Tag Archives: Religion in the Middle East

Becker, “Revival and Awakening: American Evangelical Missionaries in Iran and the Origins of Assyrian Nationalism”

This month, The University of Chicago Press releases “Revival and Awakening: American Evangelical Missionaries in Iran and the Origins of Assyrian Nationalism”  by Adam Becker (New York University). The publisher’s description follows:

Most Americans have little understanding of the relationship between religion and nationalism in the Middle East. They assume that the two are rooted fundamentally in regional history, not in the history of contact with the broader world. However, as Adam H. Becker shows in this book, Americans—through their missionaries—had a strong hand in the development of a national and modern religious identity among one of the Middle East’s most intriguing (and little-known) groups: the modern Assyrians. Detailing the history of the Assyrian Christian minority and the powerful influence American missionaries had on them, he unveils the underlying connection between modern global contact and the retrieval of an ancient identity.

American evangelicals arrived in Iran in the 1830s. Becker examines how these missionaries, working with the “Nestorian” Church of the East—an Aramaic-speaking Christian community in the borderlands between Qajar Iran and the Ottoman Empire—catalyzed, over the span of sixty years, a new national identity. Instructed at missionary schools in both Protestant piety and Western science, this indigenous group eventually used its newfound scriptural and archaeological knowledge to link itself to the history of the ancient Assyrians, which in time led to demands for national autonomy. Exploring the unintended results of this American attempt to reform the Orient, Becker paints a larger picture of religion, nationalism, and ethnic identity in the modern era.

King, “The Pro-Israel Lobby in Europe: The Politics of Religion and Christian Zionism in the European Union”

In May, I.B.Tauris will release “The Pro-Israel Lobby in Europe: The Politics of Religion and Christian Zionism in the European Union: Volume 22” by Elvira King (The University of Leeds). The publisher’s description follows:

The activities of pro-Israel pressure groups and lobbyists in the US are well-known. But the pro-Israel lobby in Europe is less prominent in both academic and media accounts. In a unique account, Elvira King identifies the pro-Israeli groups which attempt to influence policy-makers and implementers in the EU, specifically examining Christian Zionist groups. Through a detailed study of the European Coalition for Israel (ECI), the only Christian Zionist lobby in Brussels, Elvira King analyses whether and how a religious group can (and can fail to) influence decision-makers in the EU. By exploring the context of European relations with Israel as well as the mechanisms through which pressure groups are able to influence EU-wide policies, King offers an analysis which demonstrates how the EU can be a site where religion and politics meet, rather than just being a secular institution. It therefore contains vital primary research for both those interested in the pro-Israel lobby as well as those examining the role of religion in politics more generally.

 

Spiegel, “Young Islam”

This May, Princeton University Press will release “Young Islam: The New Politics of Religion in Morocco and the Arab World” by Avi Max Spiegel (University of San Diego).  The publisher’s description follows:

Young IslamToday, two-thirds of all Arab Muslims are under the age of thirty. Young Islam takes readers inside the evolving competition for their support—a competition not simply between Islamism and the secular world, but between different and often conflicting visions of Islam itself.

Drawing on extensive ethnographic research among rank-and-file activists in Morocco, Avi Spiegel shows how Islamist movements are encountering opposition from an unexpected source—each other. In vivid and compelling detail, he describes the conflicts that arise as Islamist groups vie with one another for new recruits, and the unprecedented fragmentation that occurs as members wrangle over a shared urbanized base. Looking carefully at how political Islam is lived, expressed, and understood by young people, Spiegel moves beyond the top-down focus of current research. Instead, he makes the compelling case that Islamist actors are shaped more by their relationships to each other than by their relationships to the state or even to religious ideology. By focusing not only on the texts of aging elites but also on the voices of diverse and sophisticated Muslim youths, Spiegel exposes the shifting and contested nature of Islamist movements today—movements that are being reimagined from the bottom up by young Islam.

The first book to shed light on this new and uncharted era of Islamist pluralism in the Middle East and North Africa, Young Islam uncovers the rivalries that are redefining the next generation of political Islam.

Rahnema, “Shi’i Reformation in Iran: The Life and Theology of Shari’at Sangelaji”

In May, Ashgate Press will release “Shi’i Reformation in Iran: The Life and Theology of Shari’at Sangelaji” by Ali Rahnema (The American University of Paris). The publisher’s description follows:

Shi ‘ism caught the attention of the world as Iran experienced her revolution in 1979 and was subsequently cast in the mold of a monolithic discourse of radical political Islam. The spokespersons of Shi’i Islam, in or out of power, have not been the sole representatives of the faith. Nonconformist and uncompromising, the Shi‘i jurist and reformist Shari’at Sangelaji (1891–1944) challenged certain popular Shi‘i beliefs and the mainstream clerical establishment, guarding and propagating it. In Shi’i Reformation in Iran, Ali Rahnema offers a fresh understanding of Sangelaji’s reformist discourse from a theological standpoint, and takes readers into the heart of the key religious debates in Iran in the 1940s. Exploring Sangelaji’s life, theological position and disputations, Rahnema demonstrates that far from being change resistant, debates around why and how to reform the faith have long been at the heart of Shi’i Islam.

Drawing on the writings and sermons of Sangelaji, as well as interviews with his son, the book provides a detailed and comprehensive introduction to the reformist’s ideas. As such it offers scholars of religion and Middle Eastern politics alike a penetrating insight into the impact that these ideas have had on Shi’ism—an impact which is still felt today.

Bhojani, “Moral Rationalism and Shari’a”

This month, Routledge Publishing will release “Moral Rationalism and Shari’a: Independent rationality in modern Shi’i usul al-Fiqh” by Ali-Reza Bhojani (Al-Mahdi Institute, Birmingham).  The publisher’s description follows:

Moral Rationalism and Shari'aMoral Rationalism and Shari’a is the first attempt at outlining the scope for a theological reading of Shari’a, based on a critical examination of why ‘Adliyya theological ethics have not significantly impacted Shi’i readings of Shari’a.

Within Shi’i works of Shari ‘a legal theory (usul al-fiqh) there is a theoretical space for reason as an independent source of normativity alongside the Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition. The position holds that humans are capable of understanding moral values independently of revelation. Describing themselves as ‘Adliyya (literally the people of Justice), this allows the Shi ‘a, who describe themselves as ‘Adiliyya (literally, the People of Justice), to attribute a substantive rational conception of justice to God, both in terms of His actions and His regulative instructions. Despite the Shi’i adoption of this moral rationalism, independent judgments of rational morality play little or no role in the actual inference of Shari ‘a norms within mainstream contemporary Shi’i thought.

Through a close examination of the notion of independent rationality as a source in modern Shi’i usul al-fiqh, the obstacles preventing this moral rationalism from impacting the understanding of Shari ‘a are shown to be purely epistemic. In line with the ‘emic’ (insider) approach adopted, these epistemic obstacles are revisited identifying the scope for allowing a reading of Shari’a that is consistent with the fundamental moral rationalism of Shi’i thought. It is argued that judgments of rational morality, even when not definitively certain, cannot be ignored in the face of the apparent meaning of texts that are themselves also not certain. An‘Adliyya reading of Shari’a demands that the strength of independent rational evidence be reconciled against the strength of any other apparently conflicting evidence, such that independent judgments of rational morality act as a condition for the validity of precepts attributed to a just and moral God.

Podcast on Mideast Christians and ISIS

ep26For those who are interested, I sat for an interview yesterday on Mideast Christians and ISIS, part of a podcast series produced by Fr. Nareg Terterian of St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church in Douglaston, New York. Fr. Nareg, a St. John’s grad, did a wonderful job and I appreciated the opportunity. You can listen to the interview here; my segment starts around the 10:00 minute mark and runs for 30 minutes.

Goldsmith, “Cycle of Fear”

This March, Hurst Publisher’s will release “Cycle of Fear: Syria’s Alawites in War and Peace” by Leon Goldsmith (Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman).  The publisher’s description follows:

Cycle of FearIn early 2011 an elderly Alawite shaykh lamented the long history of ‘oppression and aggression’ against his people. Against such collective memories the Syrian uprising was viewed by many Alawites, and observers, as a revanchist Sunni Muslim movement and the gravest threat yet to the unorthodox Shi’ah sub-sect. This explained why the Alawites largely remained loyal to the Ba’athist regime of Bashar al-Assad.

But was Alawite history really a constant tale of oppression and the Syrian uprising of 2011 an existential threat to the Alawites? This book surveys Alawite history from the sect’s inception in Abbasid Iraq up to the start of the uprising in 2011. Goldsmith shows how Alawite identity and political behaviour have been shaped by a cycle of insecurity that has prevented the group from achieving either genuine social integration or long term security. Rather than being the gravest threat yet to the sect, the Syrian uprising, in the context of the Arab Spring, was quite possibly a historic opportunity for the Alawites finally to break free from their cycle of fear.

St. John’s Hosts Panel on Mideast Christians

L-R: Michael LaCivita, Mark Wasef, MLM

This past Wednesday, the Center for Law and Religion co-sponsored a panel, “Threat to Justice: Middle Eastern Christians and the ISIS Crisis,” at the St. John’s Law School campus in Queens. The Catholic Law Students Association, and, especially, this year’s energetic president, Eugene Ubawike ’15, took the lead in organizing the event, which was also endorsed by the Law School’s Center for International and Comparative Law. I served as moderator.

Eugene introduced the panel by referring to the martyrdom of 21 Coptic Christians at the hands of ISIS operatives in Libya last weekend. The martyrdom of Christians is not something one reads about only in history books, he said–persecution is happening right now. In my introduction, I followed up on Eugene’s comments by reminding the audience of what Pope Francis said at our conference in Rome this past summer: there are more Christian martyrs today than in the first centuries of the Church, since before the time of Constantine, 1700 years ago.

Michael LaCivita, the Chief Communications Officer of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, explained the mission of his organization and helpfully situated the discussion by giving a brief history of the Christians of the Middle East. Mark Wasef, an attorney and member of the board of United for a New Egypt, provided an overview of the situation Christians face in contemporary Egypt. He spoke movingly of the troubles Copts have faced in recent years, but also of the possibility of peaceful relations between Christians and Muslims, and his hopes for the future. A robust question and answer session touched on topics like the dhimma, the promise of the Sisi government in Egypt, Mideast Christians in American politics, and the legacy of the Crusades.

This is not the first panel on Mideast Christians that CLR has sponsored at the Law School, and, as at the event we sponsored in October 2010, turnout on Wednesday night was encouraging, a sign that the Law School community takes this issue seriously. Congratulations to Eugene and the Catholic Law Students Association for an important event in the life of St. John’s, and many thanks to our panelists.

People of the Cross

people-of-the-crossFrom Patheos:

 ISIS released its first video of mass beheadings last Saturday.

The victims of this murder were 21 Christian Egyptian men who ISIS marched onto a beach in Libya and then beheaded en masse. A CBS senior news analyst commented “They are targeting the people of the cross,” the Copts, which is an ancient Christian communion located mostly in Egypt. This isn’t much of an analytical leap, considering that ISIS named the video “A Message to the Nation of the Cross.”

France and Egypt have called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to deal with the “spiraling crisis of ISIS.” Meanwhile, Italy has closed its embassy in Lybia and also appealed to the United Nations as it attempts to deal with a huge influx of refugees who are fleeing Libya.

“This risk is imminent, we cannot wait any longer. Italy has national defense needs and cannot have a caliphate ruling across the shores from us,” Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti told Il Messaggero newspaper. She added that the risks of Jihadists entering Italy along with the refugees “could not be ruled out.”

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, said, “We have told Europe and the international community that we have to stop sleeping. The problems cannot all be left to us because we are the first, the closest.”

Egypt’s government has responded to the video with bombings of ISIS locations inside Lybia. Egypt has also asked for American assistance in this war.

At an academic conference a couple of years ago, a prominent scholar with impeccably elite credentials scoffed when I referred to the worldwide persecution of Christians. “Next you’ll be telling us about the persecution of the one-billion-plus Chinese,” he said. I’m sure his opinion hasn’t changed.

 

Panel: “Threat to Justice: Middle Eastern Christians and the ISIS Crisis” (St. John’s, Feb. 18)

On February 18 at 5 p.m., CLR will co-host a panel, along with the St. John’s Catholic Law Students Association, on a very timely topic: “Threat to Justice: Middle Eastern Christians and the ISIS Crisis.”

The discussion will be moderated by CLR Director Mark Movsesian. Speakers will include Michael LaCivita (Catholic Near East Welfare Association), Edward Clancy (Aid to the Church in Need), and Mark Wasef (United for a New Egpyt).

For more information, please click here.