The current research paper aims to explain how religions influenced the formation of laws in different countries and specifically demonstrate their interdependence in modern times. To adequately address the following question, various religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, will be considered. Moreover, particular attention will be paid to the influence of Islam on the creation of national legislation systems in countries of the Middle East. Concerning the outline of the paper, it will be divided into five parts. The first part will be devoted to a brief overview of the relationships between law and religions. The second, third, and fourth parts will consider Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism concerning laws formation and the current state of affairs. The last section will be focused on findings and a general answer to the research question.
Relationships Between Laws and Religion: An Overview
The relationships between laws and religion have a long history. Even though religion and laws can sometimes be seen as unconnected concepts, in reality, they are tightly connected and interdependent. As Barzilai (2007) states, “religion has essentially been embodied in modern legal systems, even in those that have aspired to privatize religion” (para. 2). Thus, the presence of religion can be founded in the Middle East, North and South America, Europe, and Asia.
It should be highlighted that the relationships between law and religion are relatively complicated, but the apparent influence of religious ideas on national laws is undeniable. According to Decimo (2018), “religious beliefs constitute central elements of the values that shape the rules, principles, rights, obligations, and institutions governing societies” (para. 5). Modern legal systems and social norms are deeply connected with different religions. Religious values are the basis that influenced national legislation and made them the way it can be seen today. It is obvious and can be clearly seen that religious ideas affect Islamic societies’ and some Eastern countries’ legal systems. Nevertheless, it is vital to mention that religions have impacted on modern Western countries’ laws as well (Decimo, 2018). For instance, current legislation in the Western world has its roots in religious concepts. Below a more in-depth look at it will be presented and discussed.
Religion and law have many similarities and connections, as the modern legal system has formed from religious doctrines. First of all, the region and law both focus on what people are not allowed to do, and how they will be punished if prohibited is violated. For example, in terms of crime and punishment concepts, legal systems in Western countries have much in common with “the Western religious concepts of sin, expiation, and purity” (“Law and religion: An overview,” 2020, para. 13). In both secular and spiritual worlds, breaking the established laws is seen as a violation of the existing order and lowering a person’s reputation (or losing purity in a religious context). To correct sin or violated state law, people are obliged to experience some kind of punishment or expiation. Religious laws and secular laws also imply sanctions in the earthly life, such as different sacrifices, expiations, and ascetic practices (“Law and religion: An overview”, 2020). Thus, the way both religion and national legislations set ‘the rules’ is structurally similar.
Secondly, religion and laws rely on a series of actions that they continually perform in different cases. Such rituals significantly differ from each other, but the central concept remains the same. Secular and religious organizations share structured organized forms, such as temples (in case of religion), courtrooms, specific events, and costumes. Both need the abovementioned rituals to ensure the implementation and monitoring of compliance with established ‘rules.’
To sum up, the connection and interdependence between religion and law are evident. Moreover, it is valid for both traditional and modern societies (as Western cultures). The formation of legislation in all countries has its roots in religious concepts and ideas. It can be seen in the structural parallels and many historical connections (“Law and religion: An overview,” 2020). In the current part of the paper, the primary focus was placed on the structural similarities of religion and law.
Christianity and Law in Modern Times
Christianity has been profoundly influencing the legal tradition throughout the past centuries. According to Witte and Alexander (2008), four significant changes in Western religious culture have resulted in fundamental shifts in the West’s legal system. The historical events include the following “the Christian conversion of the Roman Empire in the 4th through 6th centuries, the Papal Revolution of the late 11th to 13th centuries, the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, and the Enlightenment movements of the 18th and 19th centuries” (Witte & Alexander, 2008). In the current paper, attention is focused on the modern period.
The Enlightenment appeared to be a turning point for the Western legal tradition. It represents a series of different ideological movements in academic and social spheres in Western Europe and North America. Proponents of the Enlightenment changed the attitude to an individual: he or she was not anymore seen as a sinner trying to avoid God’s punishment. Every person was viewed as a personality with his or her own desires and rights to choose a path. The new perception of an individual has led to a transformed attitude towards national states. They were no longer connected with a church but instead relied on a constitution and a set of laws. As a result, Western legal systems acquired modern features: states’ influence was limited, and liberty became a value. Besides, new regulations regarding the private marketplace were developed, and discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and other attributes started to be considered as wrong.
Even though the new philosophy has gotten rid of traditional norms that came from Christian ideas, the contemporary Western legislation system has kept meaningful connections with Christianity and its concepts. The interdependence of religion and laws can be traced until modern days: they “continues to cross-over and cross-fertilize each other” (Witte & Alexander, 2008, p. 39). They share the ideas of the person and community, order and chaos, knowledge, and truth. Moreover, they rely on the concepts of written ‘laws,’ justice, and understanding of crime and punishment, and they have similar methodological principles. It remains clear that contemporary Western legal systems could not be entirely separated from religious ideas, even though they declare themselves as secular. Their basis, conceptual, and organizational structure have deeply rooted in the Christian tradition of thought.
Buddhism and Law in Modern Times
The current section will briefly present Buddhists’ view on society, truth, and justice, and then will concentrate on the influence of the religion on the modern legal systems. Buddhism and its impact on secular law have not yet been as deeply studied as Christianity’s and Islam’s (“Law and religion in Buddhism,” 2020). The religion’s main focus is on personal spiritual growth and a deep connection with the true nature of life. Buddhism’s central belief is reincarnation: people go through many cycles of birth, living, death, and rebirth.
Besides, the religious teaching stands on the three universal truths. The first one states that “nothing is lost in the universe,” meaning that no human action exists without consequences. People consist of their actions and what is around them. The second universal truth is that everything changes; nothing remains the same. It can be seen in nature, human behavior, and everything on the earth. The third truth sounds as “law of cause and effect,” meaning that every change happens by the law of cause and effect (“Following the Buddha’s footsteps,” n.d.). People receive what they deserved and earned by their actions, thoughts, and beliefs.
The influence of Buddhism in modern legal systems is not the same way evident if compared to the impact of Christianity on Western legislations. Moreover, as stated above, the topic has not been widely and deeply studied. However, the interaction between Buddhism and law can be seen in the religion’s principles and reasoning processes, practices and rituals, and values (“Following the Buddha’s footsteps,” n.d.). Legal systems in Buddhist cultures are impacted by the ideas of causation, Karma, community, intention, and others that are basic for the religion. It is notable that, for instance, the concept of Karma affects not only the laws systems itself but people’s cultural attitudes towards legal proceedings. Scholars refer to cases when injured parties (in Buddhist cultures) refused to sue accused parties, as they suppose an event occurred (theft, murder, or other violation of their rights) is the result of their actions in the past, and it is their punishment.
Islam and Law in Middle East countries
Islam and its impact on legislation in Middle East countries provoke continuous heated debates in academic and political circles. In the current section, a brief on the religion will be presented, and Sharia and its coexistence with modern law will be addressed. Sharia is a religious law that is fundamental to the Islamic tradition. It directs all areas of Muslim life, covering daily routine, familial relationships, religious obligations, and even financial questions. Sharia is delivered from the Quran and the Sunna that are the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed (Johnson & Sergie, 2014). Islam is relatively complex (as other religions) and has several different interpretations.
A comprehensive discussion over Islam and law cannot be held without mentioning political systems (alongside with legal). According to Johnson and Sergie (2014), Sharia has been included in political and legal systems in two primary ways. First of all, in the majority of Middle East countries, religion is an essential part of everyday life, and it shapes national laws. In this regard, a dual legal system was adopted in some parts of the region. It implies that the government is secular, but Muslims can deal with their familial and financial questions in special sharia courts. Usually under their jurisdictions are marriage, divorce, inheritance, and guardianship (Johnson & Sergie, 2014). Some countries, as Lebanon, have a mixed system, in which Sharia is incorporated into the existed colonial legal system.
Secondly, in countries of the Middle East where Islam is an official religion, Sharia is stated to be a source of the law. Thus, it is not allowed to implement laws that are directly opposing Islam. In the Middle East, these countries include Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia state uses one of Sharia’s strictest forms: women must be covered entirely in public places and be guarded by male relatives all the time. In other countries, as in the United Arab Emirates, the impact of Sharia is more moderate, however the country is guided by principles of Islam.
To sum up, Islam plays a crucial role in the modern legal systems of Middle East countries. The current position of religion is incomparable to the above discussion of Buddhism and Christianity. In most cases, Islam is the primary source of national legal systems. Moreover, some countries practice a dual legal system where Sharia is directly included in law enforcement. In brief, Islam has profoundly impacted the modern legal system of Middle East countries, but it continues to be directly involved in national legislation.
In the research paper, modern interdependence between religion and laws has been well illustrated. They are tightly connected, and their historical relationships are very complex. Moreover, current laws have their roots in religious ideas. Christianity is the most significant example of the state of affairs. Even though modern Western countries declare themselves as secular, they are deeply conceptually connected with religion. They share similar structures, methods, and even core values are, to some extent, coincide. Concerning the role of Buddhism, it is not as straightforward, as it might appear at first. The topic needs to be studied in greater depth to be addressed adequately. However, it can be clearly stated that legal systems in Buddhist cultures are impacted by religious ideas, including Karma, intention, community, and causation. The influence of Buddhism on the legal policy can be especially seen through people’s cultural attitudes towards legal proceedings.
Regarding Islam, religion has the highest and the most apparent impact on modern legal systems (in this case of Middle East countries) and other religions discussed in the paper. Islam is the direct source of law in most countries of the region. Some of them employed a dual legal system in which Sharia plays an essential role, and people can refer to special courts that consider familial and financial questions. Consequently, Islam has historically impacted law formation in the Middle East and remains an influential source of the legal systems.
In conclusion, the present research paper intended to demonstrate how religions influenced the formation of laws in different countries, focusing on its modern interdependence. The work placed the primary focus on addressing various religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. Special attention was paid to Islam and how it affected the creation of national legislation systems in Middle East countries with a particular focus on the current state of affairs. In brief, religion and law are deeply connected, and their relationships are relatively complicated. However, the modern laws’ resemblance to religious concepts is undeniable that demonstrates their interdependence, being precise legislation’s adaptation of spiritual laws. The research paper had proved the argument throughout the five parts and summarized it in the last section.
Barzilai, G. (2007). Law and religion. Ashgate.
Decimo, L. (2018). The relationship between religious law and modern legal systems: The case of religious jurisdictions. Calumet. Web.
Following the Buddha’s footsteps (n.d.). San Francisco State University. 2020. Web.
Johnson, T., & Sergie M. A. (2014). Islam: Governing under Sharia. Council on foreign relations. Web.
Law and religion: An overview (2020). Encyclopedia. Web.
Law and religion in Buddhism (2020). Encyclopedia. Web.
Witte, J., & Alexander, F. S. (2008). Christianity and law: An introduction. Cambridge University Press.