Tag Archives: Religion and Politics

Amirpur, “New Thinking in Islam”

This month, the University of Chicago Press releases “New Thinking in Islam: The Jihad for Democracy, Freedom and Women’s Rights,” by Katajun Amirpur (Hamburg University).  The publisher’s description follows: 

In Rethinking Islam, Katajun Amirpur argues that the West’s impression of Islam as a backward-looking faith, resistant to post-Enlightenment thinking, is misleading and—due to its effects on political discourse—damaging. Introducing readers to key thinkers and activists—such as Abu Zaid, a free-thinking Egyptian Qur’an scholar; Abdolkarim Soroush, an academic and former member of Khomeini’s Cultural Revolution Committee; and Amina Wadud, an American feminist who was the first woman to lead the faithful in Friday Prayer—Amirpur reveals a powerful yet lesser-known tradition of inquiry and dissent within Islam, one that is committed to democracy and human rights. By examining these and many other similar figures’ ideas, she reveals the many ways they reject fundamentalist assertions and instead call for a diversity of opinion, greater freedom, and equality of the sexes. 

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.

Atwan, “Islamic State”

In September, the University of California Press will release “Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate,” by Abdel Bari Atwan (editor of the Rai al-Youm news website).  The publisher’s description follows: 

Islamic State stunned the world when it overran an area the size of Great Britain on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border in a matter of weeks and proclaimed the birth of a new Caliphate. In this timely and important book, Abdel Bari Atwan draws on his unrivaled knowledge of the global jihadi movement and Middle Eastern geopolitics to reveal the origins and modus operandi of Islamic State.

Based on extensive field research and exclusive interviews with IS insiders, Islamic State outlines the group’s leadership structure, as well as its strategies, tactics, and diverse methods of recruitment. Atwan traces the Salafi-jihadi lineage of IS, its ideological differences with al Qaeda and the deadly rivalry that has emerged between their leaders. He also shows how the group’s rapid growth has been facilitated by its masterful command of social media platforms, the “dark web,” Hollywood blockbuster-style videos, and even jihadi computer games, producing a powerful paradox where the ambitions of the Middle Ages have reemerged in cyberspace.

As Islamic State continues to dominate the world’s media headlines with horrific acts of ruthless violence, Atwan considers the movement’s chances of survival and expansion and offers indispensable insights on potential government responses to contain the IS threat.

Lifshitz, “Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg and the Foundation of Jewish Political Thought”

In October, Cambridge University Press will release “Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg and the Foundation of Jewish Political Thought” by Joseph Isaac Lifshitz (Shalem Center, Jerusalem). The publisher’s description follows:

This book is a scholarly examination of the political thought of Rabbi Meir (Maharam) of Rothenburg, the most important thirteenth century German Rabbi who was associated with the Pietist movement of the period. From the Maharam’s responsa on community matters, a coherent political thought emerges that exercised nearly unprecedented influence on European Jewish communities up to the Jewish Emancipation. Rabbi Meir’s extremely sophisticated attempt to balance the demands of the community against those of the individual was facilitated by a characteristic three-tiered structure to his political thought: concrete legal rules supported by value-laden legal principles built upon his general religious ideology. Through a systematic analysis of the Maharam’s political thought, Isaac Lifshitz offers an original contribution to Jewish studies, political theory, and the study of legal philosophy. By considering the legal and theological underpinnings of one of Medieval Jewry’s most influential figures, it also makes a contribution to the history of ideas in the Medieval period.

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.

Wood and Fulton, “A Shared Future”

In November, the University of Chicago Press will release “A Shared Future: Faith-Based Organizing for Racial Equity and Ethical Democracy,” by Richard L. Wood (University of New Mexico) and Brad R. Fulton (Indiana University). The publisher’s description follows:

Faith-based community organizers have spent decades working for greater equality in American society, and more recently have become significant players in shaping health care, finance, and immigration reform at the highest levels of government.

In A Shared Future, Richard L. Wood and Brad R. Fulton draw on a new national study of community organizing coalitions and in-depth interviews of key leaders in this field to show how faith-based organizing is creatively navigating the competing aspirations of America’s universalist and multiculturalist democratic ideals, even as it confronts three demons bedeviling American politics: economic inequality, federal policy paralysis, and racial inequity. With a broad view of the entire field and a distinct empirical focus on the PICO National Network, Wood and Fulton’s analysis illuminates the tensions, struggles, and deep rewards that come with pursuing racial equity within a social change organization and in society. Ultimately, A Shared Future offers a vision for how we might build a future that embodies the ethical democracy of the best American dreams.

“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.

“Freedom of Religion in the 21st Century” (Ziebertz and Ballin eds.)

In October, Brill will release “Freedom of Religion in the 21st Century: A Human Rights Perspective on the Relation Between Politics and Religion,” edited by Hans-Georg Ziebertz  (University of Würzburg) and Ernst Hirsch Ballin (Tillburg University). The publisher’s description follows: 

Freedom of religion consists of the right to practice, to manifest and to change one’s religion. The modern democratic state is neutral towards the variety of religions, but protects the right of citizens to practice their different religious beliefs. Recent history shows that a number of religious claims challenge the neutral state. This happens especially when secularity is rejected as the basis of the modern state. How can conflicting interpretations of the relation between religion and state be balanced in our world? This book reflects on conflicts that seem to be implied in the freedom of religion, on its causes and how they can be overcome.