In November, Columbia University Press will release “Relativism and Religion: Why Democratic Societies Do Not Need Moral Absolutes” by Carlo Invernizzi Accetti (City College, City University of New York). The publisher’s description follows:
Moral relativism is deeply troubling for those who believe that, without a set of moral absolutes, democratic societies will devolve into tyranny or totalitarianism. Engaging directly with this claim, Carlo Invernizzi Accetti traces the roots of contemporary anti-relativist fears to the antimodern rhetoric of the Catholic Church, and then rescues a form of philosophical relativism for modern, pluralist societies, arguing that this standpoint provides the firmest foundation for an allegiance to democracy.
In its dual analysis of the relationship between religion and politics and the implications of philosophical relativism for democratic theory, this book makes a far-ranging contribution to contemporary debates over the revival of religion in politics and the conceptual grounds for a commitment to democracy. It conducts the first comprehensive genealogy of anti-relativist discourse and reclaims for English-speaking readers the overlooked work of political theorists such as Hans Kelsen and Norberto Bobbio, who had articulated the bond between philosophical relativism and democracy. By engaging with attempts to replace the religious foundation of democratic values with a neo-Kantian conception of reason, this book also offers a powerful case for relativism as the strongest basis for a civic ethos that integrates different perspectives into democratic politics.
In July, Ashgate released “The Concert of Civilizations: The Common Roots of Western and Islamic Constitutionalism,” by Jeremy Kleidosty (University of Jyväskylä, Finland). The publisher’s description follows:
Are Western and Islamic political and constitutional ideas truly predestined for civilizational clash? In order to understand this controversy The Concert of Civilizations begins by deriving and redefining a definition of constitutionalism that is suitable for comparative, cross-cultural analysis. The rule of law, reflection of national character, and the clear delineation and limitation of governmental power are used as lenses through which thinkers like Cicero, Montesquieu, and the authors of The Federalist Papers can be read alongside al-Farabi, ibn Khaldun, and the Ottoman Tanzimat decrees. Bridging the civilizational divide is a chapter comparing the Magna Carta with Muhammad’sConstitution of Medina, as both documents can be seen as foundational within their traditions. For the first time in political theory, this text also provides a sustained, detailed analysis of Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi’s book The Surest Path, which explains his fusion of Muslim and Western ideas in his writing of Tunisia’s first modern constitution, which is also the first constitution for a majority-Muslim state. Finally, the book discusses the Arab Spring through a brief overview of the revolutions in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, and offers some early thoughts about Tunisia’s uniquely successful revolution.
In November, SUNY Press will release “Religion Among We the People: Conversations on Democracy and the Divine Good” by Franklin I. Gamwell (University of Chicago). The publisher’s description follows:
Franklin I. Gamwell holds that democracy with religious freedom is dependent on metaphysical theism. Democratic politics can be neutral to all religious convictions only if its constitution establishes a full and free discourse about the ultimate terms of justice and their application to decisions of the state, and the divine good is the true ground of justice. Notably, Gamwell’s view challenges virtually all current accounts of democracy with religious freedom. This uncommon position emerges through a series of essays in which Gamwell engages a variety of conversation partners, including Thomas Jefferson, David Strauss, Abraham Lincoln, Jürgen Habermas, Alfred North Whitehead, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Iris Murdoch. Discussions of Jefferson, Lincoln, and the US Constitution illustrate the promise of neoclassical metaphysics as a context for interpreting US history. Gamwell then defends his metaphysics against both modern refusals of metaphysics and accounts of ultimate reality offered by Niebuhr and Murdoch.
In September, the Harvard University Press will release “The British Empire and the Hajj,” by John Slight (St. John’s College, University of Cambridge). The publisher’s description follows:
The British Empire at its height governed more than half the world’s Muslims. It was a political imperative for the Empire to present itself to Muslims as a friend and protector, to take seriously what one scholar called its role as “the greatest Mohamedan power in the world.” Few tasks were more important than engagement with the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Every year, tens of thousands of Muslims set out for Mecca from imperial territories throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, from the Atlantic Ocean to the South China Sea. Men and women representing all economic classes and scores of ethnic and linguistic groups made extraordinary journeys across waterways, deserts, and savannahs, creating huge challenges for officials charged with the administration of these pilgrims. They had to balance the religious obligation to travel against the desire to control the pilgrims’ movements, and they became responsible for the care of those who ran out of money. John Slight traces the Empire’s complex interactions with the Hajj from the 1860s, when an outbreak of cholera led Britain to engage reluctantly in medical regulation of pilgrims, to the Suez Crisis of 1956. The story draws on a varied cast of characters—Richard Burton, Thomas Cook, the Begums of Bhopal, Lawrence of Arabia, and frontline imperial officials, many of them Muslim—and gives voice throughout to the pilgrims themselves.
The British Empire and the Hajj is a crucial resource for understanding how this episode in imperial history was experienced by rulers and ruled alike.
Thomas Jefferson famously included the pursuit of happiness in his list of the three principal rights the Creator has given man and that government has a duty to protect. It was a masterful phrase, one that could win over both Evangelicals and Rationalists at the time of the American revolution. By tracing the right to God, the phrase suggests that true happiness consists in pursuing Him. But the phrase obviously connotes earthly well-being as well.
It’s that latter meaning that most survives in American liberalism today. Perhaps the most famous example in American law is the “mystery of life” passage in the Casey opinion. But well-being is not something we recognize without instruction. We are trained to think of some things as meaningful and conducive to happiness rather than others. Which means that happiness is a somewhat manipulable concept. As anyone who watched Mad Men would know.
The manipulability of happiness seems to be the subject of a new book from Penguin Random House, The Happiness Industry, by William Davies. It looks interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In winter 2014, a Tibetan monk lectured the world leaders gathered at Davos on the importance of Happiness. The recent DSM-5, the manual of all diagnosable mental illnesses, for the first time included shyness and grief as treatable diseases. Happiness has become the biggest idea of our age, a new religion dedicated to well-being.
In this brilliant dissection of our times, political economist William Davies shows how this philosophy, first pronounced by Jeremy Bentham in the 1780s, has dominated the political debates that have delivered neoliberalism. From a history of business strategies of how to get the best out of employees, to the increased level of surveillance measuring every aspect of our lives; from why experts prefer to measure the chemical in the brain than ask you how you are feeling, to whyFreakonomics tells us less about the way people behave than expected, The Happiness Industry is an essential guide to the marketization of modern life. Davies shows that the science of happiness is less a science than an extension of hyper-capitalism.
Professor Alvin Plantinga’s (Notre Dame) important book, Warranted Christian Belief, was a meditation on the relationship of Christian faith and reason. It was a work in epistemology of religion–an attempt to answer the question about the irrationality or the lack of justification for Christian belief.
Plantinga has now written a shorter volume for non-experts, Knowledge and Christian Belief, just published in April by Eerdmans. The publisher’s description follows:
In his widely praised Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford, 2000) Alvin Plantinga discussed in great depth the question of the rationality, or sensibility, of Christian belief. In this book Plantinga presents the same ideas in a briefer, much more accessible fashion.
Recognized worldwide as a leading Christian philosopher, Plantinga probes what exactly is meant by the claim that religious — and specifically Christian — belief is irrational and cannot sensibly be held. He argues that the criticisms of such well-known atheists as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are completely wrong. Finally, Plantinga addresses several potential “defeaters” to Christian belief — pluralism, science, evil and suffering — and shows how they fail to successfully defeat rational Christian belief.
In March, Rowman & Littlefield released “Against Individualism: A Confucian Rethinking of the Foundations of Morality, Politics, Family, and Religion” by Henry Rosemont Jr. (Brown University). The publisher’s description follows:
The first part of Against Individualism: A Confucian Rethinking of the Foundations of Morality, Politics, Family, and Religion is devoted to showing how and why the vision of human beings as free, independent and autonomous individuals is and always was a mirage that has served liberatory functions in the past, but has now become pernicious for even thinking clearly about, much less achieving social and economic justice, maintaining democracy, or addressing the manifold environmental and other problems facing the world today.
In the second and larger part of the book Rosemont proffers a different vision of being human gleaned from the texts of classical Confucianism, namely, that we are first and foremost interrelated and thus interdependent persons whose uniqueness lies in the multiplicity of roles we each live throughout our lives. This leads to an ethics based on those mutual roles in sharp contrast to individualist moralities, but which nevertheless reflect the facts of our everyday lives very well. The book concludes by exploring briefly a number of implications of this vision for thinking differently about politics, family life, justice, and the development of a human-centered authentic religiousness. This book will be of value to all students and scholars of philosophy, political theory, and Religious, Chinese, and Family Studies, as well as everyone interested in the intersection of morality with their everyday and public lives.
This month, Brill releases “Changes in Ethical Worldviews of Spanish Missionaries in Mexico” by Ran Tene (Hebrew University). The publisher’s description follows:
“Conversion” is a basic religious concept, which has manifold implications for our everyday lives. Ran Tene’s Changes in Ethical Worldviews of Spanish Missionaries in Mexico utilizes a cross-disciplinary methodology in which the fields of Philosophy, History, and Literary Studies are drawn upon to analyze conversion. He focuses on two moments in Spanish writing about Mexican missions, the early to mid-sixteenth century writings of the Spanish missionaries to Mexico and the early seventeenth century manuscripts of the author/copyist Fray Juan de Torquemada. The analysis exposes changes in worldviews – including the concepts of identity, ownership, and cruelty – through missionary eyes. It suggests two theoretical models – the vision model and the model of touch – to describe these changes, which are manifested in the missionary project and in the texts that it (re)produced.
In February, Oxford University Press released “Tafsir and Islamic Intellectual History: Exploring the Boundaries of a Genre” edited by Andreas Görke (University of Edinburgh) and Johanna Pink (University of Freiburg, Germany). The publisher’s description follows:
How and when did Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir) emerge as a literary genre of its own? To what extent was it influenced by other disciplines, such as law, theology, or philosophy? How did different political or theological agendas shape works of tafsir, and in what ways did the genre develop over time and in different regions? These are some of the major questions which this book seeks to address.
This book constitutes the first comprehensive attempt at describing the genre of Qur’anic exegesis in its broader intellectual context. Its aim is to provide a framework for understanding the boundaries of tafsir and its interaction with other disciplines of learning, as well as the subgenres and internal divisions within the genre. It discusses the emergence of the genre in the beginnings of Islamic history and the changes and potential ruptures it has experienced in later times, the role of hadith, law, language, philosophy, theology, and political ideology for the interpretive process, the regional dimension, the influx of modernist ideas and the process of writing tafsir in languages other than Arabic.
Among the fifteen authors who have contributed to the volume are leading scholars in the field as well as young researchers, which makes for a unique and fresh perspective on a field that has long been reduced to its instrumental value for understanding the Qur’an. Covering the time from the formation of Qur’anic exegesis until the present, it is a valuable resource for advanced students and scholars in the field.
Next month, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Transformations of Religion and the Public Sphere: Postsecular Publics” edited by Rosi Braidotti (Utrecht University), Bolette Blaagaard (Aalborg University), Tobijn de Graauw (Utrecht University), and Eva Midden (Utrecht University). The publisher’s description follows:
Transformations of Religion and the Public Sphere: Postsecular Publics contributes a counter-discourse to the myth of secularism. This myth is a strongly-held belief, predominantly advocated in the westernised world, that progress and modernity is intimately linked to secular politics and social relations. This book develops a range of critiques of this myth through discussions on the current political, social, and technological conditions in which we find ourselves. It explores the political implications of the myth, as well as exploring postcolonial relations, liberal-secularism and religious sentiments, and the mediated public sphere, with an in-depth focus on the Dutch case. Transformations of Religion and the Public Sphere: Postsecular Publics takes issue with the secular condition and accepted beliefs of its liberal emancipatory foundations.