Our vision owes much to the idealistic experience of the movements of the 1960s and begins with the belief that human beings are fundamentally motivated by more than material needs and economic interests.
The Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law, and Politics (PISLAP, pronounced pie-slap) is a nationwide network of lawyers, law professors, law students, legal workers, and others who are seeking to develop a new spiritually-informed approach to law and social change. We believe that human beings long to live in a world in which people can fully recognize and affirm each other's humanity and that law can help bring that world into being through new legal processes that foster empathy, compassion, and mutual understanding. This in turn requires a definition of justice that goes beyond what can be achieved through the clash of individual rights that characterizes the existing adversary system toward a vision of justice that is based on the healing of the alienation between self and other that is at the heart of so much social injustice and social conflict. To this end, we hold conferences, write books and articles, teach classes, have ongoing conference calls, and in other ways seek to support one another's efforts to create a new legal system that can help to heal and repair the world.
Our work can be divided broadly into these areas: Transforming legal education, transforming the lawyer-client relationship, participating in and supporting the worldwide movements toward Restorative Justice, Collaborative Law, and Transformative and Understanding-based Mediation, and transforming the practice of law itself through bringing a spiritual-activist component to everyday private law practice and to the provision of legal aid and public defender services.
The Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law, and Politics (PISLAP) emerged from a gathering of 1,800 social activists who attended the first “Politics of Meaning” conference in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1996. This conference grew out of the work of Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, and Peter Gabel, law professor and PISLAP co-chair, and was based on the idea that progressive social change required a new vision of human beings—one based not only on people’s material economic needs but also on our common spiritual longing to live in a loving and socially connected society in which we could fully recognize and affirm one another’s humanity. At that conference, 50 of us who were lawyers and law professors, law students and legal workers, first came together to form what initially became the “Law Task Force” of the new Politics of Meaning movement to seek to bring this new spiritually-informed vision of social and legal activism into existence.
This Law Task force came together at the Marconi Conference Center the summer following the 1996 conference, and subsequently a core group of us from across the country met monthly by conference call to plan our ongoing to agenda to build a new movement within law. Founding core-group members included a corporate lawyer disaffected with the profit-driven nature of traditional corporate practice, a law professor who believed legal education required a fundamental transformation away from the current amoral training in how to make rational arguments for any position and toward a morally-grounded conception of law and justice, a legal services lawyer wanting to broaden what the provision of justice for the poor meant besides access to minimal material benefits, a prosecutor seeking approaches to crime and social violence that could heal communities rather than simply punish individuals, and a patent lawyer looking for collaborative approaches to the practice of law that would avoid the mistrust and antagonism of adversarial litigation and foster trust, cooperation, and a positive mediation of differences among both lawyers and clients.
Over the next five years, the Law Task Force continued to meet and began to produce both presentations and writings emphasizing the need to transform the existing legal system and to change the values in private and public law to include a more holistic vision of socially just conduct. Task Force members who were also legal educators put on several panel discussions at subsequent Politics of Meaning conferences and at law schools linking legal education to the creation of a just, sacred, and sustainable world. Task force practitioners held similar public gatherings focusing on shifting the ethical focus of the legal profession from a narrowly defined conception of client self-interest toward a conception that would reconcile the needs of clients with social responsibility, ecological awareness, and the creation of a communal, socially connected world.
In the summer of 2001, the Law Task Force transformed itself into the independent Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law, and Politics, when a nucleus of the Task Force gathered with a newer group of lawyers and teachers for the first of two annual retreats to synthesize the work of previous years in the creation of a new nonprofit organization. Under the leadership of Peter Gabel, who was then president of New College of California and a professor at New College’s nationally renowned public-interest law school, and Nanette Schorr, a legal services attorney practicing in the Bronx, our newly formed independent nonprofit held a series of national gatherings in the Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta, and New York areas, wrote magazine and law review articles, and conducted panels in contexts such as the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) to broaden awareness of the work of the work we had started five years earlier, with the goal of increasing our membership, and also strengthening our own ideas through contact with others in the legal profession who were also experimenting with new forms of practice linking social justice with the creation of a just and beloved community--case by case, practice by practice, community by community.
In recent years we have begun to have a substantial impact, with our members serving as as judges in Minneapolis and New York City, and as leaders in such innovative law practices as The Georgia Justice Project and Bronx Legal Services, in law projects like Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and in law schools such as City University of New York, the University of San Francisco, and Touro Law School.
We are looking forward to a series of annual conferences to bring our national community together to share our ideas and experience, with the first held this past fall on October 18-20, 2013, at CUNY Law School in New York City.
The philosophy of the Project derives from a developing vision of the nature of both human reality and of social transformation that originated primarily in the work of Peter Gabel and Rabbi Michael Lerner, expressed in their books and articles, and in the Politics of Meaning movement that they initiated in 1996 and is now manifested in the nationwide Network of Spiritual Progressives (see www.spiritualprogressives.org). This vision owes much to the idealistic experience of the movements of the 1960s and begins with the belief that human beings are fundamentally motivated by more than material needs and economic interests. Our view is that as much as the need for food and shelter, every person longs for an authentic connection to others through which people’s essential spiritual goodness and loving capacities can be recognized, affirmed, and socially validated. In order to bring such a world into existence, those who pursue progressive social change must shake off the constraint of thinking solely in terms of economic and political inequality and focus more deeply on developing a healing-centered paradigm that addresses the pervasive alienation and isolation that underlies the spiritual distortions in social relations that in turn lead to economic and political injustice.
This pervasive alienation and fear of the Other is only reinforced by our existing legal system. Rather than seeking to address and attempting to heal what divides us in our society, our adversarial model only reinforces the climate of mistrust, self-interest, and materialism that blocks the creation of a loving and caring world. The Project’s members share the conviction that law and legal culture could and should be a central public arena for fostering empathy and understanding through the healing of conflict, and for reawakening a sense of the sacredness all human beings and of the natural world in the process. By seeking to make manifest this profound experience of mutual recognition and affirmation in public space, and by linking such authentic recognition with the very definition of what constitutes justice, we believe law can come to serve as an important moral force in elevating social awareness of the kind of world we all at a deep level truly aspire to.
Our work means to call upon the legal profession to develop and strengthen its role as a helping profession, to see itself as a calling with a moral direction rather than a trade for sale to the highest bidder, and to provide a moral presence for our clients in their own decision making about what courses of action to pursue in cases in which we, as their lawyers, act as their public spokespersons and advisors. This requires lawyers to take affirmative steps to dispel perceptions that they act as technocrats who manipulate rules in the service of their own and their client’s narrow self-interest, and instead to engage in methods of conflict resolution that facilitate healing and reduce the perpetuation of destructive behavior. It also requires our professions to deepen the ethical content of legal education, to redefine the working ethics of the profession, and to humanize both the content of law and the conduct of legal proceedings so as to promote truth-telling, compassion, reconciliation, and responsibility for the well-being of the other, as well as the self.
Members of the Project have come to share in this vision from both the spiritual and political worlds. Some came to realize with the collapse of socialism as the dominant universalist metaphor for community that a spiritual turn, a turn toward connecting the inner and the outer, was what was needed to advance the high and hopeful ideals that socialism so long stood for as a symbol throughout the world but lacked the vision and spiritual depth to manifest in reality. Others came less from a political background than from spiritual and religious intuitions, affiliations, and/or communities in which the deep inner longings of the human soul provided the main point of reference for their aspirations for new more spiritually aware legal culture. Still others wish to advance the vision of a just society that they have felt underlies the traditional liberal ideals expressed historically in documents like the Declaration of Independence, with its eloquent vision of the self-evident truth that human beings are created equal and endowed by their Creator with the capacity for living a fulfilling and free existence. Within the PISLAP community, it is the blend of spiritual and political activism, and the cross-fertilization of the encounter between these two historically separated spheres of thought and community, that distinguishes our group from virtually all other movements within law. Our aim is to develop a legal theory and practice that unites the spiritual and the political and seeks to bring about a transformation of legal culture that can best advance the creation of a loving, just, and socially connected world.
If we had to express in a single sentence the philosophical orientation that guides our work, it would be that legal culture must transform itself to become worthy of Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s statement that “Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.”
our members' Work
- The Affective Assistance of Counsel: Practicing Law as a Healing Profession, by Marjorie Silver, Touro Law Center
- A Spiritual Way of Seeing, by Peter Gabel, TIKKUN Magazine
- Beyond the Binary: Restorative Justice as Liberatory Practice, by sujatha baliga
- Evolution of Law by J. Kim Wright
- Science Meets Spirituality - The Case Against Divorce Courts, by Bruce Peterson, Hennepin Cty. Family Court
- Foster Care and the Politics of Compassion, by Nanette Schorr, Legal Services Bronx
- A New Ethics for Lawyers, by Perry Saidman, Saidman Design Law Group