Tradition’s Future

TP BannerAt the First Things site today, I have  post about why the future of tradition, and traditional institutions, may be brighter than we imagine. Notwithstanding the power of markets and technology to weaken tradition, I argue, the human need for stability and continuity with the past remain:

Moreover, traditions and traditional institutions have survived, and will continue to survive, because they speak to human nature. They fulfill basic human needs: family; community; a sense of belonging; an attachment to place; a link to the transcendent. Perhaps some people can do without these things, or can invent them for themselves. The Nones, I gather, think they can fashion their own religions. But most of us cannot. Most of us need the stability the past provides, the guidance of received wisdom. Some very smart people think technology is on the brink of altering human nature forever—that we are about to create a new sort of being, a transhuman hybrid of man and computer, that will inherit the future. Well, it hasn’t happened yet. For the moment, old-fashioned human nature endures; and tradition, however much we neglect or try to erase it, endures too.

Read the whole thing here.

“The European Wars of Religion” (eds. Palaver et al)

This month, Ashgate releases “The European Wars of Religion: An Interdisciplinary Reassessment of Sources, Interpretations, and Myths,” edited by Wolfgang Palaver (University of Innsbruck), Dieter Regensburger (University of Innsbruck), and Harriet Rudolph (University of Regensburg). The publisher’s description follows:

In recent years religion has resurfaced amongst academics, in many ways replacing class as the key to understanding Europe’s historical development. This51qfkcoelwl-_sx329_bo1204203200_
has resulted in an explosion of studies revisiting issues of religious change, confessional violence and holy war during the early modern period. But the interpretation of the European wars of religion still remains largely defined by national boundaries, tied to specific processes of state building as well as nation building. In order to more thoroughly interrogate these concepts and assumptions, this volume focusses on terms repeatedly used and misused in public debates such as ‘religious violence’ and ‘holy warfare’ within the context of military conflicts commonly labelled ‘religious wars’. The chapters not only focus on the role of religion, but also on the emerging state as a driver of the escalation of violence in the so-called age of religious war. By using different methodological and theoretical approaches historians, philosophers, and theologians engage in an interdisciplinary debate that contributes to a better understanding of the religio-political situation of early modern Europe and the interpretation of violent conflicts interpreted as religious conflicts today. By adopting a multi-disciplinary approach, new and innovative perspectives are opened up that question if in fact religion was a primary driving force behind these conflicts.

“Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome” (eds. Salzman et al)

In November, the Cambridge University Press released “Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome: Conflict, Competition, and Coexistence in the Fourth Century,” edited by Michele Renee Salzman (University of California, Riverside), Marianne Sághy (Central European University), and Rita Lizzi Testa (Università degli Studi di Perugia). The publisher’s description follows: 

This book sheds new light on the religious and consequently social changes taking place in late antique Rome. The essays in this volume argue that the once-51gcE0J9FuL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_dominant notion of pagan-Christian religious conflict cannot fully explain the texts and artifacts, as well as the social, religious, and political realities of late antique Rome. Together, the essays demonstrate that the fourth-century city was a more fluid, vibrant, and complex place than was previously thought. Competition between diverse groups in Roman society – be it pagans with Christians, Christians with Christians, or pagans with pagans – did create tensions and hostility, but it also allowed for coexistence and reduced the likelihood of overt violent, physical conflict. Competition and coexistence, along with conflict, emerge as still central paradigms for those who seek to understand the transformations of Rome from the age of Constantine through the early fifth century.

  • The most up-to-date analysis of the texts and archaeological evidence from late antique Rome
  • Written by an international team of scholars with diverse backgrounds and approaches
  • Illuminates new approaches to ancient history by addressing the nature of religious change in the largest city in the Mediterranean world – Rome

Around the Web This Week

Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

O hAnnrachain, “Catholic Europe, 1592-1648”

In December, Oxford University Press released “Catholic Europe, 1592-1648” by Tadhg O hAnnrachain (University College Dublin). The publisher’s description follows:

Catholic Europe, 1592-1648 examines the processes of Catholic renewal from a unique perspective; rather than concentrating on the much studied heartlands of Catholic Europe, it focuses primarily on a series of societies on the European periphery and examines how Catholicism adapted to very different conditions in areas such as Ireland, Britain, the Netherlands, East-Central Europe, and the Balkans. In certain of these societies, such as Austria and Bohemia, the Catholic Reformation advanced alongside very rigorous processes of state coercion. In other Habsburg territories, most notably Royal Hungary, and in Poland, Catholic monarchs were forced to deploy less confrontational methods, which nevertheless enjoyed significant measures of success. On the Western fringe of the continent, Catholic renewal recorded its greatest advances in Ireland but even in the Netherlands it maintained a significant body of adherents, despite considerable state hostility. In the Balkans, O hAnnrachain examines the manner in which the papacy invested substantially more resources and diplomatic efforts in pursuing military strategies against the Ottoman Empire than in supporting missionary and educational activity.

The chronological focus of the book is also unusual because on the peripheries of Europe the timing of Catholic reform occurred differently. Catholic Europe, 1592-1648 begins with the pontificate of Clement VIII and, rather than treating religious renewal in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as essentially a continuation of established patterns of reform, it argues for the need to understand the contingency of this process and its constant adaptation to contemporary events and preoccupations.

Shaw, “The Lost Mandate of Heaven”

In November, Ignatius Press released “The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American Betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of Vietnam” by Dr. Geoffrey Shaw (Alexandrian Defense Group). The publisher’s description follows:

Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of the Republic of Vietnam, possessed the Confucian “Mandate of Heaven”, a moral and political authority that was widely recognized by all Vietnamese. This devout Roman Catholic leader never lost this mandate in the eyes of his people; rather, he was taken down by a military coup sponsored by the U.S. government, which resulted in his brutal murder.

The commonly held view runs contrary to the above assertion by military historian Geoffrey Shaw. According to many American historians, President Diem was a corrupt leader whose tyrannical actions lost him the loyalty of his people and the possibility of a military victory over the North Vietnamese. The Kennedy Administration, they argue, had to withdraw its support of Diem.

Based on his research of original sources, including declassified documents of the U.S. government, Shaw chronicles the Kennedy administration’s betrayal of this ally, which proved to be not only a moral failure but also a political disaster that led America into a protracted and costly war. Along the way, Shaw reveals a President Diem very different from the despot portrayed by the press during its coverage of Vietnam. From eyewitness accounts of military, intelligence, and diplomatic sources, Shaw draws the portrait of a man with rare integrity, a patriot who strove to free his country from Western colonialism while protecting it from Communism.

Comparing Traditionalism and Originalism

I have the first of two posts up at the Liberty Law blog comparing originalism and traditionalism in constitutional TP Bannerinterpretation. The first post uses Town of Greece v. Galloway while in the second I’ll talk about the NLRB v. Noel Canning. The point of the posts is not to defend these decisions, but merely to distinguish them as traditionalist in interpretive method. Here’s a bit from the end:

How is [traditionalism] different from originalism? Here things quickly become complicated because of the broad variety of originalist interpretive approaches. Shortly after the decision [in Town of Greece] was issued, Professor Michael Ramsey had an excellent and useful post on the degree to which Kennedy’s opinion was originalist, in which Ramsey concluded that it reflected a species of original expected applications originalism:

It’s not (typically for Kennedy) an exclusively originalist opinion, but there is a strong originalist element….Kennedy’s principal contention (following Marsh) is that the people who proposed the First Amendment also authorized sectarian legislative prayer, so the Amendment must permit it.

In academic terms, this is a version of “original expected application” – that is, how did the framers of a provision anticipate it affecting existing practices? It is fashionable in academic circles to look down on original expected applications. Under original meaning originalism, the question is: what did the text mean? It’s not, what did some people at the time think it would mean (or, worse, how did some people at the time apply it in practice once it was enacted)? If that’s right, Kennedy is looking in the wrong place – it shouldn’t matter what people thought would happen to legislative prayer, but rather what the text actually meant for legislative prayer.

And yet for the traditionalist it should and does matter that many people, including the drafters (but certainly not only they), did not believe there to be any inconsistency between the practice of legislative prayer and the meaning of disestablishment in the First Amendment. It furthermore matters for the traditionalist (as it does not for many originalists) that the practice was widely accepted in the colonial period as well as for long periods after the ratification of the Establishment Clause. That is because the traditionalist is more focused on practices than meanings when it comes to constitutional interpretation. Or perhaps it is better to say that the traditionalist believes that the meaning of text—particularly as to text that is itself abstract—is far better determined and understood by recourse to concrete practices than by recourse to still other abstract principles.

Here there may be some further overlap between traditionalism and those sub-varieties of public meaning originalism that are receptive to discerning meaning from practices and customs. Professors John McGinnis and Michael Rappaport have written favorably about this interpretive approach in this paper. Professor Ramsey puts the point well from the originalist perspective: “If a very broad consensus at the time of enactment (or shortly after) thought that provision X did not ban activity Y, that is surely strong evidence that the original public meaning of X did not ban activity Y.” For the traditionalist, practices (not principles) are not “merely evidence” or “some evidence” or even “strong evidence” of meaning. Meaning is constituted by practices. The endurance of those practices and the degree of their social acceptance—before, during, and after textual ratification—are also constituents of meaning. None of this implies that these are the only constituents. Neither does it imply that new practices cannot be enfolded into existing meanings. That the founders did not know about email or the Internet, for example, does not mean, on the traditionalist view, that the Fourth Amendment cannot apply to those new media today. But practices that were familiar; widespread; continuous before, during and after the founding; and constitutionally unobjectionable offer more than “evidence” of the meaning of the Establishment Clause. For the traditionalist, they are themselves part of that meaning.

Hadiz, “Islamic Populism in Indonesia and the Middle East”

This month, the Cambridge University Press releases “Islamic Populism in Indonesia and the Middle East,” by Vedi R. Hadiz (University of Melbourne).  The publisher’s description follows:

In a novel approach to the field of Islamic politics, this provocative new study compares the evolution of Islamic populism in Indonesia, the country with the 9781107123601largest Muslim population in the world, to the Middle East. Utilising approaches from historical sociology and political economy, Vedi R. Hadiz argues that competing strands of Islamic politics can be understood as the product of contemporary struggles over power, material resources and the result of conflict across a variety of social and historical contexts. Drawing from detailed case studies across the Middle East and Southeast Asia, the book engages with broader theoretical questions about political change in the context of socio-economic transformations and presents an innovative, comparative framework to shed new light on the diverse trajectories of Islamic politics in the modern world.

  • Charts the evolution of Islamic populism in Indonesia, comparing it to the Middle East
  • Offers a novel framework to understand the diverse trajectories of Islamic politics in the modern world
  • Engages with debates on religion, politics and social change

Edwards, “Religions of the Constantinian Empire”

This month, Oxford University Press releases “Religions of the Constantinian Empire,” by Mark Edwards (University of Oxford).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religions of the Constantinian Empire provides a synoptic review of Constantine’s relation to all the cultic and theological traditions of the Empire during the period9780199687725 from his seizure of power in the west in 306 CE to the end of his reign as autocrat of both east and west in 337 CE. Divided into three parts, the first considers the efforts of Christians to construct their own philosophy, and their own patterns of the philosophic life, in opposition to Platonism. The second assembles evidence of survival, variation or decay in religious practices which were never compulsory under Roman law. The “religious plurality” of the second section includes those cults which are represented as demonic burlesques of the sacraments by Firmicus Maternus. The third reviews the changes, both within the church and in the public sphere, which were undeniably prompted by the accession of a Christian monarch. In this section on “Christian polyphony,” Mark Edwards expertly moves on from this deliberate petrifaction of Judaism to the profound shift in relations between the church and the civic cult that followed the Emperor’s choice of a new divine protector.

The material in the first section will be most familiar to the historian of philosophy, that of the second to the historian of religion, and that of the third to the theologian. All three sections make reference to such factors as the persecution under Diocletian, the so-called “edict of Milan,”the subsequent legislation of Constantine, and the summoning of the council of Nicaea. Edwards does not maintain, however, that the religious and philosophical innovations of this period were mere by-products of political revolution; indeed, he often highlights that Christianity was more revolutionary in its expectations than any sovereign could afford to be in his acts.This authoritative study provides a comprehensive reference work for those studying the ecclesiastical and theological developments and controversies of the fourth century.

Tarusarira, “Reconciliation and Religio-political Non-conformism in Zimbabwe”

In March, Ashgate will release “Reconciliation and Religio-political Non-conformism in Zimbabwe” by Joram Tarusarira (University of Groningen, The Netherlands). The publisher’s description follows:

Religio-political organisations in Zimbabwe play an important role in Unknownadvocating democratisation and reconciliation, against acquiescent, silenced or co-opted mainstream churches. Reconciliation and Religio-political Non-conformism in Zimbabwe analyses activities of religious organisations that deviate from the position of mainline churches and the political elites with regard to religious participation in political matters, against a background of political conflict and violence.

Drawing on detailed case studies of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA), Churches in Manicaland (CiM) and Grace to Heal (GtH), this book provocatively argues that in the face of an unsatisfactory religious and political culture, religio-political non-conformists emerge seeking to introduce a new ethos even in the face of negative sanctions from dominant religious and political systems.