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Book Reviews

S. Ferrari (edited by), Introduzione al diritto comparato delle religioni. Ebraismo, islam e induismo

S. Ferrari (edited by), Introduzione al diritto comparato delle religioni. Ebraismo, islam e induismo (Introduction to Comparative Law and Religion – Judaism, Islam and Hinduism), Bologna, Il Mulino 2008

Like other branches of the study of law, Ecclesiastical Law is noticeably expanding its fields of research as a result of intersecting trends which have led scholars to pay greater attention to non-Christian religious law. And Silvio Ferrari, who edited this collection, has been a trailblazer in this field.

 

 

In the book’s introduction, which suggests reasons why it is important, he singles out globalisation and international migration flows as the main factors behind the expanding interest scholars have shown around the world for the various religions’ legal traditions.

 

For him, this growing interest in Italy is bridging a decades-old gap in much doctrine-related research. The latter has traditionally been centred on Canon Law, except for an interest in Islamic Law during the age of colonialism, eventually declining as the latter declined.

 

 

The re-evaluation of non-Christian religious experiences from a legal perspective made it possible to compare “other” religions’ legal traditions. Previously and for a long time, many a scholar held that religiously-based legal systems like that of Judaism were rather shallow. In Italy for example someone like Giuseppe Dossetti, a lawyer and Catholic priest, embodied the old attitude; as a member of Italy’s Constituent Assembly he said that Jewish Law could not be considered a real “legal system”.

 

 

Now however it is clear that Judaism, Islam and Hinduism have their own legal systems with as much a right for consideration as any other because of their rich corpus, the complexity of their structure as well as their broad social pervasiveness. Their actual influence on the lives of billions of people is clearly not something to be dismissed.

 

It is thus commendable that a book like Ferrari’s can make available material absolutely essential to understand and direct today’s society. Its structure is especially noteworthy. The initial section helps the reader realise the importance of the comparative method in the study of religious legal systems. The following sections provide insight into Hindu, Jewish and Islamic Law (described by well-known specialists like Mordechai Rabello and Aluffi Beck-Beccoz), so that their substance can be easily enjoyed by a wider readership.

 

 

Notwithstanding their differences, some threads are common to all three legal systems. With respect to content, some basic features like each tradition’s inception, development, sources and key institutions are adequately dealt with. More specifically, closer attention is paid to the institution of marriage, which is absolutely essential in order to understand religious law in relation to Marriage Law in a number of countries.

 

The long-term survival of these legal systems is also examined, most notably that of Hindu Law under Islamic and British rule, the institutional adjustments undertaken by Jewish Law that enabled it to survive in the Diaspora, and the ossification of Islamic Law, which moved from an open interpretation of the sources to a restrictive reading of the past. The analysis of bioethical issues from a Jewish point of view is especially interesting—such a focus in fact highlights the vitality of Jewish Law and its inner plurality of voices.

 

 

Even though Ferrari admits that a nascent discipline like Law and Religion has still a long way to go before it comes into its own, it is interesting how for him the possibilities of research are real and available to everyone. At the same time as this unfolds, the comparative method can be expected to find its own bearings. If fully and earnestly examined, the depth of religious life can thus be the basis on which to further develop one’s own faith.

 

 

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