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Separation of Church and State in the Jewish, Islamic, and American Traditions

Shlomo Pill / June 16, 2017

As the United States continues to move towards greater separation between religion and state in some respects while promoting a greater role for religious voices in political and legal processes in other respects, questions about the proper relationship between religion and the state loom large. Both Judaism and Islam are all-encompassing normative traditions; in addition to regulating “ritual” matters, they also prescribe correct conduct in the more mundane spheres of private and public interpersonal relations.  While both of these traditions are often thought of as necessitating some form of theocratic government, however, both have historically maintained a relatively strict separation of religious and political authority.  In both Jewish and Islamic practice, moreover, this separation of church and state encouraged moderation and accountability in political and religious affairs, leading to better religious doctrine and better state law and policy.  As we grapple with these questions in this country, the examples of Jewish and Islamic law and practice offer helpful examples of what models of religion-state relations produce what kind of results in both the religious and political spheres. This is part of our lecture series "Halakhah, Religion, and the State." Click here for more information.




Shlomo Pill

Shlomo C. Pill teaches in the Drisha Kollel. He is the founding Director of The Institute for Jewish Muslim Action. He is a Senior Fellow and Post-Doctoral Fellow in Law and Religion at The Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, as well as an Instructor in Emory College’s Middle Eastern Studies Department and the TAM Institute for Jewish Studies where he teaches courses on Jewish and Islamic law. A licensed attorney with expertise in religious freedom, church-state, arbitration, and related issues, he received his JD from Fordham Law School, and LLM and SJD degrees in Law and Religion from Emory Law School.  His current work utilizes the comparative study of the Jewish, Islamic, and American jurisprudential traditions to develop new ways of thinking about a range of issues in contemporary American life, including religious freedom, faith-based arbitration, judicial and legal ethics, interactions between religious traditions and secular societies, and legal interpretation and decision making processes and methodologies.


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