Here’s something of a new feature for our book-related posts. On occasion, we’ll have an interesting review of a book that we have previously posted. I thought this review at the University Bookman by Ben Sixsmith of Tom Holland’s book, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, was very worthwhile and gave a good account of the book’s themes, strengths, and weaknesses. A bit:
“Holland’s stylistic talents add a great deal to the book. His portraits of Boniface, Luther, and Calvin are vivid, evocative, and free of romanticization or its opposite. Some of his accounts of episodes in religious history are a little superficial—he could have read Helen Andrews for a more complicated portrait of Bartolomé de las Casas, for example—but a sweeping historical narrative without superficial aspects would be like an orchard with no bruising on the fruit. It is only natural.”
In my experience, the Western human-rights community overlooks, or downplays, human rights documents that come from non-Western sources. A good example is the Cairo Declaration, a statement of human rights announced by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1990: few human-rights courses in American law schools spend significant time on the Cairo Declaration, notwithstanding its importance in global human-rights debates. That may be because these non-Western sources offer a challenge to Western understandings of “universal” concepts like human dignity. But I’ve written about that subject elsewhere.
Established in 1969, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is an intergovernmental organization the purpose of which is the strengthening of solidarity among Muslims. Headquartered in Jeddah, the OIC today consists of fifty seven states from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The OIC’s longevity and geographic reach, combined with its self-proclaimed role as the United Nations of the Muslim world, raise certain expectations as to its role in global human rights politics. However, to date, these hopes have been unfulfilled. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Human Rights sets out to demonstrate the potential and shortcomings of the OIC and the obstacles on the paths it has navigated.
Historically, the OIC has had a complicated relationship with the international human rights regime. Palestinian self-determination was an important catalyst for the founding of the OIC, but the OIC did not develop a comprehensive human rights approach in its first decades. In fact, human rights issues were rarely, if at all, mentioned at the organization’s summits or annual conferences of foreign ministers. Instead, the OIC tended to focus on protecting Islamic holy sites and strengthening economic cooperation among member states. As other international and regional organizations expanded the international human rights system in the 1990s, the OIC began to pay greater attention to human rights, although not always in a manner that aligned with Western conceptions.
This volume provides essential empirical and theoretical insights into OIC practices, contemporary challenges to human rights, intergovernmental organizations, and global Islam. Essays by some of the world’s leading scholars examine the OIC’s human rights activities at different levels—in the UN, the organization’s own institutions, and at the member-state level—and assess different aspects of the OIC’s approach, identifying priority areas of involvement and underlying conceptions of human rights.
We tend to forget, in America, that sometimes anti-American governments really do have support from local populations. Here is a timely book from Stanford, Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic, which explores the worldview of those Iranians who support the Islamic regime. The author is Narges Bajoghli of Johns Hopkins University. Here is the description from the Stanford website:
An inside look at what it means to be pro-regime in Iran, and the debates around the future of the Islamic Republic.
More than half of Iran’s citizens were not alive at the time of the 1979 Revolution. Now entering its fifth decade in power, the Iranian regime faces the paradox of any successful revolution: how to transmit the commitments of its political project to the next generation. New media ventures supported by the Islamic Republic attempt to win the hearts and minds of younger Iranians. Yet members of this new generation—whether dissidents or fundamentalists—are increasingly skeptical of these efforts.
Iran Reframed offers unprecedented access to those who wield power in Iran as they debate and define the future of the Republic. Over ten years, Narges Bajoghli met with men in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Ansar Hezbollah, and Basij paramilitary organizations to investigate how their media producers developed strategies to court Iranian youth. Readers come to know these men—what the regime means to them and their anxieties about the future of their revolutionary project. Contestation over how to define the regime underlies all their efforts to communicate with the public. This book offers a multilayered story about what it means to be pro-regime in the Islamic Republic, challenging everything we think we know about Iran and revolution.
For readers in the area, tomorrow night I’ll appear in midtown Manhattan on a panel sponsored by the Morningside Institute, “Church-State Relations in a Time of Scandal.” I’ll be discussing recent state attempts to require clergy to report suspected cases of child abuse, including cases clergy learn about through confidential spiritual counseling, and what these attempts suggest about our changing religious landscape. Details at the link. Stop by and say hello!
Mark Noll’s A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada has been firmly established as the standard text on the Christian experience in North America. Now Noll has thoroughly revised, updated, and expanded his classic text to incorporate new materials and important themes, events, leaders, and changes of the last thirty years. Once again readers will benefit from his insights on the United States and Canada in this superb narrative survey of Christian churches, institutions, and cultural engagements from the colonial period through 2018.
A new book from Oxford looks interesting: Orthodox Christianity: A Very Short Introduction, by Edward Siecienski (Stockton University). The book seems to address only Eastern, as opposed to Oriental Orthodoxy, that is, the Chalcedonian churches that derive from the Byzantine experience (Greeks, Russians, and so on), rather than the Non-Chalcedonian churches (Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians, and so on). Well, the title does say it’s a “short” introduction. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
To many in the West, Orthodoxy remains shrouded in mystery, an exotic and foreign religion that survived in the East following the Great Schism of 1054 that split the Christian world into two camps–Catholic and Orthodox. However, as the second largest Christian denomination, Orthodox Christianity is anything but foreign to the nearly 300 million worshippers who practice it. For them, Orthodoxy is a living, breathing reality; a way of being Christian ultimately rooted in the person of Jesus and the experience of the early Church. Whether they are Greek, Russian, or American, Orthodox Christians are united by a common tradition and faith that binds them together despite differences in culture. True, the road has not always been smooth — Orthodox history is littered with tales of schisms and divisions, of persecutions and martyrdom, from the Sack of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire and seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch, to the experience of the Russian Orthodox Church under the Soviet Union. Still, today Orthodoxy remains a vibrant part of the religious landscape, not only in those lands where it has made its historic home (Greece, Russia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe), but also increasingly in the West. Orthodox Christianity: A Very Short Introduction explores the enduring role of this religion, and the history, beliefs, and practices that have shaped it.
That’s this new paper, which I’ve just posted, and accompanies this earlier paper discussing the nature of traditionalist interpretation. Here’s the abstract of the newer piece (comments welcome):
“Traditionalist constitutional interpretation takes political and cultural practices of long age and duration as constituting the presumptive meaning of the text. This essay probes traditionalism’s conceptual and normative foundations. It focuses on the Supreme Court’s traditionalist interpretation of the First Amendment to understand the distinctive justifications for traditionalism and the relationship between traditionalism and originalism. The first part of the essay identifies and describes traditionalism in some of the Court’s Speech and Religion Clause jurisprudence, highlighting its salience in the Court’s recent Establishment Clause doctrine.
Part II develops two justifications for traditionalism: “interpretive” and “democratic-populist.” The interpretive justification is that enduring practices presumptively inform the meaning of the words that they instantiate. Generally speaking, we do what we mean, and we mean what we do. The democratic-populist justification is that in a democracy, people who engage in practices consistently and over many years in the belief that those practices are constitutional have endowed them practices with political legitimacy. Courts owe the people’s enduring practices substantial deference as presumptively constitutional. The populist element in this justification is that traditionalism is a defensive interpretive method against what abstract principle in the hands of elite actors has wrought: intolerance, the corrosion of lived experience, and the distortion of text to mirror a particular class of contemporary moral and political views.
In Part III, this essay compares traditionalism with originalism, reaching two conclusions. First, traditionalism’s reliance on practices as presumptively constitutive of constitutional meaning is most distant from originalist theories that rely on abstract principle as constituting the meaning of text and that reject practice-based evidence as the equivalent of irrelevant “expected applications.” It is closest to varieties of originalism that read text concretely. Yet traditionalist judges are not engaged in making guesses about “expected applications,” but in making decisions about retrospective applications—drawing on old and enduring practices either to include within, or exclude from, a tradition the specific practice under review. Second, the essay investigates the connection between so-called “original law” theories of originalism and traditionalism. Original law theorists argue that originalism is “our law” as a sociological and cultural fact. But traditionalism may be more “our law” than originalism in some areas within the First Amendment and outside it. If the positivist defense of originalism truly counts as a justification for any theory of constitutional interpretation (an issue on which this essay takes no position), then it may support traditionalism as much as originalism.”
Conventional wisdom portrays Metternich, the Austrian foreign minister who dominated Europe after the defeat of Napoleon, as an arch-reactionary. And that seems basically right. Metternich opposed liberal nationalism and was an architect of the Holy Alliance, which attempted to defeat Revolutionary ideas in Europe through Christian values, including the divine right of kings. A forthcoming biography from Harvard, Metternich: Strategist and Visionary, by Wolfram Siemann (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich) argues, though, that in fact Metternich was a progressive visionary. Readers can judge for themselves. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:
A compelling new biography that recasts the most important European statesman of the first half of the nineteenth century, famous for his alleged archconservatism, as a friend of realpolitik and reform, pursuing international peace.
Metternich has a reputation as the epitome of reactionary conservatism. Historians treat him as the archenemy of progress, a ruthless aristocrat who used his power as the dominant European statesman of the first half of the nineteenth century to stifle liberalism, suppress national independence, and oppose the dreams of social change that inspired the revolutionaries of 1848. Wolfram Siemann paints a fundamentally new image of the man who shaped Europe for over four decades. He reveals Metternich as more modern and his career much more forward-looking than we have ever recognized.
Clemens von Metternich emerged from the horrors of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, Siemann shows, committed above all to the preservation of peace. That often required him, as the Austrian Empire’s foreign minister and chancellor, to back authority. He was, as Henry Kissinger has observed, the father of realpolitik. But short of compromising on his overarching goal Metternich aimed to accommodate liberalism and nationalism as much as possible. Siemann draws on previously unexamined archives to bring this multilayered and dazzling man to life. We meet him as a tradition-conscious imperial count, an early industrial entrepreneur, an admirer of Britain’s liberal constitution, a failing reformer in a fragile multiethnic state, and a man prone to sometimes scandalous relations with glamorous women. Hailed on its German publication as a masterpiece of historical writing, Metternich will endure as an essential guide to nineteenth-century Europe, indispensable for understanding the forces of revolution, reaction, and moderation that shaped the modern world.