Next month, Cambridge will release a study of a terrorist group called “The Emigrants,” whose goal was to create an Islamic state in the United Kingdom. I’ve never heard of this group, myself, but the blurb suggests it was involved in a number of terrorist incidents and eventually supplied fighters for ISIS in the Middle East. The book is The Islamic State in Britain: Radicalization and Resilience in an Activist Network. The author is international affairs scholar Michael Kenney (University of Pittsburgh). Here’s the description from the Cambridge website:
Drawing on extensive field research with activists on the streets of London, Michael Kenney provides the first ethnographic study of a European network implicated in terrorist attacks and sending fighters to the Islamic State. For over twenty years, al-Muhajiroun (Arabic for ‘the Emigrants’) strived to create an Islamic state in Britain through high-risk activism. A number of Emigrants engaged in violence, while others joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Kenney explains why young Britons joined the Emigrants, how they radicalized and adapted their activism, and why many of them eventually left. Through an innovative mix of ethnography and network analysis, Kenney explains the structure and processes behind this outlawed network and explores its remarkable resilience. What emerges is a complex, nuanced portrait that demystifies the Emigrants while challenging conventional wisdom on radicalization and countering violent extremism.
That young Americans affiliate with religion much less than past generations seems irrefutable. But does that mean twentysomethings lack interest in religion? Maybe–but most Nones, young and old, say something different. Nones lack interest in traditional religion, but typically say they believe in God and think it possible to follow their own, individuated, spiritual paths. A new book out this month from Oxford, The Twentysomething Soul: Understanding the Religious and Secular Lives of American Young Adults, by sociologist Tim Clydesdale (College of New Jersey) and religious studies scholar Kathleen Garces-Foley (Marymount), explores the phenomenon. I wonder how it compares with Smith and Denton’s Soul Searching, from 2005? Here’s the description from the Oxford website:
Today’s twentysomethings have been labeled the “lost generation” for their presumed inability to identify and lead fulfilling lives, “kidults” for their alleged refusal to “grow up” and accept adult responsibilities, and the “least religious generation” for their purported disinterest in religion and spirituality. These characterizations are not only unflattering — they are wrong.
The Twentysomething Soul tells an optimistic story about American twentysomethings by introducing readers to the full spectrum of American young adults, many of whom live purposefully, responsibly, and reflectively. Some prioritize faith and involvement in a religious congregation. Others reject their childhood religion to explore alternatives and practice a personal spirituality. Still others sideline religion and spirituality until their lives get settled, or reject organized religion completely.
Drawing from interviews with more than 200 young adults, as well as national survey of 1,880 twentysomethings, Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley seek to change the way we view contemporary young adults, giving an accurate and refreshing understanding of their religious, spiritual, and secular lives.
Here is a very odd-looking book from Yale University Press: Polygamy: An Early American History, by historian Sarah Pearsall (Cambridge). Based on the blurb and the reviews, the book argues that polygamy was much closer to the center of early American culture than we understand today–a “shocking” discovery, in the words of one of the reviewers. I haven’t read the book, but I have to say I’m skeptical, both because I’m skeptical generally when historians claim to have discovered a salient feature of the long-ago past that no one has noticed, and also because the thesis fits so well with the current policy goals of so many academics. Wouldn’t it be great to learn that our ancestors approved of polygamy all along, and thought of it as one marital option among many?
To learn that polygamy historically existed in America would not be “shocking.” It exists today. But, as today, it seems to have been very much a fringe phenomenon. There’s a reason polygamous groups, like 19th Century Mormons, had to move repeatedly and finally settle in the frontier. Americans at the time precisely did not see polygamy as one option among many. Anyhow, readers can judge for themselves. Here’s the description of the book from the Yale website:
A groundbreaking examination of polygamy showing that monogamy was not the only form marriage took in early America.
Today we tend to think of polygamy as an unnatural marital arrangement characteristic of fringe sects or uncivilized peoples. Historian Sarah Pearsall shows us that polygamy’s surprising history encompasses numerous colonies, indigenous communities, and segments of the American nation. Polygamy—as well as the fight against it—illuminates many touchstones of American history: the Pueblo Revolt and other uprisings against the Spanish; Catholic missions in New France; New England settlements and King Philip’s War; the entrenchment of African slavery in the Chesapeake; the Atlantic Enlightenment; the American Revolution; missions and settlement in the West; and the rise of Mormonism.
Pearsall expertly opens up broader questions about monogamy’s emergence as the only marital option, tracing the impact of colonial events on property, theology, feminism, imperialism, and the regulation of sexuality. She shows that heterosexual monogamy was never the only model of marriage in North America.
“Brooklyn is peculiarly a city of churches, and what is better, they are generally well filled.” So proclaimed The Brooklyn Evening Star in 1841, and the nickname has stuck–even if, alas, the borough’s religiosity has fallen somewhat over time. Brooklynites historically thought of themselves as more pious and sober than their wild neighbors across the East River. Who’s to say? But the borough still hosts lovely, vibrant churches–and synagogues, mosques, and temples–in a way that belies easy assumptions about godless New York
Last week, Princeton University Press released a new history, Brooklyn: The Once and Future City, by Cornell professor Thomas Campanella (Urban Studies and City Planning). Looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:
America’s most storied urban underdog, Brooklyn has become an internationally recognized brand in recent decades—celebrated and scorned as one of the hippest destinations in the world. In Brooklyn: The Once and Future City, Thomas J. Campanella unearths long-lost threads of the urban past, telling the rich history of the rise, fall, and reinvention of one of the world’s most resurgent cities.
Spanning centuries and neighborhoods, Brooklyn-born Campanella recounts the creation of places familiar and long forgotten, both built and never realized, bringing to life the individuals whose dreams, visions, rackets, and schemes forged the city we know today. He takes us through Brooklyn’s history as homeland of the Leni Lenape and its transformation by Dutch colonists into a dense slaveholding region. We learn about English émigré Deborah Moody, whose town of Gravesend was the first founded by a woman in America. We see how wanderlusting Yale dropout Frederick Law Olmsted used Prospect Park to anchor an open space system that was to reach back to Manhattan. And we witness Brooklyn’s emergence as a playland of racetracks and amusement parks celebrated around the world.
Campanella also describes Brooklyn’s outsized failures, from Samuel Friede’s bid to erect the world’s tallest building to the long struggle to make Jamaica Bay the world’s largest deepwater seaport, and the star-crossed urban renewal, public housing, and highway projects that battered the borough in the postwar era. Campanella reveals how this immigrant Promised Land drew millions, fell victim to its own social anxieties, and yet proved resilient enough to reawaken as a multicultural powerhouse and global symbol of urban vitality.
The religious associations have largely disappeared, but in its original meaning ghetto referred to a segregated district in which European Jews were required to live–most notably in Italian cities like Venice, Padua, and Rome, where former ghettos have now become tourist attractions. Next month, Harvard releases Ghetto: The History of a Word, which traces the word’s evolving meaning across time. The author is historian Daniel Schwartz (George Washington University). Here’s the description from the Harvard website:
Just as European Jews were being emancipated and ghettos in their original form—compulsory, enclosed spaces designed to segregate—were being dismantled, use of the word ghetto surged in Europe and spread around the globe. Tracing the curious path of this loaded word from its first use in sixteenth-century Venice to the present turns out to be more than an adventure in linguistics.
Few words are as ideologically charged as ghetto. Its early uses centered on two cities: Venice, where it referred to the segregation of the Jews in 1516, and Rome, where the ghetto survived until the fall of the Papal States in 1870, long after it had ceased to exist elsewhere.
Ghetto: The History of a Word offers a fascinating account of the changing nuances of this slippery term, from its coinage to the present day. It details how the ghetto emerged as an ambivalent metaphor for “premodern” Judaism in the nineteenth century and how it was later revived to refer to everything from densely populated Jewish immigrant enclaves in modern cities to the hypersegregated holding pens of Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. We see how this ever-evolving word traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, settled into New York’s Lower East Side and Chicago’s Near West Side, then came to be more closely associated with African Americans than with Jews.
Chronicling this sinuous transatlantic odyssey, Daniel B. Schwartz reveals how the history of ghettos is tied up with the struggle and argument over the meaning of a word. Paradoxically, the term ghetto came to loom larger in discourse about Jews when Jews were no longer required to live in legal ghettos. At a time when the Jewish associations have been largely eclipsed, Ghetto retrieves the history of a disturbingly resilient word.
Here’s an entry that is not centrally about religion, but about constitutional theory, though it would have important implications for the interpretation of the Religion Clauses. Judicial restraint once was one of the chief objectives of interpretive theories like originalism. But new scholars of originalism tend to downplay judicial restraint, if not to reject it altogether as a justification for originalism. Some, in fact, embrace what has been called “judicial engagement”–the interpretation of the Constitution to serve distinctively political ends drawn from libertarian political theory.
This new book, however, defends judicial restraint as a constitutional virtue: The Political Constitution: The Case Against Judicial Supremacy (University of Kansas Press), by Greg Weiner. (I’m looking forward to reviewing this book for the Liberty Fund)
“Who should decide what is constitutional? The Supreme Court, of course, both liberal and conservative voices say—but in a bracing critique of the “judicial engagement” that is ascendant on the legal right, Greg Weiner makes a cogent case to the contrary. His book, The Political Constitution, is an eloquent political argument for the restraint of judicial authority and the return of the proper portion of constitutional authority to the people and their elected representatives. What Weiner calls for, in short, is a reconstitution of the political commons upon which a republic stands.
At the root of the word “republic” is what Romans called the res publica, or the public thing. And it is precisely this—the sense of a political community engaging in decisions about common things as a coherent whole—that Weiner fears is lost when all constitutional authority is ceded to the judiciary. His book calls instead for a form of republican constitutionalism that rests on an understanding that arguments about constitutional meaning are, ultimately, political arguments. What this requires is an enlargement of the res publica, the space allocated to political conversation and a shared pursuit of common things. Tracing the political and judicial history through which this critical political space has been impoverished, The Political Constitution seeks to recover the sense of political community on which the health of the republic, and the true working meaning of the Constitution, depends.”
Richard Rorty was a famous and influential American philosopher of pragmatism some of whose ideas were adopted and applied by prominent pragmatic legal thinkers like Richard Posner. One of the phrases for which Rorty is known is that religion is a “conversation stopper”–the sort of appeal to authority for any social or moral question that ends rational discussion and should therefore itself be abandoned.
Here is a new book that considers Rorty’s thought about religion in specific and offers a criticism of it: Rorty, Religion, and Metaphysics (Rowman & Littlefield, Lexington Books), by John Owens.
“Believing that humanity would be better off if it simply dropped its traditional religious and metaphysical beliefs, Richard Rorty proposes an alternative approach, drawn from the American pragmatist tradition, where things get their significance against a background of broad human interests, and knowledge is regarded as part of the active pursuit of a better world. Rorty, Religion, and Metaphysics argues that while Rorty’s case is clearly and robustly made, it is fundamentally challenged by the phenomenon of human recognition, the relationship that arises between people when they talk to one another. John Owens demonstrates that recognition, so central to human life, cannot be accommodated within Rorty’s proposals, given that it precisely attributes a reality to others that goes beyond anything a pragmatist framework can offer. It follows that there is more to human interaction than can be explained by Rorty’s pragmatism.”