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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Movsesian on the Methodology of Comparativism

Because I find issues of scholarly methodology interesting, I wanted to share a bit from the conclusion of my colleague Mark Movsesian's new piece, Crosses and Culture: State-Sponsored Religious Displays in the US and Europe.  (If you are not familiar with the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, check it out.  All of its articles are available for free, at least for a little while.)

I have not done any real comparative work so far, and am curious how those who do comparative scholarship -- not only in law and religion but also in other legal disciplines -- react to Mark's reflections (I've omitted the footnotes, which you can chase down if you wish):

My purpose in this article has been comparative and critical: I have attempted to explain different legal regimes in terms of fundamental institutional and cultural commitments. Comparative work, particularly interdisciplinary comparative work, is still a bit new in law and religion scholarship. As Grace Davie recently has written, law and sociology ask different questions and rely on different methods; ‘conversations’ between lawyers and sociologists can therefore be ‘difficult’.  Nonetheless, such conversations are essential.  For law both reflects and influences underlying social conditions. In Mary Ann Glendon’s phrase, ‘law, in addition to all the other things it does, tells stories about the culture that helped to shape it and which it in turn helps to shape: stories about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going’.  The law on state-sponsored religious displays reveals very different understandings about the place of religion in American and European society. This article is an effort to illuminate those understandings and contribute to an emerging path in law and religion scholarship. 

Posted by Marc DeGirolami on June 14, 2012 at 05:07 PM | Permalink


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In some cultures, law and culture are very different, as in China. In these circumstances, working with sociologists seems especially helpful. Generally, I find that the teeing up of legal regimes for comparison in itself is a large part of the comparative methodology because so many lessons follow from the lining up of, essentially, alternatives. I am always excited to see and do a comparative dimension in scholarship.

Posted by: Margaret Ryznar | Jun 18, 2012 1:39:28 PM

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