Tag Archives: History of Religion

“Violence in Islamic Thought from the Qur’an to the Mongols” (Gleave & Kristó-Nagy, eds.)

This month, Edinburgh University Press will release “Violence in Islamic Thought from the Qur’an to the Mongols” edited by Robert Gleave (University of Exeter) and István Kristó-Nagy (University of Exeter). The publisher’s description follows:

How was violence justified in early Islam? What role did violent actions play in the formation and maintenance of the Muslim political order? How did Muslim thinkers view the origins and acceptability of violence? These questions are addressed by an international range of eminent authors through both general accounts of types of violence and detailed case studies of violent acts drawn from the early Islamic sources. Violence is understood widely, to include jihad, state repressions and rebellions, and also more personally directed violence against victims (women, animals, children, slaves) and criminals. By understanding the early development of Muslim thinking around violence, our understanding of subsequent trends in Islamic thought, during the medieval period and up to the modern day, become clearer.

Salim, “The Transnational and the Local in the Politics of Islam”

This April, Springer Press will release “The Transnational and the Local in the Politics of Islam: The Case of West Sumatra, Indonesia” by Delmus Puneri Salim (University of Sydney).  The publisher’s description follows:

Islamic RegulationsThis book explores the relationship between transnational and local Islam as expressed in public discourse and policy-making, as represented in the local press. It does so against the background of local governments in majority Muslim regions across Indonesia promoting and passing regulations that mandate forms of social or economic behaviour seen to be compatible with Islam. The book situates the political construction of Islamic behaviour in West Sumatra, and in Indonesia more generally, within an historical context in which rulers have in some way engaged with aspects of Islamic practice since the Islamic kingdom era. The book shows that while formal local Islamic regulations of this kind constitute a new development, their introduction has been a product of the same kinds of interactions between international, national and local elements that have characterised the relationship between Islam and politics through the course of Indonesian history. The book challenges the scholarly tendency to over-emphasise local political concerns when explaining this phenomenon, arguing that it is necessary to forefront the complex relationship between local politics and developments in the wider Islamic world. To illustrate the relationship between transnational and local Islam, the book uses detailed case studies of four domains of regulation: Islamic finance, zakat, education, and behaviour and dress, in a number of local government areas within the province.

The Newest Doctor of the Church

gregory

This week, Pope Francis did something unprecedented. (One could perhaps write that sentence every week). He named, as a Doctor of the Universal Church, a tenth-century Armenian mystic called Gregory of Narek. Now, as the Catholic Church already recognizes 35 other Doctors of the Church, a designation that indicates saints who have made particular contributions to theological learning, you might wonder what’s so unprecedented about it. I’ll tell you.

(Readers who find theology, church history, and canon law boring should stop reading this post right now. You know who you are. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled posting presently).

Gregory was a priest in the Armenian Apostolic Church. As a formal matter, the Armenian Church and the Roman Catholic Church have been out of communion since the fifth century. By the time Gregory was born, the two churches had already been divided for about 500 years. So Pope Francis has named, as a saint of particular theological distinction, someone from a separated church–someone who was not, in fact, a Catholic at all.

The churches separated over Christology. The Armenian Church declines to accept the Council of Chalcedon (451), which declares that Christ is one person with two separate, but conjoined, natures, human and divine, a position known as diophysitism. Like her sister Oriental Orthodox Churches, including the Coptic and Syriac churches, the Armenian Church holds instead that Christ has one combined human-divine nature, in which the human and divine nonetheless remain distinct, a position known as miaphysitism.

The disagreement does seem a rather technical one. Much turns on the proper fifth-century translation of Greek words like “physis” and “hypostasis.” For centuries, however, the two sides condemned each other as heretical. Chalcedonian Christians, including Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants, dismissed Orientals as “monophysites.” That designation has been dropped in our lifetimes, though, both because it is incorrect (unlike miaphysitism, monophysitism is indeed a heresy, but not one Orientals espouse) and because it is rather insulting. Indeed, in 1996, Pope St. John Paul II signed a declaration with Catholicos Karekin I, the patriarch of the Armenian Church, that attributed the centuries of division to semantic and other misunderstandings and explained that, whatever the other differences, Christological controversies should no longer separate the two churches. In fact, current Catholic canon law allows Orientals to receive communion in a Catholic church.

Now, the Armenian Church–my own church, in case you are wondering–has long considered Gregory of Narek, who wrote a beautiful set of reflections called the Lamentations, a saint. Indeed, he’s a very prominent saint, whose prayers are included in our Lenten vigils. But he was not a Catholic. I imagine he himself would have been a bit surprised to find that Rome had declared him a Doctor of the Church, a saint whose theological writings bear special distinction. What’s the explanation?

As far as I can make out, it’s this. When Rome receives part of an Eastern church into full communion, it accepts all of the Eastern church’s saints, as long as they did not explicitly contradict Catholic doctrine. So, when part of the Armenian Church united with Rome in the 18th century to form the Armenian-rite Catholic Church, Rome accepted the Armenian saints, including Gregory of Narek. He was, as it were, grandfathered, and has been a Catholic saint ever since. That’s how, in light of his great contributions, he can be declared a Doctor of the Church today.

Pretty much everyone in the Catholic world seems happy, or at least not unhappy, about this turn of events (though not everybody), including the traditionalists at Rorate Coeli:

It is interesting to note that Gregory lived at a time when the Armenian Church, to which he belonged, was not formally in communion with Rome and Constantinople. However, as those interested in the extremely tangled history of Christianity in the first millennium are well aware, one cannot always speak straightforwardly of “schism” and “heresy” when dealing with the theological and ecclesiastical divisions of Christendom in that era.

Just so. Armenian Apostolic Christians, too, are genuinely pleased. Indeed, Pope Francis’s action is particularly welcome this year, the centennial of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, in which 600,000 to 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, including many Christian martyrs, lost their lives. The monastery of Narek on the shore of Lake Van, where Gregory once lived and taught, was itself a victim of the purge. The monks abandoned it during the genocide, a hundred years ago, never to return. Today, a mosque stands on the site.

Schwieger, “The Dalai Lama and the Emperor of China: A Political History of the Tibetan Institution of Reincarnation”

In April, Columbia University Press will release “The Dalai Lama and the Emperor of China: A Political History of the Tibetan Institution of Reincarnation” by Peter Schwieger (University of Bonn, Germany). The publisher’s description follows:

A major new work in modern Tibetan history, this book follows the evolution of Tibetan Buddhism’s  trülku (reincarnation) tradition from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, along with the Emperor of China’s efforts to control its development. By illuminating the political aspects of the  trülku institution, Schwieger shapes a broader history of the relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Emperor of China, as well as a richer understanding of the Qing Dynasty as an inner Asian empire, the modern fate of the Mongol empire, and current Sino-Tibetan relations.

Unlike other pre-twentieth century Tibetan histories, this volume rejects hagiographic texts in favor of diplomatic, legal, and social sources held in the private, monastic, and bureaucratic archives of old Tibet. This approach draws a unique portrait of Tibet’s rule by reincarnation while shading in peripheral tensions in the Himalayas, eastern Tibet, and China. Its perspective fully captures the extent to which the emperors of China controlled the institution of the Dalai Lamas, making a groundbreaking contribution to the past and present history of East Asia.

Goldsmith, “Cycle of Fear”

This March, Hurst Publisher’s will release “Cycle of Fear: Syria’s Alawites in War and Peace” by Leon Goldsmith (Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman).  The publisher’s description follows:

Cycle of FearIn early 2011 an elderly Alawite shaykh lamented the long history of ‘oppression and aggression’ against his people. Against such collective memories the Syrian uprising was viewed by many Alawites, and observers, as a revanchist Sunni Muslim movement and the gravest threat yet to the unorthodox Shi’ah sub-sect. This explained why the Alawites largely remained loyal to the Ba’athist regime of Bashar al-Assad.

But was Alawite history really a constant tale of oppression and the Syrian uprising of 2011 an existential threat to the Alawites? This book surveys Alawite history from the sect’s inception in Abbasid Iraq up to the start of the uprising in 2011. Goldsmith shows how Alawite identity and political behaviour have been shaped by a cycle of insecurity that has prevented the group from achieving either genuine social integration or long term security. Rather than being the gravest threat yet to the sect, the Syrian uprising, in the context of the Arab Spring, was quite possibly a historic opportunity for the Alawites finally to break free from their cycle of fear.

“Islam and the Americas” (Khan, ed.)

This April, University Press of Florida will release “Islam and the Americas” edited by Aisha Khan (New York University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Islam and the AmericasIn case studies that include the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States, the contributors to this interdisciplinary volume trace the establishment of Islam in the Americas over the past three centuries. They simultaneously explore Muslims’ lived experiences and examine the ways Islam has been shaped in the “Muslim minority” societies in the New World, including the Gilded Age’s fascination with Orientalism, the gendered interpretations of doctrine among Muslim immigrants and local converts, the embrace of Islam by African American activist-intellectuals like Malcolm X, and the ways transnational hip hop artists re-create and reimagine Muslim identities.

Together, these essays challenge the typical view of Islam as timeless, predictable, and opposed to Western worldviews and value systems, showing how this religious tradition continually engages with local and global issues of culture, gender, class, and race.

Robinson, “Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Rev. Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit”

In April, Wayne State University Press will release “Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Rev. Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit”  by Julia Marie Robinson (University of North Carolina at Charlotte). The publisher’s description follows:

During the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the cities of the Northeast, Midwest, and West, the local black church was essential in the making and reshaping of urban areas. In Detroit, there was one church and one minister in particular that demonstrated this power of the pulpit—Second Baptist Church of Detroit (“Second,” as many members called it) and its nineteenth pastor, the Reverend Robert L. Bradby. In Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Rev. Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit, author Julia Marie Robinson explores how Bradby’s church became the catalyst for economic empowerment, community building, and the formation of an urban African American working class in Detroit.

Robinson begins by examining Reverend Bradby’s formative years in Ontario, Canada; his rise to prominence as a pastor and community leader at Second Baptist in Detroit; and the sociohistorical context of his work in the early years of the Great Migration. She goes on to investigate the sometimes surprising nature of relationships between Second Baptist, its members, and prominent white elites in Detroit, including Bradby’s close relationship to Ford Motor Company and Henry Ford. Finally, Robinson details Bradby’s efforts as a “race leader” and activist, roles that were tied directly to his theology. She looks at the parts the minister played in such high-profile events as the organizing of Detroit’s NAACP chapter, the Ossian Sweet trial of the mid-1920s, the Scottsboro Boys trials in the 1930s, and the controversial rise of the United Auto Workers in Detroit in the 1940s.

Race, Religion, and the Pulpit presents a full and nuanced picture of Bradby’s life that has so far been missing from the scholarly record. Readers interested in the intersections of race and religion in American history, as well as anyone with ties to Detroit’s Second Baptist Church, will appreciate this thorough volume.

Barua, “Debating ‘Conversion’ in Hinduism and Christianity”

In April, Routledge will release “Debating ‘Conversion’ in Hinduism and Christianity” by Ankur Barua (University of Cambridge, UK). The publisher’s description follows:

Hindu and Christian debates over the meanings, motivations, and modalities of ‘conversion’ provide the central connecting theme running through this book. It focuses on the reasons offered by both sides to defend or oppose the possibility of these cross-border movements, and shows how these reasons form part of a wider constellation of ideas, concepts, and practices of the Christian and the Hindu worlds.

The book draws upon several historical case-studies of Christian missionaries and of Hindus who encountered these missionaries. By analyzing some of the complex negotiations, intersections, and conflicts between Hindus and Christians over the question of ‘conversion’, it demonstrates that these encounters revolve around three main contested themes. Firstly, who can properly ‘speak for the convert’? Secondly, how is ‘tolerating’ the religious other connected to an appraisal of the other’s viewpoints which may be held to be incorrect, inadequate, or incomplete? Finally, what is, in fact, the ‘true Religion’? The book demonstrates that it is necessary to wrestle with these questions for an adequate understanding of the Hindu and Christian debates over ‘conversion.’

Questioning what ‘conversion’ precisely is, and why it has been such a volatile issue on India’s political-legal landscape, the book will be a useful contribution to studies of Hinduism, Christianity and Asian Religion and Philosophy.

“The Routledge Companion to Religion and Popular Culture” (Lyden & Mazur, eds.)

This April, Routledge Press will release “The Routledge Companion to Religion and Popular Culture” edited by John C. Lyden (Grand View University) and Eric Michael Mazur (Virginia Wesleyan College).  The publisher’s description follows:

Routledge CompanionReligion and popular culture is a fast-growing field that spans a variety of disciplines. This volume offers the first real survey of the field to date and provides a guide for the work of future scholars. It explores:

  • key issues of definition and of methodology
  • religious encounters with popular culture across media, material culture and space, ranging from videogames and social networks to cooking and kitsch, architecture and national monuments
  • representations of religious traditions in the media and popular culture, including important non-Western spheres such as Bollywood

This Companion will serve as an enjoyable and informative resource for students and a stimulus to future scholarly work.

“The Caliphate and Islamic Statehood” (Kersten ed.)

This April, Gerlach Press will release “The Caliphate and Islamic Statehood: Formation, Fragmentation and Modern Interpretations” edited by Carool Kersten (King’s College, University of London).  The publisher’s description follows:

00813_Cover_Al-Zoby_fin.inddAlthough the Islamic Caliphate was formally abolished ninety years ago, it had already ceased to exist as a unitary and effectively administered political institution many centuries earlier. The ever widening gap between political ideal and historical reality is also reflected in the varying conceptualizations and theories of the Caliphate developed by Islamic religious scholars and Muslim intellectuals past and present. However, recent events in the Islamic world show that the idea of a Caliphate still appeals to Muslims of varying persuasions. This three-volume reference work tracks the history of the Caliphate as what many Muslims believe to be a genuine and authentic Islamic political institution: From its emergence in seventh-century Arabia until highly contested and controversial attempts of its revival at the beginning of the twenty-first century by radical Islamists in Afghanistan and Iraq. No matter how grandiose such interpretations of a seemingly archaic institution may be, they show the Caliphate’s longevity as a rallying point – real or symbolic – for Muslims across the world.