This month, Columbia Global Reports released “Holy Lands: Reviving Pluralism in the Middle East,” by Nicholas Pelham. The publisher’s description follows:
How did the world’s most tolerant region become the least harmonious place on the planet?
The headlines from the Middle East these days are bad, characterized by violence, terror, and autocracy. Whatever hopes people may have for the region are being dashed over and over, in country after country. Nicolas Pelham, the veteran Middle East correspondent for The Economist, has witnessed much of the tragedy, but in Holy Lands he presents a strikingly original and startlingly optimistic argument.
The Middle East was notably more tolerant than Western Europe during the nineteenth century because the Ottoman Empire permitted a high degree of religious pluralism and self-determination within its vast borders. European powers broke up the empire and tried to turn it into a collection of secular nation-states—a spectacular failure. Rulers turned religion into a force for nationalism, and the result has been ever increasing sectarian violence. The only solution, Pelham argues, is to accept the Middle East for the deeply religious region it is, and try to revive its venerable tradition of pluralism.
Holy Lands is a work of vivid reportage—from Turkey and Iraq, Israel and Palestine, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, Dubai and Jordan—that is animated by a big idea. It makes a region that is all too familiar from news reports feel fresh.
To hear more about this book from the author himself, click here to listen to a podcast from The Economist Radio.
Posted in Christina Vlahos, Scholarship Roundup
Tagged Books, Holy Land, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Nationalism, Pluralism, Religion and Politics, Religion in the Middle East, Religious Toleration, Turkey
Next month, Oxford University Press will release “Europe, India, and the Limits of Secularism,” by Jakob De Roover (Ghent University). The publisher’s description follows:
For several decades now, commentators have sounded the alarm about the crisis of secularism. Saving the secular state from political religion, they suggest, is a question of survival for societies characterized by religious diversity. Yet it remains unclear what the crisis is all about. This book argues that its roots are internal to the liberal model of secularism and toleration. Rather than being neutral or non-religious, this is a secularized theological model with deep religious roots. The limits of liberal secularism go back to its emergence from the dynamics and tensions of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. From the very beginning, it went hand in hand with its own mode of intolerance: an anticlerical theology that rejected Catholicism and Judaism as evil forms of political religion. Later this framework produced the colonial descriptions of Hinduism (and its caste hierarchy) as a false and immoral religion. Thus, secularism was presented as the only route forward for India. Still, the secular state often harms local forms of living together and reinforces conflicts rather than resolving them. Todays advocacy of secularism is not the outcome of reasonable reflection on the problems of Indian society but a manifestation of colonial consciousness.
In April, Routledge will release “Antagonistic Tolerance: Competitive Sharing of Religious Sites and Spaces,” edited by Robert M. Hayden (University of Pittsburgh), Aykan Erdemir (Bilkent University), Tugba Tanyeri-Erdemir (Middle East Technical University), Timothy D. Walker (University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth), Devika Rangachari (University of Delhi), Manuel Aguilar Moreno (California State University – Los Angeles), Enrique López-Hurtado (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú), and Milica Bakic-Hayden (University of Pittsburgh). The publisher’s description follows:
Antagonistic Tolerance examines patterns of coexistence and conflict amongst members of different religious communities, using multidisciplinary research to analyze groups who have peacefully intermingled for generations, and who may have developed aspects of syncretism in their religious practices, and yet have turned violently on each other. Such communities define themselves as separate peoples, with different and often competing interests, yet their interaction is usually peaceable provided the dominance of one group is clear. The key indicator of dominance is control over central religious sites, which may be tacitly shared for long periods, but later contested and even converted as dominance changes. By focusing on these shared and contested sites, this volume allows for a wider understanding of relations between these communities.
Using a range of ethnographic, historical and archaeological data from the Balkans, India, Mexico, Peru, Portugal and Turkey, Antagonistic Tolerance develops a comparative model of the competitive sharing and transformation of religious sites. These studies are not considered as isolated cases, but are instead woven into a unified analytical framework which explains how long-term peaceful interactions between religious communities can turn conflictual and even result in ethnic cleansing.
In March, Oxford University Press will release “John Owen and English Puritanism: Experiences of Defeat” by Crawford Gribben (Queen’s University Belfast). The publisher’s description follows:
John Owen was a leading theologian in seventeenth-century England. Closely associated with the regicide and revolution, he befriended Oliver Cromwell, was appointed vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, and became the premier religious statesman of the Interregnum. The restoration of the monarchy pushed Owen into dissent, criminalizing his religious practice and inspiring his writings in defense of high Calvinism and religious toleration. Owen transcended his many experiences of defeat, and his claims to quietism were frequently undermined by rumors of his involvement in anti-government conspiracies.
Crawford Gribben’s biography documents Owen’s importance as a controversial and adaptable theologian deeply involved with his social, political and religious environments. Fiercely intellectual, and extraordinarily learned, Owen wrote millions of words in works of theology and exegesis. Far from personifying the Reformed tradition, however, Owen helped to undermine it, offering an individualist account of Christian faith that downplayed the significance of the church and means of grace. In doing so, Owen’s work contributed to the formation of the new religious movement known as evangelicalism, where his influence still can be seen today.
This month, Oxford University Press releases “The Crisis of Religious Toleration in Imperial Russia: Bibikov’s System for the Old Believers, 1841-1855” by Thomas Marsden (University College London). The publisher’s description follows:
This book is about an unprecedented attempt by the government of Russia’s Tsar Nicholas I (1825-1855) to eradicate what was seen as one of the greatest threats to its political security: the religious dissent of the Old Believers. The Old Believers had long been reviled by the ruling Orthodox Church, for they were the largest group of Russian dissenters and claimed to be the guardians of true Orthodoxy; however, their industrious communities and strict morality meant that the civil authorities often regarded them favourably. This changed in the 1840s and 1850s when a series of remarkable cases demonstrated that the existing restrictions upon the dissenters’ religious freedoms could not suppress their capacity for independent organisation. Finding itself at a crossroads between granting full toleration, or returning to the fierce persecution of earlier centuries, the tsarist government increasingly inclined towards the latter course, culminating in a top secret ‘system’ introduced in 1853 by the Minister of Internal Affairs Dmitrii Bibikov.
The operation of this system was the high point of religious persecution in the last 150 years of the tsarist regime: it dissolved the Old Believers’ religious gatherings, denied them civil rights, and repressed their leading figures as state criminals. It also constituted an extraordinary experiment in government, instituted to deal with a temporary emergency. Paradoxically the architects of this system were not churchmen or reactionaries, but representatives of the most progressive factions of Nicholas’s bureaucracy. Their abandonment of religious toleration on grounds of political intolerability reflected their nationalist concerns for the future development of a rapidly changing Russia. The system lasted only until Nicholas’s death in 1855; however, the story of its origins, operation, and collapse, told for the first time in this study, throws new light on the religious and political identity of the autocratic regime and on the complexity of the problems it faced.
In November, Cambridge University Press will release “Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Tolerance without Liberalism” by Jeremy Menchik (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows:
Indonesia’s Islamic organizations sustain the country’s thriving civil society, democracy, and reputation for tolerance amid diversity. Yet scholars poorly understand how these organizations envision the accommodation of religious difference. What does tolerance mean to the world’s largest Islamic organizations? What are the implications for democracy in Indonesia and the broader Muslim world? Jeremy Menchik argues that answering these questions requires decoupling tolerance from liberalism and investigating the historical and political conditions that engender democratic values. Drawing on archival documents, ethnographic observation, comparative political theory, and an original survey, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia demonstrates that Indonesia’s Muslim leaders favor a democracy in which individual rights and group-differentiated rights converge within a system of legal pluralism, a vision at odds with American-style secular government but common in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.
This March, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing will release “The Lively Experiment: Religious Toleration in America from Roger Williams to the Present” edited by Chris Beneke (Bentley College) and Christopher Grenda (CUNY-Brooklyn Community College). The publisher’s description follows:
Beginning with the legacy of Roger Williams, who in 1633 founded the first colony not restricted to people of one faith, The Lively Experiment chronicles how Americans have continually demolished traditional prejudices while at the same time erecting new walls between belief systems. The chapters gathered here reveal how Americans are sensitively attuned to irony and contradiction, to unanticipated eruptions of bigotry and unheralded acts of decency, and to the disruption caused by new movements and the reassurance supplied by old divisions. The authors examine the way ethnicity, race, and imperialism have been woven into the fabric of interreligious relations and highlight how currents of tolerance and intolerance have rippled in multiple directions. Nearly four hundred years after Roger Williams’ Rhode Island colony, the “lively experiment” of religious tolerance remains a core tenet of the American way of life. This volume honors this boisterous tradition by offering the first comprehensive account of America’s vibrant and often tumultuous history of interreligious relations.
In rereading a wonderful piece by Professor Michael McConnell about Edmund Burke’s view of the relationship between an established religion and a regime of toleration of religion, I came across this deeply insightful discussion of the close connection of a separationist idea of religion and government (as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson, for example) and the idea that government itself had very limited functions in the first place:
There is a close, but generally unrecognized, connection between the idea of the “Wall of Separation” and the idea of a radically limited government. Once government shakes off its limited role and concerns itself with the general welfare of the people, including their cultural and intellectual lives, it has leapt the “Wall” and entered the traditional sphere of religion. In contrast to many of our Founders, Burke had a more modern conception of the jurisdiction of the state, which did not permit him the easy answer of a “Wall of Separation.” If the government is “a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection,” then it necessarily will be conveying a collective teaching on science, art, virtue, and perfection (whether we label the teaching a “religion” or not). It follows not that an establishment is desirable, but that it is inescapable. Some sort of opinions will necessarily guide the state in its “superintending control over…the publicly propagated doctrines of men.” If the Jeffersonian-Madisonian ideal of the limited state is abandoned as naive or outmoded, then the serious questions become how to protect against arbitrary or tyrannical use of this power and how to respect the legitimate rights of those who disagree with the official orthodoxy.
Michael W. McConnell, Establishment and Toleration in Edmund Burke’s ‘Constitution of Freedom,’ 1995 Supreme Court Review 393, 444-45 (with citations to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and his Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians).
This month, Cambridge University Press will publish Toleration in Conflict: Past and Present (2013) by Rainer Forst (Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt). The publisher’s description follows.
The concept of toleration plays a central role in pluralistic societies. It designates a stance which permits conflicts over beliefs and practices to persist while at the same time defusing them, because it is based on reasons for coexistence in conflict – that is, in continuing dissension. A critical examination of the concept makes clear, however, that its content and evaluation are profoundly contested matters and thus that the concept itself stands in conflict. For some, toleration was and is an expression of mutual respect in spite of far-reaching differences, for others, a condescending, potentially repressive attitude and practice. Rainer Forst analyses these conflicts by reconstructing the philosophical and political discourse of toleration since antiquity. He demonstrates the diversity of the justifications and practices of toleration from the Stoics and early Christians to the present day and develops a systematic theory which he tests in discussions of contemporary conflicts over toleration.
Speaking of the use of religious convictions in the construction of political arguments, here is a very interesting book in the history of ideas involving the concept of toleration in the era of James II before the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the Act of Toleration of 1689 — Making Toleration: The Repealers and the Glorious Revolution, by Scott Sowerby (Northwestern), available in early 2013 from Harvard University Press. The publisher’s description follows.
In the reign of James II, minority groups from across the religious spectrum, led by the Quaker William Penn, rallied together under the Catholic King James in an effort to bring religious toleration to England. Known as repealers, these reformers aimed to convince Parliament to repeal laws that penalized worshippers who failed to conform to the doctrines of the Church of England. Although the movement was destroyed by the Glorious Revolution, it profoundly influenced the post-revolutionary settlement, helping to develop the ideals of tolerance that would define the European Enlightenment.
Based on a rich array of newly discovered archival sources, Scott Sowerby’s groundbreaking history rescues the repealers from undeserved obscurity, telling the forgotten story of men and women who stood up for their beliefs at a formative moment in British history. By restoring the repealer movement to its rightful prominence, Making Toleration also overturns traditional interpretations of King James II’s reign and the origins of the Glorious Revolution. Though often depicted as a despot who sought to impose his own Catholic faith on a Protestant people, James is revealed as a man ahead of his time, a king who pressed for religious toleration at the expense of his throne. The Glorious Revolution, Sowerby finds, was not primarily a crisis provoked by political repression. It was, in fact, a conservative counter-revolution against the movement for enlightened reform that James himself encouraged and sustained.