A New Book on Methodism

Methodism, with about 80 million adherents around the world, has had an enormous influence in American culture, ever since George Whitfield preached during the Great Awakening. Like many mainline Protestant churches, the United Methodist Church, the movement’s American branch, is experiencing internal strains right now, over issues like same-sex marriage, which divide some American Methodists from their co-religionists in Africa and other regions. Earlier this year, the General Conference of the UMC sustained global Methodism’s opposition to same-sex marriage–a surprise, given the pattern in other mainline churches, though the controversy probably isn’t over. So this seems an opportune moment for a new book from Oxford University Press, released earlier this month, Methodism: A Very Short Introduction, by theologian William Abraham (Southern Methodist). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Beginning as a renewal movement within Anglicanism in the eighteenth century, Methodism had become the largest Protestant denomination in the USA in the nineteenth century, and is today one of the most vibrant forms of Christianity. Representing a complex spiritual and evangelistic experiment that involves a passionate commitment to worldwide mission, it covers a global network of Christian denominations.

In this Very Short Introduction William J. Abraham traces Methodism from its origins in the work of John Wesley and the hymns of his brother, Charles Wesley, in the eighteenth century, right up to the present. Considering the identity, nature, and history of Methodism, Abraham provides a fresh account of the place of Methodism in the life and thought of the Christian Church. Describing the message of Methodism, and who the Methodists are, he also considers the practices of Methodism, and discusses the global impact of Methodism and its decline in the homelands. Finally Abraham looks forward, and considers the future prospects for Methodism.

Two New Religious Liberty Projects

Our friends at the J. Reuben Clark Law Society have asked us to pass along information about two new projects that may interest the readers of this blog, a new database on workpace religious accommodations and a fellowship for law students. More information at the links.

Augustine vs. Academics

Here is another new work on the patristic period, with a title that recommends itself. Last month, Yale University Press released a new translation of Augustine’s first work after his conversion, Against the Academics: St. Augustine’s Cassiciacum Dialogues, Volume 1, by Baylor University patristics scholar Michael Foley. The publisher’s description follows:

A fresh, new translation of Augustine’s inaugural work as a Christian convert.

The first four works written by St. Augustine of Hippo after his conversion to Christianity are the remarkable “Cassiciacum dialogues.” In this first dialogue, expertly translated by Michael Foley, Augustine and his interlocutors explore the history and teachings of Academic skepticism, which Augustine is both sympathetic to and critical of. The dialogue serves as a fitting launching point for a knowledge of God and the soul, the overall subject of the Cassiciacum tetralogy

Evangelicals in England

Here in the US, we tend of think of Evangelicalism as an American phenomenon. But it isn’t today and has never been. A forthcoming book from the Boydell and Brewer (distributed in the States by the University of Rochester Press), Converting Britannia: Evangelicals and British Public Life, 1770-1840, by Gareth Atkins (Queens College-Cambridge), describes the impact of Evangelical Christian reform movements in early-19th Century Britain. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

The moralism that characterized the decades either side of 1800 – the so-called ‘Age of William Wilberforce’ – has long been regarded as having a massive impact on British culture. Yet the reasons why Wilberforce and his Evangelical contemporaries were so influential politically and in the wider public sphere have never been properly understood. Converting Britannia shows for the first time how and why religious reformism carried such weight. Evangelicalism, it argues, was not just an innovative social phenomenon, but also a political machine that exploited establishment strengths to replicate itself at home and internationally.

The book maps networks that spanned the churches, universities, business, armed forces and officialdom, connecting London and the regions with Europe and the world, from business milieux in the City of London and elsewhere through the Royal Navy, the Colonial Office and East India and Sierra Leone companies. Revealing how religion drove debates about British history and identity in the first half of the nineteenth century, it throws new light not just on the networks themselves, but on cheap print, mass-production and the public sphere: the interconnecting technologies that sustained religion in a rapidly modernizing age and projected it into new contexts abroad.

Call for Papers: Human Dignity, Law & Religious Diversity

Here is a Call for Papers for the sixth ICLARS conference, scheduled for September 2020 in Cordoba, Spain:

The general theme of the conference is: Human Dignity, Law, and Religious Diversity: Designing the Future of Inter-Cultural Societies. The aim is to analyse how the notion of human dignity, which is the central axis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, can help create common ground between competing understandings of human rights. Human rights were conceived as an instrument to achieve social
cohesion and harmony but have often become a battlefield for conflicting ethical and political positions. This betrays the very notion of human rights, which are universal by nature and should be aimed at uniting, not dividing, society.

The Law in Piers Plowman

This past winter, we noted a book on how the law figures in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Here is another book arguing that a classic of medieval literature can shed light on that era’s law, especially its canon law: Piers Plowman and the Reinvention of Church Law in the Late Middle Ages, by UCLA English professor Arvind Thomas. The publisher is the University of Toronto Press. I don’t know why, but I’ve always thought of “Piers Plowman” as an early Protestant work. The publisher’s introduction suggests the poem was firmly situated in medieval Catholicism:

It is a medieval truism that the poet meddles with words, the lawyer with the world. But are the poet’s words and the lawyer’s world really so far apart? To what extent does the art of making poems share in the craft of making laws, and vice versa? Framed by such questions, Piers Plowman and the Reinvention of Church Law in the Late Middle Ages examines the mutually productive interaction between literary and legal “makyngs” in England’s great Middle English poem by William Langland.

Focusing on Piers Plowman’s preoccupation with wrongdoing in the B and C versions, Arvind Thomas examines the versions’ representations of trials, confessions, restitutions, penalties, and pardons. Thomas explores how the “literary” informs and transforms the “legal” until they finally cannot be separated. Thomas shows how the poem’s narrative voice, metaphor, syntax and style not only reflect but also act upon properties of canon law, such as penitential procedures and authoritative maxims. Langland’s mobilization of juridical concepts, Thomas insists, not only engenders a poetics informed by canonist thought but also expresses an alternative vision of canon law from that proposed by medieval jurists and today’s medievalists.

A New Book on Discipline in the Early Church

Church-and-state scholars are showing a new interest in the Patristic period: consider new books from Steve Smith and Robert Louis Wilken. The Patristic period is so interesting, today, because it represents the last time in the West when Christianity was seriously challenged–if one may put it that way–as a social institution. Perhaps today’s Christians can learn something about thriving in an alien environment by examining the faith’s early centuries.

A new book from St. Vladimir Orthodox Seminary Press, The Testament of the Lord: Worship and Discipline in the Early Church, looks interesting. The author is Alastair Stewart, an Anglican priest. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

The Testament of the Lord is one of several ancient “Church Order” texts. Written in the first four centuries of the Church, they direct Christian conduct and morality, ecclesiastical organization and discipline, and the Church’s worship and liturgical life. Beginning with an apocalyptic section in which the risen Lord himself addresses the reader, The Testament then describes the building of a church, the mode of appointment for clergy and monastics, and the conduct of daily prayers and of other liturgical services.

The text is newly translated from the extant Syriac (with an eye to Ethiopic manuscripts), and the introduction makes the case for a fourth century Cappadocian redactor who gave the work its present shape, though much of its material goes back at least to the third century. Those who are interested in early Church Orders will also find the Didache and St Hippolytus’ On the Apostolic Tradition in the Popular Patristics Series (PPS 41 and 54).

Tocqueville on Independence Day in Albany, 1831

It was a ceremony that made [Tocqueville and Beaumont] want to smile. The trade associations and the militia marched past with an entirely spontaneous gravity and order, then the procession surged into a church where everyone sang verses to the tune of the Marseillaise accompanied by a single flute. The speech made by a lawyer foundered in rhetorical commonplaces. But the reading of the Declaration of Independence gave rise to a unanimous feeling that Tocqueville describes in the following way: “It was as though an electric current moved through the hearts of everyone there. It was in no way a theatrical performance. In this reading of the promises of independence that have been kept so well, in this turning of an entire nation toward the memories of its birth, in this union of the present generation with one that is no longer and with which, for a moment, it shared all those generous feelings, there was something profoundly felt and truly great.”

From Andre Jardin, Tocqueville: A Biography (Lydia Davis trans. 1988)

Kamali on Hudud Crimes in Islam

In classical Islamic law, Hudud crimes are those committed against Allah and for which Allah has mandated punishments that man cannot alter. The schools differ on the precise definition, but Hudud crimes include apostasy, illicit sexual intercourse, some forms of theft, and drinking alcohol. Punishments for Hudud crimes are severe, but classical Islamic law insisted on high standards of proof that made convictions very difficult.

A new book from Oxford, Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law: A Fresh Interpretation, by Mohammad Hashim Kamali, one of the foremost scholars of Islamic law writing in English today, argues for what he calls a “fresh” reading of the sources on Hudud offenses. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

In Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law: A Fresh Interpretation, Mohammad Kamali considers problems associated with and proposals for reform of the hudud punishments prescribed by Islamic criminal law, and other topics related to crime and punishment in Shariah. He examines what the Qur’an and hadith say about hudud punishments, as well as just retaliation (qisas), and discretionary punishments (ta’zir), and looks at modern-day applications of Islamic criminal law in 15 Muslim countries. Particular attention is given to developments in Malaysia, a multi-religious society, federal state, and self-described democracy, where a lively debate about hudud has been on-going for the last three decades. Malaysia presents a particularly interesting case study of how a reasonably successful country with a market economy, high levels of exposure to the outside world, and a credible claim to inclusivity, deals with Islamic and Shariah-related issues.

Kamali concludes that there is a significant gap between the theory and practice of hudud in the scriptural sources of Shariah and the scholastic articulations of jurisprudence of the various schools of Islamic law, arguing that literalism has led to such rigidity as to make Islamic criminal law effectively a dead letter. His goal is to provide a fresh reading of the sources of Shariah and demonstrate how the Qur’an and Sunnah can show the way forward to needed reforms of Islamic criminal law.

A New Memoir from Tomas Halik

Several years ago, at a Forum 2000 Conference in Prague, I had the honor to meet Fr. Tomas Halik. An underground Catholic priest and member of the Czech resistance, Halik was important in bringing down the communist regime in that country. My impression is that Halik’s progressive theology and politics have made him somewhat controversial in the Czech Republic and in some Catholic circles today. Whatever one thinks about all that, one has to admire his great courage and contribution to the end of totalitarianism in his country.

This fall, Notre Dame will release a new memoir by Halik of his days in the resistance, From the Underground Church to Freedom. Here’s the description of the book from the press’s website:

International best-selling author and theologian Tomáš Halík shares for the first time the dramatic story of his life as a secretly ordained priest in Communist Czechoslovakia. Inspired by Augustine’s candid presentation of his own life, Halík writes about his spiritual journey within a framework of philosophical theology; his work has been compared to that of C. S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, and Henri Nouwen. Born in Prague in 1948, Halík spent his childhood under Stalinism. He describes his conversion to Christianity during the time of communist persecution of the church, his secret study of theology, and secret priesthood ordination in East Germany (even his mother was not allowed to know that her son was a priest). Halík speaks candidly of his doubts and crises of faith as well as of his conflicts within the church. He worked as a psychotherapist for over a decade and, at the same time, was active in the underground church and in the dissident movement with the legendary Cardinal Tomášek and Václav Havel, who proposed Halík as his successor to the Czech presidency. Since the fall of the regime, Halík has served as general secretary to the Czech Conference of Bishops and was an advisor to John Paul II and Václav Havel.

Woven throughout Halík’s story is the turbulent history of the church and society in the heart of Europe: the 1968 Prague Spring, the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the self-immolation of his classmate Jan Palach, the “flying university,” the 1989 Velvet Revolution, and the difficult transition from totalitarian communist regime to democracy. Thomas Halík was a direct witness to many of these events, and he provides valuable testimony about the backdrop of political events and personal memories of the key figures of that time. This volume is a must-read for anyone interested in Halík and the church as it was behind the Iron Curtain, as well as in where the church as a whole is headed today.

%d bloggers like this: