Tag Archives: Religion in Europe

“Islam and the European Empires” (Motadel, ed.)

Last month, Oxford University Press released “Islam and the European Empires” edited by David Motadel (University of Cambridge).  The publisher’s description follows:

Islam and the European EmpiresAt the height of the imperial age, European powers ruled over most parts of the Islamic world. The British, French, Russian, and Dutch empires each governed more Muslims than any independent Muslim state. European officials believed Islam to be of great political significance, and were quite cautious when it came to matters of the religious life of their Muslim subjects. In the colonies, they regularly employed Islamic religious leaders and institutions to bolster imperial rule. At the same time, the European presence in Muslim lands was confronted by religious resistance movements and Islamic insurgency. Across the globe, from the West African savanna to the shores of Southeast Asia, Muslim rebels called for holy war against non-Muslim intruders.

Islam and the European Empires presents the first comparative account of the engagement of all major European empires with Islam. Bringing together fifteen of the world’s leading scholars in the field, the volume explores a wide array of themes, ranging from the accommodation of Islam under imperial rule to Islamic anti-colonial resistance. A truly global history of empire, the volume makes a major contribution not only to our knowledge of the intersection of Islam and imperialism, but also more generally to our understanding of religion and power in the modern world.

Dawson, “The Gods of Revolution”

This is a new edition of a work by the brilliant historian, Christopher Dawson,Dawson final sketch.indd first published in 1972. The book (Dawson’s last monograph, a short work published posthumously with an introduction by Arnold Toynbee) is The Gods of Revolution, reissued by CUA Press and with a new introduction by Joseph Stuart. In a college course in the intellectual history of western civilization many years ago, one of the required readings was the last chapter of Dawson’s book. I went back and looked at it, and have the following line highlighted: “And a free society requires a higher degree of spiritual unity than a totalitarian one, hence the spiritual integration of western culture is essential to its temporal survival.” The publisher’s description follows.

In The Gods of Revolution, Christopher Dawson brought to bear, as Glanmor Williams said, “his brilliantly perceptive powers of analysis on the French Revolution. . . . In so doing he reversed the trends of recent historiography which has concentrated primarily on examining the social and economic context of that great upheaval.”

Dawson underlines the fact that the Revolution was not animated by democratic ideals but rather reflected an authoritarian liberalism often marked by a fundamental contempt for the populace, described by Voltaire as “the ‘canaille’ that is not worthy of enlightenment and which deserves its yoke.” The old Christian order had stressed a common faith and common service shared by nobles and peasants alike but Rousseau “pleads the cause of the individual against society, the poor against the rich, and the people against the privileged classes.” It is Rousseau whom Dawson describes as the spiritual father of the new age in disclosing a new spirit of revolutionary idealism expressed in liberalism, socialism and anarchism. But the old unity was not replaced by a new form. Dawson insists the whole period following the Revolution is “characterized by a continual struggle between conflicting ideologies,” and the periods of relative stabilization such as the Napoleonic restoration, Victorian liberalism in England, and capitalist imperialism in the second German empire “have been compromises or temporary truces between two periods of conquest.” This leads to his assertion that “the survival of western culture demands unity as well as freedom, and the great problem of our time is how these two essentials are to be reconciled.”

This reconciliation will require more than technological efficiency for “a free society requires a higher degree of spiritual unity than a totalitarian one. Hence the spiritual integration of western culture is essential to its temporal survival.” It is to Christianity alone that western culture “must look for leadership and help in restoring the moral and spiritual unity of our civilization,” for it alone has the influence, “in ethics, in education, in literature, and in social action” sufficiently strong to achieve this end.

Fried, “The Middle Ages” (Lewis trans.)

Out this month from Harvard University Press is a new English translation of The Middle Agesthe eminent German medievalist Johannes Fried’s monumental work, The Middle Ages. The publisher’s description follows.

Since the fifteenth century, when humanist writers began to speak of a “middle” period in history linking their time to the ancient world, the nature of the Middle Ages has been widely debated. Across the millennium from 500 to 1500, distinguished historian Johannes Fried describes a dynamic confluence of political, social, religious, economic, and scientific developments that draws a guiding thread through the era: the growth of a culture of reason.

Beginning with the rise of the Franks, Fried uses individuals to introduce key themes, bringing to life those who have too often been reduced to abstractions of the medieval “monk” or “knight.” Milestones encountered in this thousand-year traversal include Europe’s political, cultural, and religious renovation under Charlemagne; the Holy Roman Empire under Charles IV, whose court in Prague was patron to crowning cultural achievements; and the series of conflicts between England and France that made up the Hundred Years’ War and gave to history the enduringly fascinating Joan of Arc. Broader political and intellectual currents are examined, from the authority of the papacy and impact of the Great Schism, to new theories of monarchy and jurisprudence, to the rise of scholarship and science.

The Middle Ages is full of people encountering the unfamiliar, grappling with new ideas, redefining power, and interacting with different societies. Fried gives readers an era of innovation and turbulence, of continuities and discontinuities, but one above all characterized by the vibrant expansion of knowledge and an understanding of the growing complexity of the world.

Guerres de Noël

US-LIFESTYLE-HOLIDAY-DECORATIONS

I used to think that the annual Christmas Wars were strictly an American thing, like corn dogs and and attorneys’ contingency fees. Only in America, I thought, do people seriously argue about whether to allow Christmas trees in public parks or to permit public school choirs to sing “Silent Night” at holiday concerts. The issues become more and more bizarre. This year, a Maryland school district decided to remove even a reference to “Christmas” in the school calendar–as though the reference amounted to religious oppression and removal would make people forget what holiday comes round every 25th of December.

Our Supreme Court, whose Establishment Clause jurisprudence focuses on factors like the presence of plastic reindeer and talking wishing wells, bears much blame for this state of affairs. But judges in other countries seem eager to replicate our model. Last week, a French administrative court ruled that the town of La Roche-sur-Yon–located, appropriately, in the historically royalist, counter-revolutionary region of the Vendee–must remove a Christmas crèche from its city hall. The court held that the crèche violates the 1905 French Law on the Separation of Church and State, which, according to the court, forbids religious displays like crèches on public property. According to news reports (in French), the court concluded the display was incompatible with the principle of state religious neutrality, or laïcité.

I don’t know enough about French administrative law to evaluate the decision. What I find fascinating, as an outsider, is how closely the French debate tracks the American. The lawsuit seeking removal of the crèche was brought by a secularist group called the “Fédération de la Libre Pensée,” which, I gather, is analogous to American groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and American Atheists. The group argues that the crèche “fails to respect the conscience of the citizen” by “imposing” on him a religious display whenever he enters city hall. In response, the town’s supporters evoke cultural traditions more than Christianity. Religious neutrality, they say, does not require abandoning longstanding French customs. What’s next, they ask? Church bells and Christmas lights? They’ve started a popular hashtag campaign, #TouchePasAMaCreche.

Each side has to live with its ironies. Notwithstanding the rhetorical commitment to laïcité, French law allows a great deal of entanglement between church and state–more, in some respects, than we would tolerate in the US. (Guess who owns Notre Dame and all other church buildings that existed as of 1905? Hint: it’s not the Church). On the other hand, the defense of tradition in this case rings somewhat hollow. La Roche-sur-Yon only began displaying the crèche 22 years ago.

The city has vowed to appeal the decision. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, here’s a thought. If France has adopted the Christmas Wars, can Black Friday be far behind?

Photo: Le Figaro

Conference: “Muslim Minorities and Religious Freedom”

On December 15, 2014, the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University, in cooperation with Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, will host a conference entitled “Muslim Minorities and Religious Freedom:  A Public Dialogue.”

Muslim MinoritiesHow has the persecution of Muslim minorities affected their well-being in Europe and North America, the overall health of Muslim-majority nations, and the growth of violent Islamist extremism? Are Muslim minorities developing theologies that can bolster religious freedom, stable democracy, and economic growth, as well as undermine violent Islamist extremism? Join us as we explore these questions at a day-long conference featuring four panels of experts as well as a lunchtime keynote conversation between Professor Robert George of Princeton, Professor John Esposito of Georgetown, and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf of Zaytuna College.

Details can be found here.

“Sociological Theory and the Question of Religion” (McKinnon & Trzebiatowska, eds.)

This month, Ashgate Publishing releases “Sociological Theory and the Question of Religion” edited by Andrew McKinnon and Marta Trzebiatowska (both at the University of Aberdeen, UK). The publisher’s description follows:

Religion lies near the heart of the classical sociological tradition, yet it no longer occupies the same place within the contemporary sociological enterprise. This relative absence has left sociology under-prepared for thinking about religion’s continuing importance in new issues, movements, and events in the twenty-first century. This book seeks to address this lacunae by offering a variety of theoretical perspectives on the study of religion that bridge the gap between mainstream concerns of sociologists and the sociology of religion.

Following an assessment of the current state of the field, the authors develop an emerging critical perspective within the sociology of religion with particular focus on the importance of historical background. Re-assessing the themes of aesthetics, listening and different degrees of spiritual self-discipline, the authors draw on ethnographic studies of religious involvement in Norway and the UK. They highlight the importance of power in the sociology of religion with help from Pierre Bourdieu, Marx and Critical Discourse Analysis. This book points to emerging currents in the field and offers a productive and lively way forward, not just for sociological theory of religion, but for the sociology of religion more generally.

Garelli, “Religion Italian Style: Continuities and Changes in a Catholic Country”

This month, Ashgate Publishing releases “Religion Italian Style: Continuities and Changes in a Catholic Country” by Franco Garelli (University of Turin, Italy). The publisher’s description follows:

Italy’s traditional subcultures – Communist, Socialist, Liberal, Republican, Right-wing – have largely dissolved and yet Catholics have retained their vitality and solidity. How can the vast majority of Italians continue to maintain some connection with Catholicism? How much is the Italian situation influenced by the closeness of the Vatican?

Examining the religious condition of contemporary Italy, Religion Italian Style argues that the relationship between religion and society in Italy has unique characteristics when compared with what is happening in other European Catholic Countries. Exploring key topics and religious trends which question how the population feel – from the laity and the role of religions in the public sphere, to moral debates, forms of religious pluralism, and new spiritualities – this book questions how these affect religious life, and how intricately religion is interwoven with the nation’s fabric and the dynamics of the whole society.

Lassander, “Post-Materialist Religion: Pagan Identities and Value Change in Modern Europe”

In October, Bloomsbury Publishing released “Post-Materialist Religion: Pagan Identities and Value Change in Modern Europe” by Mika T. Lassander (Abo Akademi University, Finland). The publisher’s description follows:

Post-Materialist Religion discusses the transformations of the individual’s worldview in contemporary modern societies, and the role general societal value change plays in these. In doing so, Mika Lassander brings into conversation sociological theories of secularisation and social-psychological theories of interpersonal relations, the development of morality, and the nature of basic human values. The long-term decline of traditional religiosity in Europe and the emerging ethos that can be described as post-secular have brought religion and values back into popular discussion. One important theme in these discussions is about the links between religion and values, with the most common assumption being that religions are the source of individuals’ values. This book argues for the opposite view, suggesting that religions, or people’s worldviews in general, reflect the individual’s priorities.

Mika Lassander argues that the transformation of the individual’s worldview is a direct consequence of the social and economical changes in European societies since the Second World War. He suggests that the decline of traditional religiosity is not an indication of linear secularisation or of forgetting traditions, but an indication of the loss of relevance of some aspects of the traditional institutional religions. Furthermore, he argues that this is not an indication of the loss of ethical value base, but, rather, a change in the value base and consequently the transformation of the legitimating framework of this value base.

 

“Public Funding of Religions in Europe” (Messner ed.)

In January, Ashgate Publishing will release “Public Funding of Religions in Europe” edited by Francis Messner (University of Strasbourg).  The publisher’s description follows:

This collection brings together legal scholars, canonists and political scientists to focus on the issue of public funding in support of religious activities and institutions in Europe. The study begins by revolving around the various mechanisms put in place by the domestic legal systems, as well as those resulting from the European law of human rights and the law of the European Union. It then goes on to look at state support and particular religious groups.

The presentation of European and national law is supplemented by theoretical and interdisciplinary contributions, with the main focus being to bring into discussion and map the relationship between the funding of religions and the economy and to infer from it an attempt at a systematic examination or theorization of such funding.

This collection is essential reading for those studying Law and Religion, with particular focus on the countries of the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey.

 

Coppa, “The Papacy in the Modern World”

This September, Reaktion Books published “The Papacy in the Modern World: A Political History” by Frank J. Coppa (St. John’s).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Papacy in the Modern WorldFor some two millennia the papacy has presided over the governance of the Roman Catholic Church and played a fundamentally important role in European and world affairs. Its impact has long transcended the religious realm and has influenced ideological, philosophic, national, social and political developments as well as international relations. This book considers the broad role of the papacy from the end of the eighteenth century to the present and the reaction and response it has evoked over the years, and explores its confrontation with and accommodation to the modern world.

Frank J. Coppa describes the triumphs, controversies and failures of a series of popes from Pius VI to Benedict XVI, including Pius IX, who was criticized for his ‘syllabus of Errors’ of 1864, his campaign against Italian unification and his proclamation of papal infallibility. Pius XII, on the other hand, was denounced for what he did not say – mainly his silence during the Holocaust and his impartiality during the Second World War. Pope John XXIII, by contrast, has been praised for his aggiornamento, or call for the updating of the Church, and for convoking the Second Vatican Council. This original history sheds new light on the papacy by examining sources only recently made available by the Vatican archives, offering valuable insights into events previously shrouded in mystery.