9780231141833Along with The LDS Church, Pentecostalism qualifies as America’s most lasting contribution to world religion. Pentecostalism is also America’s most successful religious export. A growing number of Christians around the world are Pentecostals, especially in Latin America. Columbia University Press has released a new study of the movement, Pentecostals in America, by religious studies scholar Arlene M. Sánchez Walsh (Azusa Pacific University). Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

Pentecostalism is one of the most significant modern movements in global Christianity today. A mixture of ecstatic expression and earnest piety, metaphysical nuance and embodied spirituality, it is far more than the stereotype of a supernatural sideshow. In this presumably secular era, Pentecostalism continues to grow, adapting to a diverse religious marketplace and becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Originally an American phenomenon, it is now a globe-spanning religion.

In this book, Arlene M. Sánchez Walsh provides a thematic overview of Pentecostalism in America, covering Pentecostal faith and practices, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, trends and offshoots, and the future of American Pentecostalism. She also considers Pentecostalism’s spiritual lineages, examining colorful leaders, ordinary adherents, and prominent outliers, as well as its deep roots in American popular culture. She examines Pentecostalism as a narrative performance, aiming to explain what Pentecostalism is through the experiences and stories of its adherents. Sánchez Walsh treats this Christian movement with the critical eye it has often lacked, and places it in context within the larger narrative of American religious history. An indispensable introduction to Pentecostalism, rich with insights for experienced readers, Pentecostals in America is an essential study of a vibrant religious movement.

Reynolds, ” The Qu’ran and the Bible”

d45d6afd5a9ec42573dba326d65fb632From Yale University Press, here is a new comparative study of the scripture of three religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The author is the noted Notre Dame scholar Gabriel Said Reynolds. The book is The Qu’ran and the Bible: Text and Commentary. Here is the publisher’s description:

While the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are understood to be related texts, the sacred scripture of Islam, the third Abrahamic faith, has generally been considered separately. Noted religious scholar Gabriel Said Reynolds draws on centuries of Qur’anic and Biblical studies to offer rigorous and revelatory commentary on how these holy books are intrinsically connected.

Reynolds demonstrates how Jewish and Christian characters, imagery, and literary devices feature prominently in the Qur’an, including stories of angels bowing before Adam and of Jesus speaking as an infant. This important contribution to religious studies features a full translation of the Qur’an along with excerpts from the Jewish and Christian texts. It offers a clear analysis of the debates within the communities of religious scholars concerning the relationship of these scriptures, providing a new lens through which to view the powerful links that bond these three major religions.

Bandoch, “The Politics of Place”

9781580469029_1Here is an interesting-looking new book from the University of Rochester Press: The Politics of Place: Montesquieu, Particularism, and the Pursuit of Liberty, by scholar Joshua Bandoch. One typically thinks of the Enlightenment as a universalist project, meant to apply everywhere in the same way. That is one of the project’s main flaws. This book argues that Montesquieu, at least, saw things differently. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

Many Enlightenment thinkers sought to discover the right political order for all times and all places, and scholars often view Montesquieu as working within this project. In this reassessment of Montesquieu’s political thought, Joshua Bandoch finds that Montesquieu broke from this ideal and, by taking into account the variation of societies, offered a more fruitful approach to the study of politics.

Through a careful reading of Montesquieu’s political writings, Bandoch shows that for Montesquieu the politics, economics, and morals of a society must fit a particular place and its people. As long as states commit to pursuing security, liberty, and prosperity, states can — indeed, should — define and advance these goals in their own particular ways. Montesquieu saw that the circumstances of a place — its religion, commerce, laws, institutions, physical environment, and mores — determine the best political order for that place. In this sense, Montesquieu is the great innovator of what Bandoch calls the “politics of place.” This new reading of Montesquieu also provides fresh insights into the American founding, which Montesquieu so heavily influenced. Instead of having discerned the “right” political order, Bandoch argues, the Founders instituted a good political order, of which there are numerous versions.

Rhodes, “The Debasement of Human Rights”

9781594039799_FC-310x460Several recent books, most notably Patrick Deneen’s “Why Liberalism Failed,” argue that liberalism is collapsing on itself, a victim of its own success. These arguments are resisted by classical liberals, who maintain that the problem is not liberalism, but newer, progressive corruptions. A new book from Encounter, The Debasement of Human Rights, by author Aaron Rhodes, fits into the latter camp. Rhodes sees a problem with contemporary human rights law – one of liberalism’s great achievements – but says the problem is that human rights law has departed from its natural law roots and become statist. Readers can judge for themselves. Here is the publisher’s description:

The idea of human rights began as a call for individual freedom from tyranny, yet today it is exploited to rationalize oppression and promote collectivism. How did this happen? Aaron Rhodes, recognized as “one of the leading human rights activists in the world” by the University of Chicago, reveals how an emancipatory ideal became so debased.

Rhodes identifies the fundamental flaw in the Universal Declaration of Human of Rights, the basis for many international treaties and institutions. It mixes freedom rights rooted in natural law—authentichuman rights—with “economic and social rights,” or claims to material support from governments, which are intrinsically political. As a result, the idea of human rights has lost its essential meaning and moral power.

The principles of natural rights, first articulated in antiquity, were compromised in a process of accommodation with the Soviet Union after World War II, and under the influence of progressivism in Western democracies. Geopolitical and ideological forces ripped the concept of human rights from its foundations, opening it up to abuse. Dissidents behind the Iron Curtain saw clearly the difference between freedom rights and state-granted entitlements, but the collapse of the USSR allowed demands for an expanding array of economic and social rights to gain legitimacy without the totalitarian stigma.

The international community and civil society groups now see human rights as being defined by legislation, not by transcendent principles. Freedoms are traded off for the promise of economic benefits, and the notion of collective rights is used to justify restrictions on basic liberties.

We all have a stake in human rights, and few serious observers would deny that the concept has lost clarity. But no one before has provided such a comprehensive analysis of the problem as Rhodes does here, joining philosophy and history with insights from his own extensive work in the field.

Schwartz & Tatalovich, “The Rise and Fall of Moral Conflicts in the United States and Canada”

9781442637269From down here, South of the Border, Canada seems a remarkably quiet place, especially when it comes to religious and social conflict. American politics is continually roiled by fights over moral issues like abortion and same-sex marriage; Canada, not so much. Perhaps that is because Canada is a more secular place and there is less to quarrel about; perhaps Canadians are just more peaceable. A new book from the University of Toronto Press, The Rise and Fall of Moral Conflicts in the United States and Canada, compares the two countries. The authors are sociologist Mildred Schwartz (University of Illinois-Chicago) and political scientist Raymond Tatalovich (Loyola University Chicago). Here is the publisher’s description:

In The Rise and Fall of Moral Conflicts in the United States and Canada, sociologist Mildred A. Schwartz and political scientist Raymond Tatalovich bring their disciplinary insights to the study of moral issues. Beginning with prohibition, Schwartz and Tatalovich trace the phases of its evolution from emergence, establishment, decline and resurgence, to resolution. Prohibition’s life history generates a series of hypotheses about how passage through each of the phases affected subsequent developments and how these were shaped by the political institutions and social character of the United States and Canada.

Using the history of prohibition in North America as a point of reference, the authors move on to address the anticipated progression and possible resolution of six contemporary moral issues: abortion, capital punishment, gun control, marijuana, pornography, and same-sex relations. Schwartz and Tatalovich build a new theoretical approach by drawing on scholarship on agenda-setting, mass media, social movements, and social problems. The Rise and Fall of Moral Conflicts provides new insights into how moral conflicts develop and interact with their social and political environment.

Armanios and Ergene, “Halal Food”

9780190269050To round out the week, here is an interesting-looking book from Oxford, Halal Food: A History, on the Islamic law of halal food, and how the interpretation of that law has varied over time. The authors are Middlebury College historian Febe Armanios and University of Vermont historian Bogac Ergene. Here’s the description from the Oxford website:

Food trucks announcing “halal” proliferate in many urban areas but how many non-Muslims know what this means, other than cheap lunch? Here Middle Eastern historians Febe Armanios and Bogaç Ergene provide an accessible introduction to halal (permissible) food in the Islamic tradition, exploring what halal food means to Muslims and how its legal and cultural interpretations have changed in different geographies up to the present day.

Historically, Muslims used food to define their identities in relation to co-believers and non-Muslims. Food taboos are rooted in the Quran and prophetic customs, as well as writings from various periods and geographical settings. As in Judaism and among certain Christian sects, Islamic food traditions make distinctions between clean and impure, and dietary choices and food preparation reflect how believers think about broader issues. Traditionally, most halal interpretations focused on animal slaughter and the consumption of intoxicants. Muslims today, however, must also contend with an array of manufactured food products–yogurts, chocolates, cheeses, candies, and sodas–filled with unknown additives and fillers. To help consumers navigate the new halal marketplace, certifying agencies, government and non-government bodies, and global businesses vie to meet increased demands for food piety. At the same time, blogs, cookbooks, restaurants, and social media apps have proliferated, while animal rights and eco-conscious activists seek to recover halal’s more wholesome and ethical inclinations.

Covering practices from the Middle East and North Africa to South Asia, Europe, and North America, this timely book is for anyone curious about the history of halal food and its place in the modern world.

Tuininga, “Calvin’s Political Theology”

9781107171435Christian political theology is always characterized by a dualism between church and state–a dualism which, of course, is found in the Gospels themselves. In late antiquity, Pope Gelasius famously wrote of “two powers,” church and state (somehow, the reference is always to “two swords,” though Gelasius didn’t actually use that phrase); much later, the classical Reformers spoke of “two kingdoms.” A new book from Cambridge, Calvin’s Political Theology and the Public Engagement of the Church: Christ’s Two Kingdoms, explores the Calvinist version of the two-kingdoms doctrine which, obviously, had a huge influence in colonial New England and, through colonial New England, America itself. The author is Matthew J. Tuininga of Calvin Theological Seminary. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

In Calvin’s Political Theology and the Public Engagement of the Church, Matthew J. Tuininga explores a little appreciated dimension of John Calvin’s political thought, his two kingdoms theology, as a model for constructive Christian participation in liberal society. Widely misunderstood as a proto-political culture warrior, due in part to his often misinterpreted role in controversies over predestination and the heretic Servetus, Calvin articulated a thoughtful approach to public life rooted in his understanding of the gospel and its teaching concerning the kingdom of God. He staked his ministry in Geneva on his commitment to keeping the church distinct from the state, abandoning simplistic approaches that placed one above the other, while rejecting the temptations of sectarianism or separatism. This revealing analysis of Calvin’s vision offers timely guidance for Christians seeking a mode of faithful, respectful public engagement in democratic, pluralistic communities today.

Loeffler, “Rooted Cosmopolitans”

aca1146015d05fa2dd74a8f8d12d3f33Lately, scholars have begun to pay serious attention to the Christian roots of current international human rights law–Samuel Moyn’s interesting work comes to mind. One shouldn’t be surprised to learn about Christian roots; Christians like Maritain and Malik were instrumental in the post-war human rights revolution, to cite just a couple of names. A new book from Yale University Press, Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, by University of Virginia historian James Loeffler, makes the point that contemporary human rights law has Jewish roots as well. Here’s the description from the Yale website:

A stunningly original look at the forgotten Jewish political roots of contemporary international human rights, told through the moving stories of five key activists

The year 2018 marks the seventieth anniversary of two momentous events in twentieth-century history: the birth of the State of Israel and the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Both remain tied together in the ongoing debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, global antisemitism, and American foreign policy. Yet the surprising connections between Zionism and the origins of international human rights are completely unknown today. In this riveting account, James Loeffler explores this controversial history through the stories of five remarkable Jewish founders of international human rights, following them from the prewar shtetls of eastern Europe to the postwar United Nations, a journey that includes the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials, the founding of Amnesty International, and the UN resolution of 1975 labeling Zionism as racism. The result is a book that challenges long-held assumptions about the history of human rights and offers a startlingly new perspective on the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hobart, “The Great Rift”

9780674983632-lgThe future belongs to people who can do math–which suggests a rather grim future for most of us law professors, who are, let’s just say, more comfortable with words. A new book from Harvard University Press, The Great Rift: Literacy, Numeracy, and the Religion-Science Divide, argues that the divide between the numerate and the literate goes back to the Renaissance, which saw the birth of a new, abstract mathematics, as distinguished from an older arithmetic. The author, Michael E. Hobart (Bryant University) argues that the development of the new math opened a divide between science and religion in the West. Looks very interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In their search for truth, contemporary religious believers and modern scientific investigators hold many values in common. But in their approaches, they express two fundamentally different conceptions of how to understand and represent the world. Michael E. Hobart looks for the origin of this difference in the work of Renaissance thinkers who invented a revolutionary mathematical system—relational numeracy. By creating meaning through numbers and abstract symbols rather than words, relational numeracy allowed inquisitive minds to vault beyond the constraints of language and explore the natural world with a fresh interpretive vision.

The Great Rift is the first book to examine the religion-science divide through the history of information technology. Hobart follows numeracy as it emerged from the practical counting systems of merchants, the abstract notations of musicians, the linear perspective of artists, and the calendars and clocks of astronomers. As the technology of the alphabet and of mere counting gave way to abstract symbols, the earlier “thing-mathematics” metamorphosed into the relational mathematics of modern scientific investigation. Using these new information symbols, Galileo and his contemporaries mathematized motion and matter, separating the demonstrations of science from the linguistic logic of religious narration.

Hobart locates the great rift between science and religion not in ideological disagreement but in advances in mathematics and symbolic representation that opened new windows onto nature. In so doing, he connects the cognitive breakthroughs of the past with intellectual debates ongoing in the twenty-first century.

Some Thoughts on Our New Religious Politics

At the First Things site, I have an essay on the religious divide opening up in American politics, between Democrats and Republicans. Based on the increasing number of Nones among party members, Democrats are becoming the non-religious party, and Republicans the religious party. This divide would have been unknown at earlier periods of our history; Tocqueville, for example, famously commented on the absence of religious division in American politics. I predict what our new religious politics may mean for religious liberty. Here’s a snippet:

In short, a new sort of divide appears to be opening up in American politics: Republicans are the religious party, and Democrats are the non-religious party. This new divide may not be stable, of course. The racial and ethnic divisions among Democrats, which closely track the divide between the religious and the non-religious, may cause fissures within the party. African-Americans and Hispanics may press white progressives to make more room for traditional believers. And over time, Nones may make headway in the Republican Party. If current trends continue, though, religion will become a marker of political difference in a way it never has been before.

The new religious divide seems likely to make American politics even more bitter than it already is, particularly with respect to religious liberty. People’s commitment to religious liberty depends on whether they think religion is, on balance, a good thing for individuals and society. If people come to see religion as an obstacle rather than an aid to human flourishing, they are unlikely to sympathize with calls for the free exercise of religion. By definition, Nones reject traditional, organized religion as harmful or, at least, unnecessary. Their growing dominance in the party suggests that arguments in favor of religious freedom will have less and less appeal for Democrats. The divide is likely to be self-reinforcing, as Democrats come to see religious freedom as something only the other party cares about—and therefore something to be resisted. If Tocqueville came back to visit America today, he might not be so surprised.

You can read the whole essay here.

 

 

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