Under the influence of the Enlightenment, or Protestantism, or both, our legal system typically treats religion as individualist and intellectual: a personal assent to certain abstract propositions of faith. But this is not how most people experience religion in daily life. For most of us, religion is about joining a community with which we identify for various reasons, of which intellectual reasons may be the least important. A new book from Yale University Press, Copycats and Contrarians: Why We Follow Others… and When We Don’t, touches on the group dynamics of religion and other phenomena. (Here’s one group phenomenon the author apparently doesn’t address: academic life, which strikes me as quite dominated by the “herd instinct,” actually). The author is scholar Michelle Baddeley (University of South Australia). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
A multidisciplinary exploration of our human inclination to herd and why our instinct to copy others can be dangerous in today’s interlinked world
Rioting teenagers, tumbling stock markets, and the spread of religious terrorism appear to have little in common, but all are driven by the same basic instincts: the tendency to herd, follow, and imitate others. In today’s interconnected world, group choices all too often seem maladaptive. With unprecedented speed, information flashes across the globe and drives rapid shifts in group opinion. Adverse results can include speculative economic bubbles, irrational denigration of scientists and other experts, seismic political reversals, and more.
Drawing on insights from across the social, behavioral, and natural sciences, Michelle Baddeley explores contexts in which behavior is driven by the herd. She analyzes the rational vs. nonrational and cognitive vs. emotional forces involved, and she investigates why herding only sometimes works out well. With new perspectives on followers, leaders, and the pros and cons of herd behavior, Baddeley shines vivid light on human behavior in the context of our ever-more-connected world.
Last week, I sat down with First Things‘s senior editor Mark Bauerlein to discuss Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s record on church-state issues and what it might suggest about his future as a Justice. (Bottom line: he’s likely to look a lot like the person he’s replacing). You can listen to the podcast on the First Things site, here.
Charles de Gaulle was one of the most fascinating and controversial political leaders of the twentieth century. Although a devout Catholic, he did not speak much in public about his faith nor make it an express part of his program: Gaullism was a politics of nationalism more than religion. Yet his writings reveal that, for him, the “idea of France”embodied both nationalism and Christianity–both the Republic and the Church. How he was able to accommodate those two commitments is no doubt discussed in an interesting-looking new biography from Harvard University Press: De Gaulle, by historian Julian Jackson (Queen Mary University of London). Particularly now, as conservatives in France and across Europe seek a new way to negotiate the demands of Christianity and liberalism, de Gaulle’s example could be relevant. Here is the description of the book from the Harvard website:
A definitive biography of the mythic general who refused to accept the Nazi domination of France, drawing on unpublished letters, memoirs, and papers in the newly opened de Gaulle archives that show how this volatile and inspiring leader put his broken nation back at the center of world affairs.
In the early summer of 1940, when France was overrun by German troops, one junior general who had fought in the trenches in Verdun refused to accept defeat. He fled to London, where he took to the radio to address his compatriots back home. “Whatever happens,” he said, “the flame of French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished.” At that moment, Charles de Gaulle entered history.
For the rest of the war, de Gaulle insisted he and his Free French movement were the true embodiment of France. Through sheer force of personality he inspired French men and women to risk their lives to resist the Nazi occupation. Sometimes aloof but confident in his leadership, he quarreled violently with Churchill and Roosevelt. Yet they knew they would need his help to rebuild a shattered Europe. Thanks to de Gaulle, France was recognized as one of the victorious Allies when Germany was finally defeated. Then, as President of the Fifth Republic, he brought France to the brink of a civil war over his controversial decision to pull out of Algeria. He challenged American hegemony, took France out of NATO, and twice vetoed British entry into the European Community in his pursuit of what he called “a certain idea of France.”
William the Conqueror ought to be primarily known to law and religion mavens, of course, for his resistance to Pope Gregory VII’s important Dictatus Papae of 1075, which urged English and southern Italian monarchs to accept new and far-reaching claims of papal supremacy in ecclesiastical matters. William went right ahead in making his own appointments to the episcopacy, replacing Saxon with Norman prelates (St. Anselm was a Norman!), and made many ecclesiastical laws binding on the English church. Separation of church and state dies hard.
The new book on the great Norman invader is William the Conqueror, by David Bates (Yale University Press).
In this magisterial addition to the Yale English Monarchs series, David Bates combines biography and a multidisciplinary approach to examine the life of a major figure in British and European history. Using a framework derived from studies of early medieval kingship, he assesses each phase of William’s life to establish why so many trusted William to invade England in 1066 and the consequences of this on the history of the so-called Norman Conquest after the Battle of Hastings and for generations to come.
A leading historian of the period, Bates is notable for having worked extensively in the archives of northern France and discovered many eleventh- and twelfth-century charters largely unnoticed by English-language scholars. Taking an innovative approach, he argues for a move away from old perceptions and controversies associated with William’s life and the Norman Conquest. This deeply researched volume is the scholarly biography for our generation.
I remember well the statue of Dr. Joseph Warren, greeting the boys at my Roxbury Latin School. At the time, I took the statue as simply part of the furniture of the school, sometimes noticing it but many other times passing it by. In doing a little research about it now, I’ve learned that the early twentieth statue has some artistic importance, and that there is some controversy about whether it should be moved to a more public site. I’ve also learned that Warren was a prominent advocate for religious toleration in the early republic.
Here is a new biography of this important but neglected figure: Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, The American Revolution’s Lost Hero, by Christian Di Spigna (Penguin Random House).
Here’s a pretty neat new book at the crossroads of religion and copyright law. Just as the corporate form can foster certain forms of cultural and civic association, so can the laws governing ownership of original artistic and literary work. The book is Copyrighting God: Ownership of the Sacred in American Religion, by Andrew Ventimiglia (CUP).
Copyrighting God provides the first detailed account of how American religious organizations used copyright in sacred texts not simply for economic gain but also for social organization and control. Including chapters on the angelic authorship of The Urantia Book, Mary Baker Eddy’s use of copyright to construct the Christian Science Church, interdenominational disputes in the Worldwide Church of God, and the Church of Scientology’s landmark lawsuits against Internet service providers, this book examines how religious copyright owners mobilized the law in order to organize communities, protect sacred goods, produce new forms of spiritual identity, and even enchant the material world. In doing so, this book demonstrates that these organizations all engaged in complex efforts to harmonize legal arguments and theological rationales in order to care for and protect religious media, thereby coming to a nuanced understanding of secular law as a resource for, and obstacle to, their unique spiritual objectives.
Many of the most interesting controversies concerning religious accommodation in the early American republic concerned the treatment of Quakers. An excellent treatment of some of the issues is Philip Hamburger’s Emory Law Journal piece, “Religious Freedom in Philadelphia.” Here is a new biography of William Penn, a crucial figure in Pennsylvania history and the history of religious freedom in general, who himself converted to Quakerism. The book is William Penn: A Life, by political scientist Andrew R. Murphy (Oxford University Press).
On March 4, 1681, King Charles II granted William Penn a charter for a new American colony. Pennsylvania was to be, in its founder’s words, a bold “Holy Experiment” in religious freedom and toleration, a haven for those fleeing persecution in an increasingly intolerant England and across Europe. An activist, political theorist, and the proprietor of his own colony, Penn would become a household name in the New World, despite spending just four years on American soil.
Though Penn is an iconic figure in both American and British history, controversy swirled around him during his lifetime. In his early twenties, Penn became a Quaker–an act of religious as well as political rebellion that put an end to his father’s dream that young William would one day join the English elite. Yet Penn went on to a prominent public career as a Quaker spokesman, political agitator, and royal courtier. At the height of his influence, Penn was one of the best-known Dissenters in England and walked the halls of power as a close ally of King James II. At his lowest point, he found himself jailed on suspicion of treason, and later served time in debtor’s prison.
Despite his importance, William Penn has remained an elusive character–many people know his name, but few know much more than that. Andrew R. Murphy offers the first major biography of Penn in more than forty years, and the first to make full use of Penn’s private papers. The result is a complex portrait of a man whose legacy we are still grappling with today. At a time when religious freedom is hotly debated in the United States and around the world, William Penn’s Holy Experiment serves as both a beacon and a challenge.