This October, Oxford University Press will release “Religious Education and the Challenge of Pluralism” edited by Adam B. Seligman (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows:
The essays in this volume offer a groundbreaking comparative analysis of religious education, and state policies towards religious education in seven different countries and in the European Union as a whole. They pose a crucial question: can religious education contribute to a shared public sphere and foster solidarity across different ethnic and religious communities?
In many traditional societies and even in what are largely secular European societies, our place in creation, the meaning of good and evil, and the definition of the good life, virtue, and moral action, are all primarily addressed in religious terms. It is in fact hard to come to grips with these issues without recourse to religious language, traditions, and frames of reference. Yet, religious languages and identities divide as much as unite, and provide a site of contestation and strife as much as a sense of peace and belonging Not surprisingly, different countries approach religious education in dramatically different ways. Religious Education and the Challenge of Pluralism addresses a pervasive problem: how can religious education provide a framework of meaning, replete with its language of inclusion and community, without at the same time drawing borders and so excluding certain individuals and communities from its terms of collective membership and belonging?
The authors offer in-depth analysis of such pluralistic countries as Bulgaria, Israel, Malaysia, and Turkey, as well as Cyprus – a country split along lines of ethno-religious difference. They also examine the connection between religious education and the terms of citizenship in the EU, France, and the USA, illuminating the challenges of educating our citizenry in an age of religious resurgence and global politics.
Today is the 2000th anniversary of the death of Caesar Augustus. For anyone who has ever seen it, the Divine Augustus will always be associated with Brian Blessed’s portrayal of him (left) in the BBC adaptation of the wonderful Robert Graves novels, I, Claudius and Claudius the God. And so, to commemorate the day, here’s a snippet of dialogue, on a law and religion theme, which captures the charming, cynical urbanity of the series. For those of us nerds of a certain sort, it’s a real guilty pleasure. I’m sure the whole thing is available on Netflix. Watch it — or, better yet, read the books!
- [Herod and Augustus are watching a gladiatorial contest.]
- Augustus: Herod, what about a little bet? I’ll take the fat one for twenty gold pieces.
- Herod: Caesar, it would be against my religion to bet on the life of a man.
- Augustus: Oh, really? I would have thought it against your religion to bet on anything.
- Herod: Caesar, it’s true: Jews love gambling. But we fear our god more.
- Augustus: Which one?
- Herod: We have only one, Caesar.
- Augustus: I’ve never understood that, it’s quite insufficient. Why don’t you take some of our gods? You know, plenty of people do.
- Herod: Believe me, Caesar, the one we have is hard enough to live with.
Next month, Routledge Press will release Democracy, Law and Religious Pluralism in Europe: Secularism and Post-Secularism, edited by Ferran Requejo and Camil Ungureanu, both of Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. The publisher’s description follows:
In contrast with the progressive dilution of religions predicted by traditional liberal and Marxist approaches, religions remain important for many people, even in Europe, the most secularised continent. In the context of increasingly culturally diverse societies, this calls for a reinterpretation of the secular legacy of the Enlightenment and also for an updating of democratic institutions.
This book focuses on a central question: are the classical secularist arrangements well equipped to tackle the challenge of fast-growing religious pluralism? Or should we move to new post-secular arrangements when dealing with pluralism in Europe? Offering an interdisciplinary approach that combines political theory and legal analysis, the authors tackle two interrelated facets of this controversial question. They begin by exploring the theoretical perspective, asking what post-secularism is and looking at its relation to secularism. The practical consequences of this debate are then examined, focusing on case-law through four empirical case studies.
This book will be of interest to students and scholars of political theory, philosophy, religion and politics, European law, human rights, legal theory and socio-legal studies.
This February, Polity Press will publish Religio Duplex: How the Enlightenment Reinvented Egyptian Religion by Jan Assmann (University of Konstanz). The publisher’s description follows.
In this important new book, the distinguished Egyptologist Jan Assmann provides a masterful overview of a crucial theme in the religious history of the West – that of ‘religio duplex’, or dual religion. He begins by returning to the theology of the Ancient Egyptians, who set out to present their culture as divided between the popular and the elite. By examining their beliefs, he argues, we can distinguish the two faces of ancient religions more generally: the outer face (that of the official religion) and the inner face (encompassing the mysterious nature of religious experience).
Assmann explains that the Early Modern period witnessed the birth of the idea of dual religion with, on the one hand, the religion of reason and, on the other, that of revelation. This concept gained new significance in the Enlightenment when the dual structure of religion was transposed onto the individual. This meant that man now owed his allegiance not only to his native religion, but also to a universal ‘religion of mankind’.
In fact, argues Assmann, religion can now only hold a place in our globalized world in this way, as a religion that understands itself as one among many and has learned to see itself through the eyes of the other. This bold and wide-ranging book will be essential reading for historians, theologians and anyone interested in the nature of religion and its role in the shaping of the modern world.
Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Understanding Interreligious Relations by David Cheetham (European Society for Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies), Douglas Pratt (University of St. Andrews), and David Thomas (University of Birmingham). The publisher’s description follows.
The ways in which religious communities interact with one another is an increasing focus of scholarly research and teaching. Issues of interreligious engagement, inclusive of dialogue more specifically and relations more generally, attract widespread interest and concern. In a religiously pluralist world, how different communities get along with each other is not just an academic question; it is very much a focus of socio-political and wider community attention. The study of religions and religion in the 21st century world must necessarily take account of relations within and between religions, whether this is approached from a theological, historical, political, or any other disciplinary point of view.
Understanding Interreligious Relations is a reference work of relevance to students and scholars as well as of interest to a wider informed public. It comprises two main parts. The first provides expositions and critical discussions of the ways in which “the other” has been construed and addressed from within the major religious traditions. The second presents analysis and discussions of key issues and topics in which interreligious relations are an integral constituent.
The editors have assembled an authoritative and scholarly work that discusses perspectives on the religious “other” and interreligious relations that are typical of the major religious traditions; together with substantial original chapters from a cross-section of emerging and established scholars on main debates and issues in the wider field of interreligious relations.
Earlier this year, Princeton University Press published On the Muslim Question, by Anne Norton (University of Pennsylvania). The publisher’s description follows.
In the post-9/11 West, there is no shortage of strident voices telling us that Islam is a threat to the security, values, way of life, and even existence of the United States and Europe. For better or worse, “the Muslim question” has become the great question of our time. It is a question bound up with others–about freedom of speech, terror, violence, human rights, women’s dress, and sexuality. Above all, it is tied to the possibility of democracy. In this fearless, original, and surprising book, Anne Norton demolishes the notion that there is a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam. What is really in question, she argues, is the West’s commitment to its own ideals: to democracy and the Enlightenment trinity of liberty, equality, and fraternity. In the most fundamental sense, the Muslim question is about the values not of Islamic, but of Western, civilization.
Moving between the United States and Europe, Norton provides a fresh perspective on iconic controversies, from the Danish cartoon of Muhammad to the murder of Theo van Gogh. She examines the arguments of a wide range of thinkers–from John Rawls to Slavoj Žižek. And she describes vivid everyday examples of ordinary Muslims and non-Muslims who have accepted each other and built a common life together. Ultimately, Norton provides a new vision of a richer and more diverse democratic life in the West, one that makes room for Muslims rather than scapegoating them for the West’s own anxieties.
The final draft of my review of Steve Monsma’s Pluralism and Freedom: Faith-Based Organizations in a Democratic Society, has just been published by the Journal of Church and State. I recommend the book for those interested in the institutional questions that have lately come to prominence in law and religion scholarship and doctrine.
The Contending Modernities Global Migration Working Group has issued a call for papers for a conference to take place in London in October, “The new cosmopolitanism: Global migration and the building of a common life”:
The global expansion of migration, within and between the global north and south, and the global resurgence and “publicization” of religion – have combined to bring religious and secular models of citizenship and civic education to the fore. Nonetheless, there is surprisingly little consensus among religious leaders, educators, and policy makers as to what framework might allow people from different religious and ethical backgrounds to live together tolerantly and inclusively. The lack of consensus is all the more vexing in that migration and religious revitalization today have created multicultural and multi-ethical landscapes all over the globe. The question of the place of religion in modern multicultural societies is not an academic one, then, but one of the most pressing ethical challenges of our age.
Details are here.
In classical Islam, the Muslim community, or umma, is both a spiritual and political entity, the body of believers that lives, but also rules, by God’s law. Obviously, this conception of Islam is in some tension with contemporary Western pluralism. Lately, some Muslim scholars in the West–Abdullahi An-Na`im and Tariq Ramadan, for example–have offered conceptions of Islam that separate the spiritual from the political. These progressive versions fit better with Western ideas about citizenship, but have encountered resistance from tradition-minded Muslims.
Next month, Fordham University Press will publish a translation of a new book by one such scholar, Abdelwahab Meddeb (University of Paris-Nanterre). Meddeb’s book, Islam and the Challenge of Civilization, looks for inspiration to the Sufi tradition. The publisher’s description follows:
Abdelwahab Meddeb makes an urgent case for an Islamic reformation, located squarely in Western Europe, now home to millions of Muslims, where Christianity and Judaism have come to coexist with secular humanism and positivist law. He is not advocating “moderate” Islam, which he characterizes as thinly disguised Wahabism, but rather an Islam inspired by the great Sufi thinkers, whose practice of religion was not bound by doctrine.
To accomplish this, Meddeb returns to the doctrinal question of the text as transcription of the uncreated word of God and calls upon Muslims to distinguish between Islam’s spiritual message and the temporal, material, and historically grounded origins of its founding scriptures. He contrasts periods of Islamic history—when philosophers and theologians engaged in lively dialogue with other faiths and civilizations and contributed to transmitting the Hellenistic tradition to early modern Europe—with modern Islam’s collective amnesia of this past. Meddeb wages a war of interpretations in this book, in his attempt to demonstrate that Muslims cannot join the concert of nations unless they set aside outmoded notions such as jihad and realize that feuding among the monotheisms must give way to the more important issue of what it means to be a citizen in today’s postreligious global setting.
Islam begins with the hijra, the Prophet Mohammed’s flight from persecution in Mecca to the city of Medina, where Muslims first organized themselves as a spiritual and political community–the Muslim umma. This founding event has led to a debate in Islamic law that continues to this day. Does the Prophet’s example suggest that Muslims may not reside in a non-Muslim polity? The dominant position, according to scholar Andrew March, is that Muslims may reside in non-Muslim states, as long as they are free to practice their religion. A minority tradition, however, holds that Muslims may not reside in non-Muslim states and that migration is a religious obligation. This latter view obviously creates complications for citizenship in pluralist democracies.
These questions are no doubt addressed by a book to be published later this month by Britain’s Islamic Texts Society, Muslims in Non-Muslim Lands: A Legal Study with Applications, by author Amjad M. Mohammed. The publisher’s description follows:
Since the Second World War, there has been a significant migration of Muslims to countries in the Western world. Muslims in non-Muslim Landstraces the process by which these migrants arrived in Western Europe-in particular Britain-and explains how the community developed its faith identity through three particular stances: assimilation, isolation and integration. The findings argue that the assumption that Islam causes Muslims to isolate from the indigenous population and form ‘a state within a state’ is false, and that Islamic law actually gives Muslims confidence and the ability to integrate within the wider society.