Subway Ads and Mental Maps

Many thanks to Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami for letting me return with a couple of guest posts.

I’ve been intrigued by some recent posts on this blog and how they confirm my long-held view that the normative decisions we make with respect to the law’s treatment of religion are deeply intermeshed with cognitive choices we make — how we “see” and understand religion.  Religious phenomena don’t fit easily or self-evidently into the mental maps by which we divide the pieces of the secular world.  All we can do is approximate, and those approximations matter.

subway1Let’s begin with Mark’s fascinating and wonderfully observant recent post about an ad for the Marble Collegiate Church that he recently saw in a New York City subway.  The ad itself was unremarkable, touting Marble Collegiate as “Church the way you always hoped it could be.”  (Marble Collegiate itself is more remarkable, founded in 1628 as a Dutch Reformed congregation and serving in the 20th century as Norman Vincent Peale’s pulpit for some 50 years.)  But the ad included a prominent disclaimer form the MTA (the local transit agency) taking up the bottom third of its precious space: “This is a paid advertisement sponsored by Marble Collegiate Church.  The display of this advertisement does not imply MTA’s endorsement of any views expressed.”  What gives? Read more

Fromont, “The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo”

This month, The University of North Carolina Press releases “The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo” by Cécile Fromont (University of Chicago). The publisher’s description follows:

Between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, the west central African kingdom of Kongo practiced Christianity and actively participated in the Atlantic world as an independent, cosmopolitan realm. Drawing on an expansive and largely unpublished set of objects, images, and documents, Cécile Fromont examines the advent of Kongo Christian visual culture and traces its development across four centuries marked by war, the Atlantic slave trade, and, finally, the rise of nineteenth-century European colonialism. By offering an extensive analysis of the religious, political, and artistic innovations through which the Kongo embraced Christianity, Fromont approaches the country’s conversion as a dynamic process that unfolded across centuries.

The African kingdom’s elite independently and gradually intertwined old and new, local and foreign religious thought, political concepts, and visual forms to mold a novel and constantly evolving Kongo Christian worldview. Fromont sheds light on the cross-cultural exchanges between Africa, Europe, and Latin America that shaped the early modern world, and she outlines the religious, artistic, and social background of the countless men and women displaced by the slave trade from central Africa to all corners of the Atlantic world.

Halim, “Legal Authority in Premodern Islam”

This month, Routledge Press releases “Legal Authority in Premodern Islam: Yahya B Sharaf Al-Nawawi in the Shafi’i School of Law” by Fachrizal A. Halim (Sunan Kalijaga Islamic State Islamic University, Indonesia). The publisher’s description follows:

Offering a detailed analysis of the structure of authority in Islamic law, this book focuses on the figure of Yahya b. Sharaf al-Nawawi, who is regarded as the chief contributor to the legal tradition known as the Shafi’i madhhab in traditional Muslim sources, named after Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafi’i (d. 204/820), the supposed founder of the school of law.

Al-Nawawi’s legal authority is situated in a context where Muslims demanded to stabilize legal disposition that is consistent with the authority of the madhhab, since in premodern Islamic society, the ruling powers did not produce or promulgate law, as was the case in other, monarchic civilizations. Al-Nawawi’s place in the long-term formation of the madhhabis significant for many reasons but for one in particular: his effort in reconciling the two major interpretive communities among the Shafi’ites, i.e., the tariqas of the Iraqians and Khurasanians. This book revisits the history of the Shafi’i school in the pre-Nawawic era and explores its later development in the post-Nawawic period.

Presenting a comprehensive picture of the structure of authority in Islamic law, specifically within the Shafi’ite legal tradition, this book is an essential resource for students and scholars of Islamic Studies, History and Law.