Sarris, “Empires of Faith”

A very interesting looking history of two eventful centuries, Empires of Faith: The Fall of Rome to the Rise of Islam, 500-700 (OUP 2011), by Peter Sarris (Cambridge).  The publisher’s description follows.

Drawing upon the latest historical and archaeological research, Dr Peter Sarris provides a panoramic account of the history of Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East from the fall of Rome to the rise of Islam. The formation of a new social and economic order in western Europe in the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries, and the ascendancy across the West of a new culture of military lordship, are placed firmly in the context of on-going connections and influence radiating outwards from the surviving Eastern Roman Empire, ruled from the great imperial capital of Constantinople. The East Roman (or ‘Byzantine’) Emperor Justinian’s attempts to revive imperial fortunes, restore the empire’s power in the West, and face down Constantinople’s great superpower rival, the Sasanian Empire of Persia, are charted, as too are the ways in which the escalating warfare between Rome and Persia paved the way for the development of new concepts of ‘holy war’, the emergence of Islam, and the Arab conquests of the Near East. Processes of religious and cultural change are explained through examination of social, economic, and military upheavals, and the formation of early medieval European society is placed in a broader context of changes that swept across the world of Eurasia from Manchuria to the Rhine.

Warfare and plague, holy men and kings, emperors, shahs, caliphs, and peasants all play their part in a compelling narrative suited to specialist, student, and general readership alike.

Education and Belief

Thank you to Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami for the chance to participate in the Center for Law and Religion’s blog. I am delighted to work with them in addressing questions about the relationship between religion, law and culture. My primary interest in the next few weeks is exploring these concerns in the context of American education.

America’s current educational battles are about competing beliefs and commitments. This may sound like a strange assertion, given the practical nature of the debates on No Child Left Behind, vouchers, teachers unions, the curriculum, and so on. However, beneath such disagreements are deeper and more profound ones that are philosophical and cultural in nature: about the purpose of education, the nature of the child, and the question of authority.

Put differently: educational policy always rests upon particular views about who the child is and what education is for. In this sense, schooling is always about philosophy – explicitly or implicitly. Whose philosophy, though? Why one set of assumptions and not another? How does American public education reflect past debates about pluralism and democracy? Finally, how might our present disputes be improved, and perhaps fresh solutions achieved, by re-visiting these foundational questions?

This task is difficult because of the inescapable nature of culture, the taken-for-granted backdrop to our individual experiences and social encounters.  Speaking in sociological terms, “culture” consists of the ideas and institutions Read more

Law, Religion, and Politics in Tunisia

An interesting, though rather inaptly titled, article about, among other things, a trial for blasphemy in Tunisia which has generated enormous controversy.  Tunisia’s future, like that of Egypt, appears very uncertain.  I also found the comments about the worries of the residents of Tunis interesting.  Years ago, I spent several weeks in Tunis working as part of an archeological dig in ancient Carthage.  I enjoyed that time in Tunis very much.  It is a sophisticated and cosmopolitan sea-side resort and it is unsurprising that its residents would be alarmed about Tunisia’s future.  It is the democracy that seems to be what they fear.

Hoover & Johnston: Faith & Foreign Policy

Dr. Dennis  R. Hoover is executive director of the Center on Faith & International Affairs at the Institute for Global EngagementDr. Douglas M. Johnston is founder and president of the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy.  Together, Doctors Hoover and Johnston have edited a new collection, Religion and Foreign Affairs: Essential Readings (Baylor, 2012).  The articles and other shorter works in the volume reflect on the meeting of secularism, faith, religion, morality, and foreign policy.  The authors commence with foundational pieces:   New York Times Columnist David Brooks reflects on the nature of the secularist ethic  in foreign policy generally; Atlantic Correspondent Robert D. Kaplan explores secularism in antiquity; and Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) discusses St. Augustine’s political realism with accompanying excerpts from Augustine’s City of God (ca. sixth century C.E.).  Other notable chapters discuss religious ethics and armed conflict, religious peacemaking, religion and international terrorism, and religion and globalization (the table of contents—which highlights the remaining topics—may be accessed here).

Please find the abstract from Baylor Press after the jump. Read more

Ahmad Dallal on Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History

This year, Ahmad Dallal, Provost and Professor of History at the American University of Beirut, has published Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History (Yale, 2012).  An ambitious project, Prof. Dallal’s volume traces the rich tradition of scientific thought in the Muslim world, a history of confluence; conflict; and mutual religious, political, and cultural stimulus.  See further reflections on Dallal’s new text here.  Likewise, please see the publisher’s description after the jump. Read more