CSLR's New Books Focus on Volatile Family Issues

Print Page

By April L. Bogle

Several books examining the most explosive issues of modern American family life have emerged from the Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR) at Emory University.

"These volumes identify several of the boiling pots that are erupting  in today’s family life, examine tried solutions, and propose new ways of solving the issues through a variety of perspectives," said John Witte, Jr., Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Ethics and director of the CSLR.

The topics include:

  • the modern family – its health, necessity, and transformation
  • the lessons of the great world religions and how they must be consulted as we assess the future of sex, marriage, and family
  • the costs and benefits of tightening the martial knot through new covenant marriage laws and untying it totally by eliminating marriage as a legal status
  • the same-sex marriage dilemma facing Christian churches and gay Christians
  • the lessons of Jewish experiments with diverse forms of marriage
  • the issues facing marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims
  • the U.S. adoption revolution and the legal and ethical challenges it has created
  • the practices and policies of sex, marriage and family in the 16th century that laid the foundation of modern Western family law

The books are the products of the CSLR’s multi-year research project titled “Sex, Marriage, and Family & the Religions of the Book,” sponsored The Pew Charitable Trusts, Inc. The project, which began in 2001, is slated to produce a total of 29 new volumes by the end of 2006.

Witte, an expert on the history of marriage, legal history, and religious liberty, has led the efforts of a group of 17 renowned scholars throughout the research project. He has published  18 books and 120 articles, he co-authored one of the new volumes and co-edited another two.

Family Transformed: Religion, Values, and Society in American Life


Witte and co-editor Steven M. Tipton, professor of sociology of religion at Emory, fill the boiling pot to the brim with all the issues facing the modern family in this new volume. World-renowned scholars in anthropology, demography, ethics, history, law, philosophy, primatology, psychology, sociology, and theology respond with a multi-faceted analysis of these issues. In the book’s epilogue, Robert N. Bellah, Elliott Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, offers these thoughts:

“…an effort to resuscitate the traditional family … is bound to fail…. Only a reintegration of the family into the larger community and society will make it viable. Only a society that guarantees stability of employment, paid maternity and paternity leave, health insurance for all, and a decent education for every child can begin to again breathe life into embattled families. And only as families leave their television and computer screens at home to participate with their neighbors and friends in religious and civic life can they find the genuine meaning of family.”



Sex, Marriage, and Family in World Religions: A Critical Reader


Witte; Don S. Browning, University of Chicago; and M. Christian Green, Harvard University, turn to thousands of years of teachings of sex, marriage and family from Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian traditions in this book. It includes traditional texts as well as contemporary materials showing how the religions have responded to the changing conditions and mores of modern life. It reveals the similarities and differences among the various religions and the development of ideas and teachings within each tradition. Selections shed light on each religion's views on a range of subjects, including sexuality and sexual pleasure, the meaning and purpose of marriage, the role of betrothal, the status of women, the place of romance, grounds for divorce, celibacy, and sexual deviance.



Covenant Marriage in Comparative Perspective


Witte and  Eliza Ellison, senior editor and director of fellowships at the CSLR, turn up the heat on the issue of covenant marriage in their new book on covenant marriage. With more than half of the 50 U.S. states considering legalizing covenant marriage as a solution to rising divorce rates, the book looks at this front-burner issue from several religious perspectives. In the introduction, Witte and Joel A. Nichols, assistant professor of law at Pepperdine University, write:

“…these [covenant marriage laws] have been attacked as an undue encroachment on sexual liberty and on the rights of women and children; as a ‘Trojan horse’ designed to smuggle biblical principles into American law; as an improper delegation of state responsibilities to religious officials; and as a reversion to the days of staged and spurious charges of marital fault which no-fault laws had sought to overcome. But, given the religiously neutral language of these laws, their explicit protections of both voluntary entrance and exit from the covenant union, their insistence that religious counselors be restricted in the marriage counseling they can offer on behalf of the state, and the overriding commitment of these laws to both parties’ freedom of contract, such constitutional objections seem largely unavailing.”



Marriage Proposals: Questioning a Legal Status


Stirring the pot from another perspective, this volume considers the costs and benefits of eliminating marriage altogether as legal status.  Edited by Anita Bernstein, Sam Nunn Professor of Law at Emory and Wallace Stevens Professor of Law at New York Law School, the anthology makes a unique contribution amid two marriage furors of the day: same-sex marriage and the Bush Administration’s “marriage movement.” Although initially a proponent of abolishing marriage, Bernstein concludes:

“At an individual level, marriage gives persons something valuable, enhancing the gains they achieve when they venture toward intimacy with another person. At a communal level, the space where law reform works, marriage is a valuable locus of political and social power, a counterweight: without marriage, the force that would expand to control citizens’ private lives is either the state or capital, an unrelenting press of the market. No blithe, freeing, choice-affirming alternative to this extraordinary institution is available.”



Blessing Same-Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage


Mark D. Jordan, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Religion at Emory, jumps into the boiling pot of same-sex marriage in his new book. After explaining how those who oppose same-sex marriage are using carefully selected ideals of Christian marriage rather than historical fact to dominate the debate, he concludes that no matter what the courts do, Christian churches will have to decide for themselves whether to bless same-sex unions. He writes:

“Christian churches should bless same-sex unions. They should do it as a matter of justice, after reading the real signs of the times, with prayerful enthusiasm for the Gospel, and by way of securing some credible future for their marriage philosophy…. Churches will split over the blessings as they have over a hundred other issues, large and small. Church history will then rumble on. Blessing same-sex unions will not by itself either reform or destroy the churches.”



Marriage, Sex and Family in Judaism


Michael J. Broyde, professor of law at Emory and projects director of CSLR, simmers down the issue of diverse marriage practices with his findings from Judaic history. He writes:

“The 2,500-year Jewish law experiment with diverse models of marriage has ended, and reached it zenith, in a boring conclusion – which returns to the mode of Adam and Eve together in the garden with just the two of them building a family…. The lesson this long experiment has to teach American law seems clear. American law started at a point very different from Jewish law: it began with mandatory monogamy.... Over the last century, American law has moved to a sexually freer society, prepared to contemplate diverse models of marriage, from sexual companionship to polygamy and beyond…. What the Jewish experiment … is implicitly saying about such proposals is maybe they are not such a wise idea, even if legally plausible.”



Inter-religious Marriages Among Muslims


Emory law professor and CSLR senior fellow Abdullahi An-Na’im considers the knotty legal, theological, and cultural issues occasioned by marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims. The volume includes local case studies of inter-religious marriage patterns and practices in Senegal, Turkey, and India.



The Morality of Adoption


The U.S. adoption revolution and the ethical issues it presents bubble up in this new book edited by Timothy P. Jackson, CLSR Senior Fellow and  professor of Christian Ethics at Emory. It explores the social-psychological, theological, and legal dimensions of American adoption practices, both positive and negative. In the book’s introduction, Jackson writes:

“We tend to approve adoptions in which like adopts like…. When the similarity is of family, race, religion, ethnicity, or class, there are few objections. When unlike adopts unlike negative judgments are much more prevalent….  Is there any way to decipher why some forms of adoption are or ought to be morally and legally permissible while others are not or ought not to be?”



Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin’s Geneva Vol 1: Courtship, Engagement and Marriage


Witte and Robert M. Kingdon, Hilldale Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, take the lid off the sometimes sensational historical evidence found in legal cases and theological texts that evolved into today’s laws on love and marriage in this new book.

“The [16th century] reformers’ new theological and legal system of sex, marriage, and family life was ultimately every bit as sweeping and sophisticated as the medieval sacramental theology and canon law it set out to replace. Accordingly, it stands today as one of the enduring models of marriage and family life in the Protestant world and well beyond.”



The complete book listing:


  • Family Transformed: Religion, Values, and Society in American Life, Steven M. Tipton and John Witte, Jr., eds., Georgetown Press
  • Sex, Marriage, and Family in the World Religions: A Critical Reader, Don S. Browning, M. Christian Green, and John Witte, Jr., eds.; Columbia University Press
  • Covenant Marriage in Comparative Perspective, John Witte, Jr. and Eliza Ellison eds.; Wm. B. Eerdmans 
  • Marriage Proposals: Questioning a Legal Status, Anita Bernstein, ed.; New York University Press
  • Blessing Same-Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage, Mark D. Jordan; University of Chicago Press
  • Marriage, Sex, and Family in Judaism, Michael J. Broyde and Michael Ausubel, eds.; Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
  • Inter-religious Marriages Among Muslims, Abdullahi An-Na’im; Global Media Publications, 2006
  • The Morality of Adoption: Social-Psychological, Theological, and Legal Perspectives, Timothy P. Jackson, ed.; Wm. B. Eerdmans 
  • Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin's Geneva I: Courtship, Engagement, Marriage, John Witte, Jr. and Robert M. Kingdon; Wm. B. Eerdmans

Since it began in 2001, the CSLR project on “Sex, Marriage and Family & the Religions of the Book” has sponsored 10 new cross-listed courses, more than a dozen public forums, seven roundtable conferences, and a three-day international conference featuring the work of CSLR senior fellows and another 60 prominent scholars from varying disciplines.

The CSLR, one of The Pew Charitable Trusts' Centers of Excellence, explores the intersection of religious traditions and their influence on law, politics and society. The center offers four joint degree programs in law and religion, 14 cross-listed courses, eight major research projects and dozens of individual and side research projects, several annual public forums, two book series, more than 300 published volumes, a visiting scholars and fellows program, and 75 senior fellows and associated faculty from more than 20 fields of study.

Related / More

CSLR Lectures

CSLR lectures are available as webcasts on this site and through iTunes U. They also can be ordered on DVD. View Lectures

iTunes Logo

iTunes U

Emory and CSLR digital assets are available via iTunes...for free

Connect Now

Berman Lecture to focus on natural law

The Center for the Study of Law and Religion will host a panel on natural law as its 2015 Harold J. Berman Lecture. The panel, “Reason and... Read More

Latest Headlines