Why so many rules? Thinking about the reasons and consequences of legalistic approaches to religious ethics

Rules are a feature of many religious (and non-religious) ethical traditions, although they are not the only possible approach to shaping religious and ethical commitment. (Role models are another obvious example.) Some traditions take this ‘ruly’ approach very far indeed. The sheer volume and complexity of the legalistic accounts of religious obligation in the Islamic, Jewish and Catholic Christian traditions is striking, for example. But why so many rules? And what are the consequences of having so many religious rules, both for the individual believer and for the community within which they live? This paper will focus on Islamic legal discourse (fiqh) and outline some possible answers to those questions from a social scientific perspective.


Dr Morgan Clarke (University of Oxford)