Koerpel, “Maurice Blondel”

Few thinkers have had more to say about the relationship between reason, revelation, Blondeltheology, and tradition than Maurice Blondel, the French Catholic philosopher of the war period and critic of modernity. Here is a new work on this understudied figure, Maurice Blondel: Transforming Catholic Tradition (Notre Dame Press), by Robert C. Koerpel.

During the past few decades there has been renewed interest in the twentieth-century French Catholic philosopher Maurice Blondel (1861–1949) and his influence on modern and contemporary theology, but little scholarship has been published in the English-speaking world. In Maurice Blondel: Transforming Catholic Tradition, Robert Koerpel examines Blondel’s work, the historical and theological development of the idea of tradition in modern Catholicism, tradition’s relation to reason and revelation, and Blondel’s influence on Catholicism’s understanding of tradition. The book presents aspects of Blondel’s thought that deserve to be more widely known and contributes to important debates in current theology on modern French Catholic thought and the emerging conversations surrounding them. Koerpel looks to the cultural context from which Blondel’s thought emerges by situating it within the broader conceptual, historical, and theological developments of modernity. He examines the problem of reason and revelation in modern Catholicism, the role and nature of tradition, and the relationships between theology and history, truth and change, nature and grace, and scripture and the development of doctrine.

This book provides readers with an appreciation of Blondel’s conceptually creative answer to how tradition represents the Word of God in human history and why it is one of his most important contributions to modern and contemporary theology. They will discover how this contribution restores the animated vitality between the institutional and liturgical dimensions of tradition essential to the living, dynamic nature of Catholicism.

Doe, “Comparative Religious Law”

ComparativeOne of our Center’s three primary areas of focus concerns the law of religious traditions, and one of our very first conferences back in 2010 was about “Religious Legal Theory.” It’s certainly a subject that Mark has written about, as in his piece on the role of law in Islam and Christianity. Here is a new volume that looks to be a vital resource for this very interesting corner of law and religion: Comparative Religious Law: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, by Norman Doe (Cambridge University Press).

Comparative Religious Law provides for the first time a study of the regulatory instruments of Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious organisations in Britain in light of their historical religious laws. Norman Doe questions assumptions about the pervasiveness, character and scope of religious laws, from the view that they are not or should not be recognised by civil law, to the idea that there may be a fundamental incompatibility between religious and civil law. It proposes that religious laws pervade society, are recognised by civil law, have both a religious and temporal character, and regulate wide areas of believers’ lives. Subjects include sources of law, faith leaders, governance, worship and education, rites of passage, divorce and children, and religion-State relations. A Charter of ‘the principles of religious law’ common to all three Abrahamic faiths is proposed, to stimulate greater mutual understanding between religion and society and between the three faiths themselves.

Marsden, “Religion & American Culture”

George Marsden is one of several great Evangelical historians of American religion (a group that also includes the likes of Mark Noll and Nathan Hatch) who has made major contributions to the study of Christianity as a historiographically seriously AmericanMarsden phenomenon. Indeed, it strikes me that Noll’s important The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was written in 1990, and since then the community of serious Evangelical scholars in history and elsewhere has become very rich and interesting. Here is a new book by Marsden, Religion & American Culture: A Brief History (Eerdmans) which looks like it could serve as a useful introduction to his work more broadly.

While Americans still profess to be one of the most religious people in the industrialized world, many aspects of American culture have long been secular and materialistic. That is just one of the many paradoxes, contradictions, and surprises in the relationship between Christianity and American culture. In this book George Marsden, a leading historian of American Christianity and award-winning author, tells the story of that relationship in a concise and thought-provoking way.

Surveying the history of religion and American culture from the days of the earliest European settlers right up through the elections of 2016, Marsden offers the kind of historically and religiously informed scholarship that has made him one of the nation’s most respected and decorated historians. Students in the classroom and history readers of all ages will benefit from engaging with the story Marsden tells.

Callanan, “Montesquieu’s Liberalism and the Problem of Universal Politics”

The contest between globalism and nationalism, seen in so many political contests today Callananhere and abroad, might be understood as one facet of a deeper problem: whether politics–and liberal politics specifically–is a fundamentally universal activity or instead one rooted in cultural and contingent particularities. Here is a very interesting new book by Middlebury College political theorist Keegan Callanan about Montesquieu’s thought, but with clear implications for the way in which we think about universalism and particularism in politics. Professor Callanan’s book is Montesquieu’s Liberalism and the Problem of Universal Politics (CUP).

Dubbed ‘the oracle’ by no less an authority than James Madison, Montesquieu stands as a theoretical founder of the liberal political tradition. But equally central to his project was his account of the relationship of law to each nation’s particular customs and place, a teaching that militates against universal political solutions. This teaching has sometimes been thought to stand in tension with his liberal constitutionalism. In this book, Keegan Callanan argues that Montesquieu’s political particularism and liberalism are complementary and mutually reinforcing parts of a coherent whole. In developing this argument, Callanan considers Montesquieu’s regime pluralism, psychological conception of liberty, approach to political reform, and account of ‘the customs of a free people’, including the complex interaction of religion and commerce. Callanan concludes that, by re-orienting our understanding of liberalism and redirecting our attention toward liberty’s distinctive preconditions, a return to Montesquieu’s political philosophy leaves us better prepared to confront liberal democracy’s contested claim to universality.

Fukuyama, “Identity”

From the well-known author of the deeply influential and not particularly convincing Fukuyama“The End of History and the Last Man” comes this new book about identity and the “demand for recognition” as the key to understanding contemporary politics. Certainly the demand for recognition has fueled many developments in the law, including the recent rise to prominence of dignity-related theories of legal right in constitutional law. The book is Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, by Francis Fukuyama (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and looks to be in part a self-help book for liberal democracies for coping with this form of politics–another call to “forge” a “universal” notion of “dignity.” For a very different, and, to my mind, much more persuasive account of “dignity” today, see Mark’s recent piece on the subject.

In 2014, Francis Fukuyama wrote that American institutions were in decay, as the state was progressively captured by powerful interest groups. Two years later, his predictions were borne out by the rise to power of a series of political outsiders whose economic nationalism and authoritarian tendencies threatened to destabilize the entire international order. These populist nationalists seek direct charismatic connection to “the people,” who are usually defined in narrow identity terms that offer an irresistible call to an in-group and exclude large parts of the population as a whole.

Demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today. The universal recognition on which liberal democracy is based has been increasingly challenged by narrower forms of recognition based on nation, religion, sect, race, ethnicity, or gender, which have resulted in anti-immigrant populism, the upsurge of politicized Islam, the fractious “identity liberalism” of college campuses, and the emergence of white nationalism. Populist nationalism, said to be rooted in economic motivation, actually springs from the demand for recognition and therefore cannot simply be satisfied by economic means. The demand for identity cannot be transcended; we must begin to shape identity in a way that supports rather than undermines democracy.

Identity is an urgent and necessary book—a sharp warning that unless we forge a universal understanding of human dignity, we will doom ourselves to continuing conflict.

Pontano, “The Virtues and Vices of Speech”

A new English translation of this wonderful 15th century work by the poet, scholar, man Pontano.jpgof letters, and Neapolitan statesman Giovanni Pontano. From a time when scholars thought about whether speech was healthy or not for the polity, and sought to influence public policy accordingly. I’m sure that there are more than a few things of use in this old work, originally titled De Sermone, for today’s interminable debates about the value of free speech in American society. The book is The Virtues and Vices of Speech, by Giovanni Pontano (Harvard University Press) (translated by G.W. Pigman III).

Giovanni Pontano, who adopted the academic sobriquet “Gioviano,” was prime minister to several kings of Naples and the most important Neapolitan humanist of the quattrocento. Best known today as a Latin poet, he also composed dialogues depicting the intellectual life of the humanist academy of which he was the head, and, late in life, a number of moral essays that became his most popular prose works. The De sermone (On Speech), translated into English here for the first time, aims to provide a moral anatomy, following Aristotelian principles, of various aspects of speech such as truthfulness and deception, flattery, gossip, loquacity, calumny, mercantile bargaining, irony, wit, and ridicule. In each type of speech, Pontano tries to identify what should count as the virtuous mean, that which identifies the speaker as a person of education, taste, and moral probity.

Bates, William the Conqueror

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).William.jpg

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.

Di Spigna, Founding Martyr

I remember well the statue of Dr. Joseph Warren, greeting the boys at my Roxbury LatinJoseph Warren 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).

Ventimiglia, Copyrighting God

Here’s a pretty neat new book at the crossroads of religion and copyright law. Just as the Copyrightcorporate 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.

Murphy, William Penn: A Life

Many of the most interesting controversies concerning religious accommodation in the Pennearly 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.

%d bloggers like this: