Around the Web this Week

Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

Hart, “Kingdoms of God”

This October, Indiana University Press will release “Kingdoms of God” by Kevin Hart (University of Virginia).  The publisher’s description follows:

Kingdoms of GodWhat did Jesus mean by the expression, the Kingdom of God? As an answer, Kevin Hart sketches a “phenomenology of the Christ” that explores the unique way Jesus performs phenomenology. According to Hart, philosophers and theologians continually reinterpret Jesus’s teaching of the Kingdom so that there are effectively many Kingdoms of God. Working in, while also displacing, a tradition inaugurated by Husserl and continued by philosophers such as Heidegger, Marion, and Lacoste, Hart puts forward a new phenomenology of religion that claims that ethics and religion are not always unified or continuous.

Nirenberg, “Neighboring Faiths”

This October, University of Chicago Press will release “Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today” by David Nirenberg (University of Chicago).  The publisher’s description follows:

Neighboring FaithsChristianity, Judaism, and Islam are usually treated as autonomous religions, but in fact across the long course of their histories the three religions have developed in interaction with one another. In Neighboring Faiths, David Nirenberg examines how Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived with and thought about each other during the Middle Ages and what the medieval past can tell us about how they do so today.

There have been countless scripture-based studies of the three “religions of the book,” but Nirenberg goes beyond those to pay close attention to how the three religious neighbors loved, tolerated, massacred, and expelled each other—all in the name of God—in periods and places both long ago and far away. Nirenberg argues that the three religions need to be studied in terms of how each affected the development of the others over time, their proximity of religious and philosophical thought as well as their overlapping geographies, and how the three “neighbors” define—and continue to define—themselves and their place in terms of one another. From dangerous attractions leading to interfaith marriage; to interreligious conflicts leading to segregation, violence, and sometimes extermination; to strategies for bridging the interfaith gap through language, vocabulary, and poetry, Nirenberg aims to understand the intertwined past of the three faiths as a way for their heirs to produce the future—together.

“Orthodox Christianity in Imperial Russia: A Source Book on Lived Religion” (Coleman ed.)

This month, Indiana University Press is releasing “Orthodox Christianity in Imperial Russia: A Source Book on Lived Religion” edited by Heather J. Coleman (University of Alberta). The publisher’s description follows:

From sermons and clerical reports to personal stories of faith, this book of translated primary documents reveals the lived experience of Orthodox Christianity in 19th- and early 20th-century Russia. These documents allow us to hear the voices of educated and uneducated writers, of clergy and laity, nobles and merchants, workers and peasants, men and women, Russians and Ukrainians. Orthodoxy emerges here as a multidimensional and dynamic faith. Beyond enhancing our understanding of Orthodox Christianity as practiced in Imperial Russia, this thoughtfully edited volume offers broad insights into the relationship between religious narrative and social experience and reveals religion’s central place in the formation of world views and narrative traditions.

Froese, “California Mennonites”

In October, John Hopkins University Press will release “California Mennonites” by Brian Froese (Canadian Mennonite University). The publisher’s description follows:

Books about Mennonites have centered primarily on the East Coast and the Midwest, where the majority of Mennonite communities in the United States are located. But these narratives neglect the unique history of the multitude of Mennonites living on the West Coast. In California Mennonites, Brian Froese relies on archival church records to examine the Mennonite experience in the Golden State, from the nineteenth-century migrants who came in search of sunshine and fertile soil to the traditionally agrarian community that struggled with issues of urbanization, race, gender, education, and labor in the twentieth century to the evangelically oriented, partially assimilated Mennonites of today.

Froese places Mennonite experiences against a backdrop of major historical events, including World War II and Vietnam, and social issues, from labor disputes to the evolution of mental health care. California Mennonites include people who embrace a range of ideologies: many are historically rooted in the sixteenth-century Reformation ideals of the early Anabaptists (pacifism, congregationalism, discipleship); some embrace twentieth-century American evangelicalism (missions, Billy Graham); and others are committed to a type of social justice that involves forging practical ties to secular government programs while maintaining a quiet connection to religion.

Through their experiences of religious diversity, changing demographics, and war, California Mennonites have wrestled with complicated questions of what it means to be American, Mennonite, and modern. This book—the first of its kind—will appeal to historians and religious studies scholars alike.

“Religious Education and the Challenge of Pluralism” (Seligman ed.)

This October, Oxford University Press will release “Religious Education and the Challenge of Pluralism” edited by Adam B. Seligman (Boston University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religious Education and the Challenge of PluralismThe essays in this volume offer a groundbreaking comparative analysis of religious education, and state policies towards religious education in seven different countries and in the European Union as a whole. They pose a crucial question: can religious education contribute to a shared public sphere and foster solidarity across different ethnic and religious communities?

In many traditional societies and even in what are largely secular European societies, our place in creation, the meaning of good and evil, and the definition of the good life, virtue, and moral action, are all primarily addressed in religious terms. It is in fact hard to come to grips with these issues without recourse to religious language, traditions, and frames of reference. Yet, religious languages and identities divide as much as unite, and provide a site of contestation and strife as much as a sense of peace and belonging Not surprisingly, different countries approach religious education in dramatically different ways. Religious Education and the Challenge of Pluralism addresses a pervasive problem: how can religious education provide a framework of meaning, replete with its language of inclusion and community, without at the same time drawing borders and so excluding certain individuals and communities from its terms of collective membership and belonging?

The authors offer in-depth analysis of such pluralistic countries as Bulgaria, Israel, Malaysia, and Turkey, as well as Cyprus – a country split along lines of ethno-religious difference. They also examine the connection between religious education and the terms of citizenship in the EU, France, and the USA, illuminating the challenges of educating our citizenry in an age of religious resurgence and global politics.

Lapidus, “A History of Islamic Societies”

This September, Cambridge University Press will release a new edition of “A History of Islamic Societies” by Ira M. Lapidus (University of California, Berkeley).  The publisher’s description follows:

A History of Islamic SocietiesThis new edition of one of the most widely used course books on Islamic civilizations around the world has been substantially revised to incorporate the new scholarship and insights of the last twenty-five years. Ira Lapidus’ history explores the beginnings and transformations of Islamic civilizations in the Middle East and details Islam’s worldwide diffusion. The history is divided into four parts. Part I is a comprehensive account of pre-Islamic late antiquity; the beginnings of Islam; the early Islamic empires; and Islamic religious, artistic, legal and intellectual cultures. Part II deals with the construction in the Middle East of Islamic religious communities and states to the fifteenth century. Part III includes the history to the nineteenth century of Islamic North Africa and Spain; the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires; and other Islamic societies in Asia and Africa. Part IV accounts for the impact of European commercial and imperial domination on Islamic societies and traces the development of the modern national state system and the simultaneous Islamic revival from the early nineteenth century to the present.

The Death of the Divine Augustus

blessedToday is the 2000th anniversary of the death of Caesar Augustus. For anyone who has ever seen it, the Divine Augustus will always be associated with Brian Blessed’s portrayal of him (left) in the BBC adaptation of the wonderful Robert Graves novels, I, Claudius and Claudius the God. And so, to commemorate the day, here’s a snippet of dialogue, on a law and religion theme, which captures the charming, cynical urbanity of the series. For those of us nerds of a certain sort, it’s a real guilty pleasure. I’m sure the whole thing is available on Netflix. Watch it — or, better yet, read the books!

[Herod and Augustus are watching a gladiatorial contest.]
Augustus: Herod, what about a little bet? I’ll take the fat one for twenty gold pieces.
Herod: Caesar, it would be against my religion to bet on the life of a man.
Augustus: Oh, really? I would have thought it against your religion to bet on anything.
Herod: Caesar, it’s true: Jews love gambling. But we fear our god more.
Augustus: Which one?
Herod: We have only one, Caesar.
Augustus: I’ve never understood that, it’s quite insufficient. Why don’t you take some of our gods? You know, plenty of people do.
Herod: Believe me, Caesar, the one we have is hard enough to live with.

 

 

Movsesian Lecture at Houston’s Lanier Library (Sept. 6)

For readers in the neighborhood, I’m delighted to say that I’ll be giving a lecture, “Religious Freedom for Mideast Christians, Yesterday and Today,” at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston on Saturday, September 6:

Recently, in a city in Syria, an Islamist group imposed on Christian citizens the dhimma, the traditional “agreement” governing relations with Christians in Islamic law. According to the dhimma, Christians are tolerated as long as they pay a special tax and agree to abide by restrictions on worship and other public behavior. The dhimma governed Christians for centuries, but was abolished 150 years ago, when Mideast countries generally adopted Western models of religious equality. Its reappearance in Syria today has sent a chilling message to Christians throughout the region.

In this lecture, Professor Mark Movsesian, Director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University in New York, will discuss the religious freedom concerns of Christians in the Mideast. He will explore the historical treatment of Christians and describe the situation today. Inparticular, he will explain the current threats to Christians and explain why some observers believe the Christian communities of the Mideast are going through one of the worst periods of persecution in their history.

Details are here. Stop by and say hello!

Pope Francis on the Crisis in Iraq

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013In an airborne press conference on the way back from Korea yesterday, Pope Francis addressed the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Iraq. In response to a question about the American bombing of ISIS targets, the Holy Father made three important points. One, unfortunately, was not helpful.

First, the Pope said, under Just War theory, it is “licit” for third parties to intervene in order to “stop” the “unjust aggression” by ISIS. Pope Francis emphasized that he did not endorse bombing, specifically, but action to stop ISIS generally. Second, the decision how best to deal with ISIS must be made by nations acting together in consultation, at the United Nations. Consultation is necessary, he said, in order to prevent any one nation–implicitly, the United States–from succumbing to the temptation to become an occupying force.

There isn’t very much danger of the US seeking to occupy Iraq at this stage, frankly. If anything, Americans in 2014 are disposed to avoid the region altogether. But the Pope’s statements are consistent with Just War theory and entirely appropriate. And perhaps Pope Francis feels justified in offering an oblique criticism of the US, which ignored his predecessor’s plea to get UN approval for the 2003 Iraq invasion, and reaped the consequences.

The Pope seems to have gone a little astray, though, in his third point. Responding to a question about religious minorities, including Catholics, he said this:

Secondly, you mentioned the minorities. Thanks for that word because they talk to me about the Christians, the poor Christians. It’s true, they suffer. The martyrs, there are many martyrs. But here there are men and women, religious minorities, not all of them Christian, and they are all equal before God.

Pope Francis is right that minorities other than Christians are suffering in Iraq. And Christians would not object to the idea that God loves all people equally, Christians and non-Christians. But the implication of the Pope’s statement– at least in the way his remarks have been translated and transcribed–is that the suffering of Christians gets disproportionate attention, and that it’s necessary to widen the focus to make sure other groups are not forgotten.

With great respect, this misstates the situation. The danger is not that the outside world pays too much attention to Christian suffering, but too little. The media routinely downplays that suffering, notwithstanding the fact that Christians–as Pope Francis himself recently stated–suffer the greatest share of religious persecution in the world today. As for the great powers, they typically look the other way. The United States, for example, did absolutely nothing to help the 100,000 Christian refugees displaced by ISIS in recent weeks, but sent in helicopters to distribute relief to 40,000 Yazidis.

As I say, the transcript may not fairly reflect the sense of Pope Francis’s remarks. Transcripts do not capture inflections. But many in the media will no doubt seize on the  remarks to justify their comparative inattention to Christian suffering. That would be most unfortunate. Although non-Christians are surely suffering in Iraq, and although it’s entirely appropriate to remember and help them, there is nothing wrong with stressing the suffering of Christians, especially when one is Pope. Unless people speak out, continually, there is a grave danger that Iraq’s Christians will simply be forgotten.