In October, the University Press of Florida released “No Jim Crow Church: The Origins of South Carolina’s Bahá’í Community,” by Louis Venters (Francis Marion University). The publisher’s description follows:
In No Jim Crow Church, Louis Venters recounts the unlikely emergence of a cohesive interracial fellowship in South Carolina, tracing the history of the community from the end of the nineteenth century through the civil rights era. By joining the Bahá’í Faith, blacks and whites not only defied Jim Crow but also rejected their society’s religious and social restrictions.
The religion, which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind, arrived in the United States from the Middle East via northern urban areas. As early as 1910, Bahá’í teachers began settling in South Carolina, where the Bahá’í Faith is currently the largest religious minority. Venters presents an organizational, social, and intellectual history of South Carolina’s early Bahá’í movement and relates developments within the community to changes in society at large, with particular attention to race relations and the civil rights struggle. He argues that the state’s Bahá’ís represent a significant, sustained, spiritually based challenge to the ideology and structures of white male Protestant supremacy. His research provides a fascinating study of an unlikely movement’s rise to prominence and the role of the South Carolina Bahá’í community in the cultural and structural evolution of a new world religion.
In January, the Harvard University Press will release “Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power,” by Anna Su (University of Toronto). The publisher’s description follows:
Religious freedom is widely recognized today as a basic human right, guaranteed by nearly all national constitutions. Exporting Freedom charts the rise of religious freedom as an ideal firmly enshrined in international law and shows how America’s promotion of the cause of individuals worldwide to freely practice their faith advanced its ascent as a global power.
Anna Su traces America’s exportation of religious freedom in various laws and policies enacted over the course of the twentieth century, in diverse locations and under a variety of historical circumstances. Influenced by growing religious tolerance at home and inspired by a belief in the United States’ obligation to protect the persecuted beyond its borders, American officials drafted constitutions as part of military occupations—in the Philippines after the Spanish–American War, in Japan following World War II, and in Iraq after 2003. They also spearheaded efforts to reform the international legal order by pursuing Wilsonian principles in the League of Nations, drafting the United Nations Charter, and signing the Helsinki Accords during the Cold War. The fruits of these labors are evident in the religious freedom provisions in international legal instruments, regional human rights conventions, and national constitutions.
In examining the evolution of religious freedom from an expression of the civilizing impulse to the democratization of states and, finally, through the promotion of human rights, Su offers a new understanding of the significance of religion in international relations.
I want to call special notice to Professor Samuel Moyn’s very interesting and elegantly executed new book, Christian Human Rights (2015), which traces the specifically 20th century Christian roots of contemporary (secular?) human rights. Moyn begins really in 1937 and devotes special attention to Pope Pius XII’s 1942 Christmas message, “The Internal Order of States and People,” in which Pius announced both the “dignity of the human person” and that man “should uphold respect for and the practical realization of…fundamental personal rights.”
I’ve just started to dig in to the book, but I wanted to highlight a few passages from the introduction to illustrate some of the accents and grace notes of the book. There is, for example, this line: “The trouble, after all, is not so much that Christianity accounts for nothing, as that it accounts for everything.” (6) Part of Moyn’s project is remedial with respect both to those “secular historians” who have “nervously bypassed” “the Christian incarnation of human rights, which interferes with their preferred understandings of today’s highest principles” and those other scholars, “overwhelmingly Christians themselves,” who go about defending the Christian tradition of human rights “in a highly abstract way” and by recourse to “long ago events” stretching to the very beginnings of Christianity.
There is also this, on the idea of tradition (admittedly, a subject of some interest to me):
No one could plausibly claim–and no one ever has–that the history of human rights is one of wholly discontinuous novelty….But radical departures nonetheless occurred very late in Christian history, even if they were unfailingly represented as consistent with what came before: this is how “the invention of tradition” most frequently works. (5)
The citation is to Hobsbawm’s essay (in his collected volume) on The Invention of Tradition (in which Hugh Trevor Roper’s typically and enjoyably acid essay on Scottish tartans is one of my very favorites in the ‘tradition-as-fraud’ genre). Yet I hope it is not too tart of me to wonder whether this might just as easily be called “the invention of novelty,” novelties being, of course, the stuff on which scholars make their living. Perhaps a little of both?
More seriously, perhaps what these lines in Moyn’s fine and insightful book really suggest is that what is really most needful is a true and clear-eyed account of the idea of tradition and its importance for law and legal institutions generally, one that is neither committed to its lionization nor demonization.
In July, the Oxford University Press released “At the Cross: Race, Religion, and Citizenship in the Politics of the Death Penalty” by Melynda J. Price (University of Kentucky College of Law). The publisher’s description follows:
Curing systemic inequalities in the criminal justice system is the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement. No part of that system highlights this truth more than the current implementation of the death penalty. At the Cross tells a story of the relationship between the death penalty and race in American politics that complicates the common belief that individual African Americans, especially poor African Americans, are more subject to the death penalty in criminal cases. The current death penalty regime operates quite differently than it did in the past. The findings of this research demonstrate the the racial inequity in the meting out of death sentences has legal and political externalities that move beyond individual defendants to larger numbers of African Americans.
At the Cross looks at the meaning of the death penalty to and for African Americans by using various sites of analysis. Using various sites of analysis, Price shows the connection between criminal justice policies like the death penalty and the political and legal rights of African Americans who are tangentially connected to the criminal justice system through familial and social networks. Drawing on black politics, legal and political theory and narrative analysis, Price utilizes a mixed-method approach that incorporates analysis of media reports, capital jury selection and survey data, as well as original focus group data. As the rates of incarceration trend upward, Black politics scholars have focused on the impact of incarceration on the voting strength of the black community. Local, and even regional, narratives of African American politics and the death penalty expose the fractures in American democracy that foment perceptions of exclusion among blacks.
In September, Routledge released “Rights, Religious Pluralism and the Recognition of Difference: Off the Scales of Justice,” by Dorota Anna Gozdecka (Australian National University College of Law). The publisher’s description follows:
Human rights and their principles of interpretation are the leading legal paradigms of our time. Freedom of religion occupies a pivotal position in rights discourses, and the principles supporting its interpretation receive increasing attention from courts and legislative bodies. This book critically evaluates religious pluralism as an emerging legal principle arising from attempts to define the boundaries of freedom of religion. It examines religious pluralism as an underlying aspect of different human rights regimes and constitutional traditions. It is, however, the static and liberal shape religious pluralism has assumed that is taken up critically here. In order to address how difference is vulnerable to elimination, rather than recognition, the book takes up a contemporary ethics of alterity. More generally, and through its reconstruction of a more difference-friendly vision of religious pluralism, it tackles the problem of the role of rights in the era of diverse narratives of emancipation.
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.
This month, the Georgetown University Press releases “Keeping Faith with Human Rights,” by Linda Hogan (Trinity College Dublin). The publisher’s description follows:
The human rights regime is one of modernity’s great civilizing triumphs. From the formal promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to the subsequent embrace of this declaration by the newly independent states of Africa, human rights have emerged as the primary discourse of global politics and as an increasingly prominent category in the international and domestic legal system. But throughout their history, human rights have endured sustained attempts at disenfranchisement.
In this provocative study, Linda Hogan defends human rights language while simultaneously reenvisioning its future. Avoiding problematic claims about shared universal values, Hogan draws on the constructivist strand of political philosophy to argue for a three-pronged conception of human rights: as requirements for human flourishing, as necessary standards of human community, and as the basis for emancipatory politics. In the process, she shows that it is theoretically possible and politically necessary for theologians to keep faith with human rights. Indeed, the Christian tradition—the wellspring of many of the ethical commitments considered central to human rights—must embrace its vital role in the project.
This month, the University of Chicago Press releases “New Thinking in Islam: The Jihad for Democracy, Freedom and Women’s Rights,” by Katajun Amirpur (Hamburg University). The publisher’s description follows:
In Rethinking Islam, Katajun Amirpur argues that the West’s impression of Islam as a backward-looking faith, resistant to post-Enlightenment thinking, is misleading and—due to its effects on political discourse—damaging. Introducing readers to key thinkers and activists—such as Abu Zaid, a free-thinking Egyptian Qur’an scholar; Abdolkarim Soroush, an academic and former member of Khomeini’s Cultural Revolution Committee; and Amina Wadud, an American feminist who was the first woman to lead the faithful in Friday Prayer—Amirpur reveals a powerful yet lesser-known tradition of inquiry and dissent within Islam, one that is committed to democracy and human rights. By examining these and many other similar figures’ ideas, she reveals the many ways they reject fundamentalist assertions and instead call for a diversity of opinion, greater freedom, and equality of the sexes.
In November, the Syracuse University Press releases “The Mizrahi Era of Rebellion: Israel’s Forgotten Civil Rights Struggle, 1948–1966,” by Bryan K. Roby (New York University). The publisher’s description follows:
During the postwar period of 1948–56, over 400,000 Jews from the Middle East and Asia immigrated to the newly established state ofIsrael. By the end of the 1950s, Mizrahim, also known as Oriental Jewry, represented the ethnic majority of the Israeli Jewish population. Despite their large numbers, Mizrahim were considered outsiders because of their non-European origins. Viewed as foreigners who came from culturally backward and distant lands, they suffered decades of socioeconomic, political, and educational injustices.
In this pioneering work, Roby traces the Mizrahi population’s struggle for equality and civil rights in Israel. Although the daily “bread and work” demonstrations are considered the first political expression of the Mizrahim, Roby demonstrates the myriad ways in which they agitated for change. Drawing upon a wealth of archival sources, many only recently declassified, Roby details the activities of the highly ideological and politicized young Israel. Police reports, court transcripts, and protester accounts document a diverse range of resistance tactics, including sit-ins, tent protests, and hunger strikes. Roby shows how the Mizrahi intellectuals and activists in the 1960s began to take note of the American civil rights movement, gaining inspiration from its development and drawing parallels between their experience and that of other marginalized ethnic groups. The Mizrahi Era of Rebellion shines a light on a largely forgotten part of Israeli social history, one that profoundly shaped the way Jews from African and Asian countries engaged with the newly founded state of Israel.
In October, Brill will release “Freedom of Religion in the 21st Century: A Human Rights Perspective on the Relation Between Politics and Religion,” edited by Hans-Georg Ziebertz (University of Würzburg) and Ernst Hirsch Ballin (Tillburg University). The publisher’s description follows:
Freedom of religion consists of the right to practice, to manifest and to change one’s religion. The modern democratic state is neutral towards the variety of religions, but protects the right of citizens to practice their different religious beliefs. Recent history shows that a number of religious claims challenge the neutral state. This happens especially when secularity is rejected as the basis of the modern state. How can conflicting interpretations of the relation between religion and state be balanced in our world? This book reflects on conflicts that seem to be implied in the freedom of religion, on its causes and how they can be overcome.