Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Blasphemy, Cultural Divergence and Legal Relativism"

Clive Unsworth, Blasphemy, Cultural Divergence and Legal Relativism, 58 Mod. L. Rev. 658 (1995).

Unsworth's article examines the place of blasphemy in a country (England) that has undergone profound shifts in its cultural and legal landscape since the offence originally became part of the common law. The article explores whether "blasphemy" is still a relevant legal concept in a country that is becoming increasingly multicultural and less tied to a shared vision of morality as embodied in an established church. The link between blasphemy, sedition, and nationalism are explored at some length. For example, Unsworth argues that "[t]his affinity with sedition underlines the function of the law of blasphemy in securing a politico-religious governmental order, an institutional and symbolic church-state unity which is still of fundamental importance in investing the state with a transcendant . . . form of moral authority in its dealings with transgression." (p. 664) The article goes on to examine three cases that revealed the place of blasphemy in England: the Lemon case, the Rushdie affair, and the proceedings over the censorship of the film Visions of Ecstasy. The article is written in a style that could be called "high academic", and thus, some passages are difficult to follow, but here and there some very interesting points are made.

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