SSHA 2017 Annual Meeting Session - Altruism, Morality, and Faith
Friday, November 03: 02:45 PM-04:45 PM


    • Roger Baumann -- Chair

    • Shai Dromi  -- Creator, Discussant, Organizer

    • Catherine Arnold  -- Author 

    • Hillary Kaell  -- Author 

    • Elisabeth Clemens  -- Author 

    • Ahmed Fekry Ibrahim  -- Author 

    • Aliza Luft  -- Author 



C. Arnold. Philanthropic Networks and the Origins of Humanitarian Intervention in Britain and Europe, 1700-1750.
This paper will examine how and why transnational networks of religious leaders and institutions in early eighteenth century Europe pressured the British government to intervene in other states' domestic affairs and protect refugees, fugitives, and prisoners. The paper is drawn from a book project, which explores the origins of humanitarian intervention in early eighteenth-century Britain and Europe. The project argues that persecuted individuals elsewhere in Europe--whether Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish--were able to claim Britain's aid by mobilizing transnational networks of their co-religionists. To do so, individuals used the correspondence networks of religious institutions, which were often established for charitable purposes, for political ends. As a result, between 1690 and 1750, synagogue officers, members of religious societies, and clergymen lobbied British diplomats and politicians to protect persecuted Protestants, Catholics, and Jews elsewhere in Europe. This paper will explore one such case, in which Jews in Prague coordinated a transnational petitioning campaign to prevent Maria Theresa, the Holy Roman Empress, from expelling Jews from her kingdom of Bohemia in 1745. The paper will demonstrate that, in early eighteenth century Europe, political advocacy on behalf of co-religionists resembled other kinds of philanthropy that religious communities engaged in. It will conclude that religious actors--and their charitable concern for their co-religionists--contributed to the emergence of humanitarian intervention and a secular politics of human rights in early eighteenth Britain and Europe. 

H. Kaell. Statistical Aesthetics in Nineteenth-Century Christian Globalism.
This paper focuses on what I call statistical aesthetics, where nineteenth-century missionary audiences were treated to continual displays of numbers and graphs that showed the vastness of the world. They were also schooled to incorporate such numbers into their prayers and embodied ritualizations on behalf of missions. Although this "aesthetic"€ is ubiquitous in missionary literature--”and thus in constructions of global space--€”it has gone largely unremarked in relevant scholarship. The burdensome calculus of millions of perishing souls produced deep anxiety about the smallness of Protestant Christianity compared to "hordes"™ of "heathen." But it also moved Christians to action. First, I explore how these aesthetics relied on a dialogical juxtaposition between the aggregate and the individual (enormity and smallness), in which the vast economic project was broken down into individualized amounts. In other words, statistical aesthetics was effective as a tool to stimulate charitable giving when it parsed the enormity into individualized components. The result was a sense that even the "average" American could contribute to major global projects in meaningful ways, an idea that remains central in many forms of middle-class giving today. Second, I argue that the forms of action statistical aesthetics called forth exceeded material aid or evangelism (although it included both). I examine how the actions promoted to missionary audiences (reading, displaying, and enacting "big numbers" through performance) were expected to produce moments of sublime awe when confronted by enormities of scale. In short, being overwhelmed by statistics was one way for Christians to meditatively lose themselves in the extent of God's global reach and his unfathomable project to encompass all mankind. 

E. Clemens. Of Exceptions and Exemptions: The Boundary Politics of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector.
Although charity has a long history as a distinct category in western law, the boundary work around this category has intensified with the specification of privileges within tax codes and prohibitions linked to the requirements for such privileges. In the United States, the creation of federal and national systems of tax-funded social provision during the New Deal also entailed the exemption of the employees of non-profit agencies and religious organizations from large swathes of labor law. These same regulations clarified the boundaries between tax-privileged charitable efforts and publicly-oriented political activity. The result was an expanding domain of tax-privileged but politically-constrained nonprofit organizations that, in time, were recognized as a beachhead not only for alternatives to public social provision but as sites for mounting resistance to those programs. Complex configurations of 501.c.3'a and c.4's were mobilized as vehicles for policy-oriented projects. In this paper, I begin with the legislative and regulatory elaboration of this categorical distinction and then turn to the political history of its role in the strategies of conservative politics since the 1970s.

A. Ibrahim. Child Rights in Islamic Law: The Best Interests of the Child in Theory and Practice.
This paper examines an Islamic legal equivalent of the Euro-American concept of the "œbest interests of the child," a legal principle underpinning several international conventions. It presents various concepts and arguments made by pre-modern Muslim Sunni jurists in their discussions of legal rules regarding child custody, guardianship, maintenance, and travel with the ward. By juxtaposing the discourse of jurists in premodern Islamic law with actual court practice of child custody and care, I hope to show the ways in which Islamic juristic discourse and practice stood in tension or conformity with one another. By engaging these discussions of child rights both in the theory and practice of premodern Islamic law, I hope to offer alternative ways of conceptualizing Islamic law and new methods of legal reform in the context of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) in the contemporary period.

A. Luft. The Spirit of Resistance: Intra-Organizational Mobilization and the Puzzle of Témoignage Chrétien.
This paper analyzes the motive, method, and makeup of the clandestine Christian resistance movement Témoignage Chrétien. Formed by lower clergy and laity with the goal of disrupting the words, actions, rituals, and symbols emanating from the Catholic hierarchy in support of the Vichy regime during the Holocaust, mobilization for Témoignage Chrétien was remarkably dangerous not least because it entailed two forms of high-risk activism: resistance to the Church, and resistance to the State. Subsequently, in analyzing why and how Témoignage Chrétien was formed and by whom, I simultaneously seek to explain intraorganizational mobilization in authoritarian settings. Although a variety of work has studied social movements in organizations and growing research examines mobilization in autocracies, rarely do the two coincide. However, authoritarian regimes present distinct challenges for individuals within organizations who seek to push for change: not least of all, mobilization places both the individual and the organization at risk. As a result, I analyze primary sources from diocesan archives in France, personal memoirs, and post-war testimonies, and I combine factual and theoretical claims throughout the analysis to probe the puzzle of intra-organizational mobilization in authoritarian settings. Findings suggest that moral anger motivated lower clergy'€™s activism, repression triggered their desire to organize a clandestine resistance journal, personal networks facilitated the accumulation of resources necessary to create Témoignage Chrétien, and social networks enabled its diffusion throughout unoccupied France.