One of the lessons of Peter Brown’s new book, about which I posted last week, is that Constantine’s conversion had only a limited effect on Roman society. For decades afterwards, Christianity and Paganism squared off as intellectual and political adversaries; Christianity’s triumph took time. A recent book by Berkeley historian Susanna Elm, Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church (University of California Press 2012) describes the conflict between Julian the Apostate, the Emperor who tried to restore Paganism, and his chief rival, Gregory of Nazianzus, the Archbishop of Constantinople. She argues that their debate obscures the fact they they shared a common intellectual and social grounding. The publisher’s description follows:
This groundbreaking study brings into dialogue for the first time the writings of Julian, the last non-Christian Roman Emperor, and his most outspoken critic, Bishop Gregory of Nazianzus, a central figure of Christianity. Susanna Elm compares these two men not to draw out the obvious contrast between the Church and the Emperor’s neo-Paganism, but rather to find their common intellectual and social grounding. Her insightful analysis, supplemented by her magisterial command of sources, demonstrates the ways in which both men were part of the same dialectical whole. Elm recasts both Julian and Gregory as men entirely of their times, showing how the Roman Empire in fact provided Christianity with the ideological and social matrix without which its longevity and dynamism would have been inconceivable.
In April, the University of Virginia Press will publish Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed by John Ragosta (Hamilton College). The publisher’s description follows.
For over one hundred years, Thomas Jefferson and his Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom have stood at the center of our understanding of religious liberty and the First Amendment. Jefferson’s expansive vision—including his insistence that political freedom and free thought would be at risk if we did not keep government out of the church and church out of government—enjoyed a near consensus of support at the Supreme Court and among historians, until Justice William Rehnquist called reliance on Jefferson “demonstrably incorrect.” Since then, Rehnquist’s call has been taken up by a bevy of jurists and academics anxious to encourage renewed government involvement with religion.
In Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, the historian and lawyer John Ragosta offers a vigorous defense of Jefferson’s support for a strict separation of church and state. Beginning with a close look at Jefferson’s own religious evolution, Ragosta shows that deep religious beliefs were at the heart of Jefferson’s views on religious freedom. Basing his analysis on that Jeffersonian vision, Ragosta redefines our understanding of how and why the First Amendment was adopted, showing how the amendment’s focus on maintaining the authority of states to regulate religious freedom demonstrates that a very strict restriction on federal action was intended. Ultimately revealing that the great sage demanded a strict separation of church and state but never sought a wholly secular public square, Ragosta provides a new perspective on Jefferson, the First Amendment, and religious liberty within the United States.
This May, the Toronto University Press will publish Free to Believe: Rethinking Freedom of Conscience and Religion in Canada by Mary Anne Waldron (University of Victoria). The publisher’s description follows.
Free to Believe investigates the protection for freedom of conscience and religion – the first of the “fundamental freedoms” listed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – and its interpretation in the courts. Through an examination of decided cases that touches on the most controversial issues of our day, such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and minority religious practices, Mary Anne Waldron examines how the law has developed in the way that it has, the role that freedom of conscience and religion play in our society, and the role it could play in making it a more open, peaceful, and democratic place.
While the range of cases explored will be of interest to scholars, Free to Believe is also written in an accessible style, with legal terms and concepts explained for those who wish to learn accurate, detailed information about the impact of the law on contemporary social policy issues. As such, this book widens the debate about this fundamental freedom and the influence of public opinion on what is often a misrepresented and misunderstood issue.