Enlightenment secularism seems to have a concentrating effect on religion. In response to the challenge secularism poses, more moderate expressions of religion fade away, while more insular, “extreme” communities come into existence and thrive. Perhaps, as secularism occupies more and more space in a culture, only those religious communities that consciously set their face against it can survive.
A new book from Princeton University Press, Hasidism: A New History, by historian David Biale and others, discusses the history of the Jewish movement, particularly, how the movement formed in response to European secularism. Looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:
The first comprehensive history of the pietistic movement that shaped modern Judaism
This is the first comprehensive history of the pietistic movement that shaped modern Judaism. The book’s unique blend of intellectual, religious, and social history offers perspectives on the movement’s leaders as well as its followers, and demonstrates that, far from being a throwback to the Middle Ages, Hasidism is a product of modernity that forged its identity as a radical alternative to the secular world.
Hasidism originated in southeastern Poland, in mystical circles centered on the figure of Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, but it was only after his death in 1760 that a movement began to spread. Challenging the notion that Hasidism ceased to be a creative movement after the eighteenth century, this book argues that its first golden age was in the nineteenth century, when it conquered new territory, won a mass following, and became a mainstay of Jewish Orthodoxy. World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Holocaust decimated eastern European Hasidism. But following World War II, the movement enjoyed a second golden age, growing exponentially. Today, it is witnessing a remarkable renaissance in Israel, the United States, and other countries around the world.
Written by an international team of scholars, Hasidism is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand this vibrant and influential modern Jewish movement.