“Religion and American Cultures: Tradition, Diversity, and Popular Expression” (Laderman & León eds.)

In December, ABC-CLIO will release the second edition of “Religion and American Cultures: Tradition, Diversity, and Popular Expression,” edited by Gary Laderman (Emory University) and Luis León (University of Denver). The publisher’s description follows:

This four-volume work provides a detailed, multicultural survey of established as well as “new” American religions and investigates the fascinating interactions between religion and ethnicity, gender, politics, regionalism, ethics, and popular culture.

This revised and expanded edition of Religion and American Cultures: Tradition, Diversity, and Popular Expression presents more than 140 essays that address contemporary spiritual practice and culture with a historical perspective. The entries cover virtually every religion in modern-day America as well as the role of religion in various aspects of U.S. culture. Readers will discover that Americans aren’t largely Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish anymore, and that the number of popular religious identities is far greater than many would imagine. And although most Americans believe in a higher power, the fastest growing identity in the United States is the “nones”—those Americans who elect “none” when asked about their religious identity—thereby demonstrating how many individuals see their spirituality as something not easily defined or categorized.

The first volume explores America’s multicultural communities and their religious practices, covering the range of different religions among Anglo-Americans and Euro-Americans as well as spirituality among Latino, African American, Native American, and Asian American communities. The second volume focuses on cultural aspects of religions, addressing topics such as film, Generation X, public sacred spaces, sexuality, and new religious expressions. The new third volume expands the range of topics covered with in-depth essays on additional topics such as interfaith families, religion in prisons, belief in the paranormal, and religion after September 11, 2001. The fourth volume is devoted to complementary primary source documents.

“Atheism and Deism Revalued: Heterodox Religious Identities in Britain, 1650-1800″ (Hudson et al. eds.)

In December, Ashgate Publishing will release “Atheism and Deism Revalued: Heterodox Religious Identities in Britain, 1650-1800” edited by Wayne Hudson (Charles Sturt University), Diego Lucci (American University in Bulgaria), and Jeffrey R. Wigelsworth (Red Deer College). The publisher’s description follows:

Given the central role played by religion in early-modern Britain, it is perhaps surprising that historians have not always paid close attention to the shifting and nuanced subtleties of terms used in religious controversies. In this collection particular attention is focussed upon two of the most contentious of these terms: ‘atheism’ and ‘deism’, terms that have shaped significant parts of the scholarship on the Enlightenment.

This volume argues that in the seventeenth and eighteenth century atheism and deism involved fine distinctions that have not always been preserved by later scholars. The original deployment and usage of these terms were often more complicated than much of the historical scholarship suggests. Indeed, in much of the literature static definitions are often taken for granted, resulting in depictions of the past constructed upon anachronistic assumptions.

Offering reassessments of the historical figures most associated with ‘atheism’ and ‘deism’ in early modern Britain, this collection opens the subject up for debate and shows how the new historiography of deism changes our understanding of heterodox religious identities in Britain from 1650 to 1800. It problematises the older view that individuals were atheist or deists in a straightforward sense and instead explores the plurality and flexibility of religious identities during this period. Drawing on the most recent scholarship, the volume enriches the debate about heterodoxy, offering new perspectives on a range of prominent figures and providing an overview of major changes in the field.

Rappaport on Common Law Constitutionalism

Professor Michael Rappaport has a really neat post about common law rights that are constitutionalized, and how one should interpret such rights. The post is particularly interesting for me because in my constitutional theory seminar, we are in between two classes that consider, respectively, the role of tradition and historical practice in constitutional interpretation, and the relationship between precedent and interpretive theory. But as Professor James Stoner has shown, there are many textual features of the Constitution that use terms rooted in common law understandings. What are the interpretive possibilities in such cases; what happens to a common law right that has been constitutionalized? Rappaport sets out 3 options:

1. Static: When the common law right is constitutionalized, it becomes fully frozen, as if it were written law. To determine the meaning of the right, one looks to the common law in 1789. The existing decisions regarding the common law constitute the full meaning of the right.

2. Dynamic: Although the common law right was written into the Constitution, it did not change its character. Instead, it remains as flexible as a common law right. Under this interpretation, one might see something like the living constitution view in the Constitution.

3. Intermediate: When the common law right was constitutionalized, it changed its character, but it did not become fully frozen as if it were written law. Under this view, one treats the right as a common law right as of the time it was enacted, but does not give it a dynamic effect with changing circumstances.

It is not surprising that Professor Rappaport ends up opting for choice #3, because this choice maps neatly on his general interpretive defense (with Professor John McGinnis) of original methods originalism! See the post for his reasons. What is of special interest to me is the extent to which the Constitution depends upon common law terminology and common law ideas. For this, you really can’t do better than Professor Stoner’s work. But I suspect there is much more to be done in that area. In fact, sometimes I wonder whether anybody has ever reviewed the English experience with the term “establishment of religion” in the centuries before the Constitution’s drafting (surely someone has).

Conference at Catholic University: “The Relationship between Religious and Economic Liberty”

On November 10, 2014, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty will hold a day-long conference entitled “The Relationship between Religious & Economic Liberty in an Age of Expanding Government.” The conference is hosted by the Catholic University of America.

Throughout Western developed nations, there is dawning recognition that robust protections for religious liberty can no longer be taken for granted. Less understood are the ways in which infringements of other political, civil and commercial forms of freedom can subtly undermine religious liberty: but also vice-versa. Businesses and other institutions of civil society now need to consider how the restrictions of religious freedom by governments throughout the Western world is likely to affect them. What then is the relationship of religious liberty to other expressions of freedom?

Details can be found here.

Smith, “The First Great Awakening”

This December, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers will release “The First Great Awakening: Redefining Religion in British America, 1725-1775” by John Howard Smith (Texas A&M University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The First Great Awakening, an unprecedented surge in Protestant Christian revivalism in the Eighteenth Century, sparked enormous of controversy at the time and has been a source of scholarly debate ever since. Few historians have sought to write a synthetic history of the First Great Awakening, and in recent decades it has been challenged as having happened at all, being either an exaggeration or an “invention.” The First Great Awakening expands the movement’s geographical, theological, and sociopolitical scope. Rather than focus exclusively on the clerical elites, as earlier studies have done, it deals with them alongside ordinary people, and includes the experiences of women, African Americans, and Indians as the observers and participants they were. It challenges prevailing scholarly opinion concerning what the revivals were and what they meant to the formation of American religious identity and culture.

Özyürek, “Being German, Becoming Muslim”

This December, Princeton University Press will release “Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion, and Conversion in the New Europe” by Esra Özyürek (London School of Economics).  The publisher’s description follows:

Being German Becoming MuslimEvery year more and more Europeans, including Germans, are embracing Islam. It is estimated that there are now up to one hundred thousand German converts—a number similar to that in France and the United Kingdom. What stands out about recent conversions is that they take place at a time when Islam is increasingly seen as contrary to European values. Being German, Becoming Muslim explores how Germans come to Islam within this antagonistic climate, how they manage to balance their love for Islam with their society’s fear of it, how they relate to immigrant Muslims, and how they shape debates about race, religion, and belonging in today’s Europe.

Esra Özyürek looks at how mainstream society marginalizes converts and questions their national loyalties. In turn, converts try to disassociate themselves from migrants of Muslim-majority countries and promote a denationalized Islam untainted by Turkish or Arab traditions. Some German Muslims believe that once cleansed of these accretions, the Islam that surfaces fits in well with German values and lifestyle. Others even argue that being a German Muslim is wholly compatible with the older values of the German Enlightenment.

Being German, Becoming Muslim provides a fresh window into the connections and tensions stemming from a growing religious phenomenon in Germany and beyond.

Narayanan, “Religion, Heritage and the Sustainable City: Hinduism and Urbanisation in Jaipur”

This month, Routledge Publishing releases “Religion, Heritage and the Sustainable City: Hinduism and Urbanisation in Jaipur” by Yamini Narayanan (Deakin University). The publisher’s description follows:

The speed and scale of urbanisation in India is unprecedented almost anywhere in the world and has tremendous global implications. The religious influence on the urban experience has resonances for all aspects of urban sustainability in India and yet it remains a blind spot while articulating sustainable urban policy.

This book explores the historical and on-going influence of religion on urban planning, design, space utilisation, urban identities and communities. It argues that the conceptual and empirical approaches to planning sustainable cities in India need to be developed out of analytical concepts that define local sense of place and identity. Examining how Hindu religious heritage, beliefs and religiously influenced planning practices have impacted on sustainable urbanisation development in Jaipur and Indian cities in general, the book identifies the challenges and opportunities that ritualistic and belief resources pose for sustainability. It focuses on three key aspects: spatial segregation and ghettoisation; gender-inclusive urban development; and the nexus between religion, nature and urban development.

This cutting-edge book is one of the first case studies linking Hindu religion, heritage, urban development, women and the environment in a way that responds to the realities of Indian cities. It opens up discussion on the nexus of religion and development, drawing out insightful policy implications for the sustainable urban planning of many cities in India and elsewhere in South Asia and the developing world.

“Pluralism and Democracy in India: Debating the Hindu Right” (Doniger & Nussbaum, eds.)

In December, Oxford University Press will release “Pluralism and Democracy in India: Debating the Hindu Right”  edited by Wendy Doniger and Martha C. Nussbaum (both from the University of Chicago). The publisher’s description follows:

Wendy Doniger and Martha Nussbaum bring together leading scholars from a wide array of disciplines to address a crucial question: How does the world’s most populous democracy survive repeated assaults on its pluralistic values? India’s stunning linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity has been supported since Independence by a political structure that emphasizes equal rights for all, and protects liberties of religion and speech. But a decent Constitution does not implement itself, and challenges to these core values repeatedly arise-most recently in the form of the Hindu Right movements of the twenty-first century that threatened to destabilize the nation and upend its core values, in the wake of a notorious pogrom in the state of Gujarat in which approximately 2000 Muslim civilians were killed.

Focusing on this time of tension and threat, the essays in this volume consider how a pluralistic democracy managed to survive. They examine the role of political parties and movements, including the women’s movement, as well as the role of the arts, the press, the media, and a historical legacy of pluralistic thought and critical argument. Featuring essays from eminent scholars in history, religious studies, political science, economics, women’s studies, and media studies, Pluralism and Democracy in India offers an urgently needed case study in democratic survival. As Nehru said of India on the eve of Independence: ”These dreams are for India, but they are also for the world.” The analysis this volume offers illuminates not only the past and future of one nation, but the prospects of democracy for all.

Kobani, Then and Now

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Kobani, Syria, Last Weekend

For the past several weeks, the world has been watching Kobani (in Kurdish, Kobanê), a small city on the Syrian-Turkish border. In September, militants from ISIS, the Sunni Islamist group that has declared a restored caliphate in the Middle East, laid siege to the city, which is mostly Kurdish and currently in the hands of the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish group that opposes the Assad government. Kobani’s strategic significance is debatable, but the city has symbolic importance, and its fall would be a huge morale boost for ISIS. Consequently, the US has instituted a bombing campaign to push ISIS back. As of this weekend, the siege was at a standstill.

A bewildering set of parties is involved. In addition to the two main antagonists, ISIS and the YPG, there are the Iraqi Kurds – who, unlike the YPG, do not have good relations with the PKK, the Kurdish militants who seek to establish a homeland in Turkey – the Free Syrian Army, part of the “moderate” secular opposition to Assad; the Assad regime itself; the Iraqi government; regional powers like Turkey and Iran; and the international anti-ISIS coalition, led by the US. Each of these parties has its own interests to protect, which makes cooperation very difficult. Most observers think the city will fall unless outsiders supply substantial ground troops. That seems unlikely. Although Turkey last week said it would open its border and allow some Iraqi Kurdish fighters, as well as members of the Free Syrian Army, to reinforce Kobani, it’s not clear whether that will occur.

One group that does not have a significant representation in Kobani is Christians. This is ironic, because Kobani was in fact founded by Christians during the last great wave of persecution in the region, about 100 years ago. In the wake of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, an ethnic-cleansing campaign that killed millions of Armenians and other Christians in the Ottoman Empire, Armenian refugees established a village near a recently-built train station on the Baghdad Railway, at a place called Ayn al-Arab in the Aleppo Province. The Kurds came later and called the village “Kobani,” apparently after the German company that had built the railway.

The Turks pushed many of Kobani’s Armenians further south. Those who avoided deportation built churches and schools in Kobani, but most eventually decided to move on, to other cities in Syria or to Soviet Armenia. Doubtless, many of them wished to leave a place with so many bad memories. According to political scientist Cengiz Aktar of the Istanbul Policy Center, the area surrounding Kobani is known as “‘the Armenian cemetery’ because of the thousands of Armenians who died there during the deportations. It was a terrible place when the Armenians arrived back then, and the area has a tragic history. It is being repeated now.”

Hardly anyone today remembers the Christian presence in Kobani. I didn’t know the story, myself, until a friend said his grandfather, one of the refugees, once had a shop there. The churches are gone. New humanitarian disasters succeed the ones of 100 years ago; history moves on. Still, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the great suffering that led to Kobani’s foundation, and the great suffering that continues there now. It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood.

Photo from CNN

Bergin, “The Politics of Religion in Early Modern France”

This November, Yale University Press will release “The Politics of Religion in Early Modern France” by Joseph Bergin (University of Manchester).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Politics of Religion in FranceRich in detail and broad in scope, this majestic book is the first to reveal the interaction of politics and religion in France during the crucial years of the long seventeenth century. Joseph Bergin begins with the Wars of Religion, which proved to be longer and more violent in France than elsewhere in Europe and left a legacy of unresolved tensions between church and state with serious repercussions for each. He then draws together a series of unresolved problems—both practical and ideological—that challenged French leaders thereafter, arriving at an original and comprehensive view of the close interrelations between the political and spiritual spheres of the time.

The author considers the powerful religious dimension of French royal power even in the seventeenth century, the shift from reluctant toleration of a Protestant minority to increasing aversion, conflicts over the independence of the Catholic church and the power of the pope over secular rulers, and a wealth of other interconnected topics.