Tag Archives: History of Religion

Rabb, “Doubt in Islamic Law: A History of Legal Maxims, Interpretation, and Islamic Criminal Law”

In November, Cambridge University Press will release “Doubt in Islamic Law: A History of Legal Maxims, Interpretation, and Islamic Criminal Law” by Intisar A. Rabb (Harvard Law School). The publisher’s description follows:

This book considers an important and largely neglected area of Islamic law by exploring how medieval Muslim jurists resolved criminal cases that could not be proven beyond a doubt. Intisar A. Rabb calls into question a controversial popular notion about Islamic law today, which is that Islamic law is a divine legal tradition that has little room for discretion or doubt, particularly in Islamic criminal law. Despite its contemporary popularity, that notion turns out to have been far outside the mainstream of Islamic law for most of its history. Instead of rejecting doubt, medieval Muslim scholars largely embraced it. In fact, they used doubt to enlarge their own power and to construct Islamic criminal law itself. Through a close examination of legal, historical, and theological sources, and a range of illustrative case studies, this book shows that Muslim jurists developed a highly sophisticated and regulated system for dealing with Islam’s unique concept of doubt, which evolved from the seventh to the sixteenth century.

Phelan, “The Formation of Christian Europe”

This October, Oxford University Press will release “The Formation of Christian Europe: The Carolingians, Baptism, and the Imperium Christianum” by Owen Phelan (Mount Saint Mary’s University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Formation of Christian EuropeThe Formation of Christian Europe analyzes the Carolingians’ efforts to form a Christian Empire with the organizing principle of the sacrament of baptism. Owen M. Phelan argues that baptism provided the foundation for this society, and offered a medium for the communication and the popularization of beliefs and ideas, through which the Carolingian Renewal established the vision of an imperium christianum in Europe. He analyzes how baptism unified people theologically, socially, and politically and helped Carolingian leaders order their approaches to public life. It enabled reformers to think in ways which were ideologically consistent, publicly available, and socially useful.
Phelan also examines the influential court intellectual, Alcuin of York, who worked to implement a sacramental society through baptism. The book finally looks at the dissolution of Carolingian political aspirations for an imperium christianum and how, by the end of the ninth century, political frustrations concealed the deeper achievement of the Carolingian Renewal.

BBC Essay on the Armenian Church in Myanmar

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Photo from the BBC

From the BBC’s News Magazine, here’s a lovely essay, “The Last Armenians of Myanmar,” about a small Armenian parish church, St. John the Baptist, in the capital city of Yangon. The Armenian community built the church in 1862, when the country was still known as Burma, and the city as Rangoon.The Armenians had come to Rangoon in the 18th century from Iran, by way of British India, following the trade routes.They established close ties to the Burmese monarchy, which donated the land for the church in the center of the city.

As its title suggests, the essay has a wistful, elegiac tone. Hardly any Armenians remain in Myanmar today– most departed for Australia after World War II – and the parish gets only a handful of worshipers on Sundays. But the situation is not altogether grim. Faithful parishioners continue to maintain the church lovingly– photos of the interior make it look Victorian and vaguely Episcopalian – and the liturgy is said every Sunday by Fr. John Felix, a South Indian convert from Anglicanism. The choir continues to sing the hymns in classical Armenian.

There is hope that two things will work to preserve the building. First, as Myanmar opens to the world, international tourism is increasing. As one of the the city’s principal historic landmarks, the church should benefit. Second, the church has become the focal point for the small Orthodox community in Yangon, not just Armenians:

Already diplomats, business visitors and tourists from a range of Orthodox countries and churches – Russian, Greek, Serbian – occasionally swell the numbers at St John the Baptist, the only Orthodox church in Myanmar’s biggest city.

A new worshiper here, Ramona Tarta, is Romanian, a globetrotting business woman, publisher and events organizer who has lived in Yangon for the last few months.

“My faith is very important to me. Wherever I am in the world, I seek out an Orthodox church. But I was about to give up on Yangon. I thought it was the only city I’d ever lived in which had no Orthodox place of worship,” she complains.

She chanced across the Armenian church when driving past, and believes that with a little promotion, this historic building – and the tradition to which it bears testimony – could have a more secure future.

There’s a lesson here. Many of these Orthodox Churches have been out of communion for thousands of years. Formally, they are not supposed to worship together. But at the ends of the earth, and surrounded by people for whom these sectarian differences mean nothing, Christians somehow manage to cooperate. A hopeful example of practical ecumenism that Christians everywhere should keep in mind.

Baumgarten, “Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz: Men, Women, and Everyday Religious Observance”

In October, the University of Pennsylvania Press will release “Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz: Men, Women, and Everyday Religious Observance” by Elisheva Baumgarten (Hebrew University of Jerusalem). The publisher’s description follows:

In the urban communities of medieval Germany and northern France, the beliefs, observances, and practices of Jews allowed them to create and define their communities on their own terms as well as in relation to the surrounding Christian society. Although medieval Jewish texts were written by a learned elite, the laity also observed many religious rituals as part of their everyday life. In Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz, Elisheva Baumgarten asks how Jews, especially those who were not learned, expressed their belonging to a minority community and how their convictions and deeds were made apparent to both their Jewish peers and the Christian majority.

Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz provides a social history of religious practice in context, particularly with regard to the ways Jews and Christians, separately and jointly, treated their male and female members. Medieval Jews often shared practices and beliefs with their Christian neighbors, and numerous notions and norms were appropriated by one community from the other. By depicting a dynamic interfaith landscape and a diverse representation of believers, Baumgarten offers a fresh assessment of Jewish practice and the shared elements that composed the piety of Jews in relation to their Christian neighbors.

Fisher, Lemons & Mason-Brown, “Decoding Roger Williams”

This month, Baylor University Press releases “Decoding Roger Williams: The Lost Essay of Rhode Island’s Founding Father” by Linford D. Fisher (Brown University), J. Stanley Lemons (Emeritus Professor at Rhode Island College) and Lucas Mason-Brown (Graduate Student at Trinity College, Dublin).  The publisher’s description follows:

Decoding Roger WilliamsNear the end of his life, Roger Williams, Rhode Island founder and father of American religious freedom, scrawled an encrypted essay in the margins of a colonial-era book. For more than 300 years those shorthand notes remained indecipherable…

…until a team of Brown University undergraduates led by Lucas Mason-Brown cracked Williams’ code after the marginalia languished for over a century in the archives of the John Carter Brown Library. At the time of Williams’ writing, a trans-Atlantic debate on infant versus believer’s baptism had taken shape that included London Baptist minister John Norcott and the famous Puritan “Apostle to the Indians,” John Eliot. Amazingly, Williams’ code contained a previously undiscovered essay, which was a point-by-point refutation of Eliot’s book supporting infant baptism.

History professors Linford D. Fisher and J. Stanley Lemons immediately recognized the importance of what turned out to be theologian Roger Williams’ final treatise. Decoding Roger Williams reveals for the first time Williams’ translated and annotated essay, along with a critical essay by Fisher, Lemons, and Mason-Brown and reprints of the original Norcott and Eliot tracts.

Cole, “Just War and the Ethics of Espionage”

This month, Routledge Publishing releases “Just War and the Ethics of Espionage” by Darrell Cole (Drew University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Just War and the Ethics of EspionageThe War on Terror has raised many new, thorny issues of how we can determine acceptable action in defense of our liberties. Western leaders have increasingly used spies to execute missions unsuitable to the military. These operations, which often result in the contravening of international law and previously held norms of acceptable moral behavior, raise critical ethical questions—is spying limited by moral considerations? If so, what are they and how are they determined? Cole argues that spying is an act of force that may be a justifiable means to secure order and justice among political communities. He explores how the just war moral tradition, with its roots in Christian moral theology and Western moral philosophy, history, custom and law might help us come to grips with the moral problems of spying. This book will appeal to anyone interested in applied religious ethics, moral theology and philosophy, political philosophy, international law, international relations, military intellectual history, the War on Terror, and Christian theological politics.

Matossian, “Shattered Dreams of Revolution”

Next month, Stanford University Press will release “Shattered Dreams of Revolution: From Liberty to Violence in the Late Ottoman Empire” by Bedross Der Matossian (University of Nebraska-Lincoln).  The publisher’s description follows:

Shattered Dreams of RevolutionThe Ottoman revolution of 1908 is a study in contradictions—a positive manifestation of modernity intended to reinstate constitutional rule, yet ultimately a negative event that shook the fundamental structures of the empire, opening up ethnic, religious, and political conflicts. Shattered Dreams of Revolution considers this revolutionary event to tell the stories of three important groups: Arabs, Armenians, and Jews. The revolution raised these groups’ expectations for new opportunities of inclusion and citizenship. But as post-revolutionary festivities ended, these euphoric feelings soon turned to pessimism and a dramatic rise in ethnic tensions.

The undoing of the revolutionary dreams could be found in the very foundations of the revolution itself. Inherent ambiguities and contradictions in the revolution’s goals and the reluctance of both the authors of the revolution and the empire’s ethnic groups to come to a compromise regarding the new political framework of the empire ultimately proved untenable. The revolutionaries had never been wholeheartedly committed to constitutionalism, thus constitutionalism failed to create a new understanding of Ottoman citizenship, grant equal rights to all citizens, and bring them under one roof in a legislative assembly. Today as the Middle East experiences another set of revolutions, these early lessons of the Ottoman Empire, of unfulfilled expectations and ensuing discontent, still provide important insights into the contradictions of hope and disillusion seemingly inherent in revolution.

Gasaway, “Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice”

This October, University of North Carolina Press will release “Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice” by Brantley W. Gasaway (Bucknell University). The publisher’s description follows:

Progressive EvangelicalsIn this compelling history of progressive evangelicalism, Brantley Gasaway examines a dynamic though often overlooked movement within American Christianity today. Gasaway focuses on left-leaning groups, such as Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action, that emerged in the early 1970s, prior to the rise of the more visible Religious Right. He identifies the distinctive “public theology”–a set of biblical interpretations regarding the responsibility of Christians to promote social justice–that has animated progressive evangelicals’ activism and bound together their unusual combination of political positions.

The book analyzes how prominent leaders, including Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo, responded to key political and social issues over the past four decades. Progressive evangelicals combated racial inequalities, endorsed feminism, promoted economic justice, and denounced American nationalism and militarism. At the same time, most leaders opposed abortion and refused to affirm homosexual behavior, even as they defended gay civil rights. Gasaway demonstrates that, while progressive evangelicals have been caught in the crossfire of partisan conflicts and public debates over the role of religion in politics, they have offered a significant alternative to both the Religious Right and the political left.

Helman, “Becoming Israeli: National Ideals and Everyday Life in the 1950s”

In July, Brandeis University Press released “Becoming Israeli: National Ideals and Everyday Life in the 1950s” by Anat Helman (Hebrew University of Jerusalem). The publisher’s description follows:

With a light touch and many wonderful illustrations, historian Anat Helman investigates “life on the ground” in Israel during the first years of statehood. She looks at how citizens–natives of the land, longtime immigrants, and newcomers–coped with the state’s efforts to turn an incredibly diverse group of people into a homogenous whole. She investigates the efforts to make Hebrew the lingua franca of Israel, the uses of humor, and the effects of a constant military presence, along with such familiar aspects of daily life as communal dining on the kibbutz, the nightmare of trying to board a bus, and moviegoing as a form of escapism. In the process Helman shows how ordinary people adapted to the standards and rules of the political and cultural elites and negotiated the chaos of early statehood.

Nirenberg, “Neighboring Faiths”

This October, University of Chicago Press will release “Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today” by David Nirenberg (University of Chicago).  The publisher’s description follows:

Neighboring FaithsChristianity, Judaism, and Islam are usually treated as autonomous religions, but in fact across the long course of their histories the three religions have developed in interaction with one another. In Neighboring Faiths, David Nirenberg examines how Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived with and thought about each other during the Middle Ages and what the medieval past can tell us about how they do so today.

There have been countless scripture-based studies of the three “religions of the book,” but Nirenberg goes beyond those to pay close attention to how the three religious neighbors loved, tolerated, massacred, and expelled each other—all in the name of God—in periods and places both long ago and far away. Nirenberg argues that the three religions need to be studied in terms of how each affected the development of the others over time, their proximity of religious and philosophical thought as well as their overlapping geographies, and how the three “neighbors” define—and continue to define—themselves and their place in terms of one another. From dangerous attractions leading to interfaith marriage; to interreligious conflicts leading to segregation, violence, and sometimes extermination; to strategies for bridging the interfaith gap through language, vocabulary, and poetry, Nirenberg aims to understand the intertwined past of the three faiths as a way for their heirs to produce the future—together.