German-Catholic Clergy and German Nationalism

This year, Harvard University Press will publish Fighting for the Soul of Germany: The Catholic Struggle for Inclusion after Unification, by Rebecca Ayako Bennette, Assistant Professor of History at Middlebury College.  Contrary to historical assumptions, Bennette argues that—from the moment of German unification in 1871—clergy in the German-Catholic Church actively preached German national identity.  Bennette’s book dovetails with several works from the last few years detailing German-Catholic clergy’s engagement with German nationalism, even when engagement meant collaboration with the emerging Nazi party.  For example, in Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National Socialism (OUP, 2009), Derek Hastings—associate professor of History at Oakland University—details Catholic clergymen’s ties with the Nazi movement in 1920’s Munich.  Likewise, in Hitler’s Priests: Catholic Clergy and National Socialism (Northern Illinois University Press, 2008), Fr. Kevin P. Spicer, C.S.C., Distinguished Professor of History at Stonehill College, reveals the history of the “brown priests.”  Brown priests were Catholic clergy who, in part from an effort to rebuild German national identity after Germany’s humiliating defeat in the First World War, directly allied themselves with the Nazi party to disseminate its nationalist propaganda.  For the publisher’s description of Professor Bennette’s work, please follow the jump.  For a description of Professor Hastings’ and Father Spicer’s works, please follow the links above. Read more

Seeking Moral Guidance on the Iraq Withdrawal

On December 15, 2011, President Obama formally announced the end of the eight-and-a-half year Iraq war.  American troop presence in Iraq has dwindled to a fraction of its former strength:  In 2007, 170,000 Coalition troops occupied Iraq from 505 bases; in December, 2011, 4000 operated there from only two.  President Obama has also said he will not send any more troops to Iraq, even if the nation devolves into civil war; instead, America’s role will be limited to a political one, using diplomacy to resolve future conflicts.

Our war, then, is essentially over.  But whether war is over for Iraqis is a separate question, one with significant moral import for the United States.  Though American troops will be gone, Iraqis still face the specters of terrorism, government oppression, and civil war.  And because America started hostilities in 2003—whether justly or unjustly—it bears at least some responsibility to aid the nation it now leaves to its own devices.  Major religious bodies like the Catholic and Anglican Churches have yet to speak directly to this grave issue, one essential to America’s moral obligations to the Iraqi people.

What moral guidance, then, can we draw upon to evaluate this moment in contemporary history?  Shall we be overjoyed that a war is over, or shall we lament a moral failure?

For more on the situation in Iraq and a moral discussion of our withdrawal, please follow the jump. Read more

Prominent Egyptian Liberal to Face Trial for Insulting Islam

According to the Reuters FaithWorld blog, a Cairo prosecutor has decided to prosecute Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, head of the telecommunications firm MobilNil and founder of the secularist “Free Egyptians” party, on the charge of showing contempt for religion. The charge stems from an episode last June, when Sawiris tweeted a cartoon that many Muslims found offensive. The cartoon showed Mickey Mouse wearing a beard and Minnie Mouse wearing a face veil. Sawiris subsequently apologized for the incident.

The Reuters headline refers to Sawiris as a “leading Copt,” but in this BBC interview, in which he criticizes the “closed” nature of the Egyptian Christian community, he comes across more as a secular nationalist. Like other liberal parties,  his “Free Egyptians” party, which advocates the separation of religion and state, has struggled in recent parliamentary elections, which have been dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and  more radical Salafi parties.

Dressler & Mandair (eds.), “Secularism & Religion-Making”

Here is a collection of essays by religious studies scholars, Secularism & Religion-Making (OUP 2011), edited by Markus Dressler and Arvind-Pal S. Mandair.  Given the description of the contents of the essays, it should come as no surprise that it has been praised heartily by Talal Asad.  To my mind, it also tacitly suggests why religious studies and law often seem to be academic ships passing in the night.  The publisher’s description follows.

This book conceives of “religion-making” broadly as the multiple ways in which social and cultural phenomena are configured and reconfigured within the matrix of a world-religion discourse that is historically and semantically rooted in particular Western and predominantly Christian experiences, knowledges, and institutions. It investigates how religion is universalized and certain ideas, social formations, and practices rendered “religious” are thus integrated in and subordinated to very particular – mostly liberal-secular – assumptions about the relationship between history, politics, and religion.

The individual contributions, written by a new generation of scholars with decisively interdisciplinary approaches, examine the processes of translation and globalization of historically specific concepts and practices of religion – and its dialectical counterpart, the secular – into new contexts. This volume contributes to the relatively new field of thought that aspires to unravel the thoroughly intertwined relationships between religion and secularism as modern concepts.

Rosen, “Dignity”

An important looking new book by Michael Rosen (Harvard, Government), Dignity: Its History and Meaning (HUP 2012).  From the description below, Professor Rosen’s understanding of dignity does not appear follow the Christian understanding, and I am looking forward to reading his reflections on this question, which are sure to be penetrating.  The publisher’s description follows.

Dignity plays a central role in current thinking about law and human rights, but there is sharp disagreement about its meaning. Combining conceptual precision with a broad historical background, Michael Rosen puts these controversies in context and offers a novel, constructive proposal.

Drawing on law, politics, religion, and culture, as well as philosophy, Rosen shows how modern conceptions of dignity inherit several distinct strands of meaning. This is why users of the word nowadays often talk past one another. The idea of dignity as the foundation for the universal entitlement to human rights represented the coming together after the Second World War of two extremely powerful traditions: Christian theology and Kantian philosophy. Not only is this idea of dignity as an “inner transcendental kernel” behind human rights problematic, Rosen argues, it has drawn attention away from a different, very important, sense of dignity: the right to be treated with dignity, that is, with proper respect.

At the heart of the argument stands the giant figure of Immanuel Kant. Challenging current orthodoxy, Rosen’s interpretation presents Kant as a philosopher whose ethical thought is governed, above all, by the requirement of showing respect toward a kernel of value that each of us carries, indestructibly, within ourselves. Finally, Rosen asks (and answers) a surprisingly puzzling question: why do we still have a duty to treat the dead with dignity if they will not benefit from our respect?