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Islam Judaism and the Challenge of Religious Authority

This discussion will examine the growing crisis of authority in Muslim and Jewish communities in the United States and around the world. Both faiths include complex legal traditions, which have expressed themselves with varying degrees of centralization and plurality in different times and places. Recent social, political, and even philosophical developments have contributed to a crisis which has pervaded many aspects of Muslim and Jewish life, but one which has been felt particularly in religious communities. Panelists will explore how the democratization of knowledge through various electronic media and the growth of mass education has led to the rise of new interpretive methodologies, to challenges posed by law-interpreters to the ulama/rabbinate, and to a general acceptance of the increasingly important role of individual conscience in religious experience. Perhaps as a countermeasure to these changes, both Jewish and Muslim communities have witnessed attempts to centralize religious authority, and to align religion with state power in order to bring order to this post-modern religio-legal anarchy. Against the backdrop of traditional models of religio-legal authority in Judaism and Islam, the panelists will explore whether these developments are causes for despair or sources of hope.


Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Pill is an attorney and a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, where he teaches courses on Jewish, Islamic, and American law. He received his JD from Fordham Law School, his LLM and SJD in Law and Religion from Emory Law School, and smikhah from Bais Midrash L'Talmud of the Lander College for Men. Shlomo is also an associate rabbi at the New Toco Shul in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Director of The Institute for Jewish Muslim Action, which is building cooperative relationships between Jewish and Muslim communities in the United States through educational initiatives, policy research, and political and legal advocacy on issues of mutual interest in American life. 

Mohammad Khalil is an associate professor of religious studies, adjunct professor of law, and director of the Muslim Studies Program at Michigan State University. He received all of his degrees from the University of Michigan. He specializes in Islamic thought and is the author of various works including Islam and the Fate of Others: The Salvation Question (Oxford University Press, 2012) and a forthcoming book on Jihad, Radicalism, and the New Atheism (Cambridge University Press).

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