Tag Archives: Religion and Culture

Stein, “Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria”

Next month, the University of Chicago Press will publish Saharan Jews and the9780226123745 Fate of French Algeria, by Sarah Abrevaya Stein (University of California, Los Angeles). The publisher’s description follows.

The history of Algerian Jews has thus far been viewed from the perspective of communities on the northern coast, who became, to some extent, beneficiaries of colonialism.  But to the south, in the Sahara, Jews faced a harsher colonial treatment. In Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria, Sarah Abrevaya Stein asks why the Jews of Algeria’s south were marginalized by French authorities, how they negotiated the sometimes brutal results, and what the reverberations have been in the postcolonial era.

Drawing on materials from thirty archives across six countries, Stein tells the story of colonial imposition on a desert community that had lived and traveled in the Sahara for centuries. She paints an intriguing historical picture—of an ancient community, trans-Saharan commerce, desert labor camps during World War II, anthropologist spies, battles over oil, and the struggle for Algerian sovereignty. Writing colonialism and decolonization into Jewish history and Jews into the French Saharan one, Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria is a fascinating exploration not of Jewish exceptionalism but of colonial power and its religious and cultural differentiations, which have indelibly shaped the modern world. 

Quote for the Day

On the spread of American pop culture across the globe:

[S]ince the Internet ensures that barriers are transgressed with impunity, the lowest forms of human life will in due course dominate the screen in every living room, and the blame for this will fall squarely on America. Of course, that will be unjust. The blame for watching destructive images falls on the person watching them. The problem is that people are sorely tempted beings, unable to protect themselves from their own worst desires without the help of a culture that backs up their efforts.

Roger Scruton, Pop Imperialism.

Johnson & Vanderbeck, “Law, Religion and Homosexuality”

9780415832687This May, Routledge will publish Law, Religion and Homosexuality by Paul Johnson (University of York) and Robert Vanderbeck (University of Leeds). The publisher’s description follows.

Law, Religion and Homosexuality is the first book-length study of how religion has shaped, and continues to shape, legislation that regulates the lives of gay men and lesbians. Through a systematic examination of how religious discourse influences the making of law – in the form of official interventions made by faith communities and organizations, as well as by expressions of faith by individual legislators – the authors argue that religion continues to be central to both enabling and restricting the development of sexual orientation equality. Whilst some claim that faith has been marginalized in the legislative processes of contemporary western societies, Johnson and Vanderbeck show the significant impact of religion in a number of substantive legal areas relating to sexual orientation including: same-sex sexual relations, family life, civil partnership and same-sex marriage, equality in employment and the provision of goods and services, hate speech regulation, and education. Law, Religion and Homosexuality demonstrates the dynamic interplay between law and religion in respect of homosexuality and will be of considerable interest to a wide audience of academics, policy makers and stakeholders.

Kalbian, “Sex, Violence, and Justice: Contraception and the Catholic Church”

Next month, Georgetown University Press will publish Sex, Violence, and Justice: Kalbian_RGB_72dpiContraception and the Catholic Church, by Aline H. Kalbian (Florida State University). The publisher’s description follows.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI published Humanae vitae, the encyclical that reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s continued opposition to the use of any form of artificial contraception. In Sex, Violence, and Justice: Contraception and the Catholic Church, Aline Kalbian outlines the Church’s position against artificial contraception as principally rooted in three biblical commandments. In addition, Kalbian shows how discourses about sexuality, both in the Church and in culture, are often tied to discourses of violence, harm and social injustice. These ties reveal that sexual ethics is never just about sex; it is about the vulnerability of the human body and the challenges humans face in trying to maintain just and loving relationships. 

As Kalbian explores and contrasts the Catholic Church’s stance toward condoms and HIV/AIDS, emergency contraception in cases of rape, and contraception and population control, she underscores how contraception is not just a private decision, but a deeply social, cultural, and political one, with profound global implications. Kalbian concludes that even the most tradition-bound communities rely on justificatory schemes that are fluid and diverse. Taking this diversity seriously helps us to understand how religious traditions change and develop.

Sex, Violence, and Justice will be of interest to students and scholars of Catholic moral theology, sexual ethics, religion and society, gender and religion, as well as to specialists and practitioners in public health.

Barry & Abo-Zena (eds.), “Emerging Adults’ Religiousness and Spirituality”

9780199959181This April, Oxford University Press will publish Emerging Adults’ Religiousness and Spirituality: Meaning-Making in an Age of Transition edited by Carolyn McNamara Barry (Loyola University Maryland) and Mona M. Abo-Zena (Brown University). The publisher’s description follows.

Although most American children are raised in a faith tradition, by the time they reach their early twenties their outward religious expression declines significantly, with many leaving the faith in which they were raised in favor of another faith or none at all, though many still claim that religion and spirituality are important. Reasons for this change in religious behavior include adolescents’ forging their own identities, increased immersion in contexts beyond the family, and exposure to media. As emerging adults encounter events such as attending university, breaking up with a romantic partner, and traveling, they are likely to make sense out of them, a process known as meaning-making. Thus, coming into one’s own takes on great prominence during the years of emerging adulthood (18-29), making it ripe for religious and spiritual development.

Emerging Adults’ Religiousness and Spirituality seeks to understand how the developmental process of meaning-making encompasses American emerging adults’ religiousness and spirituality. This volume does not focus on disentangling religion and spirituality conceptually, but rather emphasizes their centrality in the psychology of human development. It highlights the range of experiences and perspectives of emerging adults in the U.S. grounded in social context, social position, and religious or spiritual identification. Chapters are written by an interdisciplinary group of authors and explore topics such as the benefits and detriments of religiousness and spirituality to emerging adults; contexts and socializing agents such as parents and peers, the media, religious communities, and universities; and variations of religiousness and spirituality concerning gender, sexuality, culture, and social position. Using a developmental lens and focusing on a significant period within the lifespan, this volume embodies the key aspects of a developmental perspective by highlighting specific domains of development while considering themes of continuity and discontinuity across the lifespan.

Oldfield, “Sanctity and Pilgrimage in Medieval Southern Italy, 1000–1200″

Next month, Cambridge will publish Sanctity and Pilgrimage in Medieval9781107000285 Southern Italy, 1000–1200, by Paul Oldfield (University of Manchester). The publisher’s description follows.

Southern Italy’s strategic location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean gave it a unique position as a frontier for the major religious faiths of the medieval world, where Latin Christian, Greek Christian and Muslim communities coexisted. In this study, the first to offer a comprehensive analysis of sanctity and pilgrimage in Southern Italy between 1000 and 1200, Paul Oldfield presents a fascinating picture of a politically and culturally fragmented land which, as well as hosting its own important relics as important pilgrimage centres, was a transit point for pilgrims and commercial traffic.

Drawing on a diverse range of sources from hagiographical material to calendars, martyrologies, charters and pilgrim travel guides, the book examines how sanctity functioned at this key cultural crossroads and, by integrating the analysis of sanctity with that of pilgrimage, offers important new insights into society, cross-cultural interaction and faith in the region and across the medieval world.

Next Year in Jerusalem

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Issues of law and religion have always interested CLR Student Fellow Jessica Wright 3L, particularly as they relate to the Middle East. The following is a reflection on her recent trip to Jerusalem, during which she considered the religious, legal, and political issues that continue to divide the region.

Our taxi wound around the outskirts of Jerusalem, the city unfolding slowly before us beneath the dusty haze that had lingered since our arrival two days earlier. The Berlin-esque feel of Tel Aviv with its trendy cafes, beach-front hangouts, and laissez-faire attitude seemed a distant memory as we watched Haredim in their long black coats and black hats hurrying down the streets, weaving in and out of a stream of conservatively-dressed women pushing prams. Traffic ground to a halt somewhere between the entrance to Jerusalem and our hotel near the Old City, and our driver informed us that several streets had been closed because of a mass “ultra-Orthodox” protest against the draft.

The draft protest is indicative of larger issues having to do with community and identity in the region. Israel has been called the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, but it is a democracy with an important condition, one that Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear at the White House as I began my sojourn to the Holy Land. He said the only pathway to peace begins with Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state. Of course, as the New York Times observed earlier this year, “this issue underpins all others [and] is exactly what makes it unacceptable to Palestinians. At its heart, it is a dispute over a historical narrative that each side sees as fundamental to its existence.” The question concerning what it means to describe Israel as a Jewish state is as relevant today and perhaps as vexed as it was in 1948.

The first night in Jerusalem, we found ourselves at the Old Bezalel Art School with Israeli friends. Our conversation eventually turned to the significance of the Israeli state and the importance of community. One friend argued that the land itself is significant because it allows one to experience Judaism as a public way of life. The traditional religious rituals become less important, she said, because identification with Judaism is about living in the state of Israel and being part of that community. But Israeli nationalism, it turns out, is not a wholly secular enterprise for most Israelis. Along with flying the flag, serving in the army, and speaking Hebrew, there is a religious narrative upon which identity is ultimately based. The particularities of the narrative vary widely. While sharing the same religious texts, the various Jewish communities within Israel have different histories and customs, and divergent outlooks. The tension between the communities is palpable. Secular Israelis want a modern, liberal state; religious Zionists believe in the coexistence of secularism and the dictates of the Torah; messianic Zionists see the state as a tool for bringing the Messiah; and the Haredim are devoted to isolated learning. And this is to say nothing of the narratives of modern Palestine, which are also focused on conflicts over belief, identity, and community.

These tensions are felt everywhere in Jerusalem – in conversation, on the streets, in the markets, and nowhere more than in the crowded and layered maze of the Old City. Standing inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where six ancient Christian denominations worship daily, one can hear the muezzin’s call to prayer outside. The church itself is just steps away from the Western Wall where Jews pray and celebrate, and very near the al-Aqsa mosque where Muslims gather together. Outside the walls, Israelis struggle to find commonality, to define their State, and to impress upon outsiders the importance of their identity. Inside the walls, one is able to forget those issues for a moment and revel in the diversity of belief in such close proximity.

From the Mount of Olives, one is afforded a panoramic view of the Old City with the construction of modern Jerusalem sprawling around it. Just down the road, one can look out over the West Bank, the security barrier visible in the foreground. It is nearly impossible to come away from Jerusalem without feeling its energy and passion, and without acknowledging its significance for people of many faiths. “Next year in Jerusalem,” I discovered, is about yearning for a way of life. How one defines it depends on the narratives woven by communities of believers. One may think Jerusalem should be a place where all Jews could flourish alongside Christians and Muslims. Perhaps, then, it would be more accurate to say, “Next year in utopos,” the place that can never be. Or maybe there is reason to hope that the communities of historical Palestine can live in peace. As Michael Walzer has said, “high ambition requires a long life, and Israel is a very young state.”

Quote for the Day

On the crisis in Ukraine, from the Washington Post‘s Robert Samuelson:

“We’re relearning an old lesson: History, culture, geography, religion and pride often trump economics.”

Miller, “The Age of Evangelicalism”

9780199777952Next month, Oxford University Press will publish The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years by Steven P. Miller (Webster University). The publisher’s description follows.

At the start of the twenty-first century, America was awash in a sea of evangelical talk. The Purpose Driven Life. Joel Osteen. The Left Behind novels. George W. Bush. Evangelicalism had become so powerful and pervasive that political scientist Alan Wolfe wrote of “a sense in which we are all evangelicals now.”

Steven P. Miller offers a dramatically different perspective: the Bush years, he argues, did not mark the pinnacle of evangelical influence, but rather the beginning of its decline. The Age of Evangelicalism chronicles the place and meaning of evangelical Christianity in America since 1970, a period Miller defines as America’s “born-again years.” This was a time of evangelical scares, born-again spectacles, and battles over faith in the public square. From the Jesus chic of the 1970s to the satanism panic of the 1980s, the culture wars of the 1990s, and the faith-based vogue of the early 2000s, evangelicalism expanded beyond churches and entered the mainstream in ways both subtly and obviously influential.

Born-again Christianity permeated nearly every area of American life. It was broad enough to encompass Hal Lindsey’s doomsday prophecies and Marabel Morgan’s sex advice, Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Carter. It made an unlikely convert of Bob Dylan and an unlikely president of a divorced Hollywood actor. As Miller shows, evangelicalism influenced not only its devotees but its many detractors: religious conservatives, secular liberals, and just about everyone in between. The Age of Evangelicalism contained multitudes: it was the age of Christian hippies and the “silent majority,” of Footloose and The Passion of the Christ, of Tammy Faye Bakker the disgraced televangelist and Tammy Faye Messner the gay icon. Barack Obama was as much a part of it as Billy Graham.

The Age of Evangelicalism tells the captivating story of how born-again Christianity shaped the cultural and political climate in which millions of Americans came to terms with their times.

What’s Your Social Class?

Here is a fun quiz from the Christian Science Monitor that purports to identify one’s socioeconomic status. The questions are about psychology, tastes, and personality traits, not salary. For example, a few test how well one identifies emotions. Our readers should pay particular attention to the religious identity question (number 19) and the diagnostic explanation at the end of the quiz. Do you know which religious group in America is the wealthiest and best educated?

For what it’s worth, my own socioeconomic status, according to the test, is “Middling.” Hey, it’s better than “Upper Class”:

MIDDLING: Your habits and perspectives most resemble those of middle-class Americans. Members of this group tend to be gentle and engaging parents, and if they’re native English speakers they probably use some regional idioms and inflections. Your people are mostly college-educated, and you’re about equally likely to beg children not to shout “so loudly” as you are to ask them to “read slow” during story time. You’re probably a decent judge of others’ emotions, and either a non-evangelical Christian, an atheist, or an agnostic. A typical member of this group breastfeeds for three months or less, drinks diet soda, and visits the dentist regularly. If you’re a member of this group, there’s a good chance that you roll with the flow of technological progress and hate heavy metal music.

H/T: Rod Dreher.