Tag Archives: Modernity

Cadegan, “All Good Books Are Catholic Books: Print Culture, Censorship, and Modernity in Twentieth-Century America”

Last month, Cornell published All Good Books Are Catholic Books: Print Culture,80140100707350M Censorship, and Modernity in Twentieth-Century America, by Una M. Cadegan (University of Dayton). The publisher’s description follows.

Until the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the stance of the Roman Catholic Church toward the social, cultural, economic, and political developments of the twentieth century was largely antagonistic. Naturally opposed to secularization, skeptical of capitalist markets indifferent to questions of justice, confused and appalled by new forms of high and low culture, and resistant to the social and economic freedom of women—in all of these ways the Catholic Church set itself up as a thoroughly anti-modern institution. Yet, in and through the period from World War I to Vatican II, the Church did engage with, react to, and even accommodate various aspects of modernity. In All Good Books Are Catholic Books, Una M. Cadegan shows how the Church’s official position on literary culture developed over this crucial period.

The Catholic Church in the United States maintained an Index of Prohibited Books and the National Legion of Decency (founded in 1933) lobbied Hollywood to edit or ban movies, pulp magazines, and comic books that were morally suspect. These regulations posed an obstacle for the self-understanding of Catholic American readers, writers, and scholars. But as Cadegan finds, Catholics developed a rationale by which they could both respect the laws of the Church as it sought to protect the integrity of doctrine and also engage the culture of artistic and commercial freedom in which they operated as Americans. Catholic literary figures including Flannery O’Connor and Thomas Merton are important to Cadegan’s argument, particularly as their careers and the reception of their work demonstrate shifts in the relationship between Catholicism and literary culture. Cadegan trains her attention on American critics, editors, and university professors and administrators who mediated the relationship among the Church, parishioners, and the culture at large.

Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner & Nolt, “The Amish”

kraybill FINAL pbs logo bottom.inddThis month John Hopkins University Press will publish The Amish by Donald B. Kraybill (Elizabethtown College), Karen M. Johnson-Weiner (SUNY-Potsdam), and Steven N. Nolt (Goshen College).  The publisher’s description follows. 

The Amish have always struggled with the modern world. Known for their simple clothing, plain lifestyle, and horse-and-buggy mode of transportation, Amish communities continually face outside pressures to modify their cultural patterns, social organization, and religious world view. An intimate portrait of Amish life, The Amish explores not only the emerging diversity and evolving identities within this distinctive American ethnic community, but also its transformation and geographic expansion.

Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt spent twenty-five years researching Amish history, religion, and culture. Drawing on archival material, direct observations, and oral history, the authors provide an authoritative and sensitive understanding of Amish society.

Amish people do not evangelize, yet their numbers in North America have grown from a small community of some 6,000 people in the early 1900s to a thriving population of more than 275,000 today. The largest populations are found in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, with additional communities in twenty-seven other states and Ontario.

The authors argue that the intensely private and insular Amish have devised creative ways to negotiate with modernity that have enabled them to thrive in America. The transformation of the Amish in the American imagination from “backward bumpkins” to media icons poses provocative questions. What does the Amish story reveal about the American character, popular culture, and mainstream values? Richly illustrated, The Amish is the definitive portrayal of the Amish in America in the twenty-first century.

Krishna-Hensel (ed.), “Religion, Education and Governance in the Middle East”

This month, Ashgate Publishing will publish Religion, Education and Governance in the Middle East: Between Tradition and Modernity edited by Sai Felicia Krishna-Hensel (Auburn University at Montgomery).  The publisher’s description follows.

The Middle East is a key geopolitical strategic region in the international system but its distinctive cultural and political divisions present a mosaic of states that do not lend themselves to simplistic interpretations. A thoughtful analysis of the Middle East requires an understanding of the synergism between tradition and modernity in the region as it adapts to a globalizing world. Religious education and activism continue to remain a significant factor in the modernization process and the development of modern governance in the states of the Middle East.

This interdisciplinary book explores the historical and contemporary role of religious tradition and education on political elites and governing agencies in several major states as well as generally in the region. The relationship between democracy and authority is examined to provide a better understanding of the complexity underlying the emergence of new power configurations. As the region continues to respond to the forces of change in the international system it remains an important and intriguing area for analysts.

Classic Revisited: Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity

It’s been a while since I did one of these, and though Michael Allen Gillespie’s The Theological Origins of Modernity (2008) is a little young for “classic” status, it is a learned and original intellectual history of modernity.  Gillespie’s thesis is that the conventional account of modernity as setting itself in opposition to or as rejecting altogether religion and theology is mistaken.  Instead, as he puts it early in the book:

[F]rom the very beginning, modernity sought not to eliminate religion but to support and develop a new view of religion and its place in human life, and did so not out of hostility to religion but in order to sustain certain religious beliefs.  As we shall see, modernity is best understood as an attempt to find a new metaphysical/theological answer to the question of the nature and relation of God, man, and the natural world that arose in the late medieval world as a result of a titanic struggle between contradictory elements within Christianity itself . . . . I will argue further that while this metaphysical/theological core of the modern project was concealed over time by the very sciences that it produced, it was never far from the surface, and it continued to guide our thinking and action, often in ways that we do not perceive or understand.  I will argue that the attempt to read the questions of theology and metaphysics out of modernity has in fact blinded us to the continuing importance of theological issues in modern thought in ways that make it very difficult to come to terms with out current situation.

Gillespie goes about making his case by beginning with the contest between scholasticism and nominalism (the view that what is real is particular and individual, not universal, and so “God [cannot] be understood by human reason but only by biblical revelation or mystical experience”).  The conflict was, as he says above, primarily and originally a late medieval conflict, not one which came into being in the Enlightenment (let alone later).  “The God that Aquinas and Dante described was infinite, but the glory of his works and the certainty of his goodness were manifest everywhere.  The nominalist God, by contrast, was frighteningly omnipotent, utterly beyond human ken, and a continual threat to human well-being.  Moreover, this God could never be captured in words and consequently could be experienced only as a titanic question that evoked awe and dread.  It was this question, I want to suggest, that stands at the beginning of modernity.”  (15)

One feature of the book that was particularly enjoyable for me is Gillespie’s emphasis on the poet Petrarch as the representative both of this struggle and of the turn toward nominalism (in graduate school years ago, Petrarch’s poems about Laura in the Canzoniere were one of my favorite things).  I confess that before reading Gillespie’s book, I had never thought about Petrarch as an important or even a notable figure with respect to these kinds of issues.  Gillespie devotes roughly a chapter and a half to him.  He claims that Petrarch was the first writer to face the nominalist challenge — the view that “there is no divine logos or reason that can serve as the foundation for a political, cosmopolitan, or theological identity.” (45)  Confronted with the political and social chaos of the mid-14th century, Petrarch looked “not to the city, God, or the cosmos for support, but into himself, finding an island of stability and hope not in citizenship but in human individuality.”

I cannot do justice to Gillespie’s superb treatment of Petrarch, but here’s a relatively late summary paragraph in his discussion:

It is difficult today to appreciate the impact Petrarch had on his contemporaries in part because we find it so difficult to appreciate his impact on us.  Petrarch is scarcely remembered in our time.  There are very few humanists or academics who can name even one of his works; and none of his Latin works makes it on to a list of great books.  And yet, without Petrarch, there would be no humanists or academics, no great books, no book culture at all, no humanism, no Renaissance, and no modern world as we have come to understand it.  Why then have we forgotten him?  Several factors contribute to his oblivion: the neglect of Latin literature as literary scholars have increasingly focused on national literatures, changing scholarly tastes and fashions, and the fact that many of his works fall outside of familiar genres.  But the real cause lies deeper.  Petrarch seldom tells us anything that we don’t already know, and as a result he seems superfluous to us.  But this is the measure of his importance, for what he achieved is now so universally taken for granted that we find it difficult to imagine things could have been otherwise.  (69)

One last side note, and please forgive the musical addendum, but Franz Liszt certainly did not forget Petrarch.  Have a listen to his extremely beautiful song cycle, “Les Années de Pèlerinage” (“The Years of Wandering” — which is just what Petrarch did for most of his life), and particularly Year 3 in that cycle (“en Italie”), which contains some wonderful settings of several Petrarchan sonnets.  Number 47 is really spectacular and, maybe, captures a little of what Gillespie is talking about.

Zaman, “Modern Islamic Thought in a Radical Age”

One of the most important debates in contemporary Islam concerns the possibility, and desirability, of accommodating classical Islamic law to modernity. A new book by Princeton scholar Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Modern Islamic Thought in a Radical Age: Religious Authority and Internal Criticism (Cambridge 2012),  addresses the debate. The publisher’s description follows.

Among traditionally educated scholars in the Islamic world there is much disagreement on the crises that afflict modern Muslim societies and how best to deal with them, and the debates have grown more urgent since 9/11. Through an analysis of the work of Muhammad Rashid Rida and Yusuf al-Qaradawi in the Arab Middle East and a number of scholars belonging to the Deobandi orientation in colonial and contemporary South Asia, this book examines some of the most important issues facing the Muslim world since the late nineteenth century. These include the challenges to the binding Continue reading

French PM to Jews and Muslims: Modernize!

Very interesting story here (h/t Faithworld):

France’s prime minister urged Muslims and Jews to consider scrapping their halal and kosher slaughter laws on Monday as President Nicolas Sarkozy and his allies stepped up their efforts to woo far-right voters….

“Religions should think about keeping traditions that don’t have much in common with today’s state of science, technology and health problems,” Fillon told Europe 1 radio….

The “ancestral traditions” of ritual slaughter were justified for hygienic reasons in the past but were now outdated, he said. “We live in a modern society.”

I appreciate the persistent irritation that the Prime Minister must feel.  These are frustrating times for the agents of progress on both right and left — and, it seems, nationally and abroad.  It’s difficult to get folks to realize that modern society and contemporary science, technology, and medicine have simply eclipsed and obviated their ancient moralities and traditions.  But if we can’t persuade them, I suppose coercive law stands ready to help.