Islam in Late Antiquity

15883We don’t think of it this way today, but in terms of ancient geopolitics, Islam was as much the heir of the Roman Empire as was Byzantium or the barbarian kingdoms of the West. Consider: within about a century of the fall of Rome, Islam had conquered the key Roman province of Egypt and all of North Africa. What had been a crucial part of the Roman world, the home of Tertullian and Augustine, very quickly became a crucial part of a new imperial state.

A new book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, The Apocalypse of Empire: Imperial Eschatology in Late Antiquity and Early Islam, by Stephen J. Shoemaker (University of Oregon) situates the Islamic conquest in terms of broader imperial politics and ideology–Roman, but also Persian. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

In The Apocalypse of Empire, Stephen J. Shoemaker argues that earliest Islam was a movement driven by urgent eschatological belief that focused on the conquest, or liberation, of the biblical Holy Land and situates this belief within a broader cultural environment of apocalyptic anticipation. Shoemaker looks to the Qur’an’s fervent representation of the imminent end of the world and the importance Muhammad and his earliest followers placed on imperial expansion. Offering important contemporary context for the imperial eschatology that seems to have fueled the rise of Islam, he surveys the political eschatologies of early Byzantine Christianity, Judaism, and Sasanian Zoroastrianism at the advent of Islam and argues that they often relate imperial ambition to beliefs about the end of the world. Moreover, he contends, formative Islam’s embrace of this broader religious trend of Mediterranean late antiquity provides invaluable evidence for understanding the beginnings of the religion at a time when sources are generally scarce and often highly problematic.

Scholarship on apocalyptic literature in early Judaism and Christianity frequently maintains that the genre is decidedly anti-imperial in its very nature. While it may be that early Jewish apocalyptic literature frequently displays this tendency, Shoemaker demonstrates that this quality is not characteristic of apocalypticism at all times and in all places. In the late antique Mediterranean as in the European Middle Ages, apocalypticism was regularly associated with ideas of imperial expansion and triumph, which expected the culmination of history to arrive through the universal dominion of a divinely chosen world empire. This imperial apocalypticism not only affords an invaluable backdrop for understanding the rise of Islam but also reveals an important transition within the history of Western doctrine during late antiquity.

A New History of the Japanese Internment Program

9780674986534-lgNext month, Harvard will release American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War, by Duncan Ryuken Williams (University of Southern California). The book offers a new perspective on the US Government’s infamous internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. One thinks of the internment program as a racial and ethnic phenomenon. But Williams argues that the internment program had a strong religious component as well: the Government targeted Buddhists in particular. Looks interesting. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

The mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II is not only a tale of injustice; it is a moving story of faith. In this pathbreaking account, Duncan Ryūken Williams reveals how, even as they were stripped of their homes and imprisoned in camps, Japanese American Buddhists launched one of the most inspiring defenses of religious freedom in our nation’s history, insisting that they could be both Buddhist and American.

Nearly all Americans of Japanese descent were subject to bigotry and accusations of disloyalty, but Buddhists aroused particular suspicion. Government officials, from the White House to small-town mayors, believed that Buddhism was incompatible with American values. Intelligence agencies targeted the Buddhist community for surveillance, and Buddhist priests were deemed a threat to national security. On December 7, 1941, as the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, Attorney General Francis Biddle issued a warrant to “take into custody all Japanese” classified as potential national security threats. The first person detained was Bishop Gikyō Kuchiba, leader of the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist sect in Hawai‘i.

In the face of discrimination, dislocation, dispossession, and confinement, Japanese Americans turned to their faith to sustain them, whether they were behind barbed wire in camps or serving in one of the most decorated combat units in the European theater. Using newly translated sources and extensive interviews with survivors of the camps and veterans of the war, American Sutra reveals how the Japanese American community broadened our country’s conception of religious freedom and forged a new American Buddhism.

Daniel Philpott on Religious Freedom in Islam

9780190908188Notre Dame political scientist Daniel Philpott has spent his career working at the intersection of religion and politics. His co-authored book, God’s Century (2011), is a must for people trying to understand the role of religion in contemporary global politics. He is also one of the directors of Under Caesar’s Sword, a research project on the persecution of Christians today. So his forthcoming book, Religious Freedom in Islam: The Fate of a Universal Human Right in the Muslim World Today (Oxford), is bound to be of interest. Based on the publisher’s description, the book will chart a middle ground between those who argue that religious freedom simply does not exist in the Muslim world, which is not true, and those who paint an unrealistically optimistic picture of the situation non-Muslim minorities face:

Since at least the attacks of September 11, 2001, one of the most pressing political questions of the age has been whether Islam is hostile to religious freedom. Daniel Philpott examines conditions on the ground in forty-seven Muslim-majority countries today and offers an honest, clear-eyed answer to this urgent question.

It is not, however, a simple answer. From a satellite view, the Muslim world looks unfree. But, Philpott shows, the truth is much more complex. Some one-fourth of Muslim-majority countries are in fact religiously free. Of the other countries, about forty percent are governed not by Islamists but by a hostile secularism imported from the West, while the other sixty percent are Islamist.

The picture that emerges is both honest and hopeful. Yes, most Muslim-majority countries are lacking in religious freedom. But, Philpott argues, the Islamic tradition carries within it “seeds of freedom,” and he offers guidance for how to cultivate those seeds in order to expand religious freedom in the Muslim world and the world at large.

It is an urgent project. Religious freedom promotes goods like democracy and the advancement of women that are lacking in the Muslim-majority world and reduces ills like civil war, terrorism, and violence. Further, religious freedom is simply a matter of justice–not an exclusively Western value, but rather a universal right rooted in human nature. Its realization is critical to the aspirations of religious minorities and dissenters in Muslim countries, to Muslims living in non-Muslim countries or under secular dictatorships, and to relations between the West and the Muslim world.

In this thoughtful book, Philpott seeks to establish a constructive middle ground in a fiery and long-lasting debate over Islam.

Legal Spirits Episode 003: Tradition in the Global Context

Tradition Project

In this episode, Center Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami discuss the upcoming meeting of the Center’s Tradition Project, set for Rome on December 12-13. This session, “The Value of Tradition in the Global Context,” features a keynote address by Justice Samuel Alito, a response panel of European jurists, and a series of workshops with scholars from both sides of the Atlantic. Mark and Marc discuss the relationship among tradition, liberalism, nationalism, and populism in today’s world and address recent works by Yascha Mounk, Mark Lilla, Patrick Deneen, and Yoram Hazony, as well as, on its 25 anniversary, Samuel Huntington’s famous essay on the clash of civilizations.

Legal Spirits Episode 002: SCOTUS Grants Cert in the Peace Cross Case

Peace Cross 5

The Peace Cross, a World War I Memorial, in Bladensburg, Maryland

 

In this “Legal Spirits” podcast, Center Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami talk about the Supreme Court’s grant earlier this month in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the Peace Cross case. The Court will decide whether a 90-year old war memorial in Maryland, pictured above, violates the Establishment Clause. Mark and Marc discuss the ins-and-outs of the case and speculate whether the Court will finally clear up some of the confusion surrounding religious displays on public property.

 

Legal Spirits Episode 001: A British Version of Masterpiece Cakeshop?

For the first Legal Spirits podcast, Center Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami discuss the UK Supreme Court’s decision last month in Lee v. Ashers Baking Company. The court ruled that Christian bakers did not violate British anti-discrimination laws when they declined to create a cake with a pro-gay marriage inscription. Mark and Marc explain the British decision and compare it with the American Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, and speculate what influence the British decision might have in future American cases.

The Proper Response to the Crisis in the Catholic Church: Give the Laity a Role in the Appointment and Removal of Diocesan Bishops

 

consecration of st ambrose as archbishop (1)

The Consecration of Ambrose as Bishop of Milan (Juan Valdes-Leal, 1673)

 

By Robert Delahunty* & Andrew Ratelle**

The past few weeks in the life of the Catholic Church in America are proof of a twelfth century English proverb that “often the end fails to equal the beginning.”

What began some fifteen or more years ago as a series of promised reforms, compounded with yet more promises, has made a full circle return to the point of origin. A prince of the Church has been caught yet again in deeply hypocritical, sinful, and, if not for statutes of limitation, tortious and even criminal behavior. But this time, a coterie of fellow bishops and peers is gathered about him, unable or unwilling to see where the line between charitable forbearance and public condemnation must be drawn. According to the New York Times:

Between 1994 and 2008, multiple reports about the cardinal’s transgressions with adult seminary students were made to American bishops, the pope’s representative in Washington and, finally, Pope Benedict XVI. Two New Jersey dioceses secretly paid settlements, in 2005 and 2007, to two men … for allegations against the archbishop.

And now comes the news of a Pennsylvania grand jury’s findings that in six of the State’s eight dioceses, bishops and other clerical leaders concealed at least one thousand identified cases of child sexual abuse for a period of over seventy years. The grand jury wrote:

“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability.” …  “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”

This is indeed “a spiritual crisis” that cuts deeper with every revelation. It is a “crisis” that goes much deeper than the episcopate seems competent or willing to handle.

The Catholic laity must assume far greater responsibility for the conduct of their bishops and priests, and the hierarchy must give them the tools to do so. Below, we outline a series of lay-led initiatives, ranging from least to most radical, for a project of reform. Most importantly, we recommend that the laity have a greater role in the appointment and removal of diocesan bishops.

The Failure of the Hierarchy

The unfolding story of Cardinal McCarrick’s decades of sexual predation is both dismal and familiar. But those disclosures are not the most dismaying part of the current crisis. What makes the McCarrick matter different is the unbelievable lameness of his fellow bishops’ excuses for their repeated failure to challenge him. Loyal Catholics have been driven to the conclusion that their Church’s hierarchy is utterly compromised. It has proven itself unfit to perform the urgent task of dealing with the rot that it has allowed to fester in its own ranks. The bishops— “good” and “bad” alike—have betrayed the faithful.

In addition to sexual abuse, there are two problems here. One problem is the continuing influence of “bad” bishops, willing to use their power to protect abusers, to promote them, and to marginalize those who would denounce them. The other problem is the silence (or at least the shrugging of the shoulders) of “good” bishops, unwilling to condemn the corrupt practices of their peers. This silence is not always intentional complicity, but it is close enough—a distinction with no real difference.

The American Church, it seems, has its own version of the Deep State, committed to obstructing genuine reform and to punishing those who question its authority.

For the Church to respond to this threat, the laity must now do what the bishops ought to have done years—decades—ago.

We are not talking only about the investigation and correction of priests and bishops who are guilty of sexual abuse. The Church has always had such priests, and canon law structures—though under-enforced—have long been in place to correct them. Clerical sexual abuse is the primary problem, but it is not the only one.

The real task ahead is instead to devise and implement processes, in which lay participation is extensive, that will police the bishops as they ought to have policed themselves. Investigation and punishment of abuses are not enough. It is essential to develop institution-wide remedies. The crisis in the Church is a structural or Continue reading

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In honor of the Fourth of July, the Forum is taking off today. Happy Independence Day and see you tomorrow!

Silinsky, “Jihad and the West”

New from Indiana University Press, Jihad and the West: Black Flag over Babylon, by Mark Silinsky (US Department of Defense). The publisher’s description follows:

9780253027016_medU.S. Department of Defense analyst Mark Silinsky reveals the origins of the Islamic State’s sinister obsession with the Western world. Once considered a minor irritant in the international system, the Caliphate is now a dynamic and significant actor on the world’s stage, boasting more than 30,000 foreign fighters from 86 countries. Recruits consist not only of Middle-Eastern-born citizens, but also a staggering number of “Blue-Eyed Jihadists,” Westerners who leave their country to join the radical sect. Silinsky provides a detailed and chilling explanation of the appeal of the Islamic State and how those abroad become radicalized, while also analyzing the historical origins, inner workings, and horrific toll of the Caliphate. By documenting the true stories of men, women, and children whose lives have been destroyed by the radical group, Jihad and the West presents the human face of the thousands who have been kidnapped, raped, tortured, and murdered by the Islamic State, including Kayla Mueller, who was kidnapped, given to the Caliphate’s leader as a sex slave, and ultimately killed.

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