Last month, Ashgate Publishing released “The Transformation of Politicised Religion: From Zealots into Leaders” edited by Harmut Elsenhans (University of Leipzig, Germany), Rachid Ouaissa (Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany), Sebastian Schwecke (University of Göttingen, Germany), and Mary Ann Tétreault (Trinity University, USA). The publisher’s description follows:
Including contributions from leading scholars from Algeria, France, Germany, India and the United States this book traces the rise and turn to moderation of the New Cultural Identitarian Political Movements, often labelled in the West as fundamentalists. Arguing that culturally based ideologies are often the instruments, rather than the motivating force though which segments of a rising middle strata challenge entrenched elites the expert contributors trace the rise of these movements to changes in their respective countries’ political economy and class structures. This approach explains why, as a result of an ongoing contestation and recreation of bourgeois values, the more powerful of these movements then tend towards moderation. As Western countries realise the need to engage with the more moderate wings of fundamentalist political groups their rationale and aims become of increasing importance and so academics, decision-makers and business people interested in South Asia and the Muslim world will find this an invaluable account.
This May, Brill Publishing will release “The Wahhabis seen through European Eyes (1772-1830): Deists and Puritans of Islam” by Giovanni Bonacina (University of Urbino). The publisher’s description follows:
In The Wahhabis seen through European Eyes (1772-1830) Giovanni Bonacina offers an account of the early reactions in Europe to the rise of the Wahhabi movement in Arabia. Commonly pictured nowadays as a form of Muslim fundamentalism, the Wahhabis appeared to many European witnesses as the creators of a deistic revolution with serious political consequences for the Ottoman ancien regime. They were seen either in the light of contemporary events in France, or as Islamic theological reformers in the mould of Calvin, opposing an established church and devotional traditions. These audacious but fascinating attempts to interpret the unknown by way of the better known are illustrated in Bonacina’s book.
This May, Ashgate Publishing will release “Shi’i Reformation in Iran: The Life and Theology of Shari’at Sangelaji” by Ali Rahnema (American University of Paris). The publisher’s description follows:
Shi ‘ism caught the attention of the world as Iran experienced her revolution in 1979 and was subsequently cast in the mold of a monolithic discourse of radical political Islam. The spokespersons of Shi’i Islam, in or out of power, have not been the sole representatives of the faith. Nonconformist and uncompromising, the Shi‘i jurist and reformist Shari’at Sangelaji (1891–1944) challenged certain popular Shi‘i beliefs and the mainstream clerical establishment, guarding and propagating it. In Shi’i Reformation in Iran, Ali Rahnema offers a fresh understanding of Sangelaji’s reformist discourse from a theological standpoint, and takes readers into the heart of the key religious debates in Iran in the 1940s. Exploring Sangelaji’s life, theological position and disputations, Rahnema demonstrates that far from being change resistant, debates around why and how to reform the faith have long been at the heart of Shi’i Islam.
Drawing on the writings and sermons of Sangelaji, as well as interviews with his son, the book provides a detailed and comprehensive introduction to the reformist’s ideas. As such it offers scholars of religion and Middle Eastern politics alike a penetrating insight into the impact that these ideas have had on Shi’ism—an impact which is still felt today.
Here’s an interesting story about an Italian controversy concerning the giving of a blessing at the public Giosuè Carducci Elementary School in Bologna in advance of Easter. Apparently there is an objection by a parent to the blessing that has generated a law suit against the school. In a lovely exemplar of the privatization of religion, the objecting parent opined, “Everything has a place, and the school is not the place for these blessings.” One wonders whether the public square is the place for San Petronio. And in a clear echo of the “endorsement test’s” concern for offended feelings and excluded sensibilities, there is this: “‘Is it fair that everyone has to see this, even if some students are Muslims, Buddhist or atheists?’ asked Adele Orioli, legal adviser to Italy’s Union of Atheists and Rationalistic Agnostics.” There is also some dispute among the school board members about where the blessing should be given, whether in a central garden location or instead in a less central (and probably danker and less sweet smelling) gymnasium. Finally, there is this from the Reverend Raffaele Buono, who oversees religious education in Bologna’s schools: “It is not a matter of faith. It is a matter of belonging to a tradition.” Must it really be either/or, Reverend Buono?
Welcome, Italy, to issues that have plagued the United States for the last quarter century! You had your first taste with Lautsi, but believe me when I tell you that these will be sources of limitless acrimony and contention for you. We over here are waiting with bated breath to see whether Bologna will be compelled to rip down its statues of San Petronio and house them in privately owned palestre. (parenthetically, Carducci himself (pictured), a late Risorgimento nationalist writer whose poetry I have generally found to be abominably pompous, would almost certainly have held the Christian blessing in the greatest contempt).
This month, Brill releases “Changes in Ethical Worldviews of Spanish Missionaries in Mexico” by Ran Tene (Hebrew University). The publisher’s description follows:
“Conversion” is a basic religious concept, which has manifold implications for our everyday lives. Ran Tene’s Changes in Ethical Worldviews of Spanish Missionaries in Mexico utilizes a cross-disciplinary methodology in which the fields of Philosophy, History, and Literary Studies are drawn upon to analyze conversion. He focuses on two moments in Spanish writing about Mexican missions, the early to mid-sixteenth century writings of the Spanish missionaries to Mexico and the early seventeenth century manuscripts of the author/copyist Fray Juan de Torquemada. The analysis exposes changes in worldviews – including the concepts of identity, ownership, and cruelty – through missionary eyes. It suggests two theoretical models – the vision model and the model of touch – to describe these changes, which are manifested in the missionary project and in the texts that it (re)produced.
This month, Edinburgh University Press releases “Obligation in Exile: The Jewish Diaspora, Israel and Critique” by Ilan Zvi Baron (Durham University). The publisher’s description follows:
Combining political theory and sociological interviews spanning four countries, Ilan Zvi Baron explores the Jewish Diaspora/Israel relationship and suggests that instead of looking at Diaspora Jews’ relationship with Israel as a matter of loyalty, it is one of obligation.
Baron develops an outline for a theory of transnational political obligation and, in the process, provides an alternative way to understand and explore the Diaspora/Israel relationship than one mired in partisan debates about whether or not being a good Jew means supporting Israel. He concludes by arguing that critique of Israel is not just about Israeli policy, but about what it means to be a Diaspora Jew.
The Library of Law and Liberty has posted my review of Gerard Russell’s Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, a new book on Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. Russell describes the history and present circumstances of these groups, including their struggle to emigrate and find new homes in places like the United States:
Will these communities survive in their new environments? Russell hopes so. He describes some touching examples of endurance, like the time he heard a clerk speaking Aramaic in a supermarket in suburban Detroit. But he wonders how long it can last. For all its great achievements, America has a way of destroying traditional identities, and it’s difficult to maintain one’s distinctive customs for very long. He wonders whether escape to the West isn’t “a back-loaded contract for immigrant communities—get the benefit of prosperity now, pay the loss of identity later.” Still, it beats annihilation, which is what threatens these groups at home.
You can read the whole review here.
This May, Bloomsbury Publishing will release “Buddhist and Christian Responses to the Kowtow Problem in China” by Eric Reinders (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:
The most common Buddhist practice in Asia is bowing, yet Buddhist and Christian Responses to the Kowtow Problem is the first study of Buddhist obeisance in China. In Confucian ritual, everyone is supposed to kowtow, or bow, to the Chinese emperor. But Buddhists claimed exemption from bowing to any layperson, even to their own parents or the emperor. This tension erupted in an imperial debate in 662.
This study first asks how and why Buddhists should bow (to the Buddha, and to monks), and then explores the arguments over their refusing to bow to the emperor. These arguments take us into the core ideas of Buddhism and imperial power: How can one achieve nirvana by bowing? What is a Buddha image? Who is it that bows? Is there any ritual that can exempt a subject of the emperor? What are the limits of the state’s power over human bodies? Centuries later, Christians had a new set of problems with bowing in China, to the emperor and to “idols.” Buddhist and Christian Responses to the Kowtow problem compares these cases of refusing to bow, discusses modern theories of obeisance, and finally moves to examine some contemporary analogies such as refusing to salute the American flag.
Contributing greatly to the study of the body and power, ritual, religion and material culture, this volume is of interest to scholars and students of religious studies, Buddhism, Chinese history and material culture.
This May, the University of South Carolina Press will release “Varieties of Southern Religious History: Essays in Honor of David G. Mathews” edited by Regina D. Sullivan (Carson-Newman University) and Monte Harrell Hampton (North Carolina State University). The publisher’s description follows:
Comprising essays written by former students of Donald G. Mathews, a distinguished historian of religion in the South, Varieties of Southern Religious History offers rich insight into the social and cultural history of the United States. Fifteen essays, edited by Regina D. Sullivan and Monte Harrell Hampton, offer fresh and insightful interpretations in the fields of U.S. religious history, women’s history, and African American history from the colonial era to the twentieth century. Emerging scholars as well as established authors examine a range of topics on the cultural and social history of the South and the religious history of the United States.
Essays on new topics include a consideration of Kentucky Presbyterians and their reaction to the rising pluralism of the early nineteenth century. Gerald Wilson offers an analysis of anti-Catholic bias in North Carolina during the twentieth century, and Mary Frederickson examines the rhetoric of death in contemporary correspondence. There are also reinterpretations of subjects such as late-eighteenth-century Ohio Valley missionaries Lorenzo and Peggy Dow, a recontextualization of Millerism, and new scholarship on the appeal of spiritualism in the South. This collection provides fresh insight into a variety of topics in honor of Donald G. Mathews and his legacy as a scholar of southern religion.
Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week: