Tag Archives: Religion and Culture

Martin, “Politics, Landlords and Islam in Pakistan”

This month, Routledge Publishing releases “Politics, Landlords and Islam in Pakistan” by Nicolas Martin (University College London). The publisher’s description follows:

Politics, Landlords and Islam in Pakistan explores the linkages between politics, religion, class, and caste in politics in rural Pakistan. It documents how landlords continue to wield arbitrary and despotic power over much of Pakistan’s rural population in the 21st century, and how participatory democracy has been subverted and has largely benefitted rural elites.

The Synod on the Family and the Developing World

Opening_Session_of_the_Extraordinary_Assembly_of_the_Synod_of_Bishops_at_the_Vatican_on_Oct_6_2014_Credit_Mazur_catholicnewsorguk_CC_BY_NC_SA_20_3_CNA_10_7_14

First World Problems?

Not long after his election, the new Pope explained why he had taken the name “Francis”: “Ah, how I would like a church,” he said, “that is poor and is for the poor.” It was refreshing: the Pope was going to change the basic terms of the conversation between the Church and the world. Instead of waging a grinding “culture war” against a secular West, the Church would instead speak to the most urgent concerns of the global East and South. The first Pope to come from beyond Europe and the Mediterranean basin promised to be the champion of those who lived in the parts of the earth where hunger, injustice and persecution abounded. Places like the Philippines, Mexico, and Nigeria had already become the true center of gravity of a global Church, displacing Quebec, Chicago, Milan and Vienna. The new Pope would speak for the populations of the emerging world – for their suffering, their desperation, their resilience, their energy, their sense of hope. The “North/South” polarity would supplant the “Left/Right” one. The Church would make the pivot to poverty. In making that turn, it would address the West too – but by awakening it from the deadly self-absorption of the affluent.

So when one learns that the Synod of Catholic cardinals and bishops summoned by the same Pope has returned the conversation to the culture wars of the West – though with unmistakable overtones of capitulation on many of the bishops’ part — it is, to say no more, a disappointment. Try as it may, the Church under Francis seems to be unable to resist scratching the sores of Western sexuality. The consuming obsessions of the West, now in the terminal phases of the sexual and cultural revolutions that have swept over it for more than half a century, are dominating the Church’s agenda once again. At the Pope’s insistence, the bishops did a reset, plunging the Church into renewed debate over divorce and homosexuality and cutting short the conversation that the Pope had earlier invited over famine, persecution and want. With Islamist terrorist groups like Boko Haram recently murdering 2500 Catholics in one Nigerian diocese alone, and with Christian children being crucified or cut in half by ISIS, you might think that the world’s bishops would have more pressing things on their mind than the compatibility of same-sex unions with Church teaching. You would, of course, be wrong.

Indeed, even considering “family” issues alone, the non-Western Church was short-changed: how much attention was given to the question of inter-faith marriages, despite its being a major concern for the Church in India? In the Philippines, many marriages break up because poverty forces a spouse or parent to migrate overseas in search of employment, leaving home, spouse and children behind. Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle noted this problem, saying that poverty “goes right at the heart of the family” in his country ; but how much attention did this issue get?

What is more, the organizers of the Synod openly expressed their indifference to – if not contempt for – the opinions of the leaders of the non-Western Church. They spoke as if the opposition of the African bishops to their “modernizing” program could stem only from irrational hatred and prejudice. What the Africans needed, they seemed to be saying, was a good, stiff dose of Richard Posner’s writings. In the controversy over the initial draft of the Synod’s statement, Cardinal Walter Kasper, an octogenarian German theologian and a favorite of the Pope’s, infamously said:

Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.

Kasper later denied having made those revealing remarks – a denial that was then proven to be false. In any case, the remarks hardly seemed out of character for the Cardinal. In an interview with the German magazine Focus published under the heading “Third World Land,” Kasper was reported to have said, “When you land at Heathrow you think at times you have landed in a Third World country.” The German Cardinal obviously notices different things when he is at the airport from what Cardinal Tagle does. The Philippine prelate spoke of his anguish in watching Filipino mothers at airports forced to part from their children because their poverty is so desperate that they must leave their families and search for work abroad.

Not Just Cardinal Kasper

Even if Cardinal Kasper’s statement were merely condescension on the part of the passenger with the first-class cabin towards the passengers in steerage, it would be bad enough. But Kasper and those like him simply did not seem to understand the position. Perhaps the Africans and Asians are not just squinting narrowly at the issue of homosexuality, but rather looking at the state of Western culture as a whole? And perhaps they do not like what they see? Perhaps the cultural exports of the secular West – its current practices regarding marriage, abortion, childbirth, the family, the relations between the sexes – are no more wanted in Africa and Asia than the West’s toxic wastes and sewage effluents? (New York Cardinal Dolan’s wonderful defense of the “prophetic” African Church effectively made these points. )

But the problem with the Synod went far beyond the tactlessness and incomprehension of elderly European churchmen. Apparently at the Pope’s insistence, the Synod’s final report included three controversial articles that had received the approval of a Synod majority, but not the supermajority required for consensus. The final report will now go to the Church throughout the world for discussion and debate before the Synod reconvenes. You can be sure that the media coverage of the debate in this intervening period will focus overwhelmingly on the articles that the Pope reinstated. Cui bono? In their effort to get the conversation back on the familiar tracks of the Western culture wars, the Pope and his bishops are doing serious harm to millions of faithful Catholics trying to live out the Gospel in hostile and often dangerous conditions in the emerging world.

My former student, Andrew Ratelle, makes the point forcefully:

By upholding the nuclear family, the Church made what was perhaps the most important social investment in history. People in the poorer, more pagan regions of the world where polygamy, polyandry, arranged and child marriages were common, now had a place to look for support when it came to building a life that was most beneficial for themselves and their children. By weakening this support, or at the very least dispersing it to include more “diverse” arrangements, these bishops have weakened the very shield from which the nuclear family has received so much protection. Even in our own country, where “diverse” familial arrangements have almost become synonymous with urban poverty and crime (at least for those who have no gilded safety net to fall into), where should families look to now, since the Church has seen fit to dilute the medicine they have thrived on for so long?

Church leaders in the developing world understand this perfectly well. South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, for instance, wondered how he could deny communion to an African man living in polygamy in accordance with local culture and tradition, if he had to administer the sacrament to a divorced man married to his second wife? “Successive” polygamy, Napier pointed out, is hardly distinguishable from “simultaneous” polygamy.

Pope Francis was right (at first): it really is time to change the conversation. The global Church is not the parochial Western Church; the Church of the poor and the marginal is not the affluent, greying Church of Western Europe and North America. The Church should not be shadowing the West’s cultural trajectory all the way downwards. The future of the Church lies elsewhere. Ex oriente, lux.

Photo from the Catholic News Agency.

“The Oxford Handbook of American Islam” (Haddad & Smith, eds.)

Next month, Oxford University Press releases “The Oxford Handbook of American Islam”  edited by Yvonne Y. Haddad (Georgetown University) and Jane I. Smith (Harvard Divinity School, retired). The publisher’s description follows:

Islam has been part of the increasingly complex American religious scene for  well over a century, and was brought into more dramatic focus by the attacks of September 11, 2001. American Islam is practiced by a unique blend of immigrants and American-born Muslims. The immigrants have come from all corners of the world; they include rich and poor, well-educated and illiterate, those from upper and lower classes as well as economic and political refugees. The community’s diversity has been enhanced by the conversion of African Americans, Latina/os, and others, making it the most heterogeneous Muslim community in the world.

With an up-to-the-minute analysis by thirty of the top scholars in the field, this handbook covers the growth of Islam in America from the earliest Muslims to set foot on American soil to the current wave of Islamophobia. Topics covered include the development of African American Islam; pre- and post-WWII immigrants; Sunni, Shi`ite, sectarian and Sufi movements in America; the role and status of women, marriage, and family; and the Americanization of Islamic culture.

Throughout these chapters the contributors explore the meaning of religious identity in the context of race, ethnicity, gender, and politics, both within the American Islamic community and in relation to international Islam.

 

Hertel, “The Crescent Remembered”

This December, Sussex Academic Press will release “The Crescent Remembered: Islam and Nationalism on the Iberian Peninsula” by Patricia Hertel (University of Basel).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Crescent RememberedContemporary Spain and Portugal share a historical experience as Iberian states which emerged within the context of al-Andalus. These centuries of Muslim presence in the Middle Ages became a contested heritage during the process of modern nation-building with its varied concepts and constructs of national identities. Politicians, historians and intellectuals debated vigorously the question how the Muslim past could be reconciled with the idea of the Catholic nation.

The Crescent Remembered investigates the processes of exclusion and integration of the Islamic past within the national narratives. It analyzes discourses of historiography, Arabic studies, mythology, popular culture and colonial policies towards Muslim populations from the 19th century to the dictatorships of Franco and Salazar in the 20th century. In particular, it explores why, despite apparent historical similarities, in Spain and Portugal entirely different strategies and discourses concerning the Islamic past emerged. In the process, it seeks to shed light on the role of the Iberian Peninsula as a crucial European historical “contact zone” with Islam.

“Politics of Religion and Nationalism” (Requejo & Nagel, eds.)

This December, Routledge Press will release “Politics of Religion and Nationalism: Federalism, Consociationalism and Secession” edited by Ferran Requejo and Klaus-Jürgen Nagel (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona).  The publisher’s description follows:

There are numerous examples of how religion and nationalism intertwine. In some cases, a common religion is the fundamental marker of a nation’s identity, whereas in others secular nationalism tries to hold together people of different religious beliefs.

This book examines the link between religion and nationalism in contemporary polities. By exploring case studies on India, Russia, Israel, Canada, Chechnya, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Catalonia and the Basque Country, it seeks to understand the relationship between these two key societal forms of diversity and assess the interaction between religious and nationalist perspectives. Expert contributors examine a variety of phenomena, including secular nationalism, secessionism, and polities in which religious pluralism is evolving.

This book will be of interest to students and scholars of political science, religion and politics, nationalism, federalism, secession, political philosophy, racial and ethnic politics and comparative politics.

Klein, “Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron”

Next month, Hurst Publishers will release “Lives in Common:  Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron” by  Menachem Klein (Bar-Ilan University, Israel). The publisher’s description follows:

Most books dealing with the Israeli–Palestinian conflict see events through the eyes of policy-makers, generals or diplomats. Menachem Klein offers an illuminating alternative by telling the intertwined histories, from street level upwards, of three cities — Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron — and their intermingled Jewish, Muslim and Christian inhabitants, from the nineteenth century to the present. Each of them was and still is a mixed city. Jerusalem and Hebron are holy places, while Jaffa till 1948 was Palestine’s principal city and main port of entry.

Klein portrays a society in the late Ottoman period in which Jewish-Arab interactions were intense, frequent, and meaningful, before the onset of segregation and separation gradually occurred in the Mandate era. The unequal power relations and increasing violence between Jews and Arabs from 1948 onwards are also scrutinised. Throughout, Klein bases his writing not on the official record but rather on a hitherto hidden private world of Jewish-Arab encounters, including marriages and squabbles, kindnesses and cruelties, as set out in dozens of memoirs, diaries, biographies and testimonies.

Ward, “Modern Democracy and the Theological-Political Problem in Spinoza, Rousseau, and Jefferson”

This December, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Modern Democracy and the Theological-Political Problem in Spinoza, Rousseau, and Jefferson” by Lee Ward (University of Regina).  The publisher’s description follows:

Modern Democracy and the Theological-Political ProblemThis study examines the intersection of two philosophical developments that arguably have come to define contemporary life in the liberal democratic west. First, it considers how democracy has transformed historically from being one among several plausible forms of government into the only legitimate and publicly defensible regime. Second, it considers how modern democracy attempts to solve what has been called the ‘theological-political problem,’ that is, the competing claims to rule grounded in conflicting appeals to reason and revelation, by determining that consent of the people would replace divine authorization as the source of political authority. Understanding the emergence of modern democracy requires examining the manner in which democratic political thinkers, most importantly Benedict Spinoza, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson re-conceptualized the traditional understanding of the relation between politics and religion. This book will show that Spinoza, Rousseau and Jefferson were the three who made the democratic west we know today.

“John Rawls and Christian Social Engagement” (Bradley & Forster, eds.)

This December, Lexington Books will release “John Rawls and Christian Social Engagement: Justice as Unfairness” edited by Anthony B. Bradley (King’s College) and Greg Forster (Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book critiques the Rawlsian concepts of “justice as fairness” and “public reason” from the perspective of Christian political theory and practice. The Rawlsian paradigm has become pervasive in multiple disciplines outside political philosophy and is unconsciously embedded in a great deal of Christian public discourse; this calls for a new level of analysis from Christian perspectives. This is the first volume to examine Rawls based on Christian principles drawn from theological ethics, social thought, political theory and practical observation. In addition to theoretical perspectives, the book connects its critique of Rawls to specific hot-topic practical questions in three areas: social issues (abortion, marriage, etc.), economic issues (wealth creation, poverty programs, etc.), and the increasing difficulty of political compromise and peaceful coexistence in the context of the culture war. The book includes some of the leading Christian political theorists in America.

“The Oxford Handbook of European Islam” (Cesari, ed.)

This December, Oxford University Press will release “The Oxford Handbook of European Islam” edited by Jocelyn Cesari (Center for European Studies).  The publisher’s description follows:

OXford Handbook of European IslamFor centuries, Muslim countries and Europe have engaged one another through theological dialogues, diplomatic missions, political rivalries, and power struggles. In the last thirty years, due in large part to globalization and migration from Islamic countries to the West, what was previously an engagement across national and cultural boundaries has increasingly become an internalized encounter within Europe itself. Questions of the Hijab in schools, freedom of expression in the wake of the Danish Cartoon crisis, and the role of Shari’a have come to the forefront of contemporary European discourse.

The Oxford Handbook of European Islam is the first collection to present a comprehensive approach to the multiple and changing ways Islam has been studied across European countries. Parts one to three address the state of knowledge of Islam and Muslims within a selection of European countries, while presenting a critical view of the most up-to-date data specific to each country. These chapters analyze the immigration cycles and policies related to the presence of Muslims, tackling issues such as discrimination, post-colonial identity, adaptation, and assimilation. The thematic chapters, in parts four and five, examine secularism, radicalization, Shari’a, Hijab, and Islamophobia with the goal of synthesizing different national discussion into a more comparative theoretical framework. The Handbook attempts to balance cutting edge assessment with the knowledge that the content itself will eventually be superseded by events. Featuring eighteen newly-commissioned essays by noted scholars in the field, this volume will provide an excellent resource for students and scholars interested in European Studies, immigration, Islamic studies, and the sociology of religion.

“The Sociology of Shari’a: Case Studies from around the World” (Possamai & Richardson et al., eds.)

In December, Springer Publishing will release “The Sociology of Shari’a: Case Studies from around the World” edited by Adam Possamai (University of Western Sydney), James T. Richardson (University of Nevada), and Bryan S. Turner (City University of New York). The publisher’s description follows:

This edited volume offers a collection of papers that presents a comparative analysis of the development of Shari’a in countries with Muslim minorities, such as America, Australia, China, Germany,  Italy, Singapore, South Africa and the Philippines, as well as countries with Muslim majorities, such as Malaysia, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Tunisia.

The Sociology of Shari’a provides a global analysis of these important legal transformations and  examines the topic from a sociological perspective.

In addition, the third part of the book includes case studies that explore some ground-breaking applications of theoretical perspectives such as those from Chambliss and Eisenstein.