Friday, August 7, 2015

Tomlins on the Soterial-Legal History of the Turner Rebellion

Christopher Tomlins, University of California, Berkeley, Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program, has posted Debt, Death, and Redemption: Toward a Soterial-Legal History of the Turner Rebellion, which is forthcoming in Exploring the Legal in Socio-Legal Studies, ed. David S. Cowan and Dan Wincott (London: Palgrave-Macmillan 2016).
The objective in this essay is to question the conjunction “socio-legal,” resorted to routinely by law and society scholars who locate “law” in a determined/determining relationship to social “context.” Concretely, the essay examines the capacity of the socio-legal to assist us in explaining a particular incident in antebellum U.S. history, the Turner Rebellion, a slave revolt or “insurrection” that occurred in Southampton County, southeastern Virginia, in August 1831 by counterposing the agency of the soterial, which stands at about as stark a polar opposite to the social as it is possible to imagine. Soterial means salvific, pertaining to salvation, to the eschatology of redemption. If social connotes the profane, the world of the creature, the world of fallen humanity, where law reigns and justice is an afterthought, soterial connotes the sacral, beyond law, where justice is eternal. The question posed is which – the social or the soterial, empiricism or metaphysics – better helps us understand the Turner Rebellion? Which of them, in particular, unleashes from that incident the energy that might alter the way we understand American history and, not incidentally, the way we understand law?

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