Journal of Law and Religion
Milner Ball’s The Word and the Law has become a widely quoted work, and has already taken its place in the continuing tale of law and religion. The text presents itself in typical Ball fashion: richly and eloquently written, densely noted with weighty references, alive with stories and the voices of those with whom Ball has conversed.
A striking innovation in this book is Ball’s creation of a space in his text for the stories of those who are both his peers and not his peers, giving over the “pulpit” to women, edgy Jews, and Native Americans, all of whom are lower in the “pecking order” than Professor Ball. Deliberately, Ball starts with the concrete, the contextualized, the embedded narrative. He presents seven legal persons in their settings, constructing a social reality from their tales and beliefs, and coaxes from both his subjects and his readers admissions of faith. Ball goes to those with whom he studied and to literary texts alive with God-talk in order to weave his particular stories into the ongoing discourse of law and religion and law and literature.
Along the way, Ball recognizes his own inherited social construct among the voices he chooses to portray. With his strong, poetic prose, Ball manages to avoid the level, cold voice of the white male scholar, but he alerts the reader to the requirements of the genre, to the fact that this is, after all, a University of Chicago Press book that can only really smuggle in the story of a tribal court judge. So the text is presented as a book by Milner Ball, renowned legal scholar, and “only” begins and ends with the stories of the less privileged.
Emily Fowler Hartigan, The Word and the Law, by Milner S. Ball (book review), 16 J. L. & Religion 707 (2001).