Tag Archives: Religion and Culture

On the Influence of the Scribes

At the Liberty Law site, my friend John McGinnis has a very interesting post on what he calls America’s “scribal class.” These are people – professors, journalists, opinion writers, lawyers, even entertainment industry types – who set America’s cultural and political agendas. John writes that they have enormous power, and all skew one way: Left.

John extrapolates from a recent study on the liberalism of American lawyers:

Academics in the humanities and social sciences set a long-term agenda for the country by educating the young and by shaping the categories of thought. The news media shapes the shorter-term political agenda by deciding what to emphasize in its coverage and how to spin it. Lawyers, whom Tocqueville almost two centuries ago understood as the aristocrats of the United States, are experts at using the courts and the burgeoning administrative state to shift social policy. And the study leaves out the entertainment industry and government bureaucrats, groups that are also on the left.  Entertainers help set social agendas, and bureaucrats often help advance the programs of liberal politicians and obstruct those of conservatives.

Thus, the left owns the commanding heights of our democracy. Given this power, it is a surprise that the right wins as many elections as it does. To be sure, modern information technology has created a more dispersed media world and permitted conservatives a somewhat greater voice. But the imbalances remain dramatic.

John goes on to contrast the scribal class with “producers,” those people who “produce material goods and non-information services for a living.” Producers, he suggests, do not skew Left, or at least not as much as the scribal class. They serve as a kind of cultural counterweight, to the great annoyance of the scribes.

John is right in his assessment of the cultural and political leanings of the scribal class, and the outsize influence members of that class have over the direction of the country. He’s not as persuasive when it comes to the producers. Corporate America and the cultural Left often find themselves on the same side of public debates, as last spring’s controversy over the Indiana RFRA law, and last summer’s reaction to Obergefell decision, demonstrate. Corporate America really doesn’t stand in opposition to the Left, unless one defines the Left purely in economic terms.

John minimizes one factor, though, and that is the scribal class’s almost total disregard of religion, at least traditional religion. True, the media sometimes presents religious minorities in a flattering light, usually as examples of a benign multiculturalism. But there is little respect for the legitimacy of religious convictions as such, especially the convictions of traditional believers. There is little knowledge even of basic facts.

Witness, for example, yesterday’s reaction to Pope Francis’s statement on forgiving women who show contrition for having had abortions. The media has trumpeted the pope’s statement as a major, surprising departure from Catholic teaching, rather than a temporary relaxing of formal rules on who may grant absolution – as though the concept of forgiving sins was somehow alien to Christian doctrine. Pope John Paul II had relaxed the rules in the last Holy Year, in 2000, a fact most media failed to report.

To me, all this suggests two things, neither of which, I guess, is particularly new. First, religious conservatives must do a better job making inroads in the scribal class, or develop an alternative vehicle for expression, if they are not to be steamrolled entirely out of the public conversation. Second, conservatives should focus less on politics itself and more on the culture that drives politics – on hearts and minds, not election returns.

You can read John’s whole piece here.

Songulashvili, “Evangelical Christian Baptists of Georgia”

This month, Baylor University Press releases “Evangelical Christian Baptists of Georgia: The History and Transformation of a Free Church Tradition,” by Malkhaz Songulashvili (Ilia State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Malkhaz Songulashvili, former Archbishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia (EBCG), provides a pioneering, exacting, and
sweeping history of Georgian Baptists. Utilizing archival sources in Georgian, Russian, German, and English—translating many of these crucial documents for the first time into English—he recounts the history of the EBCG from its formation in 1867 to the present.

While the particular story of Georgian Baptists merits telling in its own right, and not simply as a feature of Russian religious life, Songulashvili employs Georgian Baptists as a sustained case study on the convergence of religion and culture. The interaction of Eastern Orthodox, Western Protestant, and Russian dissenting religious traditions—mixed into the political cauldron of Russian occupation of a formerly distinct eastern European culture—led to a remarkable experiment in Christian free-church identity.  Evangelical Christian Baptists of Georgia allows readers to peer through the lens of intercultural studies to see the powerful relationships among politics, religion, and culture in the formation of Georgian Baptists, and their blending of Orthodox tradition into Baptist life to craft a unique ecclesiology, liturgy, and aesthetics.

Lowe, “Baptized with the Soil”

In October, the Oxford University Press will release “Baptized with the Soil: Christian Agrarians and the Crusade for Rural America,” by Kevin M. Lowe (an independent scholar of American religious history).  The publisher’s description follows: 

In the early twentieth century, many Americans were troubled by the way agriculture was becoming increasingly industrial and corporate. Mainline Protestant churches and cooperative organizations began to come together to promote agrarianism: the belief that the health of the nation depended on small rural communities and family farms. In Baptized with the Soil, Kevin M. Lowe offers for the first time a comprehensive history of the Protestant commitment to rural America.

Christian agrarians believed that farming was the most moral way of life and a means for people to serve God by taking care of the earth that God created. When the Great Depression hit, Christian agrarians worked harder to keep small farmers on the land. They formed alliances with state universities, cooperative extension services, and each other’s denominations. They experimented with ways of revitalizing rural church life–including new worship services like Rural Life Sunday, and new strategies for raising financial support like the Lord’s Acre. Because they believed that the earth was holy, Christian agrarians also became leaders in promoting soil conservation. Decades before the environmental movement, they inspired an ethic of environmental stewardship in their congregations. They may not have been able to prevent the spread of industrial agribusiness, but their ideas have helped define significant and long-lasting currents in American culture.

Rauf, “Defining Islamic Statehood”

In October, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Defining Islamic Statehood: Measuring and Indexing Contemporary Muslim States” by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (the Cordoba Initiative). The publisher’s description follows:

What is the real definition of an Islamic state? How do the majority of 9781137446800
Muslims govern themselves? How much do Muslims and non-Muslims really understand about the elements of an Islamic state? How can a true Islamic state function in a modern world? These questions bear heavily on the international community. They dominate the news. They spawn conflict. They generate misinformation. The answers are complex, but finding them is critical. Harnessing the expertise of leading Sunni and Shia academics, Defining Islamic Statehood searches for answers through dialogue, and seeks to define how an Islamic state forms and functions. It examines how Islamic principles bear on a nation’s governance, jurisprudence, culture and policies, and measures how Muslim-majority countries meet the definition by analyzing how they deal with the aspects of modern life.
Together with a group of eminent contributors, ranging from a retired Prime Minister, a former Chief Justice, and internationally recognized academics and experts on Islamic law and governance, Imam Fesial Abdul Rauf identifies and fulfils the critical need to determine the right balance between institutions of political authority and institutions of religious authority within the context of modern day governance.

“The Jesuit Suppression in Global Context” (eds. Burson and Wright)

In November, the Cambridge University Press will release “The Jesuit Suppression in Global Context: Causes, Events, and Consequences,” edited by Jeffrey D. Burson (Georgia Southern University) and Jonathan Wright (University of Oxford). The publisher’s description follows:

In 1773, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus, a dramatic, puzzling act that had a profound impact. This volume traces the causes of the attack on the Jesuits, the national expulsions that preceded universal suppression, and the consequences of these extraordinary developments. The Suppression occurred at a unique historical juncture, at the high-water mark of the Enlightenment and on the cusp of global imperial crises and the Age of Revolution. After more than two centuries, answers to how and why it took place remain unclear. A diverse selection of essays – covering France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, China, Eastern Europe, and the Americas – reflects the complex international elements of the Jesuit Suppression. The contributors shed new light on its significance by drawing on the latest research. Essential reading on a crucial yet previously neglected topic, this collection will interest scholars of eighteenth-century religious, intellectual, cultural, and political history.

Rahman, “Locale, Everyday Islam, and Modernity”

In September, Oxford University Press will release “Locale, Everyday Islam, and Modernity: Qasbah Towns and Muslim Life in Colonial India,” by M. Raisur Rahman (Wake Forest University). The publisher’s description follows:

Scholarship has mostly privileged larger cities as the leading centres in India at the expense of belittling the role and significance of smaller entities. Villages are typically seen on the receiving end of the spectrum and qasbahs (small towns) are often clubbed with them. This book presents qasbahs as centers of intense intellectual and cultural activity in colonial India and as networks of social life, education, print culture, literary production, and intellectual dialogue. Drawing upon a wealth of untapped Urdu, English, Hindi, and Persian sources, it focuses on qasbahs as the new nuclei of Muslim social and cultural life upon the decline of the regional Indian states and their urban centers in the late nineteenth century, just as the successor-states had taken over from the Mughal Empire earlier. It also demonstrates that the emergence of modernity among the Muslims was a process during their colonial encounter in which qasbah residents were active agents and the Islam that emerged was that of everyday living. This volume looks into why locales remain major identity-markers, in addition to affiliations such as nation and religion, and what makes qasbahs still invoke memory and nostalgia among related Muslim individuals and families across the globe.

Choi, “A Postcolonial Self: Korean Immigrant Theology and Church”

In September, SUNY Press will release “A Postcolonial Self: Korean Immigrant Theology and Church” by  Choi Hee An (Boston University School of Theology). The publisher’s description follows:

Theologian Choi Hee An explores how Korean immigrants create a new, postcolonial identity in response to life in the United States. A Postcolonial Self begins with a discussion of a Korean ethnic self (“Woori” or “we”) and how it differs from Western norms. Choi then looks at the independent self, the theological debates over this concept, and the impact of racism, sexism, classism, and postcolonialism on the formation of this self. She concludes with a look at how Korean immigrants, especially immigrant women, cope with the transition to US culture, including prejudice and discrimination, and the role the Korean immigrant church plays in this. Choi posits that an emergent postcolonial self can be characterized as “I and We with Others.” In Korean immigrant theology and church, an extension of this can be characterized as “radical hospitality,” a concept that challenges both immigrants and American society to consider a new mutuality.

Schmidt, “Cachita′s Streets: The Virgin of Charity, Race, and Revolution in Cuba”

In August, Duke University Press will release “Cachita′s Streets: The Virgin of Charity, Race, and Revolution in Cuba” by Jalane  D. Schmidt (University of Virginia). The publisher’s description follows:

Cuba’s patron saint, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, also called Cachita, is a potent symbol of Cuban national identity. Jalane D. Schmidt shows how groups as diverse as Indians and African slaves, Spanish colonial officials, Cuban independence soldiers, Catholic authorities and laypeople, intellectuals, journalists and artists, practitioners of spiritism and Santería, activists, politicians, and revolutionaries each have constructed and disputed the meanings of the Virgin. Schmidt examines the occasions from 1936 to 2012 when the Virgin’s beloved, original brown-skinned effigy was removed from her national shrine in the majority black- and mixed-race mountaintop village of El Cobre and brought into Cuba’s cities. There, devotees venerated and followed Cachita’s image through urban streets, amassing at large-scale public ceremonies in her honor that promoted competing claims about Cuban religion, race, and political ideology. Schmidt compares these religious rituals to other contemporaneous Cuban street events, including carnival, protests, and revolutionary rallies, where organizers stage performances of contested definitions of Cubanness. Schmidt provides a comprehensive treatment of Cuban religions, history, and culture, interpreted through the prism of Cachita.

Conference: “ISIS, War and the Threat to Cultural Heritage in Iraq and Syria” (New York)

The International Foundation for Art Research will host a panel next month at the Scandinavia House in Manhattan on ISIS’ destruction of art and monuments in Syria and Iraq:

We have seen the disturbing and often horrific images emanating from the battle-torn regions of Iraq and Syria and heard the news of damage to monuments and archaeological sites and the looting of cultural objects in this ancient and archaeologically important region. But the news is rapidly changing and often conflicting, and the timing and substance of some of the stories appear to have been manipulated by ISIS. What is happening to the art and monuments of the region? What has been safe-guarded? What has been destroyed?  What is most at-risk, whether of destruction or looting? Where are the looted objects going? Are they coming into the United States?

Please join IFAR’s specialists, several of whom have on-site experience and knowledge, for a fascinating and topical discussion of these and other issues.

Note: Q& A and Informal Reception Follow the Talks

The event will take place in Manhattan on August 11. Details are here.

Hawley, “A Storm of Songs”

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.