Laborde, “Liberalism’s Religion”

This seems to be a book not about liberalism as a kind of religion (or as valuing a Laborde.jpgparticular kind of religion), but instead about what liberalism–particularly the secular liberalism of the kind championed by the author–ought to do with religion in today’s day and age. A book very much in line with recent efforts to destabilize the category of religion as meriting special legal (and constitutional) protection, which in turn requires severing the reasons for its protection from their historical roots. Indeed, ultimately, I wonder whether the book actually is about the distinctive sort of religion acceptable to liberalism, or perhaps even about liberalism as itself espousing a variety of religion. The author is Cécile Laborde, the publisher is Harvard UP, and here is the description.

Liberal societies conventionally treat religion as unique under the law, requiring both special protection (as in guarantees of free worship) and special containment (to keep religion and the state separate). But recently this idea that religion requires a legal exception has come under fire from those who argue that religion is no different from any other conception of the good, and the state should treat all such conceptions according to principles of neutrality and equal liberty. Cécile Laborde agrees with much of this liberal egalitarian critique, but she argues that a simple analogy between the good and religion misrepresents the complex relationships among religion, law, and the state. Religion serves as more than a statement of belief about what is true, or a code of moral and ethical conduct. It also refers to comprehensive ways of life, political theories of justice, modes of voluntary association, and vulnerable collective identities.

Disaggregating religion into its various dimensions, as Laborde does, has two clear advantages. First, it shows greater respect for ethical and social pluralism by ensuring that whatever treatment religion receives from the law, it receives because of features that it shares with nonreligious beliefs, conceptions, and identities. Second, it dispenses with the Western, Christian-inflected conception of religion that liberal political theory relies on, especially in dealing with the issue of separation between religion and state. As a result, Liberalism’s Religion offers a novel answer to the question: Can Western theories of secularism and religion be applied more universally in non-Western societies?

Benne, “Keeping the Soul in Christian Higher Education”

Here is another entry in new books about Christianity and the American university, but Roanoke.jpegthis time with a historical (as well as Lutheran) orientation: Keeping the Soul in Christian Higher Education: A History of Roanoke College, by Robert Benne of the College’s Religion and Philosophy department. The publisher is Eerdmans and the description is here.

Many colleges with historical church ties experience significant tension between the desire to compete in the secularized world of higher education and the desire to remain connected to their religious commitments and communities. In this history of one such school, Roanoke College, Robert Benne not only explores the school’s 175-year tradition of educational excellence but also lays bare its complicated and ongoing relationship with its religious heritage.

Benne examines the vision of ten of Roanoke’s presidents and how those visions played out in college life. As he tells the college’s story, Benne points to specific strengths and weaknesses of Roanoke’s strategies for keeping the soul in higher education and elaborates what other Christian colleges can learn from Roanoke’s long quest.

Roche, “Realizing the Distinctive University”

As the new academic year begins, I am reminded of something from Pope John Paul II’s Universityimportant and learned Apostolic Letter, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, concerning the nature of Catholic universities: “Without in any way neglecting the acquisition of useful knowledge, a Catholic University is distinguished by its free search for the whole truth about nature, man and God.” I am therefore looking forward to reading this new book by Mark William Roche (a scholar of German literature who has taught at both the Ohio State University and the University of Notre Dame) on the nature, function, and future of the university. The publisher is Notre Dame Press and the description is below.

In Realizing the Distinctive University: Vision and Values, Strategy and Culture, Mark Roche changes the terms of the debate about American higher education. A former dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame, Roche argues for the importance of an institutional vision, not simply a brand, and while he extols the value of entrepreneurship, he defines it in contrast to the corporate drive toward commercialization and demands for business management models. Using the history of the German university to assess the need for, and implementation of, distinctive visions at American colleges and universities, Roche’s own vision benefits from his deep connection to both systems as well as his experience in the trenches working to realize the special mission of an American Catholic university. Roche makes a significant contribution by delineating means for moving such an institution from vision to implementation.

Roche provides a road map to creating a superb arts and sciences college within a major research university and offers a rich analysis of five principles that have shaped the modern American university: flexibility, competition, incentives, accountability, and community. He notes the challenges and problems that surface with these categories and includes ample illustration of both best practices and personal missteps. The book makes clear that even a compelling intellectual vision must always be linked to its embodiment in rhetoric, support structures, and community. Throughout this unique and appealing contribution to the literature on higher education, Roche avoids polemic and remains optimistic about the ways in which a faculty member serving in administration can make a positive difference.

Denysenko, “Theology and Form”

P03253As readers of this blog know, our center is in the midst of the Tradition Project, a multi-year research initiative on the continuing role of tradition in politics, law, and culture. One of the project’s themes is how traditional religious communities adapt to American liberalism. The religions change, of course–a strong pressure exists to reform along Protestant lines–yet they also remain, in some respects, the same. A new book from the University of Notre Dame Press, Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America, by Loyola Marymount University professor Nicholas Denysenko, examines how Orthodox parishes adapt traditional architectural forms in the new world, and how the adaptations influence liturgy and parish identity. Looks fascinating. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

How do space and architecture shape liturgical celebrations within a parish? In Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America, Nicholas Denysenko profiles seven contemporary Eastern Orthodox communities in the United States and analyzes how their ecclesiastical identities are affected by their physical space and architecture. He begins with an overview of the Orthodox architectural heritage and its relation to liturgy and ecclesiology, including topics such as stational liturgy, mobility of the assembly, the symbiosis between celebrants and assembly, placement of musicians, and festal processions representative of the Orthodox liturgy. Chapters 2–7 present comparative case studies of seven Orthodox parishes. Some of these have purchased their property and built new edifices; Denysenko analyzes how contemporary architecture makes use of sacred space and engages visitors. Others are mission parishes that purchased existing properties and buildings, posing challenges for and limitations of their liturgical practices. The book concludes with a reflection on how these parish examples might contribute to the future trajectory of Orthodox architecture in America and its dialogical relationship with liturgy and ecclesial identity.

Bowles, “Moral Economy”

The doux commerce thesis, a staple of liberal economics for centuries, teaches that markets tend to civilize people, to make them more stable, gentle, hardworking, and governable. Markets do this by creating incentives for industry and tolerance, and against sloth and fanaticism. From the beginning, skeptics like Edmund Burke have pointed out that the moral values the doux commerce thesis extols actually come from outside the market, and that market incentives, alone, cannot create them. I don’t know if the author is a Burkean, but a new book from Yale University Press, Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens, by behavioral scientist Samuel Bowles (Santa Fe Institute), offers a critique of the classical liberal position. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

6727288eb91b6f2c8611bbe1950071e6Why do policies and business practices that ignore the moral and generous side of human nature often fail?

Should the idea of economic man—the amoral and self-interested Homo economicus—determine how we expect people to respond to monetary rewards, punishments, and other incentives? Samuel Bowles answers with a resounding “no.” Policies that follow from this paradigm, he shows, may “crowd out” ethical and generous motives and thus backfire.

But incentives per se are not really the culprit. Bowles shows that crowding out occurs when the message conveyed by fines and rewards is that self-interest is expected, that the employer thinks the workforce is lazy, or that the citizen cannot otherwise be trusted to contribute to the public good. Using historical and recent case studies as well as behavioral experiments, Bowles shows how well-designed incentives can crowd in the civic motives on which good governance depends.

“The 60s” (New Yorker Magazine)

Things really seem to be coming unglued in America today. Vulgarity, suspicion, and Right-Left hostility pervade our public life. Not a few thoughtful people wonder whether the American political experiment, and the liberalism that forms its foundation, can survive. I’m not sure our times are so unprecedented, myself. In the 1960s, for example, it surely must have seemed the nation would fall apart. And yet, we didn’t. A new anthology of 60’s writing from The New Yorker, published by Penguin Random House, looks interesting as a period piece–a chronicle of how the bien-pensant set saw things back then. The 60s: The Story of a Decade may offer some insights into our current condition as well. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

9780812983319The third installment of a fascinating decade-by-decade series, this anthology collects historic New Yorker pieces from the most tumultuous years of the twentieth century—including work by James Baldwin, Pauline Kael, Sylvia Plath, Roger Angell, Muriel Spark, and John Updike—alongside new assessments of the 1960s by some of today’s finest writers.

Here are real-time accounts of these years of turmoil: Calvin Trillin reports on the integration of Southern universities, E. B. White and John Updike wrestle with the enormity of the Kennedy assassination, and Jonathan Schell travels with American troops into the jungles of Vietnam. The murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., the fallout of the 1968 Democratic Convention, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Six-Day War: All are brought to immediate and profound life in these pages.

The New Yorker of the 1960s was also the wellspring of some of the truly timeless works of American journalism. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time all first appeared in The New Yorker and are featured here. The magazine also published such indelible short story masterpieces as John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” and John Updike’s “A & P,” alongside poems by Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.

The arts underwent an extraordinary transformation during the decade, one mirrored by the emergence in The New Yorker of critical voices as arresting as Pauline Kael and Kenneth Tynan. Among the crucial cultural figures profiled here are Simon & Garfunkel, Tom Stoppard, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and Muhammad Ali (when he was still Cassius Clay).

The assembled pieces are given fascinating contemporary context by current New Yorker writers, including Jill Lepore, Malcolm Gladwell, and David Remnick. The result is an incomparable collective portrait of a truly galvanizing era.

Agamben, “The Mystery of Evil”

pid_28174 (1)Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation in 2013 is looking to be a pivotal event in the history of the Roman Catholic Church–not only because it was the first papal resignation in centuries, but because of the very different path his successor, Pope Francis, is laying out. This spring, Stanford University Press published a translation of a work by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days, that addresses the resignation. The title sounds apocalyptic; but the publisher’s description, below, indicates the book is a meditation on the difference between legitimacy and legality:

In 2013, Benedict XVI became only the second pope in the history of the Catholic Church to resign from office. In this brief but illuminating study, Giorgio Agamben argues that Benedict’s gesture, far from being solely a matter of internal ecclesiastical politics, is exemplary in an age when the question of legitimacy has been virtually left aside in favor of a narrow focus on legality. This reflection on the recent history of the Church opens out into an analysis of one of the earliest documents of Christianity: the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, which stages a dramatic confrontation between the “man of lawlessness” and the enigmatic katechon, the power that holds back the end of days. In Agamben’s hands, this infamously obscure passage reveals the theological dynamics of history that continue to inform Western culture to this day.

“Religions, Nations and Transnationalism in Multiple Modernities” (Michel et al., eds)

9781137592385There’s nothing new about “world religions.” All the great religions are global, with followers across the continents. This has been true for centuries, millennia, even. And yet there is something new in the Internet Age: the ability of individuals to sample religions from wherever they are–to have access to online sources and communities from right where they sit. This new sort of globalization will no doubt influence religion. Whether it will increase the influence of global religions, as they take advantage of communications technology to forge communities across the planet, or decrease it, as people use the Internet to create niche religions for fewer and fewer followers, remains to be seen.

A new volume from Palgrave, Religions, Nations, and Transnationalism in Multiple Modernities, edited, among others, by Patrick Michel of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, addresses the new globalization. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

This edited book explores the impact of globalisation on the relationship between religion and politics, religion and nation, religion and nationalism, and the impact that transnationalism has on religious groups. In a post-Westphalian and transnational world, with increased international communication and transportation, a plethora of new religious recompositions now take part in a network society that cuts across borders. This collection, through its analysis of historical and contemporary case studies, explores the growth of both national and transnational religious movements and their dealings with the various versions of modernity that they encounter. It considers trends of religious revitalisation and secularisation, and processes of nationalism and transnationalism through the prism of the theory of multiple modernities, acknowledging both its pluralist worldview but also the argument that its definition of modernity is often so inclusive as to lose coherence. Providing a cutting edge take on 21st century religion and globalization, this volume is a key read for all scholars of religion, secularisation and transnationalism.

Nuovo, “John Locke: The Philosopher as Christian Virtuoso”

There are few more influential philosophers than John Locke on the American founding,Locke and in particular on the distinctively American understanding of the separation of religion and government. And yet in many of Locke’s writings on religion and toleration (as well as elsewhere, as in his discussion of Christianity itself), it is clear that Locke presupposes a Christian commonwealth. Here is a new and interesting volume that is an effort in reconciliation, by Victor Nuovo and published by Oxford University Press. Here is the publisher’s description.

Early modern Europe was the birthplace of the modern secular outlook. During the seventeenth century nature and human society came to be regarded in purely naturalistic, empirical ways, and religion was made an object of critical historical study. John Locke was a central figure in all these events. This study of his philosophical thought shows that these changes did not happen smoothly or without many conflicts of belief: Locke, in the role of Christian Virtuoso, endeavoured to resolve them. He was an experimental natural philosopher, a proponent of the so-called ‘new philosophy’, a variety of atomism that emerged in early modern Europe. But he was also a practising Christian, and he professed confidence that the two vocations were not only compatible, but mutually sustaining. He aspired, without compromising his empirical stance, to unite the two vocations in a single philosophical endeavour with the aim of producing a system of Christian philosophy.

Forrestal, “Vincent de Paul, the Lazarist Mission, and French Catholic Reform”

A point of personal privilege in this listing: St. John’s University is a “Vincentian” SVDPuniversity, which means that it shares and extends the mission of the seventeenth century French priest St. Vincent De Paul. Here is a new book that explores his life, times, and legacy by Alison Forrestal. The publisher is Oxford University Press and here is the description.

Vincent de Paul, the Lazarist Mission, and French Catholic Reform offers a major re-assessment of the thought and activities of the most famous figure of the seventeenth-century French Catholic Reformation, Vincent de Paul. Confronting traditional explanations for de Paul’s prominence in the devot reform movement that emerged in the wake of the Wars of Religion, the volume explores how he turned a personal vocational desire to evangelize the rural poor of France into a congregation of secular missionaries, known as the Congregation of the Mission or the Lazarists, with three inter-related strands of pastoral responsibility: the delivery of missions, the formation and training of clergy, and the promotion of confraternal welfare.

Alison Forrestal further demonstrates that the structure, ethos, and works that de Paul devised for the Congregation placed it at the heart of a significant enterprise of reform that involved a broad set of associates in efforts to transform the character of devotional belief and practice within the church. The central questions of the volume therefore concern de Paul’s efforts to create, characterize, and articulate a distinctive and influential vision for missionary life and work, both for himself and for the Lazarist Congregation, and Forrestal argues that his prominence and achievements depended on his remarkable ability to exploit the potential for association and collaboration within the devot environment of seventeenth-century France in enterprising and systematic ways.

This is the first study to assess de Paul’s activities against the wider backdrop of religious reform and Bourbon rule, and to reconstruct the combination of ideas, practices, resources, and relationships that determined his ability to pursue his ambitions. A work of forensic detail and complex narrative, Vincent de Paul, the Lazarist Mission, and French Catholic Reform is the product of years of research in ecclesiastical and state archives. It offers a wholly fresh perspective on the challenges and opportunities entailed in the promotion of religious reform and renewal in seventeenth-century France.

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