Tag Archives: Christianity

Wielander, “Christian Values in Communist China”

The rise of Christianity as a social force in China (unlike the decline of chinaChristianity as a social force in the West) is an underreported story. Even well-informed analysts who look to China as a rising power sometimes ignore it. This month, Routledge releases the paperback version of what looks to be an interesting corrective, Christian Values in Communist China, by Gerda Wielander (University of Westminster). The publisher’s description follows:

This book argues that as new political and social values are formed in post-socialist China, Christian values are becoming increasingly embedded in the new post-socialist Chinese outlook. It shows how although Christianity is viewed in China as a foreign religion, promoted by Christian missionaries and as such at odds with the official position of the state, Christianity as a source of social and political values – rather than a faith requiring adherence to a church is in fact having a huge impact. The book shows how these values inform both official and dissident ideology and provide a key underpinning of morality and ethics in the post-socialist moral landscape. Adopting a variety of different angles, the book investigates the role Christian thought plays in the official discourse on morality and love and what contribution Chinese Christians make to charitable projects. It analyses key Christian publications and dedicates two chapters to Christian intellectuals and their impact on political liberal thinking in China. The concluding chapter highlights gender roles, the role of the Chinese diaspora, and the overlap of the government and Christian agenda in China today. The book challenges commonly held views on contemporary Chinese Christianity as a movement in opposition to the state by showing the diversity and complexity of Christian thinking and the many factors influencing it.

Dowd, “Christianity, Islam, and Liberal Democracy”

Across the continent of Africa, Christianity and Islam are growing rapidly, side bychris side. The conventional wisdom is the two religions are destined for bloody conflict. This summer, Oxford will release a book that challenges this wisdom and argues that African religious diversity actually can encourage liberal democracy. The book is Christianity, Islam, and Liberal Democracy, by Robert A. Dowd (Notre Dame). The publisher’s description follows:

Drawing from research conducted in Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda, Christianity, Islam, and Liberal Democracy offers a deeper understanding of how Christian and Islamic faith communities affect the political attitudes of those who belong to them and, in turn, prospects for liberal democracy. While many analysts believe that religious diversity in developing countries is an impediment to liberal democracy, Robert A. Dowd concludes just the opposite. Dowd draws on narrative accounts, in-depth interviews, and large-scale surveys to show that Christian and Islamic religious communities are more likely to support liberal democracy in religiously diverse and integrated settings than in religiously homogeneous or segregated ones. Religious diversity and integration, in other words, are good for liberal democracy. In religiously diverse and integrated environments, religious leaders tend to be more encouraging of civic engagement, democracy, and religious liberty.

By providing a theoretical framework for understanding when and where Christian and Islamic communities in sub -Saharan Africa encourage and discourage liberal democracy, Dowd demonstrates how religious communities are important in affecting political actions and attitudes. This evidence, the book ultimately argues, should prompt policymakers interested in cultivating religiously-inspired support for liberal democracy to aid in the formation of religiously diverse neighborhoods, cities, and political organizations.

Bardill, “Constantine, Divine Emperor of the Christian Golden Age”

Next month, Cambridge releases Constantine, Divine Emperor of the Christianconst Golden Age, by Jonathan Bardill (Oxford). The publisher’s description follows:

Constantine, Divine Emperor of the Christian Golden Age offers a radical reassessment of Constantine as an emperor, a pagan, and a Christian. The book examines in detail a wide variety of evidence, including literature, secular and religious architectural monuments, coins, sculpture, and other works of art. Setting the emperor in the context of the kings and emperors who preceded him, Jonathan Bardill shows how Constantine’s propagandists exploited the traditional themes and imagery of rulership to portray him as having been elected by the supreme solar God to save his people and inaugurate a brilliant golden age. The author argues that the cultivation of this image made it possible for Constantine to reconcile the long-standing tradition of imperial divinity with his monotheistic faith by assimilating himself to Christ.

Plantinga, “Knowledge and Christian Belief”

Professor Alvin Plantinga’s (Notre Dame) important book, Warranted ChristianPlantinga.ashx Belief, was a meditation on the relationship of Christian faith and reason. It was a work in epistemology of religion–an attempt to answer the question about the irrationality or the lack of justification for Christian belief.

Plantinga has now written a shorter volume for non-experts, Knowledge and Christian Belief, just published in April by Eerdmans. The publisher’s description follows:

In his widely praised Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford, 2000) Alvin Plantinga discussed in great depth the question of the rationality, or sensibility, of Christian belief. In this book Plantinga presents the same ideas in a briefer, much more accessible fashion.

Recognized worldwide as a leading Christian philosopher, Plantinga probes what exactly is meant by the claim that religious — and specifically Christian — belief is irrational and cannot sensibly be held. He argues that the criticisms of such well-known atheists as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are completely wrong. Finally, Plantinga addresses several potential “defeaters” to Christian belief — pluralism, science, evil and suffering — and shows how they fail to successfully defeat rational Christian belief.

Zaretsky, “Boswell’s Enlightenment”

I’ve always thought of James Boswell simply as the biographer of Samuel boswellJohnson. Apparently, he had an interior life himself. A new book from Harvard University Press, Boswell’s Enlightenment, seems interesting as an intellectual history of his attempt to reconcile Christianity and the Enlightenment–an attempt with which many of Boswell’s contemporaries, including some Framers of the American Constitution, were well acquainted. The author, Robert Zaretsky, is a professor at the University of Houston. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Throughout his life, James Boswell struggled to fashion a clear account of himself, but try as he might, he could not reconcile the truths of his era with those of his religious upbringing.Boswell’s Enlightenment examines the conflicting credos of reason and faith, progress and tradition that pulled Boswell, like so many eighteenth-century Europeans, in opposing directions. In the end, the life of the man best known for writing Samuel Johnson’s biography was something of a patchwork affair. As Johnson himself understood: “That creature was its own tormentor, and I believe its name was BOSWELL.”

Few periods in Boswell’s life better crystallize this internal turmoil than 1763–1765, the years of his Grand Tour and the focus of Robert Zaretsky’s thrilling intellectual adventure. From the moment Boswell sailed for Holland from the port of Harwich, leaving behind on the beach his newly made friend Dr. Johnson, to his return to Dover from Calais a year and a half later, the young Scot was intent on not just touring historic and religious sites but also canvassing the views of the greatest thinkers of the age. In his relentless quizzing of Voltaire and Rousseau, Hume and Johnson, Paoli and Wilkes on topics concerning faith, the soul, and death, he was not merely a celebrity-seeker but—for want of a better term—a truth-seeker. Zaretsky reveals a life more complex and compelling than suggested by the label “Johnson’s biographer,” and one that 250 years later registers our own variations of mind.

Stephens, “Canon Law and Episcopal Authority: The Canons of Antioch and Serdica”

In June, Oxford University Press will release “Canon Law and Episcopal Authority: The Canons of Antioch and Serdica” by Christopher Stephens (University of Roehampton). The publisher’s description follows:

Christopher W. B. Stephens focuses on canon law as the starting point for a new interpretation of divisions between East and West in the Church after the death of Constantine the Great. He challenges the common assumption that bishops split between “Nicenes” and “non-Nicenes,” “Arians” or “Eusebians.” Instead, he argues that questions of doctrine took second place to disputes about the status of individual bishops and broader issues of the role of ecclesiastical councils, the nature of episcopal authority, and in particular the supremacy of the bishop of Rome.

Canon law allows the author to offer a fresh understanding of the purposes of councils in the East after 337, particularly the famed Dedication Council of 341 and the western meeting of the council of Serdica and the canon law written there, which elevated the bishop of Rome to an authority above all other bishops. Investigating the laws they wrote, the author describes the power struggles taking place in the years following 337 as bishops sought to elevate their status and grasp the opportunity for the absolute form of leadership Constantine had embodied.

Combining a close study of the laws and events of this period with broader reflections on the nature of power and authority in the Church and the increasingly important role of canon law, the book offers a fresh narrative of one of the most significant periods in the development of the Church as an institution and of the bishop as a leader.

“Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History” (Thomas & Chesworth, eds.)

In July, Brill will release “Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History” edited by David Thomas (University of Birmingham) and John Chesworth (University of Birmingham). The publisher’s description follows:

Christian-Muslim Relations. A Bibliographical History, volume 7 (CMR 7), 84784
covering Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and South America in the period 1500-1600, is a continuing volume in a general history of relations between the two faiths from the seventh century to the early 20th century. It comprises introductory essays and the main body of detailed entries which treat all the works, surviving or lost, that have been recorded. These entries provide biographical details of the authors, descriptions and assessments of the works themselves, and complete accounts of manuscripts, editions, translations and studies. The result of collaboration between numerous leading scholars, CMR 7, along with the other volumes in this series, is intended as a basic tool for research in Christian-Muslim relations.

“People under Power” (Labahn & Lehtipuu, eds.)

This June, Amsterdam University Press will release “People under Power: Early Jewish and Christian Responses to the Roman Empire” edited by Michael Labahn (Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg) and Outi Lehtipuu (University of Helsinki).  The publisher’s description follows:

People under PowerThis volume presents a batch of incisive new essays on the relationship between Roman imperial power and ideology and Christian and Jewish life and thought within the empire. Employing diverse methodologies that include historical criticism, rhetorical criticism, postcolonial criticism, and social historical studies, the contributors offer fresh perspectives on a question that is crucial for our understanding not only of the late Roman Empire, but also of the growth and change of Christianity and Judaism in the imperial period.

“Reinhold Niebuhr: Major Works on Religion and Politics” (Sifton, ed.)

This month, the Library of America released “Reinhold Niebuhr: Major Works on Religion and Politics” edited by Elisabeth Sifton. The publisher’s description follows:

From the 1920s through the 1960s, the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was among America’s most prominent public intellectuals. As a pastor, teacher, and writer, he bridged the divide between religion and politics with perspicacity, grace, and singular intelligence, whether writing about pacifism and “just war” theory, the problem of evil in history, or the crises of war, the Depression, and social conflict. His provocative essays, lectures, and sermons from before and during World War II, in the postwar years, and at the time of the Civil Rights Movement offered searching analyses of the forces shaping American life and politics. Their profound insights into the causes of economic inequality, the challenges of achieving social justice, and the risks of adventurism in the international sphere are as relevant today as they were when he composed them.

This volume, prepared with extensive notes and a chronology by the author’s daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, is the largest, most comprehensive edition of Niebuhr’s writings ever published. It brings together the books Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic (1929), his personal reflections on his experiences as a young pastor in Detroit as it was being transformed by the explosive growth of the auto industry; Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932), a brilliant and tough-minded work that draws out the implications of Niebuhr’s view that while individuals can sometimes overcome the temptations of self-interest, larger groups never can; The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944), a passionate defense of democracy written during World War II; and the essential study that Andrew Bacevich has called “the most important book ever written on U.S. foreign policy”: The Irony of American History (1952), a consideration of American conduct in the early Cold War years that takes equal aim at Soviet communism and at the moral complacency of the United States in its newfound global ascendancy.

These four works are supplemented with essays, lectures, and sermons drawn from Niebuhr’s many other books, as well as prayers—among them the well-known Serenity Prayer. The volume also includes a chronologically arranged selection of his journalism about current events, many of the pieces appearing here in book form for the first time. “We are bound to go back to Niebuhr,” the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once wrote, “because we cannot escape the dark heart of man and because we cannot permit an awareness of this darkness to inhibit action and abolish hope.”

Witte, “The Western Case for Monogamy Over Polygamy”

In May, Cambridge University Press will release “The Western Case for Monogamy Over Polygamy” by John Witte, Jr. (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:

For more than 2,500 years, the Western tradition has embraced monogamous marriage as an essential institution for the flourishing of men and women, parents and children, society and the state. At the same time, polygamy has been considered a serious crime that harms wives and children, correlates with sundry other crimes and abuses, and threatens good citizenship and political stability. The West has thus long punished all manner of plural marriages and denounced the polygamous teachings of selected Jews, Muslims, Anabaptists, Mormons, and others. John Witte, Jr. carefully documents the Western case for monogamy over polygamy from antiquity until today. He analyzes the historical claims that polygamy is biblical, natural, and useful alongside modern claims that anti-polygamy laws violate personal and religious freedom. While giving the arguments pro and con a full hearing, Witte concludes that the Western historical case against polygamy remains compelling and urges Western nations to hold the line on monogamy.