Next month, Columbia University Press will release “Reimagining the Sacred” edited by Richard Kearney (Boston College) and Jens Zimmermann (Trinity Western University). The publisher’s description follows:
Contemporary conversations about religion and culture are framed by two reductive definitions of secularity. In one, multiple faiths and nonfaiths coexist free from a dominant belief in God. In the other, we deny the sacred altogether and exclude religion from rational thought and behavior. But is there a third way for those who wish to rediscover the sacred in a skeptical society? What kind of faith, if any, can be proclaimed after the ravages of the Holocaust and the many religion-based terrors since?
Richard Kearney explores these questions with a host of philosophers known for their inclusive, forward-thinking work on the intersection of secularism, politics, and religion. An interreligious dialogue that refuses to paper over religious difference, these conversations locate the sacred within secular society and affirm a positive role for religion in human reflection and action. Drawing on his own philosophical formulations, literary analysis, and personal interreligious experiences, Kearney develops through these engagements a basic gesture of hospitality for approaching the question of God. His work facilitates a fresh encounter with our best-known voices in continental philosophy and their views on issues of importance to all spiritually minded individuals and skeptics: how to reconcile God’s goodness with human evil, how to believe in both God and natural science, how to talk about God without indulging in fundamentalist rhetoric, and how to balance God’s sovereignty with God’s love.
Thanks again to Marc and Mark for letting me bog here for the past few weeks. It has been great fun. Just another couple of items before I go.
I wrote a piece recently in The National Catholic Register on the upcoming Court term. The article focuses mostly on decisions that affect religious liberty.
Also, this piece purports to explain to us the real origins of religion. It is not supernatural or transcendent at all of course; scientists are here to make us recognize what we think of as divine reality are only misfired genetic cues. We want to attribute agency to things, so for things that don’t have a clear agent (the weather, natural disasters), we invent one: God. The scientists have even come up with a name for our disorder: HADD, the hypersensitive agency detecting device.
Not to worry if you don’t like that explanation, however: the folks in white lab coats tell us religion could simply be an adaptation of “normal” evolutionary drives like cooperation. People who were religious were better playing with others, and so had a better chance of surviving.
Of course, all this is quite beside the point, and very old hat. Historian Christopher Dawson was complaining in 1931 that “[a] theory is not regarded as ‘scientific’ unless it explains religion in terms of something else – as an artificial construction from non-religious elements.” But as he also explained in his work, religion is something else entirely, a mode of being and experience that cannot be reduced to a byproduct of something else. One would have thought these points would be retired by now. As Russell Saltzman explains in First Things, one thing the scientist don’t consider as a spur to religious thought is our common experience of death. The sense of existential loss of ourselves and others opens a potential meeting space for the divine, and may be the true precursor to religious experience.
Besides, arguments like this always seemed to beg the question. Even if religious feelings “evolved,” why wouldn’t that also be consistent with them being true? I tend to think a God would use our natural development and capabilities to bring us to Him, at least in part.
In November, Indiana University Press will release “The Hidden God: Luther, Philosophy, and Political Theology” by Marius Timmann Mjaaland (University of Oslo). The publisher’s description follows:
In this phenomenological reading of Luther, Marius Timmann Mjaaland shows that theological discourse is never philosophically neutral and always politically loaded. Raising questions concerning the conditions of modern philosophy, religion, and political ideas, Marius Timmann Mjaaland follows a dark thread of thought back to its origin in Martin Luther. Thorough analyses of the genealogy of secularization, the political role of the apocalypse, the topology of the self, and the destruction of metaphysics demonstrate the continuous relevance of this highly subtle thinker.
Pragmatism has been called America’s most distinctive contribution to philosophy. And pragmatism has certainly influenced American law–see, for example, the contributions of Richard Posner to jurisprudence. Here is a new book that explores American philosophical thought before the 20th century pragmatist explosion, American Philosophy Before Pragmatism, by Russell B. Goodman (University of New Mexico), to be released in September by Oxford University Press. The publisher’s description follows.
Russell B. Goodman tells the story of the development of philosophy in America from the mid-18th century to the late 19th century. The key figures in this story, Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, the writers of The Federalist, and the romantics (or ‘transcendentalists’) Emerson and Thoreau, were not professors but men of the world, whose deep formative influence on American thought brought philosophy together with religion, politics, and literature. Goodman considers their work in relation to the philosophers and other thinkers they found important: the deism of John Toland and Matthew Tindal, the moral sense theories of Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and David Hume, the political and religious philosophy of John Locke, the romanticism of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant. Goodman discusses Edwards’s condemnation and Franklin’s acceptance of deism, argues that Jefferson was an Epicurean in his metaphysical views and a Christian, Stoic, and Epicurean in his moral outlook, traces Emerson’s debts to writers from Madame de Stael to William Ellery Channing, and considers Thoreau’s orientation to the universe through sitting and walking.
The morality of American slavery is a major theme in American Philosophy before Pragmatism, introduced not to excuse or condemn, but to study how five formidably intelligent people thought about the question when it was–as it no longer is for us–open. Edwards, Franklin and Jefferson owned slaves, though Franklin and Jefferson played important roles in disturbing the uneasy American moral equilibrium that included slavery, even as they approved an American constitution that included it. Emerson and Thoreau were prominent public opponents of slavery in the eighteen forties and fifties. The book contains an Interlude on the concept of a republic and concludes with an Epilogue documenting some continuities in American philosophy, particularly between Emerson and the pragmatists.
In August, the Oxford University Press will release “The Sage and the People: The Confucian Revival in China,” by Sébastien Billioud (University Paris-Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité) and Joël Thoraval (Research Center on Modern and Contemporary China, School for Higher Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS)). The publisher’s description follows:
After a century during which Confucianism was viewed by academics as a relic of the imperial past or, at best, a philosophical resource, its striking comeback in Chinese society today raises a number of questions about the role that this ancient tradition might play in a contemporary context.
The Sage and the People is the first comprehensive enquiry into the “Confucian revival” that began in China during the 2000s. Based on extensive anthropological fieldwork carried out over eight years in various parts of the country, it explores the re-appropriation and reinvention of popular practices in fields as diverse as education, self-cultivation, religion, ritual, and politics.
The book analyzes the complexity of the “Confucian revival” within the broader context of emerging challenges to such categories as religion, philosophy, and science that prevailed in modernization narratives throughout the last century. Exploring state cults both in Mainland China and Taiwan, authors Sébastien Billioud and Joël Thoraval compare the interplay between politics and religion on the two shores of the Taiwan strait and attempt to shed light on possible future developments of Confucianism in Chinese society.
In May, Ashgate released “Studies on Early Arabic Philosophy” by Peter Adamson (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Germany). The publisher’s description follows:
Philosophy in the Islamic world from the 9th to 11th centuries was characterized by an engagement with Greek philosophical works in Arabic translation. This volume collects papers on both the Greek philosophers in their new Arabic guise, and on reactions to the translation movement in the period leading up to Avicenna. In a first section, Adamson provides general studies of the ‘formative’ period of philosophy in the Islamic world, discussing the Arabic reception of Aristotle and of his commentators. He also argues that this formative period was characterized not just by the use of Hellenic materials, but also by a productive exchange of ideas between Greek-inspired ‘philosophy (falsafa)’ and Islamic theology (kalām). A second section considers the underappreciated philosophical impact of Galen, using Arabic sources to understand Galen himself, and exploring the thought of the doctor and philosopher al-Rāzī, who drew on Galen as a chief inspiration. A third section looks at al-Fārābī and the so-called ‘Baghdad school’ of the 10th century, examining their reaction to Aristotle’s Metaphysics, his epistemology, and his famous deterministic ‘sea battle’ argument. A final group of papers is devoted to Avicenna’s philosophy, which marks the beginning of a new era of philosophy in the Islamic world.
Several years ago, I stumbled on the philosopher Timothy Macklem’s book, Independence of Mind, one of whose chapters concerned the distinction between trust and faith in explaining the good of religious belief. Macklem drew a sharp division between the two: the former is subject to the constraint of “reason” while the latter, in Macklem’s view, is totally separated from “reason”–faith for Macklem is belief without any good reason for belief, or even without the possibility of any good reason for belief.
One can see the development of related themes in Professor Macklem’s (King’s College) new book, Law and Life in Common, just released by Oxford University Press. What is contained in the publisher’s description (below) are fairly ambitious claims about and desires for the persuasive force of law. And I wonder about the willingness of at least certain sorts of “arational” systems of persuasion to form the kind of partnership with law that he suggests are necessary for its capacity to build a common life.
We live in a moral world in which reasons come in different kinds, so that very often the claims of one reason upon us are no greater than the claims of some other reason. Yet the law, in its self-presentation and in theoretical accounts of it, proceeds as if its rational pull was conclusive, as if there were no sensible alternative to compliance with its terms. In itself that should not be surprising: each one of us very often acts as if the reasons that animate us were morally determinative, and indeed our actions may subsequently make that the case. Why should law operate in any other way? Yet we know that in truth reasons are usually not determinative of action, and while pretence to the contrary may not much matter in individual settings, it matters very much in the setting of the law.
The ability of the law to build a life in common, of whatever kind, is dependent on its ability to function as if its claims were pre-eminent rather than undefeated at best. If law is to succeed in its basic project of binding people to its aims, as it must, it is bound to convince us of the substance of its pretence by buttressing its necessarily limited rational claims with the pull of arational considerations. It needs partners, not only in the familiar prudential considerations that force gives rise to, but also in the beguilement that shared imaginings make possible. This book is an exploration of those partnerships, in principle and in their most important details. It seeks to describe the ways in which such practical workings of law are part of its nature.
In March, Brill will release “Rabbinic Discourse as a System of Knowledge” by Hannah E. Hashkes. The publisher’s description follows:
In Rabbinic Discourse as a System of Knowledge Hannah Hashkes employs contemporary philosophy in describing rabbinic reasoning as a rational response to experience. Hashkes combines insights from the analytic philosophy of Wittgenstein, Quine, and Davidson with the semiotics of Peirce to construe knowledge as systematic reasoning occurring within a community of inquiry. Her reading of the works of Emmanuel Levinas and Jean-Luc Marion allows her to create a philosophical bridge between a discourse of God and a discourse of reason. This synthesis of analytic philosophy and pragmatism, hermeneutics and theology provides Hashkes with a sophisticated tool to understand Rabbinic Judaism. It also makes this study both unique and path breaking in contemporary Jewish philosophy and Rabbinic thought.
In February, Cambridge University Press will release “Zionism and Judaism: A New Theory” by David Novak (University of Toronto). The publisher’s description follows:
Why should anyone be a Zionist, a supporter of a Jewish state in the land of Israel? Why should there be a Jewish state in the land of Israel? This book seeks to provide a philosophical answer to these questions. Although a Zionist need not be Jewish, nonetheless this book argues that Zionism is only a coherent political stance when it is intelligently rooted in Judaism, especially in the classical Jewish doctrine of God’s election of the people of Israel and the commandment to them to settle the land of Israel. The religious Zionism advocated here is contrasted with secular versions of Zionism that take Zionism to be a replacement of Judaism. It is also contrasted with versions of religious Zionism that ascribe messianic significance to the State of Israel, or which see the main task of religious Zionism to be the establishment of an Israeli theocracy.
In January, Columbia University Press will release “Rawls and Religion” edited by Tom Bailey (John Cabot University, Rome) and Valentina Gentile (LUISS University, Rome). The publisher’s description follows:
John Rawls’s influential theory of justice and public reason has often been thought to exclude religion from politics, out of fear of its illiberal and destabilizing potentials. It has therefore been criticized by defenders of religion for marginalizing and alienating the wealth of religious sensibilities, voices, and demands now present in contemporary liberal societies.
In this anthology, established scholars of Rawls and the philosophy of religion reexamine and rearticulate the central tenets of Rawls’s theory to show they in fact offer sophisticated resources for accommodating and responding to religions in liberal political life. The chapters reassert the subtlety, openness, and flexibility of his sense of liberal “respect” and “consensus,” revealing their inclusive implications for religious citizens. They also explore the means he proposes for accommodating nonliberal religions in liberal politics, developing his conception of “public reason” into a novel account of the possibilities for rational engagement between liberal and religious ideas. And they reevaluate Rawls’s liberalism from the “transcendent” perspectives of religions themselves, critically considering its normative and political value, as well as its own “religious” character. Rawls and Religion makes a unique and important contribution to contemporary debates over liberalism and its response to the proliferation of religions in contemporary political life.