“Confronting Religious Violence” (Burridge et al., eds.)

6345We close the week’s book posts with a collection of essays out later this year on the problem of religious violence, Confronting Religious Violence: A Counternarrative, edited by Richard Burridge (King’s College London) and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. The publisher is Baylor University Press. Here’s the description from the Baylor website:

Sunni and Shia in Iran, Iraq, or Syria. Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. Afrikaners and black churches in South Africa. The rising tide of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia across Europe. Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land. The fear of immigrants and those who are different. The surge of nationalism. Violence, religious violence, violence done in the name of religion.

Religious violence must be understood—its history, its relationship to sacred texts and communities, and its consequences. Religious violence must also be confronted. Another story must be told, a different story, a counternarrative other than the one that grips the world today.

In Confronting Religious Violence, twelve international experts from a variety of theological, philosophical, and scientific fields address the issue of religious violence in today’s world. The first part of the book focuses on the historical rise of religious conflict, beginning with the question of whether the New Testament leads to supersessionism, and looks at the growth of anti-Semitism in the later Roman Empire. The second part comprises field-report studies of xenophobia, radicalism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia surrounding the conflicts in the Middle East. The third part reflects on moral, philosophical, legal, and evolutionary influences on religious freedom and how they harm or help the advancement of peace. The final part of the volume turns to theological reflections, discussing monotheism, nationalism, the perpetuation of violence, the role of mercy laws and freedom in combating hate, and practical approaches to dealing with pluralism in theological education.

Edited by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Richard Burridge, Confronting Religious Violence contains insights from international experts that form essential reading for politicians, diplomats, business leaders, academics, theologians, church and faith leaders, commentators, and military strategists—anyone concerned with a harmonious future for human life together on this planet.

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Bolton, “Heavenly Bodies”

849137060385d59a2407e4a27d172730There is a great scene in Fellini’s film, “La Dolce Vita,” in which Anita Ekberg’s character, dressed in a ridiculously inappropriate version of a priest’s cassock, climbs to the top of St. Peter’s dome to have a look. It’s all played for laughs. Ekberg’s character doesn’t mean to offend; she probably is trying to show respect, in fact. But she has no clue. And, Fellini’s point seems to be, that goes for everyone in post-war Europe. Everything and everyone is banal. People no longer have a sense of meaning, and therefore no longer understand when they are being insulting.

I thought of that scene when I stumbled earlier this month upon the Met’s exhibit on Catholic fashion, “Heavenly Bodies.” The less said about the show, the better, except that the word meretricious comes to mind. On the Saturday evening I saw it, the exhibit was jammed with visitors; I’m sure it has been a great success for the Met, financially. Apparently the Catholic Church cooperated on the exhibit, a fact which, as a non-Catholic, I have to say I find truly perplexing. In “La Dolce Vita,” the problem was that people didn’t know when they were being insulting. Today, apparently, people no longer know when they’re being insulted.

Anyway, for those who are interested, here is the Met’s catalogue for the exhibit, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, by the Met’s Andrew Bolton. The publisher is Yale University Press. Here’s the description from the Yale website:

A brilliant exploration of fashion’s complex engagement with the great art and artifacts of Catholic faith and practice.

Since antiquity, religious beliefs and practices have inspired many of the masterworks of art. These works of art have, in turn, fueled the imagination of fashion designers in the 20th and 21st centuries, yielding some of the most innovative creations in costume history. Connecting significant religious art and artifacts to their sartorial expressions, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination provides a critical analysis of fashion’s engagement with notions of the divine. Exploring fashion’s complex and often controversial relationship with Catholicism, Heavenly Bodies probes what dress reveals about the state of religion and spirituality within contemporary culture, and how it may manifest—or subvert—Catholic values and ideology. Art objects, such as devotional paintings and altarpieces from The Met’s collection, are presented alongside fashions from designers including Cristóbal Balenciaga, Callot Soeurs, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, John Galliano, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Madame Grès, Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld, Jeanne Lanvin, Claire McCardell, Alexander McQueen, Thierry Mugler, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Gianni Versace. The volume also presents a selection of ecclesiastical vestments and accessories from the Vatican collection, many of which have not been published before.


Hill, “No Place for Russia”

9780231704588In the debate between people who are enthusiastic about universal, market-based world values and those who are skeptical, I find myself in the latter camp. If the past twenty-five years have shown us anything, it’s that Samuel Huntington’s basic insight about the existence of different geographically- and historically-defined cultures, with incommensurable values, was correct. And yet, I have to admit, civilizational clashes are not necessarily inevitable. Sometimes, they result from many, many small decisions, disagreements, and mistakes that, over time, push nations to opposite positions and that magnify cultural differences.

A new book from Columbia University Press, No Place for Russia: European Security Institutions Since 1989, by William Hill (National War College) argues that the estrangement of Russia from the West since the Cold War was not unavoidable, a reflection of deep differences between Orthodoxy and the post-Christian West. Rather, it was the result of steps, all which seemed reasonable at the time, that Western institutions took, and all of which Russia–I think the author would say, rationally–perceived as a threat. And so here we are. The publisher’s description follows:

The optimistic vision of a “Europe whole and free” after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has given way to disillusionment, bitterness, and renewed hostility between Russia and the West. In No Place for Russia, William H. Hill traces the development of the post–Cold War European security order to explain today’s tensions, showing how attempts to integrate Russia into a unified Euro-Atlantic security order were gradually overshadowed by the domination of NATO and the EU—at Russia’s expense.

Hill argues that the redivision of Europe has been largely unintended and not the result of any single decision or action. Instead, the current situation is the cumulative result of many decisions—reasonably made at the time—that gradually produced the current security architecture and led to mutual mistrust. Hill analyzes the United States’ decision to remain in Europe after the Cold War, the emergence of Germany as a major power on the continent, and the transformation of Russia into a nation-state, placing major weight on NATO’s evolution from an alliance dedicated primarily to static collective territorial defense into a security organization with global ambitions and capabilities. Closing with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and war in eastern Ukraine, No Place for Russia argues that the post–Cold War security order in Europe has been irrevocably shattered, to be replaced by a new and as-yet-undefined order.

Hirschfeld, “Aquinas and the Market”

9780674986404-lgAt the moment, there is a lot of talk about the end of Fusionism on the American Right. Whether social conservatives–principally Christians–and market liberals are actually breaking up, I don’t know. But, if the breakup occurs, it will be in large part because conservative Christians have come to see that contemporary market liberalism, with its insistence on the virtues of creative destruction and appetite, sits uncomfortably with a Christian worldview. And if they look for a model for their economics, conservative Christians might start with Aquinas himself–at least according to a forthcoming book from Harvard, Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Humane Economy, by Mary L. Hirschfeld, an associate professor of economics and theology at Villanova. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

Economists and theologians usually inhabit different intellectual worlds. Economists investigate the workings of markets and tend to set ethical questions aside. Theologians, anxious to take up concerns raised by market outcomes, often dismiss economics and lose insights into the influence of market incentives on individual behavior. Mary L. Hirschfeld, who was a professor of economics for fifteen years before training as a theologian, seeks to bridge these two fields in this innovative work about economics and the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas.

According to Hirschfeld, an economics rooted in Thomistic thought integrates many of the insights of economists with a larger view of the good life, and gives us critical purchase on the ethical shortcomings of modern capitalism. In a Thomistic approach, she writes, ethics and economics cannot be reconciled if we begin with narrow questions about fair wages or the acceptability of usury. Rather, we must begin with an understanding of how economic life serves human happiness. The key point is that material wealth is an instrumental good, valuable only to the extent that it allows people to flourish. Hirschfeld uses that insight to develop an account of a genuinely humane economy in which pragmatic and material concerns matter but the pursuit of wealth for its own sake is not the ultimate goal.

The Thomistic economics that Hirschfeld outlines is thus capable of dealing with our culture as it is, while still offering direction about how we might make the economy better serve the human good.

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Roth, “P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”

15890Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that all human beings are “endowed with reason and conscience,” a phrase which suggests a Western, individualist worldview. In fact, as Mary Ann Glendon recounts in A World Made New, the phrase appears in the document largely at the instigation of the Chinese delegate, P.C. Chang, who wished to temper Western individualism. The original text referred only to “reason,” which Chang sought to balance by adding the Chinese word, ren, for a Confucian concept which would be roughly translated in English as “two-man mindedness”–benevolence, or empathy. The drafters apparently found it impossible to translate ren in a felicitous way and so settled on “conscience,” which has a rather different connotation. It’s interesting to think about what human rights law would look like today if Chang’s more communitarian concept had made it into the document.

This story is no doubt discussed in a forthcoming book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by scholar Hans Ingvar Roth (Stockholm University). The publisher’s description follows:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the world’s best-known and most translated documents. When it was presented to the United Nations General Assembly in December in 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the writing group, called it a new “Magna Carta for all mankind.” The passage of time has shown Roosevelt to have been largely correct in her prediction as to the declaration’s importance. No other document in the world today can claim a comparable standing in the international community.

Roosevelt and French legal expert René Cassin have often been represented as the principal authors of the UN Declaration. But in fact, it resulted from a collaborative effort involving a number of individuals in different capacities. One of the declaration’s most important authors was the vice chairman of the Human Rights Commission, Peng Chun Chang (1892-1957), a Chinese diplomat and philosopher whose contribution has been the focus of growing attention in recent years. Indeed, it is Chang who deserves the credit for the universality and religious ecumenism that are now regarded as the declaration’s defining features. Despite this, Chang’s extraordinary contribution was overlooked by historians for many years.

Peng Chun Chang was a modern-day Renaissance man—teacher, scholar, university chancellor, playwright, diplomat, and politician. A true cosmopolitan, he was deeply involved in the cultural exchange between East and West, and the dramatic events of his life left a profound mark on his intellectual and political work. P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the first biography of this extraordinary actor on the world stage, who belonged to the same generation as Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek. Drawing on previously unknown sources, it casts new light on Chang’s multifaceted life and involvement with one of modern history’s most important documents.

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Smith, “Modernity and Its Discontents”

From the author of what was a helpful book on the thought of Leo Strauss for Smithnovices like me, here is a very interesting new book about the modern condition and its pathologies: Modernity and Its Discontents: Making and Unmaking the Bourgeois from Machiavelli to Bellow (YUP), by the political theorist Steven B. Smith. A special bonus: the book has a chapter on “The Political Teaching of Lampedusa’s The Leopard,” which includes this line: “the book is a profound meditation on the problem of modernity.” Professor Smith’s book is worth purchasing for that chapter alone.

Steven B. Smith examines the concept of modernity, not as the end product of historical developments but as a state of mind. He explores modernism as a source of both pride and anxiety, suggesting that its most distinctive characteristics are the self-criticisms and doubts that accompany social and political progress. Providing profiles of the modern project’s most powerful defenders and critics–from Machiavelli and Spinoza to Saul Bellow and Isaiah Berlin–this provocative work of philosophy and political science offers a novel perspective on what it means to be modern and why discontent and sometimes radical rejection are its inevitable by-products.

On American Universalism

At the First Things site today, I have a review of a current exhibit, “Canova’s George Washington,” at the Frick Collection in New York. I argue that Canova’s famous statue of our first President is not a celebration of Enlightenment universalism, but an admonition against the course of empire:

In fact, the Farewell Address, which Canova depicts Washington writing, famously warned Americans against involvement in world revolution. Not only should America “steer clear of permanent alliances” with foreign countries, Washington wrote, she should have “with them as little political connection as possible.” Neutrality with respect to foreign quarrels was the best policy for America.  Why risk the new nation’s peace and prosperity by entangling it in the intrigues of the old?

The context for this warning was, of course, the French Revolution, and the campaign by Jeffersonians to commit the United States to Republican France’s war against Great Britain. Jeffersonians thought the French Revolution, with its universal Declaration of the Rights of Man—all men, everywhere, not just the French—its rationalism, and its destruction of the old regime, was a natural continuation of our own, and thus worthy of American support. But Washington had proclaimed American neutrality in the conflict. The Farewell Address was a rejection of the Jeffersonian, universalist interpretation of our Revolution, and everyone would have seen it that way at the time.

To my mind, then, Canova’s statue doesn’t suggest a celebration of universalism and progress. It suggests, instead, that Americans, like the Romans before us, are apt to stray from republican virtues in a quest for empire, and warns us against such a path.

You can read the whole review at the First Things site, here.