Next month, University of Pennsylvania Press will publish An Age of Infidels: The Politics of Religious Controversy in the Early United States by Eric R. Schlereth (University of Texas). The publisher’s description follows.
Historian Eric R. Schlereth places religious conflict at the center of early American political culture. He shows ordinary Americans—both faithful believers and Christianity’s staunchest critics—struggling with questions about the meaning of tolerance and the limits of religious freedom. In doing so, he casts new light on the ways Americans reconciled their varied religious beliefs with political change at a formative moment in the nation’s cultural life.
After the American Revolution, citizens of the new nation felt no guarantee that they would avoid the mire of religious and political conflict that had gripped much of Europe for three centuries. Debates thus erupted in the new United States about how or even if long-standing religious beliefs, institutions, and traditions could be accommodated within a new republican political order that encouraged suspicion of inherited traditions. Public life in the period included contentious arguments over the best way to ensure a compatible relationship between diverse religious beliefs and the nation’s recent political developments.
In the process, religion and politics in the early United States were remade to fit each other. From the 1770s onward, Americans created a political rather than legal boundary between acceptable and unacceptable religious expression, one defined in reference to infidelity. Conflicts occurred most commonly between deists and their opponents who perceived deists’ anti-Christian opinions as increasingly influential in American culture and politics. Exploring these controversies, Schlereth explains how Americans navigated questions of religious truth and difference in an age of emerging religious liberty.
In January, Columbia University Press will publish Tolerance, Democracy, and Sufis in Senegal edited by Mamadou Diouf (Columbia University). The publisher’s description follows.
This collection critically examines “tolerance,” “secularism,” and respect for religious “diversity” within a social and political system dominated by Sufi brotherhoods. Through a detailed analysis of Senegal’s political economy, essays trace the genealogy and dynamic exchange among these concepts while investigating public spaces and political processes and their reciprocal engagement with the state, Sunni reformist and radical groups, and non-religious organizations.
Through a rich and nuanced historical ethnography of the formation of Senegalese democracy, this anthology illuminates the complex trajectory of the Senegalese state and its reflection of similar postcolonial societies. Offering rare perspectives on the country’s “successes” since liberation, this collection identifies the role of religion, gender, culture, ethnicity, globalization, politics, and migration in the reconfiguration of the state and society, and it makes an important contribution to democratization theory, Islamic studies, and African studies. Scholars of comparative politics and religious studies will also appreciate the volume’s treatment of Senegal as both an exceptional and universal example of postcolonial development.
My colleague, Mark Movsesian, has posted a short, highly readable, and instructive piece about an important episode in nineteenth-century religion-state relations in the Middle East, The Price of Ottoman Failure. The abstract follows.
This essay, written for a symposium on secularity in the contemporary Middle East, explores the dangers secularization may pose for non-Muslims, especially Christians. It looks to a historical example, the 19th Century Ottoman reform movement known as the Tanzimat. The Tanzimat aimed to modernize the empire and revise its law to reflect secular European models. One major reform gave legal equality for the first time to non-Muslims. Equality contradicted classical Islamic law and contributed to a violent backlash against Christians that set the stage for genocide in the 20th Century. Of course, the story of the Tanzimat’s failure is complex. Factors other than religious law were also involved, and one cannot draw a direct analogy to events that occurred 150 years ago in a different society. Nonetheless, the story of the Tanzimat and its failure suggests that secularization in the Middle East is a delicate matter that poses risks for Christian communities.
Abdulla Galadari (Higher Colleges of Techonology; American University in Dubai) has posted Diversity in Heaven: Qur’anic Perspective Beyond Pluralism. The abstract follows.
There are difficulties in the practicality of the theory for multiculturalism. Living in a tolerant society means to accept the other, but keeping a distinct identity. The main ingredient that makes people remain apart from each other is often rooted from within their faith and religion. This study looks into the Qur’anic perspective of diversity and pluralism. Like many Christians, many Muslims believe in exclusivism, in which Heaven is exclusive to the adherents of a certain faith and tenets, whether within different sects of the same religion or different religions. This study proves that such an ideology is a misunderstanding of the Qur’an. It shows how the Qur’an portrays not only pluralism, but goes beyond pluralism. Tolerance is to accept the other, but to remain distinct. However, the Qur’an teaches that the distinction between faiths is only a farce appearance used to prove the true merits of people. Although many Muslim scholars convey a message of exclusivity of Heaven, the Qur’an calls such people who make such claims as people without knowledge. Exclusivity of Heaven is an invention by traditional scholars that the Qur’an explicitly speaks against. The proof provided in the paper uses the Qur’anic text and analyzing its linguistics, grammar, and context. The Qur’an not only accepts diversity within society, but proves that this diversity is due to misunderstanding reality, which is the oneness of people and heavenly religions. The terms ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslims’ are mentioned many times in the Qur’an, but most Qur’anic commentators define it as the surrender to the will of G-d, except in few verses, where it is defined as the religion known today as Islam. It is this inconsistency in defining the Qur’anic term that brings a false sense of exclusivity within Islam.
When the separationist position was ascendant in religion clause law, one would frequently see two sorts of reasons given for it: separation from religion and separation for religion. The former was oriented toward protecting the state; the latter toward protecting religion. And even today, when separationism is no longer the Court’s favored position in either free exercise or establishment cases, one continues to see the idea that government and religion need to be shielded from one another for their mutual benefit.
The history of these ideas is discussed in How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (PUP 2003), by the late Perez Zagorin, a first-rate European intellectual historian. In explaining the origins of the idea of religious toleration, Zagorin’s study emphasizes the second component of the separationist stance. And for those who are interested in a readable point of entry into these important issues, I think you will enjoy Zagorin’s accessible but deeply cultivated approach. The publisher’s description follows. — MOD
Religious intolerance, so terrible and deadly in its recent manifestations, is nothing new. In fact, until after the eighteenth century, Christianity was perhaps the most intolerant of all the great world religions. How Christian Europe and the West went from this extreme to their present universal belief in religious toleration is the momentous story fully told for the first time in this timely and important book by a leading historian of early modern Europe.
Perez Zagorin takes readers to a time when both the Catholic Church and the main new Protestant denominations embraced a policy of endorsing religious persecution, coercing unity, and, with the state’s help, mercilessly crushing dissent and heresy. This position had its roots in certain intellectual and religious traditions, which Zagorin traces before showing how out of the same traditions came the beginnings of pluralism in the West. Here we see how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century thinkers–writing from religious, theological, and philosophical perspectives–contributed far more than did political expediency or the growth of religious skepticism to advance the cause of toleration. Reading these thinkers–from Erasmus and Sir Thomas More to John Milton and John Locke, among others–Zagorin brings to light a common, if unexpected, thread: concern for the spiritual welfare of religion itself weighed more in the defense of toleration than did any secular or pragmatic arguments. His book–which ranges from England through the Netherlands, the post-1685 Huguenot Diaspora, and the American Colonies–also exposes a close connection between toleration and religious freedom.