Tag Archives: Books

Covington-Ward, “Gesture and Power”

In December, Duke University Press will release “Gesture and Power: Religion, Nationalism, and Everyday Performance in Congo,” by Yolanda Covington-Ward (University of Pittsburgh).  The publisher’s description follows:

In Gesture and Power Yolanda Covington-Ward examines the everyday embodied practices and performances of the BisiKongo people of the Lower Congo to show how their gestures, dances, and spirituality are critical in mobilizing social and political action. Conceiving of the body as the center of analysis, a catalyst for social action, and as conduit for the social construction of reality, Covington-Ward focuses on specific flash points in the last ninety years of Congo’s troubled history, when embodied performance was used to stake political claims, foster dissent, and enforce power. In the 1920s Simon Kimbangu started a Christian prophetic movement based on spirit-induced trembling, which swept through the Lower Congo, subverting Belgian colonial authority. Following independence, dictator Mobutu Sese Seko required citizens to dance and sing nationalist songs daily as a means of maintaining political control. More recently, embodied performance has again stoked reform, as nationalist groups such as Bundu dia Kongo advocate for a return to precolonial religious practices and non-Western gestures such as traditional greetings. In exploring these embodied expressions of Congolese agency, Covington-Ward provides a framework for understanding how embodied practices transmit social values, identities, and cultural history throughout Africa and the diaspora.

Roberts, “Voodoo and Power”

In November, the Louisiana State University Press will release “Voodoo and Power: The Politics of Religion in New Orleans, 1881-1940,” by Kodi A. Roberts (Louisiana State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The racialized and exoticized cult of Voodoo occupies a central place in the popular image of the Crescent City. But as Kodi A. Roberts argues in Voodoo and Power, the religion was not a monolithic tradition handed down from African ancestors to their American-born descendants. Instead, a much more complicated patchwork of influences created New Orleans Voodoo, allowing it to move across boundaries of race, class, and gender. By employing late nineteenth and early twentieth-century first-hand accounts of Voodoo practitioners and their rituals, Roberts provides a nuanced understanding of who practiced Voodoo and why.

Voodoo in New Orleans, a mélange of religion, entrepreneurship, and business networks, stretched across the color line in intriguing ways. Roberts’s analysis demonstrates that what united professional practitioners, or “workers,” with those who sought their services was not a racially uniform folk culture, but rather the power and influence that Voodoo promised. Recognizing that social immobility proved a common barrier for their patrons, workers claimed that their rituals could overcome racial and gendered disadvantages and create new opportunities for their clients.

Voodoo rituals and institutions also drew inspiration from the surrounding milieu, including the privations of the Great Depression, the city’s complex racial history, and the free-market economy. Money, employment, and business became central concerns for the religion’s practitioners: to validate their work, some began operating from recently organized “Spiritual Churches,” entities that were tax exempt and thus legitimate in the eyes of the state of Louisiana. Practitioners even leveraged local figures like the mythohistoric Marie Laveau for spiritual purposes and entrepreneurial gain. All the while, they contributed to the cultural legacy that fueled New Orleans’s tourist industry and drew visitors and their money to the Crescent City.

Accetti, “Relativism and Religion”

In November, Columbia University Press will release “Relativism and Religion: Why Democratic Societies Do Not Need Moral Absolutes” by Carlo Invernizzi Accetti (City College, City University of New York). The publisher’s description follows:

Moral relativism is deeply troubling for those who believe that, without a set of moral absolutes, democratic societies will devolve into tyranny or totalitarianism. Engaging directly with this claim, Carlo Invernizzi Accetti traces the roots of contemporary anti-relativist fears to the antimodern rhetoric of the Catholic Church, and then rescues a form of philosophical relativism for modern, pluralist societies, arguing that this standpoint provides the firmest foundation for an allegiance to democracy.

In its dual analysis of the relationship between religion and politics and the implications of philosophical relativism for democratic theory, this book makes a far-ranging contribution to contemporary debates over the revival of religion in politics and the conceptual grounds for a commitment to democracy. It conducts the first comprehensive genealogy of anti-relativist discourse and reclaims for English-speaking readers the overlooked work of political theorists such as Hans Kelsen and Norberto Bobbio, who had articulated the bond between philosophical relativism and democracy. By engaging with attempts to replace the religious foundation of democratic values with a neo-Kantian conception of reason, this book also offers a powerful case for relativism as the strongest basis for a civic ethos that integrates different perspectives into democratic politics.

“The ‘Alawis of Syria: War, Faith and Politics in the Levant” (Kerr & Larkin, eds.)

In November, Oxford University Press will release “The ‘Alawis of Syria: War, Faith and Politics in the Levant” edited by Michael Kerr (King’s College London) and Craig Larkin (King’s College London). The publisher’s description follows:

Throughout the turbulent history of the Levant the ‘Alawis – a secretive, resilient and ancient Muslim sect – have aroused suspicion and animosity, including accusations of religious heresy. More recently they have been tarred with the brush of political separatism and complicity in the excesses of the Assad regime, claims that have gained greater traction since the onset of the Syrian uprising and subsequent devastating civil war.

The contributors to this book provide a complex and nuanced reading of Syria’s ‘Alawi communities -from loyalist gangs (Shabiha) to outspoken critics of the regime. Drawing upon wide-ranging research that examines the historic, political and social dynamics of the ‘Alawi and the Syrian state, the current tensions are scrutinised and fresh insights offered. Among the themes addressed are religious practice, social identities, and relations to the Ba’ath party, the Syrian state and the military apparatus. The analysis also extends to Lebanon with a focus on the embattled ‘Alawi community of Jabal Mohsen in Tripoli and state relations with Hizballah amid the current crisis.

Marsden, “The Crisis of Religious Toleration in Imperial Russia”

This month, Oxford University Press releases “The Crisis of Religious Toleration in Imperial Russia: Bibikov’s System for the Old Believers, 1841-1855” by Thomas Marsden (University College London). The publisher’s description follows:

This book is about an unprecedented attempt by the government of Russia’s Tsar Nicholas I (1825-1855) to eradicate what was seen as one of the greatest threats to its political security: the religious dissent of the Old Believers. The Old Believers had long been reviled by the ruling Orthodox Church, for they were the largest group of Russian dissenters and claimed to be the guardians of true Orthodoxy; however, their industrious communities and strict morality meant that the civil authorities often regarded them favourably. This changed in the 1840s and 1850s when a series of remarkable cases demonstrated that the existing restrictions upon the dissenters’ religious freedoms could not suppress their capacity for independent organisation. Finding itself at a crossroads between granting full toleration, or returning to the fierce persecution of earlier centuries, the tsarist government increasingly inclined towards the latter course, culminating in a top secret ‘system’ introduced in 1853 by the Minister of Internal Affairs Dmitrii Bibikov.

The operation of this system was the high point of religious persecution in the last 150 years of the tsarist regime: it dissolved the Old Believers’ religious gatherings, denied them civil rights, and repressed their leading figures as state criminals. It also constituted an extraordinary experiment in government, instituted to deal with a temporary emergency. Paradoxically the architects of this system were not churchmen or reactionaries, but representatives of the most progressive factions of Nicholas’s bureaucracy. Their abandonment of religious toleration on grounds of political intolerability reflected their nationalist concerns for the future development of a rapidly changing Russia. The system lasted only until Nicholas’s death in 1855; however, the story of its origins, operation, and collapse, told for the first time in this study, throws new light on the religious and political identity of the autocratic regime and on the complexity of the problems it faced.

Ansari, “Islam and Nationalism in India”

In November, Routledge will release “Islam and Nationalism in India: South Indian Contexts” by M.T. Ansari (University of Hyderabad, India). The publisher’s description follows:

Islam in India, as elsewhere, continues to be seen as a remainder in its refusal to “conform” to national and international secular-modern norms. Such a general perception has also had a tremendous impact on the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, who as individuals and communities have been shaped and transformed over centuries of socio-political and historical processes, by eroding their world-view and steadily erasing their life-worlds.

This book traces the spectral presence of Islam across narratives to note that difference and diversity, demographic as well as cultural, can be espoused rather than excised or exorcized. Focusing on Malabar – home to the Mappila Muslim community in Kerala, South India – and drawing mostly on Malayalam sources, the author investigates the question of Islam from various angles by constituting an archive comprising popular, administrative, academic, and literary discourses. The author contends that an uncritical insistence on unity has led to a formation in which “minor” subjects embody an excess of identity, in contrast to the Hindu-citizen whose identity seemingly coincides with the national. This has led to Muslims being the source of a deep-seated anxiety for secular nationalism and the targets of a resurgent Hindutva in that they expose the fault-lines of a geographically and socio-culturally unified nation.

An interdisciplinary study of Islam in India from the South Indian context, this book will be of interest to scholars of modern Indian history, political science, literary and cultural studies, and Islamic studies.

Sutto, “Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists”

In November, the University of Virginia Press will release “Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists: Maryland and the Politics of Religion in the English Atlantic, 1630-1690,” by Antoinette Sutto (University of Mississippi).  The publisher’s description follows:

Loyal Protestants and Dangerous Papists analyzes the vibrant and often violent political culture of seventeenth-century America, exploring the relationship between early American and early modern British politics through a detailed study of colonial Maryland. Seventeenth-century Maryland was repeatedly wracked by disputes over the legitimacy of the colony’s Catholic proprietorship. The proprietors’ strange policy of religious liberty was part of the controversy, but colonists also voiced fears of proprietary conspiracies with Native Americans and claimed the colony’s ruling circle aimed to crush their liberties as English subjects. Conflicts like these became wrapped up in disputes less obviously political, such as disagreements over how to manage the tobacco trade, without which Maryland’s economy would falter.

Antoinette Sutto argues that the best way to understand this strange mix of religious, economic, and political controversies is to view it with regard to the disputes over the role of the English church, the power of the state, and the ideal relationship between the two—disputes that tore apart the English-speaking world twice over in the 1600s. Sutto contends that the turbulent political history of early Maryland makes most sense when seen in an imperial as well as an American context. Such an understanding of political culture and conflict in this colony offers a window not only into the processes of seventeenth-century American politics but also into the construction of the early modern state. Examining the dramatic rise and fall of Maryland’s Catholic proprietorship through this lens, Loyal Protestants and Dangerous Papists offers a unique glimpse into the ambiguities and possibilities of the early English colonial world.

Schaposchnik, “The Lima Inquisition”

In October, the University of Wisconsin Press will release “The Lima Inquisition:
The Plight of Crypto-Jews in Seventeenth-Century Peru,” by Ana E. Schaposchnik (DePaul University).  The publisher’s description follows: 

The Holy Office of the Inquisition (a royal tribunal that addressed issues of heresy and offenses to morality) was established in Peru in 1570 and operated there until 1820. In this book, Ana E. Schaposchnik provides a deeply researched history of the Inquisition’s Lima Tribunal, focusing in particular on the cases of persons put under trial for crypto-Judaism in Lima during the 1600s.

Delving deeply into the records of the Lima Tribunal, Schaposchnik brings to light the experiences and perspectives of the prisoners in the cells and torture chambers, as well as the regulations and institutional procedures of the inquisitors. She looks closely at how the lives of the accused—and in some cases the circumstances of their deaths—were shaped by actions of the Inquisition on both sides of the Atlantic. She explores the prisoners’ lives before and after their incarcerations and reveals the variety and character of prisoners’ religiosity, as portrayed in the Inquisition’s own sources. She also uncovers individual and collective strategies of the prisoners and their supporters to stall trials, confuse tribunal members, and attempt to ameliorate or at least delay the most extreme effects of the trial of faith.

The Lima Inquisition also includes a detailed analysis of the 1639 Auto General de Fe ceremony of public penance and execution, tracing the agendas of individual inquisitors, the transition that occurred when punishment and surveillance were brought out of hidden dungeons and into public spaces, and the exposure of the condemned and their plight to an avid and awestricken audience. Schaposchnik contends that the Lima Tribunal’s goal, more than volume or frequency in punishing heretics, was to discipline and shape culture in Peru.

Gamwell, “Religion Among We the People”

In November, SUNY Press will release “Religion Among We the People: Conversations on Democracy and the Divine Good” by Franklin I. Gamwell (University of Chicago). The publisher’s description follows:

Franklin I. Gamwell holds that democracy with religious freedom is dependent on metaphysical theism. Democratic politics can be neutral to all religious convictions only if its constitution establishes a full and free discourse about the ultimate terms of justice and their application to decisions of the state, and the divine good is the true ground of justice. Notably, Gamwell’s view challenges virtually all current accounts of democracy with religious freedom. This uncommon position emerges through a series of essays in which Gamwell engages a variety of conversation partners, including Thomas Jefferson, David Strauss, Abraham Lincoln, Jürgen Habermas, Alfred North Whitehead, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Iris Murdoch. Discussions of Jefferson, Lincoln, and the US Constitution illustrate the promise of neoclassical metaphysics as a context for interpreting US history. Gamwell then defends his metaphysics against both modern refusals of metaphysics and accounts of ultimate reality offered by Niebuhr and Murdoch.