Blowers, “Maximus the Confessor”

9780199673957Here is a new paperback from Oxford about a Christian saint and theologian famous for resisting the power of the state: Maximus the Confessor: Jesus Christ and the Transfiguration of the World, by church historian Paul M. Blowers (Emmanuel Christian Seminary). Maximus, who began his career as a high imperial official, was important during the Monothelite Controversy of the seventh century. The details of that abstruse theological and political debate are not important, at least to most Christians today, but Monotheletism was an imperial attempt to reconcile Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian Christians. Like all such attempts, it failed, largely because of intransigence on both sides. Maximus strongly adhered to the pro-Chalcedonian position and counseled against compromise, which landed him in trouble with the emperor, who had him tortured and exiled for heresy. Shortly after his death, though, Maximus’s position prevailed within the empire, and he was named a saint. Personally, I regard Maximus’s inflexibility, and those of his counterparts on the other side, with some regret. The theological differences between Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian Christians are narrow and should not be so difficult to resolve; that we have not been able to do so across centuries is a continuing scandal. But one has to admire Maximus’s integrity in resisting the state, even at the cost of harrowing physical pain. The authorities cut out his tongue and amputated his writing hand so that he could no longer spread his views. The description of the book from the publisher’s website follows:

This study contextualizes the achievement of a strategically crucial figure in Byzantium’s turbulent seventh century, the monk and theologian Maximus the Confessor (580-662). Building on newer biographical research and a growing international body of scholarship, as well as on fresh examination of his diverse literary corpus, Paul Blowers develops a profile integrating the two principal initiatives of Maximus’s career: first, his reinterpretation of the christocentric economy of creation and salvation as a framework for expounding the spiritual and ascetical life of monastic and non-monastic Christians; and second, his intensifying public involvement in the last phase of the ancient christological debates, the monothelete controversy, wherein Maximus helped lead an East-West coalition against Byzantine imperial attempts doctrinally to limit Jesus Christ to a single (divine) activity and will devoid of properly human volition. Blowers identifies what he terms Maximus’s “cosmo-politeian” worldview, a contemplative and ascetical vision of the participation of all created beings in the novel politeia, or reordered existence, inaugurated by Christ’s “new theandric energy”. Maximus ultimately insinuated his teaching on the christoformity and cruciformity of the human vocation with his rigorous explication of the precise constitution of Christ’s own composite person. In outlining this cosmo-politeian theory, Blowers additionally sets forth a “theo-dramatic” reading of Maximus, inspired by Hans Urs von Balthasar, which depicts the motion of creation and history according to the christocentric “plot” or interplay of divine and creaturely freedoms. Blowers also amplifies how Maximus’s cumulative achievement challenged imperial ideology in the seventh century—the repercussions of which cost him his life-and how it generated multiple recontextualizations in the later history of theology.

Kaplan, “Our American Israel”

9780674737624-lgA forthcoming book from Harvard University Press discusses America’s identification with Israel: Our American Israel: The Story of an Entangled Alliance, by University of Pennsylvania English professor Amy Kaplan. The author identifies several elements in post-war America that have led to the strong identification most Americans feel with the Jewish state, including the sense of biblical destiny. But Americans’ identification with Israel goes way back. American Protestantism has strongly identified with the Jews ever since the Puritans–just think of all those Old Testament names in New England. Even Thomas Jefferson wanted to make the story of the Exodus part of our national seal. Now that Israel is a nation state, the sense of common identity takes a somewhat different form, but it has been with us from the beginning. Here is the book’s description from the Harvard website:

An essential account of America’s most controversial alliance that reveals how the United States came to see Israel as an extension of itself, and how that strong and divisive partnership plays out in our own time.

Our American Israel tells the story of how a Jewish state in the Middle East came to resonate profoundly with a broad range of Americans in the twentieth century. Beginning with debates about Zionism after World War II, Israel’s identity has been entangled with America’s belief in its own exceptional nature. Now, in the twenty-first century, Amy Kaplan challenges the associations underlying this special alliance.

Through popular narratives expressed in news media, fiction, and film, a shared sense of identity emerged from the two nations’ histories as settler societies. Americans projected their own origin myths onto Israel: the biblical promised land, the open frontier, the refuge for immigrants, the revolt against colonialism. Israel assumed a mantle of moral authority, based on its image as an “invincible victim,” a nation of intrepid warriors and concentration camp survivors. This paradox persisted long after the Six-Day War, when the United States rallied behind a story of the Israeli David subduing the Arab Goliath. The image of the underdog shattered when Israel invaded Lebanon and Palestinians rose up against the occupation. Israel’s military was strongly censured around the world, including notes of dissent in the United States. Rather than a symbol of justice, Israel became a model of military strength and technological ingenuity.

In America today, Israel’s political realities pose difficult challenges. Turning a critical eye on the turbulent history that bound the two nations together, Kaplan unearths the roots of present controversies that may well divide them in the future.

Rupke, “Pantheon”

9780691156835Earlier this year, Princeton released a new work on religion in Ancient Rome that looks quite interesting. The book is Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion, by German religious studies scholar Jörg Rüpke (University of Erfurt). Ancient Rome did not separate religion from government, as we do today. The emperor held the title of Pontifex Maximus, the greatest bridge-builder between the gods and men; visitors to the Capitoline Museum today can see, in one of the museum’s staircases, a wonderful bas-relief of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius performing a sacrifice in that role. Indeed, it is only the liberal societies of the West (and their imitators in other parts of the world) that have attempted to separate religion from the state, typically in an attempt to squelch the power of Christianity. The liberal project is feeling some strain just now; one wonders whether, if liberalism really does fade away, Western societies will return to the older model, with religion at the center of public life. But what religion would that be? Anyway, here is the description of the book from the publisher’s website:

From one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject, an innovative and comprehensive account of religion in the ancient Roman and Mediterranean world

In this ambitious and authoritative book, Jörg Rüpke provides a comprehensive and strikingly original narrative history of ancient Roman and Mediterranean religion over more than a millennium—from the late Bronze Age through the Roman imperial period and up to late antiquity. While focused primarily on the city of Rome, Pantheon fully integrates the many religious traditions found in the Mediterranean world, including Judaism and Christianity. This generously illustrated book is also distinguished by its unique emphasis on lived religion, a perspective that stresses how individuals’ experiences and practices transform religion into something different from its official form. The result is a radically new picture of both Roman religion and a crucial period in Western religion—one that influenced Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and even the modern idea of religion itself.

Drawing on a vast range of literary and archaeological evidence, Pantheon shows how Roman religion shaped and was shaped by its changing historical contexts from the ninth century BCE to the fourth century CE. Because religion was not a distinct sphere in the Roman world, the book treats religion as inseparable from political, social, economic, and cultural developments. The narrative emphasizes the diversity of Roman religion; offers a new view of central concepts such as “temple,” “altar,” and “votive”; reassesses the gendering of religious practices; and much more. Throughout, Pantheon draws on the insights of modern religious studies, but without “modernizing” ancient religion.

With its unprecedented scope and innovative approach, Pantheon is an unparalleled account of ancient Roman and Mediterranean religion.

Frazer, “God Against the Revolution”

The University of Kansas Press is known, for good reason, to be one of the most Loyalistsconsistently interesting and high quality presses for American legal and political history. Here is a fascinating new book about religious arguments against the American Revolution–a kind of obverse of what one sees in the Declaration of Independence (see, e.g., all that talk about what unalienable rights “endowed by their Creator” required of early Americans). The book is God Against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy’s Case Against the American Revolution (University of Kansas Press), by Gregg L. Frazer.

Because, it’s said, history is written by the victors, we know plenty about the Patriots’ cause in the American Revolution. But what about the perhaps one-third of the population who opposed independence? They too were Americans who loved the land they lived in, but their position is largely missing from our understanding of Revolution-era American political thought. With God against the Revolution, the first comprehensive account of the political thought of the American Loyalists, Gregg L. Frazer seeks to close this gap.

Because the Loyalists’ position was most clearly expressed by clergymen, God against the Revolution investigates the biblical, philosophical, and legal arguments articulated in Loyalist ministers’ writings, pamphlets, and sermons. The Loyalist ministers Frazer consults were not blind apologists for Great Britain; they criticized British excesses. But they challenged the Patriots claiming rights as Englishmen to be subject to English law. This is one of the many instances identified by Frazer in which the Loyalist arguments mirrored or inverted those of the Patriots, who demanded natural and English rights while denying freedom of religion, expression, and assembly, and due process of law to those with opposing views. Similarly the Loyalist ministers’ biblical arguments against revolution and in favor of subjection to authority resonate oddly with still familiar notions of Bible-invoking patriotism.

For a revolution built on demands for liberty, equality, and fairness of representation, God against Revolution raises sobering questions—about whether the Patriots were rational, legitimate representatives of the people, working in the best interests of Americans. A critical amendment to the history of American political thought, the book also serves as a cautionary tale in the heated political atmosphere of our time.

“Great Christian Jurists in Spanish History” (Domingo & Martinez-Torron, eds.)

Here’s a wonderful looking collection of essays on some of the major figures in Spanish Spanish Juristsjudicial history, focusing on their Christian thought. It includes better known judges such as Francisco de Vitoria and Juan Donoso Cortes, as well as several that are new at least to me. A very interesting project: Great Christian Jurists in Spanish History (CUP), edited by Rafael Domingo and Javier Martínez-Torrón.

The Great Christian Jurists series comprises a library of national volumes of detailed biographies of leading jurists, judges and practitioners, assessing the impact of their Christian faith on the professional output of the individuals studied. Spanish legal culture, developed during the Spanish Golden Age, has had a significant influence on the legal norms and institutions that emerged in Europe and in Latin America. This volume examines the lives of twenty key personalities in Spanish legal history, in particular how their Christian faith was a factor in molding the evolution of law. Each chapter discusses a jurist within his or her intellectual and political context. All chapters have been written by distinguished legal scholars from Spain and around the world. This diversity of international and methodological perspectives gives the volume its unique character; it will appeal to scholars, lawyers, and students interested in the interplay between religion and law.

Fraser, “Atheism, Fundamentalism and the Protestant Reformation”

In the “I knew it!” department. More seriously, here is a new book that argues for Frasercommon origins, intellectual dispositions, and weaknesses as between atheism and fundamentalism, all deriving ultimately from the Protestant Reformation: Atheism, Fundamentalism and the Protestant Reformation: Uncovering the Secret Sympathy (CUP) by Liam Jerrold Fraser.

In this study of new atheism and religious fundamentalism, this book advances two provocative – and surprising – arguments. Liam Jerrold Fraser argues that atheism and Protestant fundamentalism in Britain and America share a common historical origin in the English Reformation, and the crisis of authority inaugurated by the Reformers. This common origin generated two presuppositions crucial for both movements: a literalist understanding of scripture, and a disruptive understanding of divine activity in nature. Through an analysis of contemporary new atheist and Protestant fundamentalist texts, Fraser shows that these presuppositions continue to structure both groups, and support a range of shared biblical, scientific, and theological beliefs. Their common historical and intellectual structure ensures that new atheism and Protestant fundamentalism – while on the surface irreconcilably opposed – share a secret sympathy with one another, yet one which leaves them unstable, inconsistent, and unsustainable.

Larsen, “John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life”

John Stuart Mill is an absolutely critical thinker for understanding so much of the philosophical basis of contemporary American law. From balancing tests to ideas of “harm” to the defense of free speech (at least a defense in a particular libertarian vein–see, e.g., Book II of On Liberty), one must know Mill to see how law speaks in the ways that it does.

Here is a new book that emphasizes the secularism of Mill’s thought: John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life (OUP) by Timothy Larsen. But in doing so, it also illuminates (as Maurice MillCowling once did from, as it were, the other direction) the deeply religious quality of Mill’s philosophy as the great “Saint of Rationalism.”

John Stuart Mill observed in his Autobiography that he was a rare case in nineteenth-century Britain because he had not lost his religion but never had any. He was a freethinker from beginning to end. What is not often realized, however, is that Mill’s life was nevertheless impinged upon by religion at every turn. This is true both of the close relationships that shaped him and of his own, internal thoughts. Mill was a religious sceptic, but not the kind of person which that term usually conjures up. The unexpected presence and prominence of spirituality is not only there in Mill’s late, startling essay, ‘Theism’, in which he makes the case for hope in God and in Christ. It is everywhere–in his immediate family, his best friends, and his vision for the future. It is even there in such a seemingly unlikely place as his Logic, which repeatedly addresses religious themes. John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life is a biography which follows one of Britain’s most well-respected intellectuals through all of the key moments in his life from falling in love to sitting in Parliament and beyond. It also explores his classic works including, On LibertyPrinciples of Political EconomyUtilitarianism, and The Subjection of Women. In this well-researched study which offers original findings and insights, Timothy Larsen presents the Mill you never knew. The Mill that even some of his closest disciples never knew. This is John Stuart Mill, the Saint of Rationalism–a secular life and a spiritual life.

Fea, “Believe Me”

Here’s one in the style of Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind–a book by an feaEvangelical Christian historian that is extremely critical of Evangelical politics, particularly the embrace by some Evangelicals of Donald Trump. The book is Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Eerdmans), by John Fea.

“Believe me” may be the most commonly used phrase in Donald Trump’s lexicon. Whether about building a wall or protecting a Christian heritage, the refrain has been constant. And to the surprise of many, a good 80 percent of white evangelicals have believed Trump—at least enough to help propel him into the White House.

Historian John Fea is not surprised, however—and in these pages he explains how we have arrived at this unprecedented moment in American politics. An evangelical Christian himself, Fea argues that the embrace of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past.

As insightful as it is timely, Fea’s Believe Me challenges Christians to replace fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia with history.

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.

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