Tag Archives: History of Religion

Armstrong, “Fields of Blood”

From Knopf, a new book by religious historian Karen Armstrong, “Fields of Blood: Religion and the bloodHistory of Violence.” The publisher’s description follows:

From the renowned and best-selling author of A History of God, a sweeping exploration of religion and the history of human violence.

For the first time, religious self-identification is on the decline in American. Some analysts have cited as cause a post-9/11perception: that faith in general is a source of aggression, intolerance, and divisiveness—something bad for society. But how accurate is that view? With deep learning and sympathetic understanding, Karen Armstrong sets out to discover the truth about religion and violence in each of the world’s great traditions, taking us on an astonishing journey from prehistoric times to the present.

While many historians have looked at violence in connection with particular religious manifestations (jihad in Islam or Christianity’s Crusades), Armstrong looks at each faith—not only Christianity and Islam, but also Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Judaism—in its totality over time. As she describes, each arose in an agrarian society with plenty powerful landowners brutalizing peasants while also warring among themselves over land, then the only real source of wealth. In this world, religion was not the discrete and personal matter it would become for us but rather something that permeated all aspects of society. And so it was that agrarian aggression, and the warrior ethos it begot, became bound up with observances of the sacred.

In each tradition, however, a counterbalance to the warrior code also developed. Around sages, prophets, and mystics there grew up communities protesting the injustice and bloodshed endemic to agrarian society, the violence to which religion had become heir. And so by the time the great confessional faiths came of age, all understood themselves as ultimately devoted to peace, equality, and reconciliation, whatever the acts of violence perpetrated in their name.

Industrialization and modernity have ushered in an epoch of spectacular and unexampled violence, although, as Armstrong explains, relatively little of it can be ascribed directly to religion. Nevertheless, she shows us how and in what measure religions, in their relative maturity, came to absorb modern belligerence—and what hope there might be for peace among believers of different creeds in our time.

At a moment of rising geopolitical chaos, the imperative of mutual understanding between nations and faith communities has never been more urgent, the dangers of action based on misunderstanding never greater. Informed by Armstrong’s sweeping erudition and personal commitment to the promotion of compassion, Fields of Bloodmakes vividly clear that religion is not the problem.

Kalkandjieva, “The Russian Orthodox Church: From Decline to Resurrection”

Last month, Routledge released “The Russian Orthodox Church, 1917-1948: 9781138788480From Decline to Resurrection,” by Daniela Kalkandjieva (University of Sofia, Bulgaria). The publisher’s description follows:

This book tells the remarkable story of the decline and revival of the Russian Orthodox Church in the first half of the twentieth century and the astonishing U-turn in the attitude of the Soviet Union’s leaders towards the church. In the years after 1917 the Bolsheviks’ anti-religious policies, the loss of the former western territories of the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union’s isolation from the rest of the world and the consequent separation of Russian emigrés from the church were disastrous for the church, which declined very significantly in the 1920s and 1930s. However, when Poland was partitioned in 1939 between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Stalin allowed the Patriarch of Moscow, Sergei, jurisdiction over orthodox congregations in the conquered territories and went on, later, to encourage the church to promote patriotic activities as part of the resistance to the Nazi invasion. He agreed a Concordat with the church in 1943, and continued to encourage the church, especially its claims to jurisdiction over émigré Russian orthodox churches, in the immediate postwar period. Based on extensive original research, the book puts forward a great deal of new information and overturns established thinking on many key points.

Greengrass, “Christendom Destroyed”

Last month, Penguin released Christendom Destroyed: Europe 1517-1648, by 9780670024568Mhistorian Mark Greengrass (University of Sheffield (Emeritus)). The publisher’s description follows:

From peasants to princes, no one was untouched by the spiritual and intellectual upheaval of the sixteenth century. Martin Luther’s challenge to church authority forced Christians to examine their beliefs in ways that shook the foundations of their religion. The subsequent divisions, fed by dynastic rivalries and military changes, fundamentally altered the relations between ruler and ruled. Geographical and scientific discoveries challenged the unity of Christendom as a belief community. Europe, with all its divisions, emerged instead as a geographical projection. Chronicling these dramatic changes, Thomas More, Shakespeare, Montaigne, and Cervantes created works that continue to resonate with us.

Spanning the years 1517 to 1648, Christendom Destroyed is Mark Greengrass’s magnum opus: a rich tapestry that fosters a deeper understanding of Europe’s identity today.

Dixie & Eisenstadt, “Visions of a Better World”

Last month, Random House released the paperback edition of Visions of a Better9780807001721 World: Howard Thurman’s Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of African American Nonviolence, by Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt. The publisher’s description follows:

In 1935, at the height of his powers, Howard Thurman, one of the most influential African American religious thinkers of the twentieth century, took a pivotal trip to India that would forever change him—and that would ultimately shape the course of the civil rights movement in the United States.

When Thurman (1899–1981) became the first African American to meet with Mahatma Gandhi, he found himself called upon to create a new version of American Christianity, one that eschewed self-imposed racial and religious boundaries, and equipped itself to confront the enormous social injustices that plagued the United States during this period. Gandhi’s philosophy and practice of satyagraha, or “soul force,” would have a momentous impact on Thurman, showing him the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance.

After the journey to India, Thurman’s distinctly American translation of satyagraha into a Black Christian context became one of the key inspirations for the civil rights movement, fulfilling Gandhi’s prescient words that “it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.” Thurman went on to found one of the first explicitly interracial congregations in the United States and to deeply influence an entire generation of black ministers—among them Martin Luther King Jr.

Visions of a Better World depicts a visionary leader at a transformative moment in his life. Drawing from previously untapped archival material and obscurely published works, Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt explore, for the first time, Thurman’s development into a towering theologian who would profoundly affect American Christianity—and American history.

“Buddhism in Mongolian History, Culture and Society” (Wallace, ed.)

This January, Oxford University Press will release “Buddhism in Mongolian History, Culture and Society” edited by Vesna A. Wallace (University of California, Santa Barbara).  The publisher’s description follows:

BuddhismBuddhism in Mongolian History, Culture, and Society explores the unique elements of Mongolian Buddhism while challenging its stereotyped image as a mere replica of Tibetan Buddhism. Vesna A. Wallace brings together an interdisciplinary group of leading scholars to explore the interaction between the Mongolian indigenous culture and Buddhism, the features that Buddhism acquired through its adaptation to the Mongolian cultural sphere, and the ways Mongols have constructed their Buddhist identity. The contributors explore the ways that Buddhism retained unique Mongolian features through Qing and Mongol support, and bring to light the ways in which Mongolian Buddhists saw Buddhism as inseparable from “Mongolness.” They show that by being greatly supported by Mongol and Qing empires, suppressed by the communist governments, and experiencing revitalization facilitated by democratization and the challenges posed by modernity, Buddhism underwent a series of transformations while retaining unique Mongolian features.

The book covers historical events, social and political conditions, and influential personages in Mongolian Buddhism from the sixteenth century to the present, and addresses the artistic and literary expressions of Mongolian Buddhism and various Mongolian Buddhist practices and beliefs.

Bouasria, “Sufism and Politics in Morocco”

This January, Routledge Press will release “Sufism and Politics in Morocco: Activism and Dissent” by Abdelilah Bouasria (George Mason University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Presenting a political history and sociology of Moroccan Sufism from colonialism to the modern day, this book studies the Sufi model of Master and Disciple in relation to social and political life, comparing the different eras of acquiescent versus dissident Sufism.

This comparative fieldwork study offers new perspectives on the connection between the monarchy and mystic realms with a specific coverage of the Boutchichi order and Abdessalam Yassine’s Al Adl Wal Ihsane, examining the myth of apolitical Sufism throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Drawing on Michel Foucault and James Scott, this book fuses thinking about the political dimension of Sufism, a “hidden transcript,” involving power struggles, patronage and justice and its esoteric spiritual ethics of care.

Addressing the lacuna in English language literature on the Boutchichi Sufi order in Morocco, this book will be of interest to students and scholars of Islamic Studies, Comparative Politics and the MENA region.

“Religion, Postcolonialism, and Globalization: A Sourcebook” (Reid, ed.)

In February, Bloomsbury Press will release “Religion, Postcolonialism, and Globalization: A Sourcebook,” by Jennifer Reid (University of Maine, Farmington). The publisher’s description follows:

Religion, Postcolonialism and Globalization: A Sourcebook shows how the roots of our globalized world run deeper than the 1980s or even the end of WWII, tracing back to 15th century European colonial expansion through which the ‘modern world system’ came into existence.

The Sourcebook is divided into four sections, each with a critical introduction by the editor, a series of readings, and discussion questions based on the readings. Canonical readings in religion, globalization and postcolonialism are paired with lesser-known texts in order to invite critical analysis. Extracts explored include work by Max Weber, Edward Said, David Chidester, and Kant, as well as political documents such as the British Parliament’s 1813 Act regarding the East India Company. Sources range from the origins of the common phrase “jihad vs. McWorld” in the work of Benjamin Barber, to personal essays reflecting religious responses to globalization.

Focusing on a history of religions approach, Religion, Postcolonialism, and Globalization provides an alternative to existing sociological work on religion and globalization.

Upcoming Colloquium: “Toward the Christian Republic”

pelerinOn December 3rd, New York University’s Institute of French Studies will host a lecture by Professor Vicki Caron (Cornell University), “Toward the Christian Republic: The Impact of Vatican Policy on Catholic Antisemitism on the Eve of the Dreyfus Affair.” Details are here.

Sutton, “American Apocalypse”

This December, Harvard University Press will release “American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism” by Matthew Avery Sutton (Washington State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

American ApocalypseThe first comprehensive history of modern American evangelicalism to appear in a generation, American Apocalypse shows how a group of radical Protestants, anticipating the end of the world, paradoxically transformed it.

Matthew Avery Sutton draws on extensive archival research to document the ways an initially obscure network of charismatic preachers and their followers reshaped American religion, at home and abroad, for over a century. Perceiving the United States as besieged by Satanic forces—communism and secularism, family breakdown and government encroachment—Billy Sunday, Charles Fuller, Billy Graham, and others took to the pulpit and airwaves to explain how Biblical end-times prophecy made sense of a world ravaged by global wars, genocide, and the threat of nuclear extinction. Believing Armageddon was nigh, these preachers used what little time was left to warn of the coming Antichrist, save souls, and prepare the nation for God’s final judgment.

By the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan and conservative Republicans appropriated evangelical ideas to create a morally infused political agenda that challenged the pragmatic tradition of governance through compromise and consensus. Following 9/11, the politics of apocalypse continued to resonate with an anxious populace seeking a roadmap through a world spinning out of control. Premillennialist evangelicals have erected mega-churches, shaped the culture wars, made and destroyed presidential hopefuls, and brought meaning to millions of believers. Narrating the story of modern evangelicalism from the perspective of the faithful, Sutton demonstrates how apocalyptic thinking continues to exert enormous influence over the American mainstream today.

Mouline, “The Clerics of Islam”

This November, Yale University Press will release “The Clerics of Islam: Religious Authority and Political Power in Saudi Arabia” by Nabil Mouline (French National Center for Scientific Research).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Clerics of IslamFollowers of Muhammad b. ’Abd al-Wahhab, often considered to be Islam’s Martin Luther, shaped the political and religious identity of the Saudi state while also enabling the significant worldwide expansion of Salafist Islam. Studies of the movement he inspired, however, have often been limited by scholars’ insufficient access to key sources within Saudi Arabia. Nabil Mouline was granted rare interviews and admittance to important Saudi archives in preparation for this groundbreaking book, the first in-depth study of the Wahhabi religious movement from its founding to the modern day. Gleaning information from both written and oral sources and employing a multidisciplinary approach that combines history, sociology, and Islamic studies, Mouline presents a new reading of this movement that transcends the usual resort to polemics.