Hackett, “That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture”

Next month, the University of California Press will publish That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture by David G. Hackett (University of Florida). The publisher’s description follows.Cover Image

This powerful study weaves the story of Freemasonry into the narrative of American religious history. Freighted with the mythical legacies of stonemasons’ guilds and the Newtonian revolution, English Freemasonry arrived in colonial America with a vast array of cultural baggage, which was drawn on, added to, and transformed during its sojourn through American culture. David G. Hackett argues that from the 1730s through the early twentieth century the religious worlds of an evolving American social order broadly appropriated the beliefs and initiatory practices of this all-male society. For much of American history, Freemasonry was both counter and complement to Protestant churches, as well as a forum for collective action among racial and ethnic groups outside the European American Protestant mainstream. Moreover, the cultural template of Freemasonry gave shape and content to the American “public sphere.” By including a group not usually seen as a carrier of religious beliefs and rituals, Hackett expands and complicates the terrain of American religious history by showing how Freemasonry has contributed to a broader understanding of the multiple influences that have shaped religion in American culture.

James, “Spinoza on Philosophy, Religion, and Politics: The Theologico-Political Treatise”

On January 9, Oxford University Press published Spinoza on Philosophy, Religion, and Politics: The Theologico-Political Treatise by Susan James (Birkbeck College). The publisher’s description follows.Spinoza on Philosophy, Religion, and Politics The <i>Theologico-Political Treatise</i>

Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise is simultaneously a work of philosophy and a piece of practical politics. It defends religious pluralism, a republican form of political organisation, and the freedom to philosophise, with a determination that is extremely rare in seventeenth-century thought. But it is also a fierce and polemical intervention in a series of Dutch disputes over issues about which Spinoza and his opponents cared very deeply.
Susan James makes the arguments of the Treatise accessible, and their motivations plain, by setting them in their historical and philosophical context. She identifies the interlocking theological, hermeneutic, historical, philosophical, and political positions to which Spinoza was responding, shows who he aimed to discredit, and reveals what he intended to achieve. The immediate goal of the Treatise is, she establishes, a local one. Spinoza is trying to persuade his fellow citizens that it is vital to uphold and foster conditions in which they can cultivate their capacity to live rationally, free from the political manifestations and corrosive psychological effects of superstitious fear. At the same time, however, his radical argument is designed for a broader audience. Appealing to the universal philosophical principles that he develops in greater detail in his Ethics, and drawing on the resources of imagination to make them forceful and compelling, Spinoza speaks to the inhabitants of all societies, including our own. Only in certain political circumstances is it possible to philosophise, and learn to live wisely and well.

Gross, “State Religious Education in Israel: Between Integration and Segregation”

On February 1, Academic Studies Press will publish State Religious Education in Israel: Between Integration and Segregation by Zehavit Gross (Bar-Ilan University, Israel). The publisher’s description follows.

In State Religious Education in Israel, Zehavit Gross analyzes the ideology of state religious education (SRE) in Israel as it is reflected in research, official circulars of the Ministry of Education, and the public discourse published in the religious Zionist press. In particular, Gross examines the ways in which SRE schools socialize their students, creating a population that will become active in particular spheres of Israeli politics.

Khalid, “Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia”

Next month, University of California Press is publishing a new edition of Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia by Adeeb Khalid. The new edition contains a new Afterword. The publisher’s description follows.Cover Image

How do Muslims relate to Islam in societies that experienced seventy years of Soviet rule? How did the utopian Bolshevik project of remaking the world by extirpating religion from it affect Central Asia? Adeeb Khalid combines insights from the study of both Islam and Soviet history to answer these questions. Arguing that the sustained Soviet assault on Islam destroyed patterns of Islamic learning and thoroughly de-Islamized public life, Khalid demonstrates that Islam became synonymous with tradition and was subordinated to powerful ethnonational identities that crystallized during the Soviet period. He shows how this legacy endures today and how, for the vast majority of the population, a return to Islam means the recovery of traditions destroyed under Communism.

Islam after Communism reasons that the fear of a rampant radical Islam that dominates both Western thought and many of Central Asia’s governments should be tempered with an understanding of the politics of antiterrorism, which allows governments to justify their own authoritarian policies by casting all opposition as extremist. Placing the Central Asian experience in the broad comparative perspective of the history of modern Islam, Khalid argues against essentialist views of Islam and Muslims and provides a nuanced and well-informed discussion of the forces at work in this crucial region.