In August, the University of Alabama Press will release “Writing Religion: The Case for the Critical Study of Religion,” edited by Steven W. Ramey (University of Alabama). The publisher’s description follows:
In 2002, the University of Alabama’s Department of Religious Studies established the annual Aronov Lecture Series to showcase the works of nationally recognized scholars of religion capable of reflecting on issues of wide relevance to scholars from across the humanities and social sciences. Writing Religion: The Case for the Critical Study of Religions is an edited collection of essays that highlights critical contributions from the first ten Aronov lecturers.
Section one of the volume, “Writing Discourses,” features essays by Jonathan Z. Smith, Bruce Lincoln, and Ann Pellegrini that illustrate how critical study enables the analysis of discourses in society and history. Section two, “Riting Social Formations,” includes pieces by Arjun Appadurai, Judith Plaskow, and Nathan Katz that reference both the power of rites to construct society and the act of riting as a form of disciplining that both prescribes and proscribes. The writings of Tomoko Masuzawa, Amy-Jill Levine, Aaron W. Hughes, and Martin S. Jaffee appear in section three, “Righting the Discipline.” They emphasize the correction of movements within the academic study of religion.
Steven W. Ramey frames the collection with a thoughtful introduction that explores the genesis, development, and diversity of critical analysis in the study of religion. An afterword by Russell McCutcheon reflects on the critical study of religion at the University of Alabama and rounds out this superb collection.
The mission of the Department of Religious Studies is to “avoid every tendency toward confusing the study of religion with the practice of religion.” Instruction about—rather than in—religion is foundational to the department’s larger goal of producing knowledge of the world and its many practices and systems of beliefs. Infused with this spirit, these fascinating essays, which read like good conversations with learned friends, offer significant examples of each scholar’s work. Writing Religion will be of value to graduate students, advanced undergraduates, and scholars interested in the study of religion from a critical perspective.
In March, the Harvard University Press published “A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement,” by John Stratton Hawley (Barnard College). The publisher’s description follows:
India celebrates itself as a nation of unity in diversity, but where does that sense of unity come from? One important source is a widely- accepted narrative called the “bhakti movement.” Bhakti is the religion of the heart, of song, of common participation, of inner peace, of anguished protest. The idea known as the bhakti movement asserts that between 600 and 1600 CE, poet-saints sang bhakti from India’s southernmost tip to its northern Himalayan heights, laying the religious bedrock upon which the modern state of India would be built.
Challenging this canonical narrative, John Stratton Hawley clarifies the historical and political contingencies that gave birth to the concept of the bhakti movement. Starting with the Mughals and their Kachvaha allies, North Indian groups looked to the Hindu South as a resource that would give religious and linguistic depth to their own collective history. Only in the early twentieth century did the idea of a bhakti “movement” crystallize—in the intellectual circle surrounding Rabindranath Tagore in Bengal. Interactions between Hindus and Muslims, between the sexes, between proud regional cultures, and between upper castes and Dalits are crucially embedded in the narrative, making it a powerful political resource.
A Storm of Songs ponders the destiny of the idea of the bhakti movement in a globalizing India. If bhakti is the beating heart of India, this is the story of how it was implanted there—and whether it can survive.
This month, the University of Nebraska Press released “The Lawyer of the Church: Bishop Clemente de Jesús Munguía and the Clerical Response to the Mexican Liberal Reforma,” by Pablo Mijangos y González. The publisher’s description follows:
Mexico’s Reforma, the mid-nineteenth-century liberal revolution, decisively shaped the country by disestablishing the Catholic Church, secularizing public affairs, and laying the foundations of a truly national economy and culture.
The Lawyer of the Church is an examination of the Mexican clergy’s response to the Reforma through a study of the life and works of Bishop Clemente de Jesús Munguía (1810–68), one of the most influential yet least-known figures of the period. By analyzing how Munguía responded to changing political and intellectual scenarios in defense of the clergy’s legal prerogatives and social role, Pablo Mijangos y González argues that the Catholic Church opposed the liberal revolution not because of its supposed attachment to a bygone past but rather because of its efforts to supersede colonial tradition and refashion itself within a liberal yet confessional state. With an eye on the international influences and dimensions of the Mexican church-state conflict, The Lawyer of the Church also explores how Mexican bishops gradually tightened their relationship with the Holy See and simultaneously managed to incorporate the papacy into their local affairs, thus paving the way for the eventual “Romanization” of Mexican Catholicism during the later decades of the century.
In September, the University of California press will release, “God in the Tumult of the Global Square: Religion in Global Civil Society,” by Mark Juergensmeyer (University of California, Santa Barbara), Dinah Griego (University of California, Santa Barbara), and John Soboslai (University of California, Santa Barbara). The publisher’s description follows:
How is religion changing in the twenty-first century? In the global era, religion has leapt onto the world stage, though often in contradictory ways. Some religious activists are antagonistic and engage in protests, violent acts, and political challenges. Others are positive and help to shape an emerging transnational civil society. A new global religion may be in the making, providing a moral and spiritual basis for a worldwide community of concern about environmental issues, human rights, and international peace. God in the Tumult of the Global Square explores all of these directions, based on a five-year Luce Foundation project that involved religious leaders, scholars, and public figures in workshops held in Cairo, Moscow, Delhi, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, and Santa Barbara. In this book, the voices of these religious observers around the world express both the hopes and fears about new forms of religion in the global age.
In July, the I.B. Tauris International Library of Iranian Studies will release “Political Islam in Post-Revolutionary Iran: Shi’i Ideologies in Islamist Discourse,” by Majid Mohammadi (Stony Brook University). The publisher’s description follows:
The relationship between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Western World is fraught with challenges and tensions. In order to generate the capacity for greater engagement and dialogue, there is a need for the West to better understand the complex ideological developments that are central to Iran. Majid Mohammadi charts the central concepts and nuances of the ideological map of post-revolutionary Iran, and examines the rise and development of Shi’i Islamism. He recognizes that the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iranian political discourse are the outcome of contesting perspectives and ideologies: identity-oriented, socialist, nationalist, authoritarian, Shari’a, scripturalist, mystical, militarist and fascist. This is a comprehensive, comparative contribution to one of today’s most important topics: that of the relationship between Political Islam and the West.
Last month, Vandeplas Publishing released “Current Conflicts in Law and Religion” by Vaughn E. James (Texas Tech University School of Law). The publisher’s description follows:
The core of Current Conflicts in Law and Religion takes the reader through eleven hot-topic issues in law and religion in twenty-first century society:
• The role of religious voices in the political debate;
• Religious voices in the abortion rights debate;
• The legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States;
• The ordination of LGBT clergy;
• Prayer and religious exercises in the public schools;
• The place of the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance;
• Evolution versus Creationism;
• The place of Intelligent Design in the public school curriculum;
• The patient’s right to refuse medical treatment based on religious belief;
• The Affordable Care Act, RFRA and the Free Exercise Clause; and
• International issues in law and religion.
Professor James has presented in this one book a review of at least eleven hot-topics in law and religion in contemporary society. Yet, the cases the book covers span a vast expanse of time. They are as old as Reynolds v. United States (1879), and as new as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014).
Two things set this book apart from others that discuss these two clauses of the Constitution. First, the book devotes a lengthy first chapter to discussing the basic tenets of some world religions. Some of these religions are well-known and often talked about; their tenets are well-known, even to non-adherents. Others are not-so-well-known, are even obscure; their tenets are hardly known or talked about. Second, the book begins each chapter with a true story (with names and places changed or otherwise disguised) that depicts one or more of the current conflicts in law and religion.
In July, Ashgate will release “Religion and Legal Pluralism” edited by Russell Sandberg (Cardiff University, UK). The publisher’s description follows:
In recent years, there have been a number of concerns about the recognition of religious laws and the existence of religious courts and tribunals. There has also been the growing literature on legal pluralism which seeks to understand how more than one legal system can and should exist within one social space. However, whilst a number of important theoretical works concerning legal pluralism in the context of cultural rights have been published, little has been published specifically on religion. Religion and Legal Pluralism explores the extent to which religious laws are already recognized by the state and the extent to which religious legal systems, such as Sharia law, should be accommodated.
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.
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.