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More than 1,200 “religious progressives” from across the United States gathered in Berkeley, Calif., this summer to begin building an organization for the spiritual and religious left. Dubbed the Network of Spiritual Progressives, the new organization seeks to challenge not only religious conservatives but America’s materialistic culture and the anti-religious bias among secular liberals, the conference’s architect said.

”The monologue of the religious right is finally over,” said Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, a progressive organization of Christians based in Washington, D.C. Speakers at the July conference included Wallis, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Rep. Lynne Woolsey (D Calif.), Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, and about 35 other progressive religious leaders, activists, and intellectuals. A follow up conference is planned for Feb. 10-13 in Washington. (RNS)

The University of Toronto’s law school has hired two full-time professors to teach the institution’s first-ever courses in Shariah, or Islamic law. The move hits close to home in Ontario, which has been pondering whether to allow Shariah tribunals to settle private civil and family disputes between Muslims. The idea has been met with vocal protests, especially from Muslim women.

Shariah is being employed more and more outside the Muslim world, says Mohammad Fadel, who will incorporate Islamic legal precepts into his course in business law. “It is increasingly relevant, say, for commercial transactions in which you have Islamic investors, and they want the contracts to be compliant. It’s not something that’s so obscure.” Ontario’s attorney general is expected to decide this autumn whether to permit Shariah-based legal tribunals. A report issued earlier this year, after six months of research, recommended that religious law keep a place in family arbitration as long as safeguards are built in to protect women and children. (RNS)

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