missionaries
of the seventeenth century and then further refined by European scholars
of comparative religion in the nineteenth. The Jesuits found that their
Chinese scholar-official interlocutors considered Confucius (551479 BCE)
to be the preeminent sage. The Jesuits thus called the beliefs and practices of
such officials Confucianism and, based on the somewhat misleading per-
spectives of the Chinese elites, they thought that Confucianism could be
used to characterize Chinese culture as a whole. But the Chinese themselves
had no word for Confucianism. The beliefs and practices the Jesuits were
referring to were mainly those associated with a class of people the Chinese
called the ru.1
The ru were people who carried out rituals and education.2 The term pre-
dates Confucius, but his disciples were considered an exemplary kind of ru and
in the third century BCE Han Feizi (c. 280233 BCE), a philosopher opposed to
much of Confucius vision, called Confucius the highest figure of the ru
tradition.3 Henceforth it was the ru who became identified as the carriers of
the tradition of thought stemming from Confucius. But there were different,
though interconnected aspects of the ru identity. The Chinese spoke of the
David Mungello, Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology
(Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989) and Paul Rule, Kung-Tzu or Confucius
The Jesuit Interpretation of Confucianism (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1986).
Yong Chen, Confucianism as Religion: Controversies and Consequences (Leiden: Brill, 2013),
pp. 2629.
Chen, Confucianism as Religion, p. 29 citing the chapter Xuan Xue in the Han Feizi.

Confucianism and dissent on core beliefs 187

rujia, the family or lineage of the ru; the rujiao, the teaching of the ru; and
ruxue, the learning of the ru.4 The rujia was the extended community of people
who had carried the tradition down from the time of Confucius. They did this
by teaching, studying, and serving as officials in the imperial bureaucracies.
Over two millennia, their scholarship generated an extremely rich and varied
tradition of ideas and values and their teaching spread these throughout
Chinese society. The Jesuits were not totally wrong. If the ru could be called
Confucian, then Chinese civilization as a whole could fairly (but incompletely)
be called Confucian.
What was the content of the teaching of the ru? There were indeed
continuities with the original teachings of Confucius himself as written down
by his disciples in the Analects. For its time in the fifth century BCE, these were
quite radical: societies should be governed not by hereditary rulers but by
people of virtue. In principle anyone could aspire to learn these virtues
through proper teaching and self-cultivation. The content of the virtues,
however, was quite conservative. Two of the main virtues were ren and li.5
The former is variously and inadequately translated as goodness, benevo-
lence, or humanness at its best and refers to acknowledgment of and
respect for the hierarchically structured relationships, especially in the family
but also in the polity, that define ones place in the world. The li are the
intricate rituals and practices of etiquette through which one acknowledges
those important relationships. The heart of the Confucian vision, therefore, is
not a metaphysical system, but a social ethic.
The classic formulation of this ethic is the five relationships outlined by
Mencius (fourth century BCE), who lived a century after Confucius:
Between parent and child there is to be affection
Between ruler and minister, rightness
Between husband and wife [gender] distinctions
Between older and younger [siblings] an order of precedence
Between friends, trustworthiness

Mencius 3A:46
The ru were dedicated to propagating this ethic, to elaborating its implica-
tions, and to explaining its basis in the constitution of the cosmos. Centuries
of their scholarship produced an immense body of often contradictory
commentary about these matters, but constant in all of this was

Chen, Confucianism as Religion, pp. 2937.
I follow the argument of Robert Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 2011), pp. 411423. This follows a consensus of scholars about the
centrality of ren and li, although there are those who would also want to argue for the
importance of yi (righteousness).
Translation from Wm. Theodore de Bary, Asian Values and Human Rights: A Confucian
Communitarian Perspective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 17.
188 Richard Madsen

an affirmation of the bedrock importance of the basic social ethics and the
virtues required to enact them.
The community of the rujia themselves was brutally persecuted by
the Emperor Qin (260210 BCE), the great unifier of China who followed
the legalist philosophy of realpolitik elaborated by Han Feizi, but in the
subsequent Han dynasty (206 BCE 220 CE), the rujia were exalted to become
the chief educators and ritual specialists of the dynasty. To meet the needs
of establishing a strong state, Han-dynasty scholars intertwined some
principles of Legalism with Confucian teachings. For example, the
Mencian Five Principles, which stressed the mutual obligations of people
to each other within hierarchically structured relationships, were replaced
with the Three Bonds: ruler/minister, parent/child, husband/wife. These are
authority relationships, with the authority of the state taking precedence
over all.7
In subsequent dynasties, the rujia had to compete with Daoists and
Buddhists for the dominant role of ministers of the state, but by the fifth
century CE, the ru teaching was integrated with the teachings of the Dao and
the Buddha to form the three teachings, an intertwined set of beliefs and
practices that eventually pervaded the lives of most Chinese.8 By the Ming
(13531644) and Qing (16441911) dynasties, the rujia had regained their
position as the primary educators and political advisers of the state. The
imperial bureaucracies were staffed by scholar-officials who had gained their
positions by passing rigorous examinations based on the teachings of the rujia.
In imperial-sponsored academies, the rujia continued to develop scholarship
to expand their intellectual traditions to take account of changing realities.
The ru teaching also became the common teaching of scholar-officials in
Vietnam, Korea, and Japan.
In the Ming and Qing, the ethics propagated by the rujia so deeply per-
meated society that Confucianism could be regarded as a fuzzy set in the
sense that its concepts, values, precepts, and norms are manifested in social
dimensions in a graded fashion.9 That is, one could not really make a clear
distinction between dimensions of society that were Confucian and those that
were not. One could only say that some dimensions were more or less
Confucian than others. For example, one could say that the main rituals that
expressed the solidarity and continuity of the Chinese family were basically
Confucian, although these were usually intertwined with rituals deriving from
Daoist and Buddhist traditions. But as one ascended to elite levels of ru
scholars who devoted their lives to studying and teaching the classical

De Bary, Asian Values and Human Rights, pp. 124125.
Chen, Confucianism as Religion, p. 32. For an example of how these three teachings were
institutionalized in the Ming-Qing period, see Kenneth Dean, Lord of the Three in One: The
Spread of a Cult in Southeast China (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998).
Chen, Confucianism as Religion, p. 115.
Confucianism and dissent on core beliefs 189

tradition one might see such people as more Confucian than people at the
grass roots.
In late imperial China, as in contemporary Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, the
enforcer of orthodoxy was the imperial state; but a more useful term for this
orthodoxy would be orthopraxis.10 Although the rujia scholars often
engaged in vigorous debate about the meanings of classical ideas, very few,
if any, were ever prosecuted for heterodox thinking as such. Emperors were,
however, very concerned with practices that violated Confucian social ethics,
especially practices that defied the authority of parents and elders, promoted
the egalitarian commingling of genders, and resisted political authority. Such
deviant practices could bring severe punishments, including torture and death.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the Qing dynasty was
on the verge of both political and moral collapse. To strengthen the nation,
some scholars advocated the unification of the society under a clearly institu-
tionalized national religion, as seemed to be the case in powerful Western
nations. For a while the preferred candidate for this unifying religion was
Confucianism, now called by its Western name and organized like Western
religions into congregations with systematic doctrines. Inspired by what
seemed to be the most modern forms of Western Christianity, which saw
Jesus as an exemplary moral philosopher rather than someone who performed
miracles, rose from the dead, and sat at the right hand of God, many Confucian
reformists described their tradition as a pure moral philosophy that from its
very beginnings eschewed anything supernatural. This did not stop would-be
creators of a Confucian church from being rigidly dogmatic, willing to excom-
municate those who did not accept what they took to be Confucian core
beliefs.11 In 1896, for example, in a betrayal of his future liberalism, the
young reformer Liang Qichao (18731929) denounced the ritual devotion to
the spirit of literature that had become popular in Confucian academies and
demanded that its outstanding devotees suffer the legal penalties of members
of heterodox religions who deluded the masses.12 But in 1911, the old imper-
ial state collapsed, and there was no political agency to enforce orthodoxy.
Moreover, during the May 4th Period of nationalistic intellectual ferment
between 1915 and 1925, the most progressive intellectuals rejected
Confucianism as a relic of a traditional past that had to be overcome to
bring China wealth and power in a modern world.

Kwang-Ching Liu (ed.), Orthodoxy in Late Imperial China, Introduction (Berkeley and Los
Angeles: University of California Press, 2008), pp. 124.
Ya-pei Kuo, Redeploying Confucius: The Imperial State Dreams of the Nation, 1902
1911, in Mayfair Mei-hui Yang, Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernity and State
Formation, pp. 6584. See also, Mayfair Mei-hui Yang, Introduction in Yang (ed.), Chinese
Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernity and State Formation (Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 2008), pp. 1119.
Alexander Woodside, State, Scholars, and Orthodoxy: The Ching Academies, 17361839,
in Liu (ed.), Orthodoxy in Late Imperial China, p. 184.
190 Richard Madsen

Finally, the social upheavals of the twentieth century destroyed the agents
and institutions that had transmitted the Confucian tradition. The old rujia
were destroyed and the old rujiao (teaching) was no longer the basis for a
Chinese education. The imperial civil service exam system had been elimi-
nated in 1905, and the new universities were devoted to teaching Western
natural and social science. Urbanization and industrialization began to under-
mine the old extended families that had formed the sociological foundation
for the practice of Confucian virtues. New political institutions, whether
Marxist-Leninist, quasi-fascist, or liberal democratic were based on different
principles than those that had been advocated by the old rujia. Modernized
versions of ruxue, Confucian scholarship, have survived and become the basis
in China for a Confucian revival in the past several decades.13 But the
Confucian tradition has become, as the distinguished Chinese scholar Yu
Ying-shih has said, a wandering ghost, an ancestral spirit separated from
its home, still able to cause mischief or, if properly placated, to do good, but
elusive, erratic, and inconsistent.14
Proponents of the twentieth-century new Confucianism have often been
good at building walls and engaging in intramural as well as extramural
battles, such as those between Confucian fundamentalists and modernists.
We will discuss the differences between this new Confucianism and historical
versions of the ru tradition in the sections to follow in this chapter.

Key tenets
The Analects, the main text attributed to Confucius (most of it actually
written by his disciples, some chapters close to the actual time of
Confucius and some perhaps several generations removed), is short and
aphoristic. Confucius lived at the end of the Spring and Autumn period,
a time of transition when the old bonds of loyalty that had tied local fiefdoms
to the rulers of the Zhou dynasty (1122255 BCE) were falling apart. The
subsequent Warring States period was one of political disintegration and
constant warfare, but also a time of philosophical ferment when a hundred
schools of thought prevailed. The Confucian rujia was one of those schools,
and one and two centuries after Confucius, thinkers like Mencius and Xunzi
(310215 BCE) developed more systematic elaborations of the Masters
ideas, albeit elaborations that tend to go in different directions, which
indicate ambiguities in the Confucian vision that have continued to frame
debates down to the present day. As noted above, the two central virtues in

Kang Xiaogang, A Study of the Renaissance of Traditional Confucian Culture in
Contemporary China, in Fenggang Yang and Joseph Tamney (eds.), Confucianism and
Spiritual Traditions in Modern China and Beyond (Leiden: Brill, 2012), pp. 3373.
Chen, Confucianism as Religion, p. 173. Yu Ying-shih, Xiandai Ruxue lun (Shanghai:
Renmin chubanshe, 1998), p. 5.
Confucianism and dissent on core beliefs 191

the Analects are the ren (humanness-at-its-best) and li (ritual, etiquette), but
it is not always clear which should take priority. In any case, the ren seems to
refer to the internal attitude, the spirit of structured creativity that should
animate the external practices of the li. At issue is how one develops the ren
and the li and how one balances them. Mencius famously starts from the
premise that human nature is good and he believes that ones natural
internal moral sentiments can be cultivated to produce the proper spirit
for acknowledging and animating the performance of the proper rituals of
mutual respect and super- and subordination. Xunzi says that human nature
is bad and he emphasizes the importance of external training in the rituals
that can then inculcate the proper interior attitudes.15
Over the centuries, through many learned debates, the rujia developed
these different lines of argument. One key issue was whether to stress more
the construction of social institutions, such as a correctly ordered family and
state, that would socialize people into the proper attitudes, or to stress an
interior process of cultivating the mind-and-heart. These were, however,
never seen as mutually exclusive. The Ming and Qing dynasties based the
imperial civil service exams on the philosophy of Song-dynasty (9601278 CE)
neo-Confucian thinkers like Zhu Xi (11301200 CE), who followed Mencius
and synthesized his teaching with aspects of Buddhism to emphasize the
importance of interior cultivation of the heart-mind.
This emphasis helped tip the scales toward the side of another ambiguity
in the teaching of the original Confucians. Confucius wanted to cultivate a
moral elite the gentlemen or junzi who would be fit to rule. But could the
Confucian virtues only be realized by a small elite? After all, Confucius
thought that anyone was capable of learning them although the learning
was hard and would require proper education. But insofar as the moral
virtues welled up from the heart-mind of people who were by nature good,
then a more democratic vista might open up. One could be more optimistic
that Confucian virtues were really for everyone. The Ming-dynasty thinker
Wang Yangming (14721529) extended this line of thought and emphasized
how the proper virtues came first and foremost from interior insight not
external learning.16
In the new Confucianism of the twentieth century, we see a continua-
tion of these lines of debate. After the establishment of the Peoples
Republic of China in 1949, leading Confucian intellectuals went into exile,
in Taiwan and Hong Kong. New Asia College at the Chinese University of
Hong Kong became a center for new intellectual elaborations of

Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution, pp. 459480.
Wm. Theodore de Bary, Individualism and Humanitarianism in Late Ming Thought, in
Wm. Theodore de Bary (ed.), Self and Society in Ming Thought (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1976); Tu Wei-ming, Neo-Confucian Thought in Action: Wang Yang-
mings Youth (14721509) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976).
192 Richard Madsen

Confucianism. The most famous scholars of this generation were Mou

Zongsan and Tang Junyi. They tried to revive the Confucian tradition by
connecting it with main currents of Western continental philosophy and
political theory. Especially they tried to transmit the [Confucian] Way
(daotong) from the philosophy of mind-and-heart developed by the Song-
dynasty neo-Confucian Zhu Xi. Interpreted through the lens of Kantian
philosophy, this was taken to mean that the Confucian way was a matter of
noumena, an interior spirituality developed through the will, while modern
science and democracy were part of the phenomena, which could be studied
through empirical research.17 In this formulation, Confucianism was an
attitude toward life that could be the basis of many kinds of political systems,
especially democracy.18 A new generation of scholars, such as Tu Weiming
(who was a student of Mou Zongsan) have carried on, creatively adapted,
and more widely disseminated this way of thought.19
Other contemporary scholars criticize these new Confucians, however,
for being too intellectualistic, too focused on elite academic debate rather
than creating a version of Confucianism that could be disseminated to
ordinary people. In the past decade the media personality Yu Dan tried to
develop a popular version of Confucianism through a hugely popular series
of television lectures on the Analects that was turned into a book that sold
millions of copies throughout East Asia.20 Predictably, Yu Dan came under
fierce criticism from academic scholars who claimed that her approach was
superficial, a Chinese version of Chicken Soup for the Soul.21 An alter-
native contemporary attempt to build a foundation for a widely influential
modern Confucianism comes from fundamentalist Confucians, who
instead of extending the legacy of Song-dynasty heart-and-mind philoso-
phers, go back to texts from the Han dynasty that justify a set of hierarchical
institutions in terms of Confucian ideas. The best-known of these new
Confucian thinkers is Jiang Qing, who calls for the creation of a Confucian
political system with a tri-cameral legislature a house of hereditary aristo-
crats, a house of scholars, and a house of popular representatives. This
supposedly is based on Han-dynasty conceptions of the integration of hea-
ven, earth, and humans heaven represented by the wise, far-sighted,
This position is somewhat similar to the late nineteenth-century Catholic modernists, who
were condemned by Pope Pius X.
Sebastien Billiound, The Hidden Tradition: Confucianism and its Metamorphoses in
Modern and Contemporary China, in Vincent Goossaert, John Lagerway, and David
Palmer (eds.), Modern Chinese Religion: Value Systems in Transformation: 1850Present
(Leiden: Brill, 2015).
See Tu Weiming, The Global Significance of Concrete Humanity: Essays on the Confucian
Discourse in Contemporary China (New Delhi: Centre for Studies in Civilization, 2010).
Yu Dan, Confucius from the Heart: Ancient Wisdom for Todays World (Beijing: Zhonghua
Book Company, 2009).
See Sheila Melvin, Modern Gloss on Chinas Golden Age, New York Times,
September 3, 2007.
Confucianism and dissent on core beliefs 193

meritocratically selected scholars, earth by the hereditary notables, and

humans by the popular assembly. This political program would be institu-
tionalized by a reformed Chinese state, true to its classical roots.22 There are
similar versions of Confucianism being espoused in Japan by scholars who
unfortunately are connected with right-wing nationalism.23

Throughout all these debates, however, the affirmation of the fundamental
Confucian social ethic remained constant: families should be bound together
by filial piety, proper gender relations, and deference of younger siblings to
the older; and, analogous to the filial piety owed to ones parents, subjects
should have respect and loyalty for their rulers.
The ethic of loyalty was extended to the relationship of student to teacher,
so that scholarly schools formed lineages whose members were bound
together and constrained by the tradition passed down from a particular
founder. These loyalties to ones predecessors gave rise to many different
styles of thought represented in different academies. In the Qing dynasty at
least, the diversity of academies made it impossible for emperors to implement
the kind of centralized control over schools that contemporary European
kings and popes aspired to achieve. What standardization was achieved was
that needed to prepare students for the civil service exams. Beyond that,
however, there was great variety in the ideas different academies had about
how to understand the cosmos, how to integrate Confucian, Daoist, and
Buddhist ideas, and how to respond to the challenges of a changing society.24
There were vigorous debates among scholars, for example, about whether the
Jesuit version of Christianity could be accepted as part of the orthodox
Chinese tradition, and these were ultimately resolved by decisions of the
emperor, who combined in his person the roles of king and pope. But the
emperor usually intervened only when a way of thought was leading to
practices that seemed to contradict the ethical norms of familial piety and
loyalty to authority.25
In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with the breakup of the tradi-
tional extended family under the pressures of urbanization and industrializa-
tion, people who still self-consciously maintain the Confucian tradition have

Billiound, The Hidden Tradition; Chen, Confucianism as Religion, pp. 175180.
Nakajima Takahiro, Contemporary Japanese Confucianism from a Genealogical
Perspective, in Philip Ivanhoe and Sungmoon Kim (eds.), Confucianism: A Habit of the
Heart (New York: SUNY Press, 2015).
Alexander Woodside, State, Scholars, and Orthodoxy: The Ching Academies, 17361839,
in Liu (ed.), Orthodoxy in Late Imperial China, pp. 158184.
Jacques Gernet, China and the Christian Impact: A Conflict of Cultures (London: Cambridge
University Press, 1985); George Minimiki, S. J., The Chinese Rites Controversy: From its
Beginnings to Modern Times (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1985).
194 Richard Madsen

had to struggle to find ways to make it relevant to modern circumstances. The

problem is exacerbated because in the absence of an emperor or accepted
arbiter, there has once again been a hundred schools of thought, including
various versions of Confucianism, contending with no one to arbitrate the
The Communist government of China unified the country under a version
of Marxist ideology, and under Mao the party suppressed any study of
Confucianism. Now, however, with a moral vacuum having been created by
the collapse of Marxist ideology, some elites in the PRC government are open
to a revival of Confucianism as a basis for cultural nationalism. They also see
the spread of Confucianism as an antidote to Christianity, which is seen as
potentially more destabilizing to authority. Since the governments priorities
are to maintain stability it will favor those versions that promise such
support. There are no Confucian groups in China that I know of that advocate
any kind of dissident activity. But some, such as those associated with Jiang
Qing, might be more reliable pillars of support for the government and might
receive more favorable patronage. As always, the main criterion is the social-
ethical import of the teaching rather than its intellectual doctrines. This is the
case in contemporary Vietnam and Singapore as well as China.
In other Asian societies, like Taiwan and South Korea, Confucianism
flourishes in a variety of voluntary associations, often commingled with
Buddhist and Daoist teachings. Some of these associations have been impress-
ive sources of philanthropy, sometimes with a global reach. To various
degrees, they try to reformulate Confucian ethics to fit the circumstances of
modern family life, and they instill a cosmopolitan Confucian ethic in plur-
alistic civil societies. Democratic governments have encouraged them as
instantiations of the best in traditional culture and as creative agents of social
harmony. Such groups offer somewhat different versions of the Confucian
tradition and are to some degree in competition with one another. But they are
like mainline denominations in Christian-majority societies, competitive
within an ecumenical spirit of cooperation.26 Some sociologists argue that
modern versions of core Confucian values have served as a kind of
Protestant ethic to bring moral discipline to East Asian capitalism.

Imperial China certainly had its share of conflict, but hopes for a stable
cultural foundation rested on widespread acceptance of basic Confucian
family and political ethics. The consequence of this acceptance was a high
degree of political stability and continuity. Rebellions against the state came
from sectarian Buddhists and in the nineteenth century from the quasi-

Vincent Goossaert and David Palmer, The Religious Question in Modern China (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2011), pp. 91121, 271313.
Confucianism and dissent on core beliefs 195

Christian Taipings who were outside the Confucian tradition. Until the twen-
tieth century, even when dynasties were overthrown, the successor dynasties
maintained institutional continuity by continuing to recruit officials through
the Confucian examination system.

Thus, until the twentieth century, there was remarkable consensus, at all
levels, on basic Confucian familial ethics and political ethics. This did not
include consensus about whether any particular emperor was sufficiently
living up to Confucian principles and it did not preclude debate on how to
reform political institutions to better conform to the Confucian way. In the
seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, there were important
debates among intellectuals seeking to interpret the tradition in ways that
would allow for institutional changes in the Chinese state in response to the
challenges of demographic explosion and foreign aggression. The late Ming-
early Qing philosopher Huang Zongxi (16101695) indeed advocated for
quasi-democratic institutions within something like a constitutional
monarchy.27 Such scholars were criticized by more conservative Confucians
but the criticisms did not lead to anything like excommunication. Elite
Confucian scholars saw their highest calling as service to the state, which
included remonstrating with the emperor if he was acting in a way contrary
to Confucian principles. The strategy for scholar-officials to improve the
government was to convince the emperor that the scholars new interpretation
of the tradition was correct. This inevitably led scholar-officials into engage-
ment with imperial court politics, with accompanying political perils. Some
principled scholar-officials paid with their jobs and even their lives for their
By the end of the nineteenth century, the Chinese state was in such crisis
that reformist Confucian scholars like Kang Youwei (18581927) were pro-
posing radical reforms while seeking a national cultural unity around a rein-
terpreted Confucian tradition. In 1898 they convinced the emperor to enact
major reforms, but these were then overturned by the Empress Dowager and
the proponents were forced into exile. After the regime collapsed in 1911,
intellectuals turned against the Confucian tradition and advocated building
the Chinese nation based on Western philosophies, Marxism-Leninism in the
end being the most popular.
Even under these circumstances, however, Confucian family values have
persisted. But the challenge facing many families has been how to reconcile
those values with the social pressures of a modern society. With the destruc-
tion of Confucian academies and of Confucian scholars as a class, the role
of adapting Confucianism has often fallen to syncretistic religious

De Bary, Asian Values and Human Rights, pp. 98109.
196 Richard Madsen

associations redemptive societies like the Unity Way (yiguandao). In the

1930s the total membership of such societies exceeded membership in the
Communist Party. Today, they have been suppressed in the Peoples
Republic of China but flourish in Taiwan and in the Chinese diaspora
throughout Southeast Asia.28 Other important new groups carrying on and
adapting the Confucian ethic are Humanistic Buddhist associations like
the Ciji (Tzu Chi) Compassionate Relief Association based in Taiwan. A
common refrain in the testimonials of people who have joined Ciji goes like
I grew up in a village, but went to university and now have a professional job in the
city. I live far away from my parents and have a completely different lifestyle. I want
to be filial to my parents, but didnt know how until I joined Ciji and realized that by
helping to make the world a more loving and caring place I am being true to the
deepest desires of my parents.29
In addition to these religious associations that are the primary carriers of
Confucianism today, there are the scholars whom I have mentioned above,
based in academic institutions or, in the case of Jiang Qing, having established
their own study centers. There are sharp disagreements among them as to
whether Confucianism should be treated as a form of spirituality or whether it
should be embodied in new political institutions, and if so exactly what kinds.
Senior scholars develop their own networks of loyal students and these con-
stitute schools of thought that cast barbs at one another. But there is no
overarching authority structure to resolve such disputes.

Inculcation and reproduction

There is moral pressure to maintain loyalty to ones teacher. People who
violated this might face disapproval from their peers and feel shame. There
are practical reasons for loyalty as well. Funding and other resources tend to
flow from the person on top. Thus there are inculcated lineages of scholars
who carry on the general vision of the master. At the non-elite level, basic
Confucian ethics are carried on through family socialization and through
examples of exemplary Confucian figures celebrated in local temple rituals
and performances of the traditional operas that are such an important part of
local festivals.
Recently, in China, some of the scholars attempting to lead a Confucian
revival have established four books academies for children. There are
different opinions based on different parts of the Confucian tradition on
how children should be taught. The approach taken by Jiang Qing assumes
Goossaert and Palmer, The Religious Question, pp. 271313.
Richard Madsen, Democracys Dharma: Religious Renaissance and Political Development in
Taiwan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007). See Rebirth: Transformations in
Tsu-chi (Taipei: Buddhist Compassion Relief Association, n.d.).
Confucianism and dissent on core beliefs 197

that children are very good at memorization but not at understanding, so

children should be taught by memorizing the classics, and when they get
older it will be time to strive to understand the texts. Other scholars, with
support from other parts of the Confucian tradition, say that understanding
should be inculcated from the youngest age. Other proponents of new
Confucianism revise classics to make them relevant to children today. For
example, there has recently been issued a revision of the Twenty Four Tales of
Filial Piety (a Song-dynasty text) to include such examples of filial piety as a
young child helping his parents learn to surf the internet.30

In imperial China (and Korea and Vietnam), the emperor had supreme
authority to determine orthodoxy and heterodoxy. The rujia were oriented
toward serving the state and they accepted this authority even though in
principle individuals could remonstrate against what they considered mis-
guided actions by the emperor. Emperors were served by imperial academies
and government ministries who could advise them on matters relevant to
orthodoxy, but the emperor by virtue of his position had the final word. As
discussed above, decisions about orthodoxy were based on the practical impli-
cations of a teaching rather than the teaching itself.
Since the collapse of imperial governments, not only in China, but also
Korea, Japan, and Vietnam in the twentieth century, there has been no central
authority to define Confucian orthodoxy. Communist governments in China
and Vietnam make authoritative decisions about orthodoxy of course, but this
is Marxist orthodoxy. Until the 1980s in China, in fact, Confucianism was
denounced as a remnant of the feudal past. In 1972 the Chinese Communist
Party under Mao launched an ideological campaign to Criticize Confucius
along with a campaign to criticize the traitorous leader Lin Biao. In this case,
criticizing Confucius was a proxy used by Maos supporters for criticizing
Zhou Enlai (18981976), the revered premier who had tried to soften the
most fanatical behavior of Mao during the Cultural Revolution. Zhou was
seen as excessively Confucian in his effort to remonstrate with emperor
Mao.31 This shows how some Confucian ethics have persisted despite all
efforts of the modern state to eradicate them.
Although space has opened up for the explicit promotion of
Confucianism in China in the past two decades, would-be promoters must
contend with the authority claimed by the state to determine any form of

Billioud, The Hidden Tradition.
Roderick MacFarquhar, The Succession to Mao and the End of Maoism, in
Roderick MacFarquhar and John K. Fairbank (eds.), The Cambridge History of China,
Volume 15, The Peoples Republic of China, Part 2, Revolutions within the Chinese
Revolution (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 343345.
198 Richard Madsen

orthodoxy. None of the current promoters of Confucianism in China has

taken part in dissident activity. However, insofar as the Chinese state
continues to proclaim that it is Communist, it only has political ability rather
than moral authority to define Confucian orthodoxy. In liberal democratic
polities such as South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, proponents of
Confucianism are part of a free, pluralistic conversation about the meaning
of life, while at the same time, there seems to be widespread consensus (even
among Christians) about the importance of Confucian ethics in family life. In
Singapore and Malaysia, authoritarian governments have made an author-
itarian form of Confucianism a quasi-official ideology for their Chinese
populations, and they claim Confucian values as a justification for their
forms of corporatist authoritarianism.

Management options
Emperors who wanted to suppress heterodox practices could use all means
possible, including lethal force. Certain privileges were accorded to scholars
who had obtained imperial degrees through the Confucian exam system.
Degree-holders were spared physical torture and the normal forms of execu-
tion. However, if an emperor thought that a scholar-official had crossed the
line from remonstrance to disloyalty, he could present the official with a silk
rope to commit suicide. One option for a scholar-official who could not accept
service to an emperor would be to withdraw into private life, often following
the path toward inner harmony taught by the Daoists.
Although the emperor had absolute authority in imperial China his ability
to exercise that power was practically limited by the size and diversity of the
empire. There were many spaces for thinkers of all kinds to carry on their
activities. The organizational systems and technologies of the twentieth cen-
tury, however, make the power of the state more oppressive. One tactic that
can be drawn from the broad Confucian tradition for survival under such
circumstances is to play on the distinction between the li, external rituals,
and ren, internal attitude. One can outwardly comply with the displays of
deference demanded by the state while inwardly withholding dissent. This can
be done not only by individuals, but by groups such as the family or political
factions as well. One of the most insidious forms of violence during the Maoist
era was the attempt of the government to use political campaigns to touch
peoples souls and create a new socialist person. Politically organized
violence was used to cleanse citizens of bad thoughts. In practice, one
could be persecuted for even being suspected of disloyal ideas. Especially
during the Cultural Revolution, this led to some of the worst atrocities of the
twentieth century.32

Tu Weiming, Destructive Will and Ideological Holocaust: Maoism as a Source of Social
Suffering in China, in Tu, Global Significance, pp. 130160.
Confucianism and dissent on core beliefs 199

Internal criticism
The blame for Maoist atrocities cannot be laid on Confucianism. But like all
major actors in modern Chinese politics, the Maoists drew, perhaps uncon-
sciously, on bits and pieces of a shattered Confucian heritage. For example,
they attacked Confucian family ethics, but they retained the Confucian
assumption that individual identity was defined by ones status within a family.
This led to the persecution of people because of their bloodlines. For
example, if ones parent had been a capitalist, one would be given a bad
class status, even though one had been born after capitalism had been
abolished in China. If a spouse or parent had allegedly committed a political
crime, the whole family could be punished. After the death of Mao, the
practice was abolished of holding a whole extended family responsible for
the faults of an individual (at least officially, but informally even now innocent
family members can suffer for the misdeeds of a close relative). But during the
Reform era, leaders have used other bits and pieces of the Confucian legacy to
suppress dissent. For example, a central policy for the regime of Hu Jintao
over the past decade was to create a harmonious society a reference to
Confucian ideals. Yet the word for harmony (he) was explicitly contrasted
by Confucius with the word for uniformity (tong). The Analects affirms
harmony as the goal of a good ruler but says that harmony is more difficult
than uniformity.33 By harmonious society, however, the current Chinese
regime means a uniform society. Critical Chinese Confucian scholars have
pointed this out but generally in polite enough ways not to bring the wrath of
the state down upon them.
Throughout Chinese imperial history, the rujia almost never dissented from
the notion that an emperor ought to persecute actions that violated Confucian
ethics. They could disagree of course about whether a specific action had been
properly characterized as a violation. The rujia were generally politically
conservative they supported existing regimes. When the corruption and
incompetence of a dynasty led to rebellions and dynastic collapse,
Confucian scholars could then draw upon an old fundamental principle in
the Confucian tradition, the Mandate of Heaven. Heaven gives kings the
mandate to rule, for the benefit of the people. When rulers are not promoting
the peoples welfare, heaven can withdraw the mandate. The rujia, however,
almost always made this judgment retrospectively, after a dynasty had fallen.
They did not initiate rebellions.

The rujia saw their tradition as constituting the very essence of civilization and
confined not to the Han Chinese but available to anyone willing to learn it.

Analects 13:23.
200 Richard Madsen

They saw it as a comprehensive ethic, regulating political, social, and eco-

nomic life (which were not clearly differentiated). They did, however, allow
for the mixing of the Confucian way with other traditions. Imperial China was
a multi-ethnic empire with considerable practical autonomy given to non-Han
peoples, who were expected to seek civilization by adopting basic Confucian
ideas, but were also expected to synthesize these with their own cultural
traditions. Imperialist aggression and political collapse rudely introduced
China to the modern world of nation states. Modern nationalist leaders like
Sun Yat-sen (18661925) envisioned a China knit together under the hege-
mony of the Han ethnicity. At the beginning of the twentieth century, some
Confucian reformers proposed making Confucianism into a state church,
modeled after state churches in Western Christian countries. This would
have made Confucianism a national religion distinguishing the Han people
from other races. The criticism of Confucianism during the May 4th Period
destroyed that vision. But it is now being revived.
In recent years, new Confucian reformers like Jiang Qing want China to
adopt Confucianism as a state religion, replacing Marxist universalism with
cultural nationalism. There has been sympathy for this project from some
elites in the Communist Party, but, for now, there is not enough elite support
for it to be implemented. There are other Confucian scholars, like Tu
Weiming, who do believe that Confucianism can and ought to be a truly
cosmopolitan philosophy. There are scholars in the United States, such as
the so-called Boston Confucians, who believe that Confucianism could
enrich American culture.34
However, Confucianism does not seem to travel well. Outside of small
circles of academic scholars, Confucian philosophy has not been embraced
and indigenized by Americans in the way that Buddhism and Daoism have
been accepted into American popular culture. The problem seems to be, on
the one hand, that Confucianism goes too much against the grain of American
(and Western) individualism; and, on the other hand, that actually existing
Confucianism in Asia appears, rightly or wrongly, to be too closely connected
with authoritarian government, patriarchal gender relations, and nationalistic
ambitions. It does not to have to be this way, but despite the sincere efforts of
those seeking a cosmopolitan Confucianism, adapted to modern forms of
government and gender relationships, the short-term prospects for a globa-
lized Confucianism seem dim.35

John Berthrong, From Beijing to Boston: The Future Contributions of the Globalization
of New Confucianism, in Yang and Tamney (eds.), Confucianism and Spiritual
Traditions, pp. 131147.
Richard Madsen, Obstacles to the Globalization of Confucianism, in Ivanhoe and Kim,
Confucianism; Stephen Angle, American Confucianism: Between Tradition and Universal
Values, paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, San
Diego, March 2013.
Chapter 10

Intramural dissent in Buddhism

Peter Nosco

Introduction: four case studies

The non-Buddhist world outside Asia has until relatively recent times been
little interested in Buddhism, and despite the great antiquity of Buddhism
and its founding figure Gautama Shakyamuni (died c. 483 BCE, though even on
this there is significant disagreement), discussions of Buddhism in English are
little more than two centuries old.1 Perhaps all religions as understood today
are offspring of an Enlightenment mentality, but this may be more so with
Buddhism, which has a distinct appeal for the modern rationalist. One
watershed moment in terms of the introduction of Buddhism to a European
and North American world occurred during the 1893 Worlds Parliament of
Religions in Chicago, when Buddhism impressed many for its potential as a
religion without gods.
In this relatively short time, we have grown accustomed to conflicting
images of Buddhism. On the one hand we imagine alms-accepting monks
in saffron robes, standing silent and still; or perhaps Buddhist adepts using
Zen-style meditation in the pursuit of peace and even happiness in a turbulent
world; or the charitable activities of socially engaged Buddhists such as those
in Tzu Chi (Ciji), providing relief into the hands of the distressed; or the
trance-like Buddhist resonance of Nichiren-style chanting to save oneself
and the world; and of course the reassuring appearances of the Dalai
Lama preaching compassion and tolerance to packed audiences hungry
for deeper meaning. These are all accurate and representative of major
strains within the contemporary Buddhist world. On the other hand, at the
moment of this writing, one is confronted with the equally representative

The Oxford English Dictionary dates the earliest English reference to Buddha (Buddou) to
1681 in Robert Knoxs An Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon, but the earliest
references to Buddhism and Buddhists (Boudhism and Boudhists) date from the 1808
issue (Vol. VII) of Asiatik Researches.

202 Peter Nosco

images of Burmese Buddhists on anti-Muslim rampages, the political activism

of Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka, self-immolating monks in southern
Thailand, and internecine violence in China over who speaks for six million
Tibetan Buddhists. Of these conflicting images, the benign ones generally
prevail in Europe and North America, where many profess to be secular
Buddhists intellectually and even spiritually but with little commitment to a
specific Buddhist community, and where many more are generally sympa-
thetic to Buddhism.2
One of the reasons for this appeal is that relative to such religions as
Judaism or Islam, there is exceptional latitude regarding the definition of
who or what is (or is not) Buddhist. Contemporary Buddhism has been
remarkably elastic in several ways. One notes its ability to incorporate within
its spiritual tent such attractive notions as tolerance and happiness, neither of
which was prominent in Buddhism before roughly the last century. Buddhism
has also succeeded in popularizing spiritual practices like meditation and
chanting, giving them something of a Buddhist brand, and also in incorporat-
ing local beliefs including science into its worldview. Indeed, other than
sharing the universal initiatory vow to take refuge in the three jewels or
treasures of the Buddha, the dharma, and the monastic community, consider-
able flexibility has traditionally devolved upon Buddhists and their host
associations in terms of which writings, teachings, and practices to emphasize,
and thereby to fashion into their own dharma.
Buddhism seems historically less bellicose than other major religions, and
what in other religious and ideological traditions would typically be repre-
sented as conflict, argument, dissent, and schism is often reconstituted in
Buddhism so as to appear natural, evolutionary, dialogic, and unproblematic.
So, which is the more accurate? Buddhism in a sense has its origins in dissent
over a host of spiritual matters including the questions of whether the perfor-
mance of rituals is sufficient to bring about release from rebirth, as taught by
the Vedas; whether fasting or enduring pain help one to rein in the passions, as
many holy men professed; whether recognizing the identity of ones innermost
self with the cosmos will suffice, as taught in the Upanishads; or whether the
caste-based understanding of selfless devotional action, as expressed in the
Bhagavad Gita, is appropriate. Buddhas teachings dissented from the pre-
vailing Brahminic wisdom on all of these matters, but how are we to interpret
this dissent, which in the Buddhist tradition recedes into a kind of amnesia
regarding origins?
This is where just as with other religions, history might be expected to
provide a context for understanding Buddhisms dissonant images, but the
first thousand years of Buddhist history following the Buddhas death
are frustratingly poor in verifiable data, and so to answer the questions of

See Stephen Batchelor, A Secular Buddhist, in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review (Fall 2012):
4447, 99.
Intramural dissent in Buddhism 203

origins where did we Buddhists come from and how did we get here?
Buddhists instead look to an early mytho-history that provides the closest
equivalent and fills the gap until more historical accounts prevail. We will do
the same, and in order to understand the nature of intramural dissent within
Buddhism, and how this dissent has at times resulted in differentiation, we
begin with four brief case studies of contentious moments in Buddhisms
rich and complex past: first, the schismatic division of an originally Indian
Buddhism into the three major variants or vehicles (yana) of Mahayana,
Hinayana (Theravada), and Vajrayana, each with its own differing traditions
and strategies for managing dissent; second, the mitosis-like fracture within
the Chinese Chan (Zen) tradition into competing denominations upon the
passing of the mantle of leadership from the fifth to the sixth Patriarch; third,
the ninth-century competition in Japan between two highly catholic denomi-
nations, Tendai and Shingon, each of which made universal truth claims in
pursuit of aristocratic patronage and political advantage; and, fourth, the
intensely familial differences between fundamentalist and accommodationist
streams within Japans Nichiren denomination over the question of how far
one can legitimately go in ones interactions with an unbelieving/otherwise-
believing world.
To begin, then, with the division into yana or vehicles, Buddhist tradition
tells us that shortly after the Buddhas passing or final transition to nirvana
(parinirvana), his disciples gathered in the first of three Councils to determine
the contents of the core scriptures, and that it was from this Council that the
Tripitaka or earliest scriptures emerged. A century later a second Council
followed at which disagreement emerged as to whether one could become a
Buddha by following a strict code of moral and spiritual conduct such as the
Eight-fold Path, or whether Buddhist enlightenment involved animating
something later styled the Buddha nature that knowingly or unknowingly we
already possess.3 The tension between these opposing views can be seen as the
genesis of Buddhisms Theravada and Mahayana variants, though the
Mahayana does not formally emerge until the first century CE. Yet a third
Council a century-and-a-half after the second concentrated on the suppression
of brahminical heresies, which were apparently already a serious issue.
Buddhisms dominant Mahayana has represented this early history as
unproblematic and essentially evolutionary, but, in its historical context,
there lies a story of schism and persistent concern with orthodoxy.4
Notoriously, even during Shakyamunis lifetime, his cousin, Devadatta, is

The Noble Eight-fold Path (Having right views, intentions, speech, conduct, livelihood,
effort, mindfulness, and concentration) is summarized in the phrase to refrain from evil, to
do good, and to purify the mind. The Buddha nature is the dharma within all creatures with
For an excellent analysis of these schisms, see Alan Coles Schisms in Buddhism, in James
R. Lewis and Sarah M. Lewis (eds.), Sacred Schisms: How Religions Divide (Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press, 2009).
204 Peter Nosco

said to have fomented schismatic activities, and by the time of the chakravar-
tin (Enlightened Ruler) Ashoka in the third century BCE some eighteen
streams are said to have emerged within Buddhism. Tradition has it that the
internecine strife between these eighteen was so intense that it proved fatal for
all but one, the Theravada.
The Theravada tradition regards the Mahayana as overly liberal, and
Theravadas more conservative teachings and monastic traditions continue
to hold sway in Sri Lanka, Burma, and non-Vietnamese Southeast Asia. These
are also where present-day Buddhists have been the most conspicuous gen-
erators of violence against others or themselves. The Mahayana variant, in
turn, views the Theravada as overly narrow, rigid, and even self-centered,
though the boundaries between the vehicles have become increasingly porous
in recent years.5 Mahayana variants spread throughout the rest of Asia and
came to include a broad range of spiritual practices including the quiet sitting
of the meditative (dhyana) strain best known as Zen, and the Pure Land
variants that preach salvation through chanting as an expression of faith in
Amitabha (Amida) Buddha. These Mahayana denominations are enjoying a
remarkable resurgence throughout much of East Asia today, as well as new
popularity in Europe and North America where Buddhisms initial appeal is
as often intellectual as it is physical. New examples of Mahayana teachings
continue to arise and attract new followings, showing how differentiation at
the local level results in something of a mosaic of Buddhist activity in the
contemporary world. Vajrayana, a third tantric variant that sought to tap
cosmic powers in everyday life, emerged last among the three vehicles in
northern India as Buddhism embraced elements identified with Tibetan spiri-
tuality. Vajrayana continues to enjoy an allure that requires little explanation.
The second of our four case studies concerns the story of Chinese Zens
rupture into Northern and Southern branches. Here again, the narrative is
weak in historically verifiable detail and varies substantially according to who
is doing the telling. Nonetheless, this malleable property of the tradition has
served Zen sectarian interests well.6 By legend, Buddhisms ineffable esoteric
transmission on meditation (dhyana in Sanskrit, translated with the character
and pronounced chan in Chinese, son in Korean, and zen in Japanese)
began at the historical Buddhas last sermon and arrived a thousand years
later in China in the person of Bodhidharma, who meditated so fervently while
facing a caves inner wall that his legs atrophied. Bodhidharma refused all who
came to him seeking instruction until he was convinced of one students

Consider the example of Thich Nhat Hanh (b. 1926), who was trained in a Mahayana variant
of Zen, but has espoused Theravada-style monastic celibacy. See Thich Nhat Hanh, The
Heart of Buddhas Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation
(Berkeley: Broadway Books, 1998).
Philip Yampolsky examines all the major variants of the legend in the Introduction (pp. 1121)
to his translation of The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1967).
Intramural dissent in Buddhism 205

unique sincerity by the students amputation of his own arm. Bodhidharma is

said to have accepted the student named Huike and to have transmitted the
entirety of his dharma to him. This dharma of meditation is then believed to
have been transmitted intact but also updated from supreme master to
supreme master, with Bodhidharma as the first of these Patriarchs, Huike
the second, and so on until this dharma reached the Fifth Patriarch Shenhui.
The rupture was provoked by the arrival of Huineng (638713) to
Shenhuis temple in 661 CE. One side of the legend has it that Shenhui,
disappointed with all of his many students, immediately recognized
Huinengs spiritual merits and secretly transmitted the dharma as well as its
symbols the Patriarchal robe and insignia upon him. Shenhui urged
Huineng to flee to south China to avoid what Shenhui expected to be the
murderous wrath of his other disciples. Huineng is said to have remained
underground in the south for sixteen years before finally coming out of
hiding and revealing himself as the authentic Sixth Patriarch, whose teachings
are recorded in his Platform Sutra.
The other side of the legend has it that the Patriarchal succession proceeded
unproblematically within an entirely Northern transmission through Shenhui to
an alternative line of Patriarchs who embraced alternative sutras. History
suggests that the monasteries that taught this northern transmission fared better
in the first hundred years following the transition to the Sixth Patriarch
than their Southern rivals, but in the long term most today would recognize
Huinengs teachings, with their emphasis on spontaneity, as more representa-
tive of the essence of Zen.
The issue around which the two transmissions crystallized concerned the
question of whether enlightenment ( Jpn. satori) came gradually after a long
period of sitting in meditation ( Jpn. zazen), or suddenly in a flash of
intuition that could just as effectively be triggered by beating with a stick,
shouting, or solutionless riddles ( Jpn. kan). The competition between
these two interpretations hardened into formal denominations in Japan,
where they were institutionally represented by major mountain monasteries
that either cooperated or competed according to what better served their
interests at the time.
The third of our case studies concerns the antagonism between the Tendai
and Shingon denominations in early Heian (7941185) Japan, a rivalry that
began with the competition between their remarkable respective founders,
Saich (767822) and Kkai (774835).7 Saich and Kkai traveled to China in
the same mission but aboard different vessels in 804, Saich staying for some
eightnine months, and Kkai for more than twice that. In China they studied

The dispute between the two is described in my colleague Jinhua Chens Crossfire: Shingon
Tendai Strife as Seen in Two Twelfth-century Polemics, with Special Reference to Their
Background in Tang China, Studia Philologica Buddhica Monograph Series xxv, (Tokyo:
The International Institute for Buddhist Studies, 2010).
206 Peter Nosco

under different masters in very different denominations: Saich was instructed

by Daosui in the Lotus-Sutra based Tiantai school, which was called Tendai in
Japan; and Kkai was taken under the tutelage of the esoteric master Huiguo,
who initiated him into the exalted esoteric teachings and practices later called
Shingon in Japan. During Saichs lifetime, he enjoyed the favor and patron-
age of the Heian Court with the younger Kkai in his shadow, but after
Saichs death in 822, Kkais esoteric teachings became all the rage and
proved especially alluring to Court aristocrats.
The relationship between Saich and Kkai soured for several well-
documented reasons. Saich understandably sought access for his monastic
library on Mt. Hiei to copies of the esoteric sutras that Kkai had brought back
from China. No less understandably, Kkai, believing that truth came not
through texts alone but through the kind of hands-on instruction characteristic
of esoteric transmissions, insisted that this tradition be honored and that the
sutras only be studied on-site. Saichs response was to send a handful of his
favorite students to learn Shingon esotericism from Kkai and to bring the
secret teachings back with them to Mt. Hiei.8 When the requests for esoterica
continued, Kkai eventually insisted that if Saich truly wished to learn more
about esotericism, then like any other adept, he would need to travel to
Kkais monastery on Mt. Kya and to study there for three years under the
masters personal instruction. Saich and his denomination never forgot this
perceived insult, and for their part Kkai and his immediate Shingon followers
never relented in their condescension toward Tendai.
In later generations both the distinctions and the acrimony between the two
denominations eased, as esotericism grew increasingly prominent within
Tendai, but the fundamental issue that separated the two remained how
does one best embark and advance on the path to becoming a Buddha?
Does one do so through advancement in ones moral life (sila), concentration
(samadhi), and wisdom (prajna), as in the classical formulation of Tendai?
Or, does one become Buddha through contact with a power-charged master
from whom, after appropriate preparation, one learns the ultimate mysteries
of how to tap cosmic powers in everyday life? Phrased slightly differently, are
the salvific properties of the truth best served through exotericism, that is,
making these truths freely and openly accessible as in the Lotus Sutra, or by
esotericism requiring a process of preparation and hands-on instruction?
Our fourth and final case study in Buddhist dissent is also the most histori-
cally verifiable and concerns the Nichiren (Lotus) denomination. In the long
history of Japanese Buddhism, Nichiren (12221282) is unusual for several
reasons of which the most prominent has been his and his followers zealous
intolerance of all other Buddhist teachings except those based on the Lotus

This too posed a problem when one of these students is said to have professed his wish to
remain on Mt. Kya and not return to Saich and Mt. Hiei. On Mt. Hiei the suspicion was that
he had been either brainwashed or otherwise coerced into staying away.
Intramural dissent in Buddhism 207

Sutra. Nichiren went so far as to condemn those who gave priority to other
sutras as dharma slanderers (hb) who in his eyes were spiritually
indistinguishable from heathens and were beyond any hope of redemption.
It was and remains arguable whether Nichiren intended them to do so, but
after his death a number of his disciples insisted that the late-masters wish was
that his followers would challenge and eventually overcome an unbelieving
world by neither receiving alms from (fuju) nor giving alms to (fuse) these
non-believing dharma slanderers outside the Nichiren fold.
The issue of how strictly to interpret the fujufuse principle festered
unresolved for centuries within the Nichiren denomination until it came to a
head during the time of the warlords Toyotomi Hideyoshi (15361598)
and Tokugawa Ieyasu (15431616). This coincided with the decades when
Japan experienced what was the most intense struggle between church
and state in 800 years, with the decisive triumph of the early modern state.9
Ignoring longstanding precedents that excused Nichiren priests from inter-
denominational activities out of respect for the fujufuse principle, Hideyoshi
in 1595 insisted that the Nichiren denomination join nine other denominations
in monthly gatherings over a meal provided at a new Buddhist hall he commis-
sioned to house a massive new statue of the Buddha (Daibutsu) in Kyoto. This
provoked an intense debate within the Nichiren denomination between accom-
modationists who argued that as offensive as it might be to worship alongside
Buddhists who follow other sutras and dharmas, it would nonetheless be
prudent to participate on a one-time-only basis, and fundamentalists
who upheld fujufuse as a core belief and viewed participation in inter-
denominational gatherings and meals as akin to apostasy.
The accommodationists had their way in this initial round, but their dispute
with the fundamentalist faction did not recede and flared anew during the time
of Ieyasu, who sought to resolve the issue by the time-tested format of a
debate between the opposing factions. The predetermined outcome of the
debate again gave victory to the accommodationists, but despite the states
efforts to proscribe fujufuse along with the despised Christianity, the move-
ment survived well into the nineteenth century concealing itself underground
within the labyrinthine network of Nichiren temples that, despite repeated
requests from the state to do so, made no effort to disclose the illegal presence
of those who were otherwise their brethren in the faith.
Here in this fourth and last of our case studies, we have an example where
the dissent centers on the interpretation of what from the outside would seem
a minor point but which when viewed from the inside magnifies in that ironic

I discuss this struggle between the Buddhist church and the nascent early modern state in
Japan in Keeping the Faith: bakuhan Policy toward Religions in Seventeenth-century
Japan, in Peter Kornicki and Ian James McMullen (eds.), Religion in Japan: Arrows to
Heaven and Earth (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 136155, espe-
cially, pp. 136142.
208 Peter Nosco

and narcissistic way characteristic of small differences. Accommodationists

and fundamentalists could each point to precedents and texts that supported
their respective positions, invoking passionate arguments on both sides of the
fujufuse divide. For proponents of the radical and illegal principle, secrecy and
concealment became defensive strategies, but solidarity within the larger host
association of Nichiren Buddhism precluded allowing this internal and essen-
tially familial issue to be aired externally. It is also in this example that one
sees most graphically how the states interest in religious order transformed a
relatively innocent eccentricity into a form of defiance with potentially lethal
These will be our four case studies, but please note a word of caution before
proceeding further. When referring to denominational differences in the follow-
ing analysis, I will make most frequent reference to these developments in
Japan, where sectarian differences were likely more sharply drawn than at
corresponding times in either China or Korea. Throughout East Asia,
Mahayana Buddhism has typically embraced syncretistic perspectives that
rank the truths of different denominations or sutras rather than distinguish
some as true and others as false. It was during the ninth to sixteenth centuries
in Japan that a Buddhist worldview became hegemonic, and the distinctions
between Buddhist denominations sharpened. During the same centuries in
China, by contrast, Buddhists sought ways to reconcile their dharma with
Confucianism and Daoism, while in Korea the major Buddhist denominations
pursued syncretic agreement with each other. It can thus be argued that I have
overstated divisiveness in the Buddhist tradition, but it is hoped that doing so will
sharpen our historical understanding of critical fracture-points within Buddhism
as a whole, and how Buddhism has with uneven success sought to address
intramural dissent. Let us now turn to the topic questions that will structure
the remainder of this chapter, recalling these four case studies whenever helpful.

Key tenets
As noted at the outset, the effort to define Buddhism is at once both quite
ancient within the tradition and quite recent outside of it, and as we shall see this
effort is implicated in the construction of a menu of ideas some of which would
surely appear strange and even out of place to a Buddhist of a thousand years
ago. Buddhisms worldview is summarized in the Eight-fold Paths opening
dictum to embrace right views, that is, to see things as they really are, and one
does this by recognizing the three defining characteristics of life (Buddhisms
Triple Truth), that: life is impermanent, transient, and endlessly changing
(anicca); it is fundamentally sorrowful (dukkha); and there is no permanent
self or soul (anatta). The three are obviously related: if everything, including
our very selves, is constantly changing, then it is a folly to crave or cling to
anything, any condition, or anyone, even a misguided notion of oneself, and
trying to do so will inevitably bring only disappointment and more sorrow.
Intramural dissent in Buddhism 209

In Buddhist ethics and the doctrine of karma, intentions generate actions

that have either beneficial or harmful consequences, with the most important
element in this automatic process being the intention behind an action: ben-
eficial actions inspired by good intentions produce the best karma; harmful
actions inspired by bad intentions generate the worst; and unintentional
actions generate no karma at all. Good karma is of course to be preferred to
bad karma, but either way it is karma that ties us all to the cycle of birth, death,
and new birth known as samsara, and which thus inevitably returns us to this
sorrowful existence. The situation is not without hope, however, for if one can
put an end to attachments and extinguish existing karma, then liberation from
samsara and entry into nirvana, that is, becoming a Buddha or enlightened
one, is possible both here and now and through all eternity.
Taken together, these beliefs constitute the core of the Buddhist dharma
or law of the universe, and note that law here includes moral law and
doctrine, as well as the laws of nature. This dharma together with the Buddha
and the monastic community (sangha), came to be known as Buddhisms
three jewels or treasures, and, for some two millennia and more, the way in
which one becomes a Buddhist has remained the public vow that one will
hereafter take ones refuge in the Buddha, his teachings (dharma), and the
priestly community. Indeed, one of Buddhisms civilizational contributions
to Asian religious life has been the concept of a church, in the sense of a
community of believers under the guidance of spiritual professionals.
Becoming an ordained Buddhist priest has formally required both virtue
and understanding, but in practice it has most commonly followed a
prescribed period of monastic training under the tutelage of a master. It
has also been common over the centuries for the master of a monastic
community to refer to his own dharma or interpretation.
The sources for the core beliefs are the earliest sutras, which purport to be
authentic utterances of one or another Buddha. The most ancient of these
documents are called the Tripitaka or three baskets, the contents of which,
as mentioned, were determined at the first Council soon after Buddhas
parinirvana. There is no formal ranking of these sutras, and different denomi-
nations tend to emphasize different sutras or sets of sutras. Nonetheless, if one
were pressed to choose one sutra as exemplary of the creed, it would most
likely be the Mahayana Lotus Sutra, which contains a number of well-known
parables as well as core Mahayana teachings. Nonetheless, it is important to
note that many if not most practicing Buddhists would draw their primary
inspiration from other sutras and commentaries.
The question of how far Buddhism or Buddhists can properly go in accom-
modating these core tenets to local conditions or preconceptions is addressed
in the Mahayana doctrine of expedient means (upaya), as represented in the
Parable of the Burning House in Chapter 3 of the Lotus Sutra. There the
question is posed in terms of how far a loving father (the Buddha) will go to
trick or deceive his children (us) into leaving the house that they do not
210 Peter Nosco

understand to be burning lethally all around them? This parable has provided
considerable latitude to Buddhism by allowing the assimilation of local
spiritualities within comprehensive Buddhist teachings that have over
centuries time and again proven their elasticity. That there continues to be
active discussion nowadays regarding what is or is not properly Buddhist
is simply the most recent iteration of a very ancient question, and one that
has been much affected by Buddhisms leading contemporary spokespersons
in the global competition for hearts and minds.10
Thus for over 2,000 years, it has been the sangha that has traditionally
defined Buddhisms key tenets and texts, and disagreement has tended to arise
over the institutional question of who speaks for this sangha, and the doctrinal
question of what are the means to salvation or enlightenment. The question of
sangha is thorny, in much the same way as the question of who defines or
speaks for the secular academy today. It would not be an exaggeration to state
that in traditional times there were as many Buddhisms as there were dharmas
taught by masters in monasteries and temples, but equally on streets, or in
forests and caves, and so on. Buddhisms broad division into vehicles reflects a
disagreement over the means of salvation, though the division of the Asian
Buddhist world into Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana realms has
generally and for most of Buddhisms history also followed geographic lines
that have only recently begun to break down.11
Throughout most of Asia and at most times, one suspects that the typical
Buddhist believer has embraced a particular dharma because it is what one
has been taught since childhood, and that this dharma has fundamentally
conditioned ones worldview. To be sure, new dharmas were always appearing
in monasteries, and some of these might find their way to transformation into
full-fledged denominations, as in the case of the fracture of Zen at the time of
the Sixth Patriarch.
Instances of denominational selection by an individual Buddhist have
traditionally been exceptional and represent a mostly modern phenomenon.
This is borne out by the example of Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan
(16001867) where in an otherwise culturally liberal early modern intellectual
world with intense competition in private academies for minds as well
as hearts, it ironically became near impossible to change ones temple
affiliation, even in the grossest instances of priestly misconduct.12 The reason
for this extreme rigidity lay in the fact that in the seventeenth century

I discuss this competition in my Buddhist Perspectives on the Globalization of Ethics, in
William M. Sullivan (ed.), The Globalization of Ethics, Ethikon Series in Comparative
Ethics (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 2007), pp. 7592.
The fact that the Vajrayana has also appeared within otherwise Mahayana settings has led
some to think of it as a subset of Mahayana rather than a separate vehicle or variant.
By contrast with the relatively more dynamic spiritual realm of medieval Japan. See
Tamamuro Fumio, Local Society and the TempleParishioner Relationship within the
Bakufus Governance Structure, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 28:34 (2001): 261292.
Intramural dissent in Buddhism 211

Buddhist temples became where one formally registered household births,

marriages, deaths, religious affiliation, and so on. In this respect the Buddhist
church became an extension of the early modern Japanese state, which prized
stability and stasis over all else. Tokugawa society exhibited high levels of
convergence and standardization in Buddhist funerary rituals, commemora-
tion of holy days, and so on, even when doctrinal interpretations might
This begs the question of, to what degree did Buddhisms core beliefs or
teachings matter outside its formidable network of monasteries, even when
there were radical differences in spiritual practice, as for example between
Zen meditation and Pure Land chanting? There is little evidence to support
the notion that Buddhisms Noble Truths were central to any of the core
beliefs of villagers in the Japan of a thousand years ago, and it appears that
most of these villagers likely believed in: some version of karmic causation
(the belief that what goes around comes around); a more intimate link
between dream and everyday reality (reinforcing the notion that there is
more to life than what one can see with ones eyes); and the sense that by
behaving (rather than believing) appropriately, a better world awaited them in
the future. Over time, the central issue for the vast majority of non-samurai
commoner Buddhists in Japan became whether one should place ones faith
and trust in the salvific power of the Amida (Amitabha) Buddha or in the
Lotus Sutra.
Recalling our case study of the Patriarchal succession within Chinese Chan
Buddhism, note that the competition was between monasteries and their
masters, who drew their inspiration from different sutras. Their differing
understandings of the nature of enlightenment that is, sudden versus
gradual dictated different but still analogous strategies for its attainment,
and these in turn were grounded in different textual (sutra) traditions. Even
for Nichiren Buddhists, there would have been broad agreement on the
denominations core principles, but contention was intense on a few areas of
disagreement. Some outside the tradition would argue that this points to a
contentious strain within the denomination itself, an adversarial tendency
reflective of its founder, and an antagonism that continues to the present day
in the struggle between Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai as to who best
represents the true voice of the founder and thereby deserves control of the
denominations historical assets.

The core tenets outlined above are a historical given within Buddhism, and it
is difficult to imagine a Buddhist today who would disavow them. The selfless
values behind the Triple Truth, or the initiatory Oath of Three-fold Refuge,
have remained stable across the Buddhist world, including all the major
vehicles or variants. At the same time, the vehicles have their own subsidiary
212 Peter Nosco

beliefs and emphases. For example, a Theravada Buddhist will aspire ulti-
mately over many transmigrations to become an arhat or worthy, a concept
with ancient but generally not contemporary relevance for most Mahayana
Buddhists. Similarly Mahayana Buddhists would universally accept the
doctrine of the Triple Body of Buddha, as well as the concepts of the
Buddha nature and bodhisattva, which are comparably alien to Theravada
understandings. In this sense, internal cohesiveness across the three major
vehicles reflects the fact that each believes its understandings and praxes to
be superior the best, in fact but they each do so without repudiating the
other two.
The same can be said for the Chan tradition in all its monastery-based
varieties in China, as well as for the Tendai/Shingon rivalry in Japan. In Chan,
despite subtle differences over whether enlightenment comes all in a flash or
gradually over time, the shared emphasis on meditation was sufficient to
sustain high levels of solidarity. Similarly, in Japan one finds that the totalizing
aspirations of Tendai and Shingon did not inhibit the two rivals from
finding common cause whenever mutual interest dictated. This suggests that
in both China and Japan, intramural Buddhist competition especially at the
monastic level has often been intense but generally not vituperative or
adversarial, and in matters of Buddhist church versus Buddhist state, erstwhile
rivals were generally able to find common cause.
Not so with the Nichiren denomination, however. The Tokugawa Bakufu
cracked down on the fujufuse movement not because their religious ideology
was somehow pernicious or seditious like the despised Christianity, but
because the fujufuse defiance of Bakufu law was potentially contagious.
During the first decades of the seventeenth century when the Bakufu
was seeking to establish and consolidate its control of religious institutions,
it required each denomination to construct its own comprehensive main
temple/branch temple network for internal communication and mutual
responsibility in the enforcement of Bakufu directives. Because of the
Bakufus use of temples as community registries, one might even argue that
everyone in Japan during the Tokugawa period was officially Buddhist. One
consequence of this state oversight was that major denominations like Tendai,
Shingon, Pure Land, True Pure Land, Zen, and Nichiren became highly
structured and cohesive organizations, together constituting a kind of spiritual
arterial system for the body politic.
This in turn meant that the underground fundamentalist fujufuse movement
was only able to survive intact for over two centuries thanks to the tacit
complicity of their above-ground accommodationist brethren, making their
intramural squabble essentially fraternal. It was not just difficult but potentially
lethal for Nichiren Buddhists to practice the proscribed fujufuse principle no
less a crime than practicing Christianity and one was as culpable as an actual
believer/practitioner if it could be demonstrated that one had deliberately
concealed ones knowledge of fujufuse adherents, or even indirectly aided
Intramural dissent in Buddhism 213

and abetted their cause. If self-preservation was a priority for Nichiren

Buddhists, then fujufuse practitioners tested the limits of such forbearance on
the part of their accommodationist brethren, whose principal doctrinal offense
was behaving in a manner intended to avoid the wrath of the state.

Churches, no less than states, seek to fill and even expand the space available
to them, and, to do so, solidarity and consensus can be useful tools. At least in
theory, consensus should provide: consistency of doctrine across the host
association; an advantage in the transmission of the tradition from one gen-
eration to the next; a measuring rod against which one can reckon the degree
of fidelity to core beliefs; and presumably a degree of agreement on core
values that might be expected to reduce the potential for conflict.
In its infancy it was essential for Buddhism to distinguish itself definitively
from the preexisting brahminical tradition, and, as noted at the outset,
Buddhism has its genesis in dissent over a host of key issues. Thus, it was
important to the early Buddhist movement to have consensus on its core
teachings and values. Tradition shows a concern with orthodoxy coursing
through the first three Councils, where one can already discern the contours
of disagreement on how to escape samsara. Similarly, during the early and
most intense years of their competition, it was important for both Tendai and
Shingon to maintain doctrinal integrity and differentiation, but as this compe-
tition matured into a longstanding rivalry, various forms of convergence arose
in response to their shared concerns.
For at least the last thousand years, and except in the most extreme cases, it
is difficult to see what Buddhism might have gained through even higher
degrees of consensus. Some elements are obvious and most likely common
to any faith-based organization, but one of Buddhisms greatest strengths
and part of its enduring appeal has been its capacity to adapt to its social,
intellectual, and cultural surroundings, giving it both a degree of reassuring
familiarity as well as an attractive measure of difference and diversity. Indeed,
through most of its history, Buddhism has responded with moderation and
doctrinal liberality when considering how rigorously to insist on conformity,
always recognizing that spiritual alternatives lesser truths are acceptable
to accommodate local exigencies. For example, Theravada, Mahayana, and
Vajrayana have traditionally not sought to convert each other through
the compelling force of their respective dogma and practices, suggesting a
sympathetic understanding of the vagaries of faith, as well as a practical
acknowledgment of the power of geography and local tradition in these
At the same time nonconformity can be an issue, as for example within a
local community or particular monastic tradition, or when the state enters into
the fray by transforming nonconformity and defiance into a criminal matter, as
214 Peter Nosco

was the case with the underground fujufuse. One can easily imagine the
benefits of doctrinal conformity to the spiritual life within a monastery,
where such cohesion would be a paramount concern. Rigid internal enforce-
ment of doctrine similarly becomes understandable as a defensive strategy in
the extreme case of fujufuse, where falling away from either the faith or the
faith-community was never an option.

Many of the same arguments apply when one considers the remarkable
elasticity of the Buddhist tradition. One is struck by the apparent indifference
of the international spiritual movement called Buddhism to even minimal
enforcement of a set of core values and beliefs. In this chapter, I have pointed
to the Triple Truths and the initiatory vow as representative of core beliefs
that would be difficult for any self-styled Buddhist to reject. At the same time,
contemporary Buddhisms core values and beliefs at times seem so empirical
and psychological as to render them essentially unarguable and uncontrover-
sial. For example, does anyone seriously believe or wish to argue that things
and persons do not change, or that attachments do not generate their own
disappointments? Can one point to an organ as the seat of the soul, or quarrel
with the proposition that life necessarily entails moments of hardship? This
essential rationalism enables Buddhism at the local level to move beyond this
consensus and focus on other appealing propositions, as for example in the
emphasis by figures such as the Dalai Lama on happiness, tolerance, and
compassion. Again, this has only strengthened Buddhisms hand in the global
competition for hearts and minds.
In India Buddhisms ecclesiastic structure of temples and monasteries
emerged early on and spread to radically diverse settings, where it necessarily
adapted to local circumstances but nonetheless replicated the monastic
rivalries of its originally Indian setting. Within individual Buddhist mountain
monasteries, and in a manner akin to that of specific Orders within the
Catholic Church, discipline and doctrinal agreement were fundamental.
They were also malleable, to be sure, but their strength was inevitably in
their cohesion and coherence. In this respect it is easy to understand how a
member of any level of Buddhist host institution today might without reserva-
tion imagine her/his beliefs and practices to be the very best, while at the same
time regarding it as spiritually uncivil to assert such superiority in any kind of
public manner.
Further, everywhere Buddhism went and everywhere it still goes
Buddhism has had to contend with challenges from preexisting beliefs. In
China, Buddhist monastic celibacy initially conflicted with Confucian filial
piety, requiring Buddhism to explain how having ones son enter a monastery
to pray for his family and ancestors could be regarded as the height of filial
piety. In Korea, it was necessary to reconcile Buddhism with certain widely
Intramural dissent in Buddhism 215

embraced indigenous dragon myths. In Japan, there was great reluctance to

forsake traditional beliefs in local kami (deities), and so most Buddhist
denominations but especially Tendai and Shingon found ways to incorpo-
rate kami into their cosmologies as emanations of primordially Buddhist
It is at these local levels that Buddhisms skill at managing diversity and
internal dissent becomes most striking. Internally, the degree of diversity and
differentiation within the contemporary Buddhist world is far greater than
that within either Judaism or Islam, and there is little evidence of antipathy
toward those with conflicting interpretations, emphases, or practices. This may
help to explain why for most of its history and wherever it has gone, Buddhism
has been an ally of the state, and it has generally suffered state persecution
only when the state itself is controlled by a rival religion.

Inculcation and reproduction

The content and manner of transmission of Buddhist tradition will of course
vary according to the circumstances. Until relatively recent times wherever
Buddhism has been the dominant tradition, the worldviews of the Theravada,
Mahayana, and Vajrayana vehicles were easily reproduced and propagated
because they were themselves the prevailing worldviews of their locales. One
learned these doctrines by learning about the world, and vice versa.
Tendai and Shingon mountain monasteries were major centers of learning
in Japan, and were the best places for a talented commoner to make a name
for himself. Both of these denominations did an excellent job of preparing a
priesthood capable of staffing monasteries, as well as training the next
generation of priests, administrating large landholdings, and heading local
temples, but the task of bringing the teachings of these denominations to the
village level fell largely to itinerant mendicants. It was the Zen schools in
Japan that of all denominations of Buddhism did the most to bring educational
opportunities to the countryside through temple-schools (terakoya), and
despite its high degree of individualism and use of wordless transmission,
Zen as a whole managed doctrinal inculcation and reproduction of its
teachings at least as well as any of Japans traditional denominations.
Because of their unique circumstances, considerable effort was of course
also expended by fujufuse proponents on the faithful reproduction of the
tradition in each new generation and within the labyrinthine network of
above-ground Nichiren temples. However, in contemporary Japan, and
indeed through much of the rest of the world, it has been the Pure Land and
Nichiren denominations that have done the best at sponsoring high schools
and universities where their doctrinal subtleties are reproduced and debated.
In more recent times and outside Asia, Buddhism has made its way on the
one hand through the compelling attractiveness of such spiritual practices as
meditation or chanting, and on the other hand through the intellectual appeal
216 Peter Nosco

of its core teachings. At the same time, one senses that outside of Southeast
Asia or Tibetan portions of China, that is, outside the core Theravada and
Vajrayana realms and wherever conditions of industrial (post)modernity
prevail, Mahayana Buddhists are a body in transition. I know of any number
of self-professed Buddhists who have taken the initiatory vow privately and
have a deep commitment to spiritual self-cultivation, but have no compelling
interest either in the inter-generational transmission of their personal faith or
in participating in a community of the spiritually like-minded. These secular
Mahayana Buddhists may be undermining the traditional ecclesiastic
Buddhist structure of monasteries and temples, and at the same time
contemporary Buddhism may be transforming itself with internet and other
networks centered on preaching celebrities for whom inculcation and
reproduction at times reflect principles honed in the marketplace.

The question of authority returns us to the question and definition of the
sangha or Buddhist monastic community, for it is in or to the sangha that one
pledges to take ones refuge as a lay Buddhist. In Theravada and Vajrayana
Buddhism and in Buddhist societies generally, the priesthood is its own social
stratum with prerogatives and privileges of a distinctly medieval cast. In these
more traditional Buddhist communities, the ultimate authorities in doctrinal
and practical matters will be professional religionists who are themselves
organized in clearly understood hierarchies.
Within the Mahayana denominations as well, including all of the new
religions, host associations have traditionally had clear structures for
authority in doctrinal matters. In Tokugawa Japan this was represented by
main templebranch temple relationships within denominations, where
Mt. Hiei was headquarters for all Tendai temples, just as Mt. Kya was the
equivalent for Shingon, and so on with all of the ten major denominations, but
this basic structure with minor modification can be found throughout the
Buddhist world. Once again, fujufuse practitioners are the extreme example,
since their exceptional requirement of secrecy made a clear and strong sense
of authority essential to the maintenance of internal discipline.
In most Mahayana communities today, priests live lives that do not differ
markedly from those of lay persons driving cars, using the internet, shopping,
participating in the raising of a family, and so on. This redefinition of the
sangha expands it and makes it more inclusive of the concerns of the commu-
nity of believers, and this in turn allows for the continuation of Buddhisms
remarkable elasticity under the doctrine of expedient means. That Buddhism
in these (post)modern times will be increasingly pulled along by the prefer-
ences of individual Buddhists seems inevitable, at least outside of the most
conservative Theravada and Vajrayana communities, and this in turn is likely
to weaken the authority of host institutions.
Intramural dissent in Buddhism 217

Management options
Intramural dissent in Buddhism was managed in different ways depending
principally on the nature of the host association. When alternative spiritua-
lities acquire sufficient gravity, they typically spin off into new vehicles or
denominations, and this differentiation can be amicable, adversarial, and even
violent. One example in Japan of the relatively collegial emergence of a new
denomination is Jdo Shin (True Pure Land), which emerged out of Shinrans
(11731263) radical interpretations of a number of important issues in Pure
Land (Jdo) Buddhism, such as how often one needed to invoke Amida
Buddhas name to ensure ones rebirth in the paradisiacal Pure Land (just
once), whether good people have an advantage over wicked people (they do
not), whether priests are required to be celibate (no), and how to manage
succession in the headship of temples (by heredity). A more violent example
occurred when Nichiren shared with the Tendai leadership on Mt. Hiei his
conviction that in this last degenerate age of mapp ( or end of the
dharma) it was sufficient for salvation for one to recite the sacred title of
the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren was driven from the mountain and soon thereafter
began proclaiming the exclusive efficacy of his dharma, maintaining that if the
Bakufu did not order conversion en masse to recitation of the sacred title,
Buddha would withdraw his angels and their protection from Japan. This so
incensed the Bakufu that it ordered Nichirens execution.13
Within Buddhist monasteries when masters and their students disagreed,
students were expected to defer to masters, but when masters disagreed
among themselves, debates were the method of choice for deciding which
interpretation to follow. The most extreme form of monastic discipline was
expulsion from the monastery a kind of tough love as when Linji (d. 866)
left his Chan monastery in China when he failed to realize that his masters
slaps and scolding were intended to trigger his enlightenment and were thus
consummate acts of kindness. In most instances, however, there would have
been little else a monastery or even a temple could do to compel an individual
Buddhists spiritual allegiance, although not even expulsion was a realistic
option in the case of the fujufuse movement, where expulsion might invite

Internal criticism
Buddhism has historically been so elastic and inclusive that internal criticism
has resulted for the most part in a kind of Spenserian evolutionary growth, in
which the fittest ideas and practices survive in their respective contexts and
others do not. When internal criticism has focused on the relationship of the

Nichiren was spared when a bolt of lightning miraculously intervened, and, more popular
than ever, he lived another eleven years.
218 Peter Nosco

host association to the state or to other host associations, as in the case

of fujufuse, the consequences of such criticism were often severe, with the
understandable effect of muting dissenting voices. With this exception,
however, a measure of intramural criticism within Buddhism would generally
have been regarded as healthy and productive.
The analogy is imperfect, but centuries ago Buddhist monasteries were not
unlike contemporary academic departments in the sense that innovation was
welcome so long as it stayed within understood boundaries. If that innovation
were deemed transgressive, there was always the exit option, and this in a
nutshell is the history of Buddhism: when managed well, innovation generates
intra-denominational refinement, but when mismanaged or poorly managed,
it will generate the more radical innovation of a new denomination and
attendant inter-denominational rivalry.

The Buddhist tradition of chakravartin the enlightened Buddhist monarch
has implications for how far a Buddhist might envision applying Buddhist
ways of managing dissent at the level of the state. Whatever ruthlessness one
might find in their past, chakravartin like Ashoka in third-century BCE India,
Empress Wu (r. 685705) in China, or Shmu in eighth-century CE Japan, are
historically represented as so admirable and worthy that their management of
great projects on behalf of Buddhism appears in the hagiographic record as
effortless and blessed. Great Buddhist metropolises could be cosmopolitan
and spiritually diverse like Changan in eighth-century China, or isolated and
spiritually homogeneous like Kyoto in tenth-century Japan, but in both
settings Buddhisms worldview was the dominant one. The same could be
said for Tibet, which is the best-known example of a Buddhist theocracy.
Remarkably, core aspects of Buddhisms worldview including the principles
of change, compassion, and karmic retribution seem comparably dominant in
much of todays world.
But if we ask whether Buddhists today would wish to see their distinctive
patterns of governance and dissent management extended beyond their
current spiritual boundaries, I suspect that only Tibetan-style Vajrayana
Buddhists in Asia or certain Bhutanese-style polities would even entertain
such a prospect. Perhaps because much of Buddhisms appeal in the current
marketplace of religious ideas has been essentially philosophical and psycho-
logical, most Buddhists today seem to prefer a world that will simply let them
follow their faith without interference by the state. Ironically, this was the
same wish of their fujufuse Buddhist brethren of two centuries ago.
We began this chapter by noting that Buddhism today invokes conflicting
images that at the moment of this writing include anti-Muslim violence
by fundamentalist Buddhists in Myanmar. Buddhism has traditionally upheld
the state wherever it has traveled, so that todays politically engaged
Intramural dissent in Buddhism 219

Buddhism seems out of place. Centuries ago in Tokugawa Japan, the mere
perception of insubordination was sufficient to brand fujufuse fundamentalists
as equally subversive as underground Christians, a group that lacked even
an acknowledged priesthood. As we have seen, Buddhisms strategies for
managing dissent have included debating differences internally, invoking the
authority of the master, and even appealing to the state to act authoritatively
on its behalf. When these efforts have been unsuccessful, differentiation
has been the most common outcome, and again in general this appears to
have been a good thing. Host institutions have a right (of sorts) to define
themselves, and their members have an option (of sorts) to leave. And when
this latter option is invoked, all, at least in theory, should benefit: the host
institution or denomination by greater cohesion; the departed member by the
opportunity to exercise spiritual agency and choice; and the Buddhist world as
a whole by enriched diversity and options.
Chapter 11


Michael Walzer

We are all liberals now. William Galstons chapter effectively sets the criteria
for dealing with dissidence. Everyone else in this book writes with those
criteria in mind this is clear in all the descriptions of all the traditions, both
when they are defensive and when they are critical. The case will be the same
in this Afterword. We all believe in free speech; we all believe that opposi-
tional figures from religious heretics to ideological deviationists should not
be persecuted; we all believe that disagreements should be tolerated and
dissidents accommodated. There must be, as Galston says, maximum feasible
scope for diversity and dissent.
But it is important to recognize that liberalism also allows for refusals of
accommodation and even for the expulsion of dissidents. This is true for an
obvious reason, which is nicely illustrated by a story that I remember from the
1960s. A group of students at a major American university organized a branch
of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). They believed in open admissions;
they welcomed everybody; so the Young Republicans joined en masse and
voted SDS out of existence. If you want to have a political organization, a
religious community, or an ideological grouping of a particular sort, you have
to be able to select members, and you have to be able to expel people who dont
share the principles that brought all the others together. What liberalism
requires in such cases is that the individuals who are rejected or expelled are
free to organize their own groups, defend their own principles, and live in
accordance with them. Enforced uniformity of belief is antithetical to the
liberal creed at the level of the state (more about that later), but liberalism
can accept the enforcement of uniformity, and other illiberal practices too, in
the associations of civil society so long as there is an exit option for individuals.
If all the writers in this book are liberals, at least with regard to the
accommodation of dissent, it is also true that all the traditions discussed
here have a long history of dealing with dissenters. There are many examples

Afterword 221

of cruel persecution (even unto death), but there are also many examples of
accommodation sometimes by tolerating a range of opinions within the
group, sometimes by establishing a kind of friendly coexistence with dissidents
who separate themselves from the group or from its core, but dont move very
far away. In most of these traditions, accommodation isnt the work of people
we would call liberals, but it often mimics (or anticipates) contemporary
liberal arrangements.
As I have just suggested, one can imagine two different versions of this
liberalism or quasi-liberalism: one favors latitudinarian and inclusive associa-
tions whose leaders dont claim doctrinal authority or who leave a lot of room
for internal disagreements; the other favors a plurality of tighter associations,
hence division and separation rather than inclusion, and after that peaceful or
even friendly coexistence.
Probably the clearest example of the first of these arrangements is the
liberal state itself: even a centralized liberal state will, in principle, claim no
authority over individual or group belief and practice with regard to religion
or ideology with this one exception: it will claim the authority to organize a
system of public education to inculcate liberal principles, including the
principle that states have no further religious or ideological authority.
Hence it both represents the first version of liberalism (latitudinarian inclu-
siveness) and makes possible the second (pluralist separatism). Another
example of the same duality is the contemporary university, at least insofar
as it defends the academic freedom of its professors and students both as
individuals and as members of different sorts of associations. The university
allows a wide scope for dissent, and so do many of its internal intellectual
groupings, like the ones described in several of these chapters: philosophers
of natural law, academic Marxists, neo-Confucian professors. Members of
these groups are free to disagree among themselves, subject only, as Andrew
Levine says, to the established rules of argument and evidentiary standards
in their discipline. Let the best arguments prevail. There should be no need
in these academic associations to fix a creed or establish a hierarchy, though
I have no doubt that correct positions are sometimes militantly defended.
Theological seminaries and sectarian colleges, where creed and hierarchy
already exist, can require a more extensive subjection to religious authori-
ties. But heretics and dissidents in these settings are likely to find a welcome
elsewhere in the academic world (Peter Steinfels and Tom Angier provide
some recent examples). Contemporary natural law philosophers and Marxist
economists and sociologists may criticize their colleagues, even very sharply,
for failing to adopt this or that ideological position; they will nonetheless
defend each others academic freedom.
One can find similar examples of intellectual latitudinarianism in some
traditional religions as in Alan Mittlemans account of the rebellious
elder in rabbinic Judaism, who is barred from serving on a religious court
but allowed to teach his dissident doctrine alongside other teachers with
222 Michael Walzer

other doctrines. I doubt that contemporary orthodox Jews would be similarly

tolerant, but the exit option would certainly be available for any rebellious elder
(or youngster) as the case of Louis Jacobs, described by Mittleman, makes
clear. What the disciplinary mechanisms might be, or what the options are, for
the Muslim equivalent of a rebellious elder in Cairos al-Azhar University, say,
or in the Islamic academies in Qum, Iran, I dont know. There are rival schools
of legal interpretation in Islam, but the rivals may be accommodated, as Meena
Sharify-Funk suggests, on the model of separation and coexistence different
legal schools dominate in certain geographical regions rather than of
latitudinarian inclusion in a single place.
This seems to be the way things worked historically in Buddhism, where
particular monasteries defended particular doctrines but there were many
monasteries and also many local adaptations of indigenous spiritualities.
The contemporary result, Peter Nosco writes, is that differentiation within
the contemporary Buddhist world is far greater than that within either
Judaism or Islam. Traditional Hinduism (at least, before the historical revi-
sionism of Hindutva militants) may allow for an even greater degree of
differentiation than any of these religions, though on a very different model.
Hinduism seems to fit the latitudinarian version of liberalism: it was (and
mostly still is) generally inclusive, with no one defending a singular orthodoxy
or insisting on discipline and doctrinal agreement, not even in a particular
intellectual or regional setting. But the reason for this openness may be that
Hinduism was not thought of, even by Hindus until modern times, as a
religion on the model of Christianity and Islam, neither of which are simi-
larly I have often heard this word used about Hinduism fuzzy. Indeed,
religion, as Anne Murphy argues in the case of South Asia, is a fairly recent
invention; the word suggests a certain degree of unity and uniformity, and so it
fits some of the traditions discussed in this book better than others.
The second version of liberalism or quasi-liberalism is probably best
illustrated by Protestant denominationalism. The early Protestant churches,
in Geneva, for example, or in Scotland or Massachusetts, aimed at theolo-
gical uniformity and had fairly strong disciplinary mechanisms which
included an appeal to the coercive power of the civil authorities. But the
fissiparous character of Protestantism, what Edmund Burke in his speech
on Conciliation with the Colonies called the dissidence of dissent, made for
repeated splits and separations. Eventually, the different groups learned to
live with one another within a liberal and neutral state since none of them
wanted the state to act on behalf of any of the others and the result was and
is denominational pluralism. American Jews have also formed coexisting
denominations, but Israeli Jews have not a difference that suggests that
denominationalism may depend on a liberal surround or at least on a disen-
gaged state. In the United States, it wasnt only a particular religious
orientation that made peaceful coexistence possible but also the orientation
of the surrounding society and the encompassing state.
Afterword 223

Peter Nosco describes Buddhist denominations in Japan whose coexis-

tence was organized and occasionally policed by the imperial state.
Fundamentalists who rejected denominational pluralism were proscribed
by the regime but managed to survive within the labyrinthine network of
Nichiren [one of the recognized denominations] temples. This is an unusual
case of coexistence at two levels: above ground, as it were, with official state
support, and underground, without it.
The religious culture of Islam is highly pluralist (whether it is more or less
pluralist than Buddhism I leave to experts on the two religions). As Meena
Sharify-Funk makes clear, global Islam encompasses not only rival sectarian
groupings Sunni and Shiite sects, with Sufism as an intellectual/ mystical
current alongside the two but also the divergent schools of legal interpreta-
tion that Ive already mentioned and a number of breakaway sects, like the
Alawites and the Druzes. But for reasons that I dont fully understand, none
of this has made for denominational pluralism. Perhaps the emergent
trends that Sharify-Funk writes about may move in that direction. But
right now, members of the different groups are killing each other in large
numbers for what seem to be religious reasons to extirpate heresy, enforce
Islamic law, restore the caliphate, or, alternatively, to resist religious extre-
mism and terrorism and sustain a moderate or reformed Islam. The differ-
ent groups are competing for state power in states some of which have been
secular, at least in recent years, but none of which has been liberal. Is it the
political illiberalism that causes the violent religious competition or the
religious competition that causes the illiberalism? As always, I suppose,
things work both ways. In any case, Muslim diversity is real enough in
countries like Iraq and Syria, but there dont seem to be any peaceful
management mechanisms.
In the past, different kinds of authoritarian regimes empires, monarchies,
and military dictatorships have made for a kind of religious peace though not
for a genuinely open religious pluralism. Think of the absolute monarchs of
early modern Europe who managed and eventually ended the religious wars
and persecutions of Christendom. Englands Queen Elizabeth famously said,
I would not make a window into mens souls, to pinch them there (mixing
her metaphors in a good cause). Other strong but less admirable rulers have
acted with similar restraint, using force only against political rebels, but
allowing religious diversity and even dissent, so long as it was quiet. The
Muslim world has seen many rulers of this sort in recent decades; all of them
are in trouble in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, and exactly what alter-
native management mechanisms are likely to emerge is radically unclear.

Liberalism classically aims at setting limits on the power of the state and,
therefore, on the ability of religious or ideological groups to use that
224 Michael Walzer

power to discipline their own members or anyone else. So this is a

critical question, perhaps the most important question: How ready or how
eager are these groups to use state power? Most of the writers in this
book celebrate a declining eagerness. I am less confident about that,
given the revival of fundamentalist and ultra-orthodox religion and the
political militancy of religious zealots in many parts of the world. It is
certainly true that Marxist intellectuals no longer seek to seize state
power. Andrew Levine sees this as a recognition of defeat, but there
may be other reasons for the renunciation of their illiberal history. The
story is obviously very different for Hindu nationalists in India, militant
Buddhists in Sri Lanka, messianic Zionists among the post-1967 settlers
in Israel, and radical Muslims across the Islamic world from Pakistan to
Algeria all of whom are eager to make use of the coercive power of the
state. Christendom today seems largely free of such zealots, though they
have figured significantly in its history, and Protestant fundamentalists
who speak of the United States as a Christian republic are also aiming
to use state power though only for moral purposes, they would say, not
to enforce doctrinal uniformity.
Religious zealotry focuses first of all on external enemies, and so it
doesnt immediately raise questions about intramural dissent. But as Anne
Murphy argues in her chapter on South Asian religious traditions, the busi-
ness of setting and defending the boundaries of a religious or ideological
group has important effects inside those boundaries. Zealots who draw the
line between us and them most firmly, and who are most hostile to
them, are also likely to insist that a tight unity and uniformity is necessary
among us. So they will wage war against heretics inside the group (and also
against liberal or secular-leaning members) in order, they will say, to fight
effectively against infidels outside. And they will seek the help of the state in
both these campaigns.
Many religious and ideological groups seek to use state power; it is also
the case that states seek to use religious and ideological groups for their own
political purposes. So here is a second critical question, which is raised in a
number of these chapters: How ready are these groups to be used by the
state, to serve state interests? Confucianism has historically been a doctrine
friendly to rulers. Confucian scholars in office were supposed to remonstrate
with emperors who deviated from the right path, but they were nonetheless
deeply committed to imperial and, more generally, to authoritarian rule
and they still are: None of the current promoters of Confucianism in China,
Richard Madsen writes, has taken part in dissident activity. Buddhism, too,
has traditionally upheld the state wherever it has traveled, but in this case
there has been some change in recent years, manifest in new forms of
political zealotry, which seem strange to people who hold conventional
views about Buddhism and political passivity; Nosco says only that they
would seem out of place to a Buddhist of a thousand years ago.
Afterword 225

Christianity has both challenged and upheld state power. Sometimes the
challenges came from the peak institutions of the religion, as in the centuries
of conflict between popes and emperors; sometimes the challenges came from
dissidents within the church as with the liberation theologians of Latin
America, for example or from radical Protestant groups such as the
Quakers. Of course, when Christian dissidents challenge the rulers of the
state, more established Christians are likely to defend them.
Marxist intellectuals found it much too easy to support (and apologize for
the crimes of) communist states, but the fall of those states has set them free.
Some of them, to be sure, set themselves free earlier on, becoming Marxist
For the most part, religious and ideological groups have supported the state
only when they can use it. So what are the legitimate uses of state power? I
dont think that any of the writers in this book would object to a liberal state
establishing a compulsory public education system, whose goal, as Galston
says, is to mold liberal citizens. The US constitution rules out an established
church, but we do have an established state, and that is legitimate in liberal
eyes so long as the political establishment is secular or religiously non-
partisan. But all of us would object to a Christian republic organizing a
compulsory school system to mold religious Catholics or Protestants and we
would have similar objections to an Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, or
Jewish state using its coercive powers, or allowing its coercive powers to be
used, to shape the religious life of its citizens. Debates (in India, for example,
and also in the United States) over the textbooks studied in state schools
illustrate the dilemma here. Liberals argue for textbooks that reflect serious
and objective academic research and freewheeling debate; they oppose the
efforts of partisan religious or ideological groups to write their own ortho-
doxies into the texts. Members of these partisan groups claim in turn that
liberalism is just one more, particularly insidious, orthodoxy. The argument is
Liberals can, however, make their peace with private and voluntary
schools that are organized by religious groups and that use religious text-
books. These schools can demand conformity from their teachers (some of
them will make room for moderately dissenting views), without violating
liberal principles given that their students, and their teachers too, can
always go elsewhere. There is also a question about funding: Should these
schools receive state money? Liberals have two different answers to this
question, which correspond roughly to the two versions of liberalism that I
described earlier. The first is that parochial schools should get no money
from the state, which means that all orthodoxies, and all dissident doctrines
too, must be inculcated on a voluntary basis, in civil society, with whatever
money can be raised from private donors. The state is radically inclusive by
virtue of being radically disengaged. The second answer is that all the groups
should get state money for their schools on an equal, presumably per-capita,
226 Michael Walzer

basis. But then the state has to define the criteria that make a group into a
group of the relevant kind. In America, this last issue arises even in the
absence of state funding for religious schools, because of the tax-exempt
status of church (or synagogue or mosque) property. What is the difference
between Baptists, Jews, and Muslims, who get the exemption and
Scientologists, who dont? I doubt that what is going on here is a refusal to
accommodate dissidence, but why isnt it that?
The coercive power of the state can be used for other purposes than the
education of the young. The corporal punishment of heretics is no longer an
option even in illiberal states, though the punishment of blasphemers and of
writers who insult the local religion is still on the agenda in many countries.
But it is probably the state enforcement of religious law, at least with regard to
marriage, divorce, and inheritance, that looms largest in the demands that
religious groups make on the state today. Since liberalism is committed above
all, as Galston says, to individual autonomy, this is a demand that liberal states
cant meet. They can allow only voluntary submission to religious law (though
it is often questionable how voluntary submission actually is in segregated
orthodox or fundamentalist communities of the sort that are tolerated and
even accommodated in liberal societies).
Historically, feudal monarchies, mercantile republics, imperial regimes
and their successor states often allowed (and some still allow) different
religious groups to run their own court systems, with varying degrees of
coercive authority sometimes extending all the way to capital punishment,
but mostly not. This is certainly an example of the accommodation of
diversity; the Ottoman millet system is perhaps the clearest and best-
known case. Any system that allows a plurality of religious courts might be
called an enactment of liberalism, except that the accommodation works at
the level of the group, not of the individual. Dissident individuals have often
been treated harshly by their own courts, sometimes with the whip or the
branding iron, sometimes only with excommunication as in the case of
Baruch Spinoza, judged by the Bet Din (rabbinic court) of Amsterdam. In
fact, excommunication was a pretty harsh punishment so long as there was
no place for the excommunicated member to go, short of joining another
religious community. But Spinoza found, or created, secular space for him-
self and for people like himself and so ended the harshness. Of course,
Spinoza never attempted to get married in secular space. That still isnt
possible in any country where the millet system is working. Consider the
modern state of Israel, where Israeli Jews who dont want a religious mar-
riage must fly to Cyprus. The case is the same for Israeli Arabs, both Muslims
and Christians, who have only their own religious courts to deal with. Cyprus
marriages are recognized in Israel, so this is another version of accommoda-
tion. How these matters are handled in Muslim countries where family law
follows Sharia, I dont know. In India, members of the Muslim minority are
subject to Islamic law in all family matters. A uniform civil code exists for
Afterword 227

Hindus; efforts to extend it to Muslims, which is what liberalism presumably

would require, have so far been unsuccessful.

There is one important form of contemporary dissidence, alluded to in some
of these chapters but not extensively treated in most of them (the two
exceptions are those on natural law and Christianity), that I want to address
here. I mean the dissidence of feminists and gay activists, which is a central
issue today in almost all the religious traditions and might be an issue for
Marxists, too, if they still held state power, for their views about gender and
sexuality were (mostly) conventionally bourgeois. With the exception of
some Protestant and Jewish denominations, all the religious traditions
were and still are fundamentally patriarchal. In Anne Murphys chapter on
South Asian religious traditions, Wendy Doniger is quoted describing the
dominant paradigm with regard to women, animals, and caste at which all
subsequent antinomian and resistant strains of Hinduism aimed. I might
add: and are still aiming, without a great deal of success. According to
Richard Madsen, any practices that violated Confucian social ethics . . .
[and] promoted the egalitarian commingling of genders were severely
punished in imperial China. Even today, the commitment to patriarchal
gender relations works against all efforts to create a cosmopolitan and
globalized Confucianism. We have no descriptions here of contemporary
feminists or gay activists in Hindu, Confucian, or Buddhist society and no
hint of how they are or might be accommodated.
Of course, to be accommodated as dissidents is not exactly what radical
feminists and gay activists want. They want their dissidence to become conven-
tional doctrine. The secular feminism of 1960s and 1970s America and the gay
activism of the last two decades might well be described as a kind of dissent from
the liberal-state-as-it-was, which has triumphed at least to this extent: that
opponents of gender equality and gay rights now think of themselves as the
dissidents. Religious feminists and gay activists seek similarly to transform their
own religions, but here the difficulties are greater and triumph is likely to be
long in coming. The difficulties are especially acute in Islam and orthodox (and
ultra-orthodox) Judaism, where the subordination of women is central to the
religious tradition. Indeed, the fierceness of religious revivalism in these two
religions (and in Hinduism too?) is probably to a large extent a reaction to
liberalizing tendencies in the secular world with regard to gender and sexuality.
Consider the case of the dissident organization called Women Living
Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), which is active in many Muslim majority
countries and has extended its reach to India, where Muslims are a (very large)
minority. Members of WLUML insist on the plurality of Muslim laws and
argue that some versions of these laws are consistent or at least compatible
with gender equality. Their dissidence is tolerated in most of the countries in
228 Michael Walzer

which they are active, though it is revealing that their central offices are in
London: they can work most comfortably in a liberal democracy. Similarly,
religious feminists in the Jewish world are more comfortable and more effec-
tive in the United States than in Israel, which is a democracy but not, or not
yet, an entirely liberal one.
Feminists and gay activists in all the religious traditions are often accused
of importing foreign or Western ideologies, and there is certainly a sense in
which dissidents in many non-Western societies are Western or Western-
educated liberals. But much of the dissidence on gender and sexual issues is
in fact internal, and many feminist and gay dissidents are also religious
women and men, extremely well educated in the law and lore of their
tradition and working very effectively (it seems to me) to reinterpret classi-
cal texts. Since it isnt only the doctrine of (most of) these religions but also
their authority structures that are profoundly patriarchal in character,
learned feminists pose an especially serious challenge to contemporary
religious leaders. Until these feminists win, as I think they eventually will,
they are probably the leading dissidents in each of their religious commu-
nities, and the leaders of these communities will have to figure out how to
deal with them. After they win, they will have to figure out how to deal with
the recalcitrant and defeated patriarchs.
Selected bibliography

Isaiah Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty, in Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1969).
Thomas Hill Green, Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, Paul Harris
and John Morrow (eds.) (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986).
John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government, in Peter Laslett (ed.) (Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press, 1960).
Ellen Frankel Paul, Fred D. Miller, and Jeffrey Paul (eds.), Liberalism Old and New
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
John Raz, The Morality of Freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).

Jon Elster, An Introduction to Karl Marx (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University
Press, 2008).
Andrew Levine, A Future for Marxism? Althusser, the Analytic Turn and the Revival
of Socialist Theory (London: Pluto Press, 2003).
Steven Lukes, Marxism and Morality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).
Robert C. Tucker (ed.), The Lenin Anthology (New York: W. W. Norton and
Company, 1975).
Robert C. Tucker (ed.), The Marx Engels Reader, second edition (New York:
W. W. Norton and Company, 1978).

Natural law
Jacqueline A. Laing and Russell Wilcox (eds.), The Natural Law Reader (Oxford:
Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).
David S. Oderberg and Timothy Chappell (eds.), Human Values: New Essays on
Ethics and Natural Law (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
John Keown and Robert P. George (eds.), Reason, Morality, and Law: The
Philosophy of John Finnis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
230 Selected bibliography

Nicholas Bamforth and David A. J. Richards, Patriarchal Religion, Sexuality, and

Gender: A Critique of New Natural Law (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press, 2007).
Christopher Wolfe, Natural Law Liberalism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press, 2006).

Leora Batnitzky, How Judaism Became a Religion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 2011).
Daniel Frank and Matt Goldish (eds.), Rabbinic Culture and Its Critics: Jewish
Authority, Dissent, and Heresy in Medieval and Early Modern Times (Detroit,
MI: Wayne State University Press, 2008).
Menachem Kellner, Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought: From Maimonides to
Abravanel (Portland, OR: Littman Library, 2004).
Menachem Kellner, Must a Jew Believe Anything? (Portland, OR: Littman Library,
Michael Walzer, Menachem Lorberbaum, and Noam J. Zohar (eds.), The Jewish
Political Tradition, Vol. II (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003).

Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, and Hugh Pyper (eds.), The Oxford Companion to
Christian Thought (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
Richard P. McBrien (ed.), The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism (San
Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995).
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (New York:
Penguin Books, 2011).
Jonathan Z. Smith (ed., with the American Academy of Religion), The HarperCollins
Dictionary of Religions (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995).
Robert Louis Wilken, The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012).

Mohammad Arkoun, The Unthought in Contemporary Islamic Thought (London:
Saqi Books, 2002).
Peter Mandaville, Global Political Islam (New York: Routledge, 2007).
Muhammad Khalid Masud, Armando Salvatore, and Martin van Bruinessen (eds.),
Islam and Modernity: Key Issues and Debates (Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press, 2009).
Pew Research Center: the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, The Worlds
Muslims: Unity and Diversity. August 9, 2012. Available online www.pewforum.
(accessed August 27, 2012).
Pew Research Center, The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for
20102030. January 29, 2011. Available online www.pewforum.org/2011/01/27/
the-future-of-the-global-muslim-population/ (accessed on August 27, 2012).
Selected bibliography 231

South Asian religions

Wendy Doniger, The Origins of Heresy in Hindu Mythology, History of Religions
10, 4 (May 1971): 271333.
Arvind-pal Singh Mandair, Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India,
Postcoloniality, and the Politics of Translation (New York: Columbia
University Press, 2009).
Bhikhu Parekh, Some Reflections on the Hindu Theory of Tolerance, Seminar 521
(January 2003): 4853.
Brian Pennington, Was Hinduism Invented? Britons, Indians, and the Colonial
Construction of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Ronki Ram, Beyond Conversion and Sanskritisation: Articulating an Alternative
Dalit Agenda in East Punjab, Modern Asian Studies 46, 3 (2011): 639702.

Yong Chen, Confucianism as Religion: Controversies and Consequences (Leiden:
Brill, 2013).
Wm. Theodore de Bary, Asian Values and Human Rights: A Confucian
Communitarian Perspective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).
Anna Sun, Confucianism as a World Religion: Contested Histories and
Contemporary Realities (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013).
Tu Weiming, The Global Significance of Concrete Humanity: Essays on the
Confucian Discourse in Contemporary China (New Delhi: Centre for Studies
in Civilization, 2010).
Fenggang Yang and Joseph Tamney (eds.), Confucianism and Spiritual Traditions in
Modern China and Beyond (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
(New York: Riverhead Books, 1997).
Alan Cole, Schisms in Buddhism, in James R. Lewis and Sarah M. Lewis (eds.),
Sacred Schisms: How Religions Divide (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University
Press, 2009), pp. 6182.
Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer, Buddhist Warfare (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2010).
Donald S. Lopez, Jr., The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to Its History &
Teachings (New York: Harper Collins 2001).
Jonathan A. Silk, Riven by Lust: Incest and Schism in Indian Buddhist Legend and
Historiography (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2009).

Abbasids, 138 authenticity, 35, 100101. See also

abortion, as moral absolute, 61 essentialism
Abrahamic traditions, 3, 5152, authority
132133 of bishops, 112
accommodationists, 207, 208 within Buddhism, 216
Ad Dharm movement, 173174 in Christianity, 112114
adoption, by same-sex couples, 74 under Confucianism, 197198
Adorno, Theodor, 37 Episcopal leadership and, 112
AIPAC. See American-Israel Public of halakha, 92
Affairs Committee Hinduism and, 178179
Akin, Todd, 3132 institutional, 6566, 6874
all vows. See Kol Nidre within Islam, 150153
Althusser, Louis, 37, 46 within Judaism, 9193
Ambedkar, B. R., 165, 175 under liberalism, 3031
Ambrose of Milan, 120 Magisterial teaching as, 6566
American-Israel Public Affairs under Marxism, 47
Committee (AIPAC), 88 with natural law theory, 6567
Analects (Confucius), 190193. See also of papacy, 112113
Confucianism rabbinic, 92
analytical Marxists, 3839, 46 autonomy, in rabbinic literature, 91
analytical philosophy, 38
Angier, Tom, 11, 221 Balibar, Etienne, 37
apostasy, 2 Ballantyne, Tony, 169
Appadurai, Arjun, 171172 Batnitzky, Leora, 77
Aquinas, Thomas, 5455, 120 BDS movement. See Boycott,
Arab Spring, 150151 Divestment and Sanctions
The Argumentative Indian (Sen), 158 movement
Aristotelianism, 99 Beinart, Peter, 88
Arya Samaj organization, 163, 169 beliefs, 77. See also creedal beliefs;
Athanasius, 115 religion
Augustine of Hippo, 116117 ben Gamla, Joshua, 90
Index 233

Benedict XVI (Pope), 62, 103104 Cahill, Lisa Sowle, 61, 65

bhakti (devotionalism), 166167 capitalism, Marxism and, 51
bin Laden, Osama, 148 C.A.R.P. See Collegiate Association for
bishops, 100101, 112, 113 the Research of Principles
Bolshevik Revolution, 3536. See also caste, within Hinduism, 165166,
Russian Revolution 173174, 175. See also dalits
Bolshevism, 42 Castellio, Sebastian, 120
bona fide natural law reasoning, 56 Catholic Church
Bon-odori, 11 Congregation for the Doctrine of
Book of Knowledge (Maimonides), 87 Faith, 8
Boston Confucians, 200 Curran and, 8, 62
boundaries, 7, 159 Declaration on Religious Liberty,
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions 111112, 115
(BDS) movement, 88 dissent within, 8, 6365, 122123
Brahmin, 161 Fourth Lateran Council for, 105
brahminical imaginary, 161, 162, 165, in Japan, 11
167 under liberal philosophy, 3334
brahminical tradition, 161, 162, 166, 213 moral absolutes and, 61
Buber, Martin, 80 natural law theory and, 6365
Buddhism, 3, 9 Second Vatican Council and, 113, 115,
accommodationists within, 207, 122
208 Catholic Theological Society of
authority within, 216 America, 121
chakravartin tradition, 218 CDF. See Congregation for the Doctrine
contemporary, 202 of Faith
dharma and, 209, 210 the center, religious, 160
diversity within, 214215 Chabad Hasidim, 82
fujufuse movement in, 207208, 212, chakravartin, 218
213214 Chan, Sharon, 184
inculcation of, 215216 Chappell, Timothy, 55, 56
intramural dissent within, 201208, Chardin, Teilhard de, 64
213214, 217218 Charles V (Emperor), 115
karma and, 209 Chatterjee, Partha, 178
key tenets of, 208211 Chomsky, Noam, 88
Mahayana, 211213 Christian faith. See pistis
meditation sermons, 204205 Christianity
modern influences on, 67 apostolic aspects of, 100
Nichiren, 13, 206207 authenticity of scripture in, 100101
nonconformity and, 213214 authority in, 112114
privacy and, 216 bishops and, 100101, 112, 113
rivalry between denominations of, community as facet of, 108
205206, 223 Council of Constantinople and, 101
Theravada tradition in, 204, creedal beliefs in, 1011, 104105
211213 damnation and, 119, 126
yanas in, 203204 as default religion, 99
Burke, Edmund, 222 dissent within, 4, 108109, 114120
Butler, Judith, 88 diversity within, 109110
234 Index

doctrinal disputes within, 11 communism

Episcopal leadership within, Bolshevism and, 42
112 Confucianism and, 194195
evangelical, 121122 Marxism and, 3637, 46, 51
excommunication within, 115 Reigns of Terror under, 48
foundations of, 9899 as revolution, 36
freedom and, 111 socialism and, 49
heresy and, 107, 108, 117118 Third International Marxism and, 42
heretics within, 101, 117118 The Communist Manifesto (Marx and
homosexuality and, 109, 123126 Engels), 36
inculcation of, 110112 Communist Party, 3637, 43
the Inquisition and, 117119 community, within Christian faith, 108
intramural dissent within, 99100, comprehensive doctrines, 40
102, 109110, 114126 Concerning Heretics (Servetus), 120
Jesus as central figure in, 104105 confessions, 48, 105, 106, 115
key tenets of, 103107 Confucianism, 3. See also
legalization of, 101102 neo-Confucianism; new
life and death questions in, 11 Confucianism; ru
Lutheranism and, 115, 125 authority under, 197198
moral codes in, 105106 communism and, 194195
orthodoxy in, 102 consequences of, 194195
papacy and, development of, 112113, cosmopolitan ethic in, 194, 200
115, 122 diversity within, 195196
persecution of, 101 etymology of term, 186
pistis and, 80 fundamentalism in, 192193
population demographics of, 98 inculcation in, 196197
priorities in, 107 key tenets of, 190193
Protestant, 114, 126127 legalism principles in, 188
reform movements in, 102, 110 Maoism and, 199
reproduction of, 110112 modern influences on, 67
schisms within, 99 orthopraxis in, 10, 189
stoicism and, 99 priorities within, 193194
Thirty-Nine Articles in, 115 privacy and, 198
violence as result of, 102103 reform movements in, 195
churches, 8. See also Catholic reproduction of beliefs in, 196197
Church Confucius, 190193
civil associations, 3334 Congar, Yves, 65
Clinton, Bill, 26 Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith
clubs, 6, 68 (CDF), 8, 62, 6667
Cohen, G. A., 38 conscience, 49, 6667, 82, 91, 93, 111. See
Cohen, Hermann, 8687, 96 also freedom
Collected Works (Lenin), 41 consensus. See ijma
Collegiate Association for the Research Conservative Judaism, 81, 93, 95
of Principles (C.A.R.P.), 9 contestation, within Islam, 150
colonialism, 168173 continuity, 2, 6, 10, 5152, 131, 184, 188,
commandments, 95. See also 194195
mitzvah contraception, 61, 6869
Index 235

core beliefs, 134135, 182, 209210 difference of opinion, 1, 85

cosmopolitanism, 194, 200 differentiation, 203, 204, 215, 219, 222
dialogic, 16 Dirks, Nicholas, 166
Council of Constantinople, 101 disagreement, 1, 2, 5
Council of Trent, 105 discontinuity, 131
covenant, for Jews, 7778 dissent. See also apostasy; contestation;
Cranston, Maurice, 24 difference of opinion; differentia-
creedal beliefs, 1011, 2930, 79, tion; disagreement; dissidence;
104105, 163 diversity; doctrinal disputes;
creeds. See also beliefs ex-communication; exit-option;
confessions and, 48, 105, 106, 115 heresy; heretics; intramural dissent;
liberalism as, 10 non-conformity; schism
Crescas, Hasdai, 8081 appeals to conscience and, 6667
The Critique of Political Economy within Catholic Church, 8, 6365,
(McLellan), 4950 122123
cultural nationalism, 194, 200 in Christian tradition, 4
Cultural Revolution, in China, 48, 197 within Christianity, 4, 108109, 114120
cultures of interpretation, 153 de-legitimization of violence and, 6
Curran, Charles, 8, 61, 6263, 67, disagreement and, 1, 2
116122 group relation to power and, 13
host institutions management of, 8
da Costa, Uriel, 86 in Israel, management of, 12
Dalai Lama, 201, 214 within Judaism, 9395
dalits, 165, 173, 174, 180 liberalism and, 3132
damnation, 119, 126 under Marxism, management of, 48
Davis, Joseph, 82 in modern universities, 9
debate, 11, 21, 29, 68, 88, 109, 134135, under natural law theory, 6162
156, 190, 207, 217, 225 natural law theory and, 6768
Declaration on Religious Liberty, terror as form of control, 43
111112, 115 violence as management tool against,
democratic centralism, 4546 1113
denominational entities. See churches; dissidence, 5, 86, 227228
synagogues; temples diversity, 1
denominationalism, 16, 18, 95, 222 within Buddhism, 214215
denominations, 125, 126127, 194, within Christianity, 109110
205206, 223 within Hinduism, 173175
Buddhist, 203, 204, 205206, 207, 208, within Islam, 137
209210, 214215, 216, 223 within Judaism, 8689
Christian, 16, 35, 98, 116, 123 liberalism and, 2829
Jewish, 222, 227 Marxism and, 46
devotionalism. See bhakti Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and
dharma/dharam, 164165, 209, 210 the Practice of Toleration in Early
dharmashastra, 164, 165, 167 Modern Europe (Kaplan, B. J.),
Dhavan, Purnima, 170 108109
dialogic cosmopolitanism, 16 doctrinal disputes, 10, 11
Dialogue on Heresies (More), 120 doctrines, comprehensive, 40
Diaspora, 8586, 169, 177, 183184 Documentary Hypothesis, 92
236 Index

Doniger, Wendy, 161, 165, 166, 227 Gaillardetz, Richard R., 121
Donum Veritatis: Of the Ecclesial Galston, William, 3, 220
Vocation of the Theologian (CDF), Gandhi, Mohandas, 165, 175
6667 gay activism, 227
Dulles, Avery (Reverend), 122 gender, 227
Dworkin, Ronald, 30 gender equality, liberalism and, 32
George, Robert, 7374
The Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach, 39 The German Ideology (McLellan),
Elster, Jon, 38 4950
emunah (Jewish faith), 76, 80 al-Ghazali, 147
Engels, Friedrich, 36 Girgis, Sherif, 74
the Enlightenment, 7, 4445 gnosticism, 99
Episcopal Church, 112, 125 Gramsci, Antonio, 37
equality, liberty and, 21 Great Britain, 39, 81
Erasmus, Desiderius, 120 Grewal, J. S., 168
essentialism, 35, 5556. See also Grisez, Germain, 55, 5760
authenticity Guesde, Jules, 35
ethical pluralism, 12 The Guide of the Perplexed
ethical traditions, 6, 6263 (Maimonides), 87
Europe, Marxism in, 3738, 39 Gurdwara Act, 172, 178179
European Union, 31
euthanasia, as moral absolute, 61 hadith, 130
evangelical Christianity, 121122 Haggadah, 80
Evangelical Lutheran Church, 125 halakha, 78, 79, 81, 92, 95
excommunication, 5, 8687, 9697, Halbfass, Wilhelm, 163
115 Hring, Bernard, 6263
executions, of heretics, 117119. See also Hartz, Louis, 22
persecution, religious Hasidim movement, 87
exit-option, 23 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 43
Henry VIII (King), 99, 117
Farley, Margaret A., 61, 63, 67 heresy, 2, 82, 107, 108, 117118
Fatimids, 138 heretics, 82, 101, 117119
Feuerbach, Ludwig, 4950 hermeneutics, viii
Finnis, John, 5758 heterodoxy, 2, 184
fiqh (understanding), 135 Hideyoshi, Toyotomi, 207
Fitch, David, 67 Hindu Marriage Act, 175
Foot, Philippa, 55 Hinduism, 3, 9
Fourth International Marxism, 42 authority and, 178179
Fourth Lateran Council, 105 boundaries of, 159
Fox, Richard, 170 brahmanical tradition in, 162
freedom, 6, 111 caste within, 165166, 173174
French Revolution, 41, 43, 113 creedal beliefs in, 163
Friedrich III, 115 definition of, 162163, 168
fujufuse movement, 207208, 212, development of, 160161
213214 dharma in, 164165
Fuller, Lon, 55 diversity within, 173175
fundamentalism, 13, 79, 192193 heterodoxy in, 184
Index 237

inculcation in, 175178 Ieyasu, Tokugawa, 207

intramural dissent within, 179183 ijma (consensus), 135
key tenets of, 158, 160168 ijtihad (independent juristic reasoning),
modern influences on, 67 139146
non-caste, 163 Iliah, Kancha, 174
reproduction of beliefs in, 175178 Imams, for Shiite Muslims, 144145
Sikhism and, 159 imperialism. See liberal imperialism
tolerance within, 180 independent juristic reasoning. See
Veda/Vedic texts in, 162164, 167168 ijtihad
Hinduization, 180 Index of Forbidden Books, 116
Hindus, in diaspora, 177, 183184 innerantism, 126
Hindutva, 172, 176177, 179180 the Inquisition, 117119
history institutional authority, 6566, 6874
historicist forms, 69 intramural dissent. See also schisms
sacred, 3 within Buddhism, 203
Hittinger, Russell, 55 within Christianity, 99100, 102,
Holy 67 109110, 114126
homosexuality. See also same-sex under colonialism, 171173
marriage within Confucianism, 198199
Christianity and, 109, 123126 excommunication as result of, 9697
Episcopal Churchs response to, 125 within Hinduism, 179183
under natural law theory, 63, 7374 within Islam, 135137, 153155
Presbyterian Churchs response to, within Judaism, 9596
124125 within Marxism, 42, 4849
Horkheimer, Max, 37 over institutional authority, 6874
host institutions/associations, 810. See over natural law theory, 6874
also churches; mosques; synago- within Sikhism, 179183
gues; temples Islam, 9. See also Muhammad; Salafism;
civil associations, 3334 shariah law; Shiites; Sufis; Sufism;
liberalism and, 22, 23 Sunnis
management of dissent through, 8 Abrahamic tradition and, 132133
Hu Jintao, 199 Arab Spring and, 150151
Huang Zongxi, 195 authority within, 150153
Humanae Vitae, 67, 122 contestation within, 150
Hus, John, 117 core priorities of, 134135
cultures of interpretation for, 153
ibn Abdul Wahhad, Muhammad, diversity within, 137
147148 inculcation of, 149
ibn Abi Talib, Ali, 135136 intramural dissent within, 135137,
ibn Paquda, Bahya, 9091 153155
ibn Saud, Muhammad, 148 key tenets of, 128, 132135
ibn Taymiyya, Taqi al-Din Ahmad, Khawarij group and, 135136
147148 legal traditions within, 139146
identity monotheism and, 132
Islamic, 149, 151 moral accountability in, 133134
Jewish, 9495 neo-traditionalist, 152153
identity politics, 7 orthopraxis and, 133134
238 Index

prophecy in, 132133 Chabad Hasidim and, 82

Quran and, 128129 classical, 77
religious identity within, 149, 151 Conservative, 81, 93, 95
religious pluralism within, 151 development of, as religion, 7677
reproduction of principles, 149 dissent within, 9395
revivalist tradition in, 152 dissidence within, 86
sectarian differences within, 137146 doctrinal disputes in, 10
secularist position within, 151152 etymology of term, 76
Shia Muslims, 129 excommunication in, 8687
Sufis and, 133 factors for identity within, 9495
Sunnah and, 129131 fundamentalism within, 79
toleration as principle within, 149 halakha and, 78, 79, 81, 92
Ismaili Khoji community, 159160 Hasidic movement, 87
Israel, 12, 88, 89, 95. See also heresy in, 82
Zionism heretics within, 82
historical overview of, 7679
Jackson, Robert, 2829 inculcation of, 9091
Jacobs, Louis (Rabbi), 6, 92, 221222 intramural dissent within, 9596
Jamaat-i-Islam, 148 Jewish Christians, 78, 87
Japan, Catholic Church in, 11 Kabbalah movement within, 82
jti, 164165 Karaite movement in, 84
Jefferson, Thomas, 108, 109 key tenets of, 7982
Jerusalem (Mendelssohn), 96 Kol Nidre and, 83, 84
Jesus, role in Christianity, 104105 lack of creedal beliefs in, 79
Jewish Christians, 78, 87 Maimonides and, 77, 82
Jewish faith. See emunah Mishnah Torah and, 85, 9394
Jews Orthodox, 81
BDS movement, 88 orthopraxis in, 10
as Christians, 78 Pentateuch and, 8384
Conservative, 81, 93, 95 pluralism within, 8486
covenant with God for, 7778 political dimensions of, 78
criticism of Israel, 88 priorities of, 8384
in Diaspora, 8586 rabbinic, 82, 8384
Haggadah and, 80 Reconstructionist, 93
Law of Return for, 95 Reform, 81, 93
messianic, 87 as religion of reason, 96
Reconstructionist, 93 religious diversity within, 8689
Reform, 81, 93 reproduction of, 9091
Jiang Qing, 192, 196197, 200 Second Temple sect of, 83
Jodhka, Surinder, 182 synagogues and, 8, 8182
John Paul I (Pope), 62 Just Love: A Framework for Christian
John Paul II (Pope), 103, 122123 Sexual Ethics (Farley), 63, 67
John XXIII (Pope), 71, 122
Johnson, Elizabeth, 121 Kabbalah movement, 82
Judaism. See also Jews; Talmud; Torah Kang Youwei, 195
authority within, 9193 Kaplan, Benjamin J., 108109
belief structures within, 77 Kaplan, Mordecai M., 93
Index 239

Karaite movement, 84 historical development of, 20

Karl Marx Selected Writings (McLellan), host associations and, 22, 23
4950 inculcation of, 2930
karma, 209 individual agency and, 21
Kateb, George, 90 as intellectual movement, 30
Kautsky, Karl, 47 internal criticism of, 3233
Khalsa, 169170 liberty as core principle of, 19
Khawarij group, 135136 marriage equality and, 32
King, Martin Luther, 29 parliamentary systems and, 23
Kol Nidre (all vows), 83, 84 as party ideology, 2930
Korsch, Karl, 37 priorities under, 2427
Kruschev, Nikita, 37 public reason and, 2526
Kuhn, T. S., 46 religion and, 20
Kng, Hans, 116 reproduction of, 2930
sexuality and, 32
Lafargue, Paul, 35 in social contract tradition, 30
law, 8586. See also shariah law toleration as part of, 4
The Law of Christ, 62 trans-nationality of, 2021
Law of Return, 95 Universal Declaration of Human
Lawler, Michael G., 61, 63, 72 Rights and, 2021
Lee, Patrick, 7374 in U.S., 22
Lefebvre, Marcel, 64 welfare reform and, 26
the Left, 25, 44, 47, 88 libertarianism, 25
legalism, 8586, 139146, 188190 liberty
legalistic thought, 139146 equality and, 21
Lenin, V. I., 3637, 4041 liberalism and, 19
Leninism, 3637, 4042, 4344, 5152 negative, 27
Bolshevism and, 42 positive, 24
terror as form of control under, 43 republican definition of, 24
Levine, Andrew, 221 Lin Bao, 197
li, 187, 190191, 198 Lincoln, Abraham, 29
Liang Qichao, 189 Lukacs, Georg, 37, 46
liberal imperialism, 21 Luther, Martin, 115
Liberal International, 2324, 31 Lutheranism, 115, 125
liberal paternalism, 21
liberalism MacIntyre, Alasdair, 56
authority under, 3031 Madison, James, 22
Catholic Church and, 3334 Madsen, Richard, 7, 10, 224, 227
civil peace as core principle of, 19 Magisterial teaching, 6566
consequences of, 2728 Mahbhrata, 166
as creed, 10 Mahayana Buddhism, 211213
in creedal beliefs, 2930 Maimonides, 77, 82, 8586, 87, 9394
defined, 1920, 223224 Mandair, Arvind, 168
dissent and, management of, 3132 Maoism, 42, 199
diversity and, 2829 Marcuse, Herbert, 37
exceptions under, 3334 marriage, 7273. See also same-sex
gender equality and, 32 marriage
240 Index

marriage equality, 32 minorities, 89, 154, 178

Martin of Tours, 120 Mishnah Torah, 85, 9394
Marx, Karl, 35, 36, 41, 42, 4546, 47, Mittleman, Alan, 10, 221222
4849 mitzvah, 90
Marxism, 3, 9. See also Leninism modernity, 57
Abrahamic tradition and, 5152 Buddhism and, 67
analytical, 3839, 46 Confucianism and, 67
authority under, 47 ethical traditions influenced by, 6
classical, 3536 freedom as value of, 6
Communist Party and, 3637, 46, 51 Hinduism and, 67
defined, 35 pluralism as value of, 6
diversity and, 46 religious traditions and, 56
during the Enlightenment, 4445 tolerance as value, 6
in Europe, 3738, 39 Mohammadan, Sayyid Ahmed Khan,
evils of capitalism and, 51 169
Fourth International, 42 monasticism, 110
Golden Age of, 36 monotheism, 132
in Great Britain, 39 Moon, Sun Myung (Reverend), 9
historical development of, 35 Moore, Gareth, 72
inculcation of, 4647 Moore, Michael S., 55
key tenets of, 4445 moral traditions, 2, 105106
laws of motion under, 36, 44 More, Thomas, 117, 120
management of dissent under, 48 mosques, 8
political consequences of, 4546 Mou Zongsan, 192
political legacy of, 5052 Moynihan, Daniel Patrick, 27
priorities of, 4445 Muhammad (Prophet), 128131
reproductions of, 4647 Murphy, Anne, 7, 224, 227
role of proletariat within, 36 Murray, John Courtney, 115
schism within, 4849 Muslim Brotherhood, 148
Second International, 3536, 41, mysticism, 137
4243, 46, 50
as secular religion, 45 nation states, 200, 221
Third International, 42 National Secular Society, 68
as tradition, definitions of, 4 nations. See nation states
Western school, 3738, 39 Natural Law and Natural Rights
Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (Finnis), 5758
(Lenin), 41 natural law theory, 9, 75. See also
McCormick, Richard A., 61, 65 Aquinas, Thomas
McLellan, David, 4950 alternative traditions of, 55
McLeod, W. H., 171 authority with, 6567
Melanchthon, Philip, 105 biologism in, 69, 71
Mencius, 187, 190 bona fide, 56
Mendelssohn, Moses, 77, 82, 96 Catholic Church and, 6365
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 37 contraception under, 6869
messianic Jews, 87 determination in, 57
Methodist Church, 125126 development of, 5355
Mill, John Stuart, 21, 27 dissent under, 6162
Index 241

essentialism and, 5556 papacy, 112113, 115, 122. See also

homosexuality under, 63, 7374 specific popes
inculcation of, 6365 Parekh, Bhikhu, 172
intramural dissent over, 6874 parliamentary systems, liberalism
key tenets of, 5560 and, 23
Magisterial teaching and, 6566 Parry, Jonathan, 162
management of dissent under, paternalism. See liberal paternalism
6768 Paul III (Pope), 118
moral absolutes under, 61 Paul IV (Pope), 116122
NNLT, 5760 Paul of Tarsus, 100
normativity in, 56 Paul VI (Pope), 122123
physicalism in, 69, 71 Penn, William, 120
political consequences of, Pentateuch, 8384
6263 persecution, religious, 101, 180
political issues under, 60 personality cult, 37, 40
primary precepts of, 57 The Phenomenology of
priorities in, 6062 Spirit (Hegel), 43
proportionalism in, 7071 pistis (Christian faith), 80
reproduction of, 6365 Pius IX (Pope), 119
same-sex marriage under, 60, Pius X (Pope), 119
7374 Pius XII (Pope), 64, 69
for Stoics, 5354 pluralism. See also religious pluralism
theological approach to, 55 ethical, 12
Thomism and, 5455, 70 within Islam, 151
Nayar, Kamala, 179 Jewish Diaspora and, 8586
negative liberty, 27 within Judaism, 8486
neo-Confucianism, 191 as modern value, 6
neoplatonism, 99 political associations. See host
new Confucianism, 190, 191193 institutions
new natural law theory (NNLT), 11, Porter, Jean, 55
5760, 7374 positive liberty, 24
New York Review of Books, 30 Prado, Juan de, 86
Nichiren Buddhism, 13, 206207 Prasad, Leela, 165
NNLT. See new natural law theory Presbyterian Church, 124125
non-caste Hinduism, 163 Priscillian, 116
nonconformity, 213214 privacy, 11, 26, 27, 6667, 198, 216
Nosco, Peter, 7, 8, 12, 13, 222, 223 prophecy, in Islam, 132133
Novak, David, 55 proportionalism, in natural law theory,
Oberoi, Harjot, 168169, 176, 178 Protestant Christianity, 114, 126127
Oderberg, David, 60 Punjabi, 174
Olivelle, Patrick, 167 Purohit, Teena, 159
oral Torah, 8384
Orthodox Jews, 81 Quran, 128129, 132133, 156
orthodoxy, 1011, 102, 107
orthopraxis, 1011, 133134, 189 rabbis, 82, 8384, 92
Oxford Manifesto, 24 radical feminism, 227
242 Index

Rahner, Karl, 71 Salafism, 146148

Rajan, Rajeswari Sunder, 179180 Salzman, Todd A., 61, 63, 72
Ram, Ronki, 173174 same-sex marriage, 32, 60, 61, 7374. See
Rmyana, 166 also marriage equality
Rao, Anupama, 174, 178 Sangh, Rastriya Swayamsevak, 176
Ratzinger, Joseph, 62, 103104 Sanskrit, Vedas/Vedic texts in, 162164,
Rawls, John, 25, 32, 40 167168
Reconstructionist Judaism, 93 Sanskritic tradition, dharma as,
Reform Judaism, 81, 93 164165
reform movements, 26, 81, 93, 102, 110, Sanskritization, 173, 180
195 Saraswati, Dayanand, 163, 167168, 169
religion. See also Catholic Church; Sartre, Jean-Paul, 37
Christianity; churches; Judaism Sathaye, Adheesh, 166
boundary-setting for, 7 Sattler, Michael, 117
during the Enlightenment, 7 Savarkar, Vinayak Damodar, 172
liberalism and, 20 Schiffman, Lawrence, 78
religious center, 160 schisms, 2, 4849, 99
religious pluralism, 8486, 151 Schnerson, Menachem
religious traditions, 2, 56 Mendel (Rabbi), 82
religious war, 102103, 223. See also Second International Marxism, 3536,
violence 41, 4243, 46, 50
ren, 187, 190191, 198 Second Temple sect, 83
Renaissance humanism, 99 Second Vatican Council, 113, 115, 122
repression, religious, 118 secrecy, 208, 216
revolutions. See also Bolshevik secret societies, 13
Revolution; Cultural Revolution, in sectarian differences, 137146. See also
China; French Revolution; Russian Salafi; Shia; Sufi; Sunnis
Revolution secular traditions, 2, 45, 151152
Marxist, 4041 secularism
permanent, promotion of, 49 in Islam, 151152
sexual, 122 Marxism and, 45
the right, 25 in state traditions, 2
Robespierre, Maximilien de, 48 Sen, Amartya, 158, 173, 183, 184
Roe v. Wade, 32 Servetus, Michael, 117, 120
Roemer, John, 38 The Sexual Person (Salzman and
Roman Catholicism. See Catholic Lawler), 63
Church sexuality, 32, 61. See also gender;
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 48 homosexuality
ru, 186187 SGPC. See Shiromani Gurdwara
rujia, 187, 188189, 190, 197, 199200 Parbandhak Committee
rujiao, 187, 190 Shakyamuni, Gautama, 201
ruxue, 187, 190 shariah law, 130131, 134135, 139146
Rumi, Jalaluddin, 129 Sharify-Funk, Meena, 6, 222, 223
Russian Revolution, 4142, 49 Shia Muslims, 129
Shiites, 137138
sacred history, 3 Imams for, 144145
Sahib, Granth (Guru), 161, 169 Sunni Muslims and, 138146
Index 243

Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Sunnah, 129131

Committee (SGPC), 172, 178179 Sunnis, 1213, 129, 138146
shrti, 164 Sweetman, Will, 161
al-Siddiq, Jafar, 136 synagogues, 8, 8182
Sikh Anand Marriage Act, 175 in Great Britain, 81
Sikhism, 3, 9
brahmanical tradition in, 162 Talmud, 10, 77, 90
colonial influences on, 168171 Tang Junyi, 192
development of, 161 temples, 8
Gurdwara Act and, 172 terror, as form of control, 43, 48
Hinduism and, 159 terrorism, 43
inculcation of, 175178 Thapar, Romila, 176177
intramural dissent within, 179183 Theodosius, 101
key tenets of, 160168 Theories of Surplus Value (Marx), 47
Khalsa identity for, 169170 Theravada tradition, 204, 211213
reproduction of beliefs, 175178 Third International Marxism, 42
Sikhs, in Diaspora, 169, 183184 Thirty-Nine Articles, in Christianity, 115
Singh, Gobind (Guru), 169 Thomism, 5455, 70
Singh, Ranjit, 170 Tilak, Shrinivas, 175176
Singh Sabha movement, 168 tolerance
Slifkin, Nosson (Rabbi), 9293 within Hinduism, 180
Smith, Rogers, 22 within Islam, 149
Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, 76 within liberalism, 4
smriti, 164 as modern value, 6
social contract, as tradition, 30 Torah, 76, 81, 85, 9394
socialism, 49 oral, 8384
Society of Pius X, 64 traditions, 1. See also liberalism
Soviet Union, 3637, 4042, 4344. See Abrahamic, 3, 5152, 132133
also Lenin, V. I.; Stalin, Joseph; changing nature of, 4
Trotsky, Leon ethical, 6
Spinoza, Baruch, 86, 226 history of, 3
Stalin, Joseph, 37, 49 moral, 2
state traditions religious, 2
religious, 2, 56 secular, 2
secular, 2 social contract, 30
states. See nation states Trotsky, Leon, 42, 4849
Stein, Gertrude, 5 Tu Wei-ming, 192, 200
Steinfels, Peter, 5, 1011, 221 Tzu Chi, 201
Stoics, 5354, 99. See also Aquinas,
Thomas Umayyads, 137
Strauss, Leo, 55 ummah, 136
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions understanding. See fiqh
(Kuhn), 46 Unification Church, 9
Sufis, 133 United Church of Christ, 125
Sufism, 129, 146148 United Nations, 31
Summa Theologiae (Aquinas), 54 United States (U.S.), 22, 121
Sun Yat-sen, 200 Unity Way, 195196
244 Index

Universal Declaration of Human West Virginia v. Barnette, 28

Rights, 2021, 31 Western Marxists, 3738, 39
universities, dissent in, 9 What Is To Be Done (Marx), 41
Wiles, Maurice, 107
vanguard parties, 3637, 4546 Williams, Roger, 120
varna, 164, 165, 166 Wise, Isaac Meyer, 96
Veda/Vedic texts, 162164, 167168 Women Living Under Muslim Laws
VHP. See Vishwa Hindu Parishad (WLUML), 227228
violence Wright, Erik Olin, 38
Christianity and, 102103
de-legitimization of, 6 Xunzi, 190
dissent managed through, 1113
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), yi, 187
181 Young, Don, 3132
von Hildebrand, Dietrich, 6667 Yu Dan, 192
Yu Ying-shih, 190
Wahhabis. See Salafism
Walzer, Michael, 180 al-Zawahiri, Ayman, 148
Wang Yangming, 191 Zhou Enlai, 197
Weber, Max, 80 Zhu Xi, 191, 192
welfare reform, 26 Zionism, 88, 89