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The Case for Religious Constitutions: Comparative Constitutional Law among Buddhists and Other Religious Groups

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 August 2021

Abstract

This article argues that there is body of governing laws appearing widely throughout the global history of religions that warrants classification as constitutions. Like national constitutions, these religious constitutions present themselves as a form of “higher law” that declare the identity of a given a community, organize its structures of governing power, define its foundational norms, and authorize further acts of rulemaking. In this article, I offer an overview of these texts across several traditions and a defense of their importance in the study of comparative constitutional law. I then draw on fieldwork from Sri Lanka to provide a firsthand account of what a modern religious constitution looks like and how it works to govern one of the country’s largest communities of Buddhist monks. I conclude by urging scholars to view religion and constitutional law not as opposing legal domains but, rather, as homologous forms of social ordering that draw upon similar concepts and logics to address common human dilemmas.

Type
Articles
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of American Bar Foundation

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Footnotes

This article has benefited enormously from feedback from Ben Berger, Melissa Crouch, Tamir Moustafa, Brenton Sullivan, Tim Lubin, and Christian Lammerts as well as the anonymous reviewers and editors at Law & Social Inquiry who generously provided numerous rounds of detailed feedback. Gratitude also goes to Iromi Perera and the survey team at Social Indicator as well as Asanga Tilakaratne, Venerable Raluvē Padmasiri, Venerable Attanganē Ratanapāla, Venerable Makulaeaevē Vimala and the many jurist monks of the Rāmañña Nikāya who generously shared their time with me. The research for this article was made possible by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Grant no. OU01514.

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