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How Theology Might Learn from Law

James Boyd White

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor Law School

February 25, 2009

Mercer Law Review Vol. 53, No. 3, pp. 1009-1018, 2002
U of Michigan Public Law Working Paper No. 142

This short paper begins by setting forth the way a lawyer works: starting with an event in the world which cannot simply be replicated any existing language, or reduced to any existing form of thought, but of which it is his task to determine, or claim, the meaning. In doing so he must speak in the inherited language of the law, as he analyzes the problem and seeks to solve it, whether by negotiation or argument. His work ends with a return to the world beyond legal language, the world in which the client lives. The thought suggested here is that theology could be seen work in much the same way: beginning its work with the particulars of a problem or event that takes place within a tradition, a tradition the speaker must at once accept and criticize, use and seek to change. Both law and theology have their own forms of thought, reason, and authority, and both should be constantly aware of the limits of these forms. Both are in the service of that which can never be fully defined - "Justice" or "God" - but which calls forth our deepest efforts of mind and imagination. Both call for whole-minded thought. Both suffer from similar pathologies, which may make them forces of death; but both also have it within them to be sources of newness and life. It it up to us which it shall be.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 11

Keywords: Theology, legal reason, justice, translation

JEL Classification: K10, Z00

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Date posted: February 25, 2009  

Suggested Citation

White, James Boyd, How Theology Might Learn from Law (February 25, 2009). Mercer Law Review Vol. 53, No. 3, pp. 1009-1018, 2002; U of Michigan Public Law Working Paper No. 142. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1349337

Contact Information

James Boyd White (Contact Author)
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor Law School ( email )
625 South State Street
332 Hutchins Hall
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States
734-936-2989 (Phone)
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