Tag Archives: Religious History

“Orthodox Christianity in Imperial Russia: A Source Book on Lived Religion” (Coleman ed.)

This month, Indiana University Press is releasing “Orthodox Christianity in Imperial Russia: A Source Book on Lived Religion” edited by Heather J. Coleman (University of Alberta). The publisher’s description follows:

From sermons and clerical reports to personal stories of faith, this book of translated primary documents reveals the lived experience of Orthodox Christianity in 19th- and early 20th-century Russia. These documents allow us to hear the voices of educated and uneducated writers, of clergy and laity, nobles and merchants, workers and peasants, men and women, Russians and Ukrainians. Orthodoxy emerges here as a multidimensional and dynamic faith. Beyond enhancing our understanding of Orthodox Christianity as practiced in Imperial Russia, this thoughtfully edited volume offers broad insights into the relationship between religious narrative and social experience and reveals religion’s central place in the formation of world views and narrative traditions.

Hodder, “Religion at Work in a Neolithic Society”

This month, Cambridge will publish Religion at Work in a Neolithic Society, by 9781107047334Ian Hodder (Stanford University). The publisher’s description follows.

This book tackles the topic of religion, a broad subject exciting renewed interest across the social and historical sciences. The volume is tightly focused on the early farming village of Çatalhöyük, which has generated much interest both within and outside of archaeology, especially for its contributions to the understanding of early religion. The volume discusses contemporary themes such as materiality, animism, object vitality, and material dimensions of spirituality while at the same time exploring broad evolutionary changes in the ways in which religion has influenced society. The volume results from a unique collaboration between an archaeological team and a range of specialists in ritual and religion.

Religious Division and Identity – Richard III and the Rest of Us – Part III

In Part I of this case study of sorts, I wrote a bit about the theological complexity of debates over religious identity, as illustrated by the (very) minor fracas over whether it be somehow wrong to reinter the bones of Richard III in an Anglican rather than a Catholic ceremony.  In Part II, I asked how historians might look at the question of whether Richard was a “Catholic” in our sense of the word, or even whether they would reject the question as too vague or even meaningless.

I’ve suggested that theologians and historians will look at these sorts of problems through different lenses.  But do they also have something to say to each other?  This is a much larger question than I can try to tackle in a blog.  But I’ve been thinking a good deal about the problem of religion and history in my study of the jurisprudence of Jewish law (which I hope to discuss later this month), so let me at least throw out one tiny observation here, focusing again on Richard III.

First a distinction — between history and historical consciousness.  Historical consciousness is the distinctly modern conviction that history is not just a chronicle of events.  The past is actually a very different place than the present, and those differences are deeply bound up in specific context and assumptions and world views.  History is important to intelligent thinking about current religious belief and practice, but historical consciousness necessarily frustrates any effort to easy easy, straightforward, conclusions from that history.

So back to Richard III.  Assume for a moment that the authorities did decide to hand the King over for a Catholic funeral service.  Some Catholics of a “traditionalist” bent — the supporters of the traditional Latin Mass (one version of which Pope Benedict XVI dubbed the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite) — have argued that it’s not good enough for Richard III to be given a Catholic service.  As a pre-Vatican II Catholic (by many centuries), he should merit a traditional Latin requiem mass.  And, as an anointed King, he really deserves the special traditional service for the burial of a King.  That is, after all, what he would expect and want if he had a say in the matter.

The problem here is obvious, though.   Continue reading

Religious Division and Identity – Richard III and the Rest of Us – Part II

Thanks again to Mark and Marc for inviting me to guest blog this month.  I hope to use this opportunity to think about a range of questions, and also introduce a bit of my own work.

Back in August, I posted Part I of some mediations on religious division prompted by the minor kerfuffle over whether the newly-discovered remains of Richard III should be reinterred in a Catholic or an Anglican ceremony.  That post looked at the question from a bit of a theological lens. I want now to say a bit about the same problem from the perspectives of history.  (I’ll have one or two more parts to this discussion, so stay tuned.)

So let’s go back to our test case: Was Richard III a “Catholic” in the modern sense of the word that would exclude his membership in the “Church of England”?  For that matter, is the contemporary Church of England in some meaningful sense Catholic and not merely catholic?

Historians, I think, would resist these questions from the get-go. For one thing, they would want to be more contextual and specific.  There is no one answer to the religious identity of either Richard III or the contemporary Church of England.  Are we talking about formal belief structures, lived spiritual premises, personal devotion, liturgical practices, institutional relations, personal networks, political allegiances, or something else?  How does the civil war that Richard fought and lost figure into the equation, if at all?  What about the radically different technology of the time, with its implications for travel and communication?  What about the long, complex, and often violent history of relations between King and clergy that long predated Henry VIII’s split from Rome?  How would Richard III himself have understood the question?  Would he have understood it?

For that matter, historians might find the question too essentialist to begin with.  Yes, categories such as “Catholic” are real and important.  But time is change.  Richard III could not be “Catholic” in the sense we understand the term because nobody in his time – before the Reformation, the Enlightenment, England’s split from Rome, the rise of secularism, and for that matter the advent of modern forms of communication and transportation – was “Catholic” in the sense we understand the term.

All this interests me, not because I’m a historian, but because the question of historical consciousness (and its limits) strikes me as deeply important to all sorts of other puzzles and challenges I’ll be taking up this month.

For now, though, I will leave to the next post or two some thoughts about the possible further theological implications of what I’ve just said about history to the fate of poor Richard III and about how law (this is a law blog, after all) fits into all this, both specifically and more generally.

Horwitz, “Freedom of the Church Without Romance”

For those interested in the exploding work on the freedom of the church (and you should all be!), do see Paul Horwitz’s new tour de force draft article, Freedom of the Church Without Romance, a typically graduated and thoughtful piece by a defender of ecclesial liberty.

I haven’t yet read the entire piece, but what I have read is rich and very interesting. I touch on ideas of liberty of the church in my chapter on free exercise applications of the tragic-historic method in The Tragedy of Religious Freedom–in Chapter 9 where I discuss the Hosanna-Tabor case. But because (I think!) my view of freedom of the church is perhaps not quite as potent in certain ways as is Paul’s (it is subject to perhaps greater particularistic assessment by courts and is less committed to the general superstructure of Horwitzian First Amendment institutionalism, even as qualified in this piece), I wonder whether, for me, the suggestion of embracing a “strong non-establishment regime” follows as powerfully as it does for Paul (if one understands a “strong” disestablishmentarian regime in the way that I suspect Paul does). Some of Paul’s questions toward the end of the piece about arguments involving church freedom alongside others concerning equal access of religious entities in the provision of services do not seem to me to give churches “a competitive advantage” that is troubling for Establishment Clause purposes (one can believe this, I think, and also agree with Paul about the importance of the economics of religion quite apart from the issue of its constitutional weight), though I understand the point that Paul is making. At any rate, the piece is well worth a good, long read. The abstract follows.

This Article is part of a symposium issue titled “Freedom of the Church in the Modern Era.” Freedom of the church, roughly, connotes the independent nature or sovereignty of the church. The most dramatic moment in its development was the eleventh century Investiture Controversy, with its confrontation between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV at Canossa, but it has a long prior and subsequent history. Recently, with the renewed scholarly interest in the institutional rights of churches and religious organizations and the Supreme Court’s decision affirming the “ministerial exception” doctrine in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC,the idea of “freedom of the church” has taken on new champions–and critics.

This Article, from an author who has written supportively about freedom of the church and/or religious institutionalism in prior work, takes a deliberately unromantic look at freedom of the church. It evaluates it through two useful disciplinary lenses: history, and the economics of religion.

Both historical and economic analysis of the concept of”freedom of the church” suggest the following conclusions: (1) The concept should be treated carefully and with a full awareness of its mixed history, without undue romanticism on the part of its champions–or a confident conclusion on the part of its critics that it is no longer necessary. (2) Whatever the concept of “freedom of the church” means today, the present version is decidedly diminished and chastened, a shadow of the medieval version. Supporters of freedom of the church should welcome that fact. Freedom of the church persists, and may have continuing value, precisely because it has become so domesticated. (3) There are solid historical and economic grounds for some form of freedom of the church or religious institutional autonomy. In particular, religion’s status as a credence good, whose value and reliability is certified by religious agents such as ministers, strongly suggests that state interference with religious employment relations can be dangerous to a church’s well-being and long-term survival. (4) The history and economics of religion also teach us something about the optimal conditions for freedom of the church–the conditions under which it is likely to do the most good and the least harm. In particular, they suggest that champions of freedom of the church ought to welcome religious pluralism and a strong non-establishment regime.

The Article closes with some speculation about why there has been a recent revival of interest in freedom of the church, including the possibility that its resurgence, even if it is fully justified, also involves an element of rent-seeking by religious institutions.

There are two broader underlying suggestions as well. First, there are good reasons to support some version of freedom of the church, but it deserves a more critical and nuanced examination by friends and adversaries alike. Second, legal scholars writing on church-state issues have paid far too little attention to the literature on the economics of religion.

Gordon on Church and State in the Early United States

Sarah Barringer Gordon (University of Pennsylvania Law School) has posted State v. Church: Limits on Church Power and Property from Disestablishment to the Civil War. The abstract follows.

Debates over the rights of religious organizations pit those who argue
for “church autonomy” from state interference against those who argue for
strict separation. In battles to exempt religious employers from providing
birth control to employees, to debates over parishioners right to secede from a central denomination and take their church property with them, defenders of religious institutions argue that individual interests or local congregations should not determine the outcome of disputes. They argue that the rights of religious institutions have long held a key place in American life. This article challenges that claim by investigating the legislative and judicial implementation of disestablishment in the states from the 1780s to 1860. Widespread legislative and constitutional limits on the capacity of religious organizations to acquire and hold property, coupled with the imposition of lay control of church affairs through the election of trustees, imposed strict limits on the scope of religious power to protect individual freedom of conscience. After disestablishment, state involvement in church affairs increased, in other words. In this environment of intense regulation and oversight, religious life flourished and lay involvement increased dramatically. Taking seriously the focus on individual freedom of belief as a key component of disestablishment, this article rebuts the argument that American history supports broad autonomy for religious institutions. Instead, it reveals a legacy of strict oversight combined with concern for individual liberty of belief.

Young, “Ecclesiastical Colony”

Next month, the Oxford University Press will publish Ecclesiastical Colony: China’s Catholic Church and the French Religious Protectorate by Ernest P. Young (University of Michigan). The publisher’s description follows.Ecclesiastical Colony

The French Religious Protectorate was an institutionalized and enduring policy of the French government, based on a claim by the French state to be guardian of all Catholics in China. The expansive nature of the Protectorate’s claim across nationalities elicited opposition from official and ordinary Chinese, other foreign countries, and even the pope. Yet French authorities believed their Protectorate was essential to their political prominence in the country. This book examines the dynamics of the French policy, the supporting role played in it by ecclesiastical authority, and its function in embittering Sino-foreign relations.

In the 1910s, the dissidence of some missionaries and Chinese Catholics introduced turmoil inside the church itself. The rebels viewed the link between French power and the foreign-run church as prejudicial to the evangelistic project. The issue came into the open in 1916, when French authorities seized territory in the city of Tianjin on the grounds of protecting Catholics. In response, many Catholics joined in a campaign of patriotic protest, which became linked to a movement to end the subordination of the Chinese Catholic clergy to foreign missionaries and to appoint Chinese bishops.

With new leadership in the Vatican sympathetic to reforms, serious steps were taken from the late 1910s to establish a Chinese-led church, but foreign bishops, their missionary societies, and the French government fought back. During the 1930s, the effort to create an indigenous church stalled. It was less than halfway to realization when the Chinese Communist Party took power in 1949. Ecclesiastical Colony reveals the powerful personalities, major debates, and complex series of events behind the turmoil that characterized the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century experience of the Catholic church in China.

Kester, “Remembering Iosepa”

This month, the Oxford University Press will publish Remembering Iosepa: History, Place, and Religion in the American West by Matthew Kester (Brigham Young University). The publisher’s description follows. Remembering Iosepa

In the late nineteenth century, a small community of Native Hawaiian Mormons established a settlement in heart of The Great Basin, in Utah. The community was named Iosepa, after the prophet and sixth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph F. Smith. The inhabitants of Iosepa struggled against racism, the ravages of leprosy, and economic depression, by the early years of the twentieth century emerging as a modern, model community based on ranching, farming, and an unwavering commitment to religious ideals. Yet barely thirty years after its founding the town was abandoned, nearly all of its inhabitants returning to Hawaii. Years later, Native Hawaiian students at nearby Brigham Young University, descendants of the original settlers, worked to clean the graves of Iosepa and erect a monument to memorialize the settlers.

Remembering Iosepa connects the story of this unique community with the earliest Native Hawaiian migrants to western North America and the vibrant and growing community of Pacific Islanders in the Great Basin today. It traces the origins and growth of the community in the tumultuous years of colonial expansion into the Hawaiian islands, as well as its relationship to white Mormons, the church leadership, and the Hawaiian government. In the broadest sense, Mathew Kester seeks to explain the meeting of Mormons and Hawaiians in the American West and to examine the creative adaptations and misunderstandings that grew out of that encounter.

Should Richard III Receive a Catholic Burial?

You thought there couldn’t be a law and religion angle to today’s news–fascinating for us history nerds–that archaeologists have discovered the mortal remains of Richard III beneath a parking lot in Leicester? Think again. Plans are underway to re-inter the bones in the city’s Anglican Cathedral. Not so fast, say some: the hunchback king wasn’t a Protestant, but a Catholic, and he requires a Catholic burial. In fact, as Shakespeare fans know, Richard died at Bosworth Field (“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”), defending his throne from Henry Tudor. Henry went on to reign as Henry VII;  his son, Henry VIII, broke with Rome. As The Tablet’s blog argued this morning, “Had Richard prevailed at the Battle of Bosworth Field, there would have been no Henry VII, therefore no Henry VIII and no Reformation. England today might still be a Catholic country.” Think of it: no Reformation, no Established Church, no Archbishop Laud, no Puritans, no Great Migration — no Massachusetts! — and no Establishment Clause. Surely there’s a law review article in there somewhere.

Leicester Cathedral seems to know it’s facing a sensitive situation. A Catholic priest is keeping watch over Richard’s remains (as is an Anglican, I believe), and the cathedral is planning a “multifaith” burial ceremony. Personally, I’m not sure why English Catholics are so keen to claim Richard, anyway. They must be forgetting the nephews in the Tower.

Snyder, “Building a Public Judaism”

This month, Harvard University Press published Building a Public Judaism: Synagogues and Jewish Identity in Nineteenth-Century Europe by Saskia Coenen Snyder (University of South Carolina). The publisher’s description follows.Building a Public Judaism

Nineteenth-century Europe saw an unprecedented rise in the number of synagogues. Building a Public Judaism considers what their architecture and the circumstances surrounding their construction reveal about the social progress of modern European Jews. Looking at synagogues in four important centers of Jewish life—London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin—Saskia Coenen Snyder argues that the process of claiming a Jewish space in European cities was a marker of acculturation but not of full acceptance. Whether modest or spectacular, these new edifices most often revealed the limits of European Jewish integration.

Debates over building initiatives provide Coenen Snyder with a vehicle for gauging how Jews approached questions of self-representation in predominantly Christian societies and how public manifestations of their identity were received. Synagogues fused the fundamentals of religion with the prevailing cultural codes in particular locales and served as aesthetic barometers for European Jewry’s degree of modernization. Coenen Snyder finds that the dialogues surrounding synagogue construction varied significantly according to city. While the larger story is one of increasing self-agency in the public life of European Jews, it also highlights this agency’s limitations, precisely in those places where Jews were thought to be most acculturated, namely in France and Germany.

Building a Public Judaism grants the peculiarities of place greater authority than they have been given in shaping the European Jewish experience. At the same time, its place-specific description of tensions over religious tolerance continues to echo in debates about the public presence of religious minorities in contemporary Europe.