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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Method and Politics

Nelson Tebbe is blogging with us over at CLR Forum this month, and he's got a really good post (and not only because he says generous things about my forthcoming book...available for pre-order here!) about the relationship between methodological and political leanings in religion clause scholarship, and a possible change in the alignments and relationships between method and politics.  Nelson asks several very good questions that are, I think, difficult to answer both because the terrain is always shifting and because it is difficult to map out. 

Steve Shiffrin, in his early book on the First Amendment, once said this about the importance of method:

The method employed . . . in first amendment decisionmaking has importance that transcends its capacity to determine results in individual cases.  If the first amendment is to serve as an important cultural symbol, the modes of justification we use to persuade ourselves and others of its value and importance are themselves of special importance.  If we are concerned about the kind of people the first amendment tends to encourage, we need to be as concerned with the rhetoric of first amendment discourse as with the details of its decisions.  Our modes of justification themselves exhibit features of our character and appeal to features of our personality.  The First Amendment, Democracy, and Romance 110-111 (1990).

Do you see alignments or disalignments in the methods of the scholarship in your field with the politics of the scholar using the method?  Are there shifts in your areas that seem similar to the sorts of shifts that Nelson is describing?  Or are the patterns relatively stable (and if so, are they stable in being unpredictable or predictable)?

Posted by Marc DeGirolami on December 12, 2012 at 05:16 PM | Permalink


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Thanks for the comment, Orin. I'm sure that's true. It might be that in certain fields there is greater political diversity than in others. Law and religion is, I think, certainly one with a comparatively high degree of political diversity, but I suspect it's not the only one. Even in law and religion, I think the relationship between method and politics is complicated, as Nelson points out. It also may be that one is more likely to see any pre-existing breadth playing out in different ways in the choice of scholarly methods in certain fields than in others. I would have thought criminal procedure might be a field in which one might be able to correlate politics and method to some extent, but probably I'm mistaken.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Dec 13, 2012 8:06:36 PM

This is an interesting question, although it assumes a diversity of politics sufficient to draw such distinctions. I can see anecdotal differences along these lines, but there may not be enough political diversity to reach a real conclusion.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 13, 2012 5:28:30 PM

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