Abortion, gay marriage and religion in the public education system are among the most controversial topics in American religion and politics. Seldom, however, does anyone look outside our own borders and culture for perspective on these issues. How do Buddhists in Japan treat the issue of abortion? What tensions exist between religious traditions and alternative forms of marriage in India? What role does religion play in public schools in France? These are the types of questions Laurie Cozad is tackling in research for an upcoming book called Enforcing Heaven: A Cross-Cultural Exploration of Religion and Politics.
“The purpose of this book is to get at these three intense public debates in the U.S.,” said Cozad, Croft Institute associate professor of religion. “What kinds of cultural assumptions govern the debates and discussions on these issues? This question is best answered through a comparative analysis with similar debates and discussions in other countries.”
Cozad’s research is already yielding fascinating insights. “In Japan, there are numerous ritual activities set up to commemorate aborted fetuses,” she said. “Almost all of these rituals occur inside Buddhist Temples. I am interested in the intra-Japanese debates surrounding these rituals and the ways in which these debates enter into the political arena.”
In her research on conflicting views of marriage, Cozad has found the American debate focused on gay marriage. In India, however, the main conflict is over inter-religious and inter-caste marriages.
Finally, Cozad is examining the role of religion in public schools. In America, the issues include the teaching of evolution or intelligent design and whether students should be allowed to wear religious symbols such as a cross, a Star of David or a hijab (a Muslim head covering). In France, the government has prohibited Muslim females from wearing the hijab in school.
“Laurie Cozad’s book will make an important contribution to our understanding of how religion and politics relate in society,” said William Lawhead, chair of philosophy and religion. “By comparing how American society frames these three issues with how they are addressed in other societies, we will be better able to understand not only these issues but also the dynamics of politicized religion and religious politics.”