Tag Archives: Christianity

Ebel, “G.I. Messiahs”

In November, Yale University Press releases “G.I. Messiahs: Soldiering, War, and American Civil Religion,” by Jonathan H. Ebel (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).  The publisher’s description follows:

Jonathan Ebel has long been interested in how religion helps individuals and communities render meaningful the traumatic experiences of violence and war. In this new work, he examines cases from the Great War to the present day and argues that our notions of what it means to be an American soldier are not just strongly religious, but strongly Christian.

Drawing on a vast array of sources, he further reveals the effects of soldier veneration on the men and women so often cast as heroes. Imagined as the embodiments of American ideals, described as redeemers of the nation, adored as the ones willing to suffer and die that we, the nation, may live—soldiers have often lived in subtle but significant tension with civil religious expectations of them. With chapters on prominent soldiers past and present, Ebel recovers and re-narrates the stories of the common American men and women that live and die at both the center and edges of public consciousness.

“A Companion to the Reformation in Central Europe” (Louthan & Murdock, eds.)

Last month, Brill released “A Companion to the Reformation in Central Europe” edited by Howard Louthan (Princeton University) and Graeme Murdock (University of Oxford). The publisher’s description follows:

A Companion to the Reformation in Central Europe analyses the diverse Christian cultures of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Czech lands, Austria, and lands of the Hungarian kingdom between the 15th and 18th centuries. It establishes the geography of Reformation movements across this region, and then considers different movements of reform and the role played by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox clergy. This volume examines different contexts and social settings for reform movements, and investigates how cities, princely courts, universities, schools, books, and images helped spread ideas about reform. This volume brings together expertise on diverse lands and churches to provide the first integrated account of religious life in Central Europe during the early modern period.

Thomas, “Evangelising the Nation”

This month, Rutledge releases  “Evangelising the Nation: Religion and the Formation of Naga Political Identity” by John Thomas (Indian Institute of Technology). The publisher’s description follows:

Northeast India has witnessed several nationality movements during the 20th century. The oldest and one of the most formidable has been that of the Nagas — inhabiting the hill tracts between the Brahmaputra river in India and the Chindwin river in Burma (now Myanmar). Rallying behind the slogan, ‘Nagaland for Christ’, this movement has been the site of an ambiguous relation between a particular understanding of Christianity and nation-making.

This book, based on meticulous archival research, traces the making of this relation and offers fresh perspectives on the workings of religion in the formation of political and cultural identities among the Nagas. It tracks the transmutations of Protestantism from the United States to the hill tracts of Northeast India, and its impact on the form and content of the nation that was imagined and longed for by the Nagas. The volume also examines the role of missionaries, local church leaders, and colonial and post-colonial states in facilitating this process.

Dorrien, “The New Abolition”

This month, the Yale University Press releases “The New Abolition: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Black Social Gospel,” by Gary Dorrien (Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University).  The publisher’s description follows: 

The black social gospel emerged from the trauma of Reconstruction to ask what a “new abolition” would require in American society. It became an important tradition of religious thought and resistance, helping to create an alternative public sphere of excluded voices and providing the intellectual underpinnings of the civil rights movement. This tradition has been seriously overlooked, despite its immense legacy.

In this groundbreaking work, Gary Dorrien describes the early history of the black social gospel from its nineteenth-century founding to its close association in the twentieth century with W. E. B. Du Bois. He offers a new perspective on modern Christianity and the civil rights era by delineating the tradition of social justice theology and activism that led to Martin Luther King Jr.

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.

Kleidosty, “The Concert of Civilizations”

In July, Ashgate released “The Concert of Civilizations: The Common Roots of Western and Islamic Constitutionalism,” by Jeremy Kleidosty (University of Jyväskylä, Finland).  The publisher’s description follows:

Are Western and Islamic political and constitutional ideas truly predestined for civilizational clash? In order to understand this controversy The Concert of Civilizations begins by deriving and redefining a definition of constitutionalism that is suitable for comparative, cross-cultural analysis. The rule of law, reflection of national character, and the clear delineation and limitation of governmental power are used as lenses through which thinkers like Cicero, Montesquieu, and the authors of The Federalist Papers can be read alongside al-Farabi, ibn Khaldun, and the Ottoman Tanzimat decrees. Bridging the civilizational divide is a chapter comparing the Magna Carta with Muhammad’sConstitution of Medina, as both documents can be seen as foundational within their traditions. For the first time in political theory, this text also provides a sustained, detailed analysis of Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi’s book The Surest Path, which explains his fusion of Muslim and Western ideas in his writing of Tunisia’s first modern constitution, which is also the first constitution for a majority-Muslim state. Finally, the book discusses the Arab Spring through a brief overview of the revolutions in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, and offers some early thoughts about Tunisia’s uniquely successful revolution.

Is Christianity Part of the National Heritage?

There is a fair amount of moral preening in this article from Slate on an ill-advised (at best) move by a city council in Coolidge, Arizona to allow Christian-only prayers at their meetings. The piece, by Dahlia Lithwick, is a little overheated. The resolution went nowhere. She acknowledges that prayers at council meetings are allowed under a 2014 Supreme Court decision. Town of Greece v. Galloway, so long as there is no intent to discriminate, and that the Coolidge City Council rescinded the resolution shortly after the 4-2 vote in favor (which in any event needed to be voted on again to pass). Not to mention that the council assured one member that if he didn’t like what he was hearing from another faith, he didn’t have to listen.

Lithwick thinks both the actual proposed Coolidge resolution and one that simply permitted religious groups within the town limits to offer prayers at council meetings are examples of religious “intolerance” (Lithwick calls the latter “sneaky and subversive” even though it is perfectly reasonable and constitutional to only allow those groups actually present in a town to offer prayers). This theocracy-under-every-bed approach is tiresome and implausible, without disagreeing that the council’s decision was not a good one.

What interests me here is that Lithwick and others (such as historian Kevin Kruse, who has written a very interesting book on the rise of the Religious Right) mocked the proponent of the resolution for saying that Christianity was “our heritage.” As a historical matter, I don’t think this is remotely debatable, and Lithwick has the losing side. Further, as a constitutional matter, there is voluminous evidence that the Founders were very much influenced by the Reformed Protestant tradition, which is reflected in the documents they wrote.

This topic came up during a recent Libertas conference I had the privilege of attending, and has deep roots. (Thomas Jefferson, for example, argued that Christianity did not form part of the “law of the land.”) Lithwick’s view dovetails with a good article by Stuart Banner on Christianity and the common law. Banner finds that the decline of the belief that “Christianity forms part of the common law” coincides with the rise of a notion that the law was made by judges and not simply reflective of underlying truths, be they religious or otherwise. He writes: “Law was a body of principles separate from other bodies of principles, not just in its source (the decisions of government officials), but in its field of application. Religious norms, even those universally subscribed to, did not qualify as ‘law,’ not just because they were not made by government officials, but also because they were not enforced by government officials.” This conception of law increased (unsurprisingly) the power of lawyers and judges, who now presided over an autonomous realm untouched by the beliefs of the people, yet somehow superior to it.

Holding that law and culture are not the same is different from believing that culture need not influence law. Lithwick’s position has its own history, one that is not self-evidently true (and, in light of the “clerisy” theme these posts have been developing, arguably not desirable as well).

Frary, “Russia and the Making of Modern Greek Identity, 1821-1844”

In August, the Oxford University Press released “Russia and the Making of Modern Greek Identity, 1821-1844,” by Lucien J. Frary (Rider University).   The publisher’s description follows:

The birth of the Greek nation in 1830 was a pivotal event in modern European history and in the history of nation-building in general. As the first internationally recognized state to appear on the map of Europe since the French Revolution, independent Greece provided a model for other national movements to emulate. Throughout the process of nation formation in Greece, the Russian Empire played a critical part. Drawing upon a mass of previously fallow archival material, most notably from Russian embassies and consulates, this volume explores the role of Russia and the potent interaction of religion and politics in the making of modern Greek identity. It deals particularly with the role of Eastern Orthodoxy in the transformation of the collective identity of the Greeks from the Ottoman Orthodox millet into the new Hellenic-Christian imagined community. Lucien J. Frary provides the first comprehensive examination of Russian reactions to the establishment of the autocephalous Greek Church, the earliest of its kind in the Orthodox Balkans, and elucidates Russia’s anger and disappointment during the Greek Constitutional Revolution of 1843, the leaders of which were Russophiles. Employing Russian newspapers and “thick journals” of the era, Frary probes responses within Russian reading circles to the reforms and revolutions taking place in the Greek kingdom. More broadly, the volume explores the making of Russian foreign policy during the reign of Nicholas I (1825-55) and provides a distinctively transnational perspective on the formation of modern identity.

Thompson, “For God and Globe”

In November, the Cornell University Press will release “For God and Globe: Christian Internationalism in the United States between the Great War and the Cold War,” by Michael G. Thompson (University of Sydney). The publisher’s description follows:

For God and Globe recovers the history of an important yet largely forgotten intellectual movement in interwar America. Michael G. Thompson explores the way radical-left and ecumenical Protestant internationalists articulated new understandings of the ethics of international relations between the 1920s and the 1940s. Missionary leaders such as Sherwood Eddy and journalists such as Kirby Page, as well as realist theologians including Reinhold Niebuhr, developed new kinds of religious enterprises devoted to producing knowledge on international relations for public consumption. For God and Globe centers on the excavation of two such efforts—the leading left-wing Protestant interwar periodical, The World Tomorrow, and the landmark Oxford 1937 ecumenical world conference. Thompson charts the simultaneous peak and decline of the movement in John Foster Dulles’s ambitious efforts to link Christian internationalism to the cause of international organization after World War II.

Concerned with far more than foreign policy, Christian internationalists developed critiques of racism, imperialism, and nationalism in world affairs. They rejected exceptionalist frameworks and eschewed the dominant “Christian nation” imaginary as a lens through which to view U.S. foreign relations. In the intellectual history of religion and American foreign relations, Protestantism most commonly appears as an ideological ancillary to expansionism and nationalism. For God and Globe challenges this account by recovering a movement that held Christian universalism to be a check against nationalism rather than a boon to it.

Bueno, “Defining Heresy”

In October, Brill Publishing will release “Defining Heresy: Inquisition, Theology, and Papal Policy in the Time of Jacques Fournier” by Irene Bueno (European University Institute). The publisher’s description follows:

In Defining Heresy, Irene Bueno investigates the theories and practices of anti-heretical repression in the first half of the fourteenth century, focusing on the figure of Jacques Fournier/Benedict XII (c.1284-1342). Throughout his career as a bishop-inquisitor in Languedoc, theologian, and, eventually, pope at Avignon, Fournier made a multi-faceted contribution to the fight against religious dissent. Making use of judicial, theological, and diplomatic sources, the book sheds light on the multiplicity of methods, discourses, and textual practices mobilized to define the bounds of heresy at the end of the Middle Ages. The integration of these commonly unrelated areas of evidence reveals the intellectual and political pressures that inflected the repression of heretics and dissidents in the peculiar context of the Avignon papacy.