Florensky, “Early Religious Writings” (Jakim, trans.)

As readers of this blog know, the Center co-sponsored a conference last week at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler in Trent, Italy on tradition in American and Russian thought. One thing the conference made clear to me is that, to understand Russian traditionalism, and its implications for law, one must engage with the writings of Orthodox scholars. Sadly, these writings are often untranslated. But here is a new Eerdman’s translation of the writings of one such scholar, Fr. Pavel Florensky: Early Religious Writings, 1903-1909. Florensky, whom the Communists executed in 1937, is known for his insistence on the importance of intuition and experience, rather than reason, as the basis for communion with God, a point some of our Russian interlocutors made at our event last week. Here’s a description of the book from the Eerdman’s website:

9780802874955Profound writings by one of the twentieth century’s greatest polymaths

“Perhaps the most remarkable person devoured by the Gulag” is how Alexandr Solzhenitsyn described Pavel Florensky, a Russian Orthodox mathematician, scientist, linguist, art historian, philosopher, theologian, and priest who was martyred during the Bolshevik purges of the 1930s.

This volume contains eight important religious works written by Florensky in the first decade of the twentieth century, now translated into English—most of them for the first time. Splendidly interweaving religious, scientific, and literary themes, these essays showcase the diversity of Florensky’s broad learning and interests. Including reflections on the sacraments and explorations of Russian monastic culture, the volume concludes with “The Salt of the Earth,” arguably Florensky’s most spiritually moving work.

Tonnelat & Kornblum, “International Express”

One reason it’s so appropriate to have a center for law and religion here at St. John’s is that our main campus sits in perhaps the most religiously diverse county in the nation–the Borough of Queens in New York City. Queens, for those of you who haven’t been here, is the embodiment of Joyce’s observation about the Catholic Church: “Here comes everybody.” Nowhere is that more apparent that on the Number 7 train, the elevated subway line that runs through the borough. In my brighter moods, it seems to me the diversity one finds along the 7 train is a good example of the kind of religious tolerance America, and New York, has traditionally shown, especially for immigrants. At other moments, it seems to me the tolerance more reflects the fact that the communities largely keep to themselves and avoid more than passing contact with one another.

A new book from Columbia University Press, International Express: New Yorkers on the 7 Train, by sociologists Stéphane Tonnelat (Paris-Nanterre) and William Kornblum (CUNY), describes what one can find on the line to Main Street, Flushing. The publisher’s description follows:

9780231181488Nicknamed the International Express, the New York City Transit Authority 7 subway line runs through a highly diverse series of ethnic and immigrant neighborhoods in Queens. People from Andean South America, Central America, China, India, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, and Vietnam, as well as residents of a number of gentrifying blue-collar and industrial neighborhoods, fill the busy streets around the stations. The 7 train is a microcosm of a specifically urban, New York experience, in which individuals from a variety of cultures and social classes are forced to interact and get along with one another. For newcomers to the city, mastery of life in the subway space is a step toward assimilation into their new home.

In International Express, the French ethnographer Stéphane Tonnelat and his collaborator William Kornblum, a native New Yorker, ride the 7 subway line to better understand the intricacies of this phenomenon. They also ask a group of students with immigrant backgrounds to keep diaries of their daily rides on the 7 train. What develops over time, they find, is a set of shared subway competences leading to a practical cosmopolitanism among riders, including immigrants and their children, that changes their personal values and attitudes toward others in small, subtle ways. This growing civility helps newcomers feel at home in an alien city and builds what the authors call a “situational community in transit.” Yet riding the subway can be problematic, especially for women and teenagers. Tonnelat and Kornblum pay particular attention to gender and age relations on the 7 train. Their portrait of integrated mass transit, including a discussion of the relationship between urban density and diversity, is invaluable for social scientists and urban planners eager to enhance the cooperative experience of city living for immigrants and ease the process of cultural transition.

Cutterham, “Gentlemen Revolutionaries”

Here is an interesting looking new book from Princeton on the Framers’ generation, Gentlemen Revolutionaries: Power and Justice in the New American Republic, by historian Tom Cutterham (University of Birmingham). Among other things, Cutterham addresses the clash between conservative supporters of religious establishment, mostly from New England states, and populists who wished to use the Revolution as a tool to break the hold of traditional religious authority. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:

k11021In the years between the Revolutionary War and the drafting of the Constitution, American gentlemen—the merchants, lawyers, planters, and landowners who comprised the independent republic’s elite—worked hard to maintain their positions of power. Gentlemen Revolutionaries shows how their struggles over status, hierarchy, property, and control shaped the ideologies and institutions of the fledgling nation.

Tom Cutterham examines how, facing pressure from populist movements as well as the threat of foreign empires, these gentlemen argued among themselves to find new ways of justifying economic and political inequality in a republican society. At the heart of their ideology was a regime of property and contract rights derived from the norms of international commerce and eighteenth-century jurisprudence. But these gentlemen were not concerned with property alone. They also sought personal prestige and cultural preeminence. Cutterham describes how, painting the egalitarian freedom of the republic’s “lower sort” as dangerous licentiousness, they constructed a vision of proper social order around their own fantasies of power and justice. In pamphlets, speeches, letters, and poetry, they argued that the survival of the republican experiment in the United States depended on the leadership of worthy gentlemen and the obedience of everyone else.

Lively and elegantly written, Gentlemen Revolutionaries demonstrates how these elites, far from giving up their attachment to gentility and privilege, recast the new republic in their own image.

 

Writeup of Last Week’s Event in Trent

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Last week’s gathering at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler in Trent, Italy

 

The Fondazione Bruno Kessler has posted this report of our conference on tradition and traditionalism in American and Russian thought. The conference, at the Fondazione’s headquarters in Trent, Italy, was a very worthwhile event. The discussions revealed significant differences, and some similarities, in how American and Russian scholars perceive tradition and tradition’s proper role in law and politics.

For me, the most interesting discussions were those that revealed the differences among us. From the American side, some of us were concerned with carving out space for traditional communities in the larger society; others were more interested in placing tradition at the center of legal debate. Some argued that tradition is already more central to that debate than it sometimes seems.

On the Russian side, some participants took the Russian Church’s recent advocacy of traditional values as a serious critique of liberalism, one that resonates with consistent themes in Orthodox thought. Others, by contrast, argued that “traditional values” are a recent, post-Soviet construct, even a pretext.

The Postsecular Conflicts Project will publish an online collection of participants’ essays later this year. Meanwhile, let me say thanks again, on behalf of the Center, to Kristina Stoeckl, Pasquale Annicchino, Marco Ventura, and their very capable staffs, for being such good hosts. Let’s do it again soon!

Waldron, “One Another’s Equals”

Arguably, the most important value in human rights law in the West today is equality. (Dignity is a close contender). Equality, however, is a comparative concept; one must first decide whether things are like one another before one can decide whether they must receive equal treatment. So, one what basis can we say that persons are alike, such that the law should treat them equally? The imago Dei is one obvious answer; the human capacity for reason is another. NYU law professor Jeremy Waldron discusses these sources and others in a new book from Harvard University Press, One Another’s Equals: The Basis of Human Equality. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

9780674659766-lgAn enduring theme of Western philosophy is that we are all one another’s equals. Yet the principle of basic equality is woefully under-explored in modern moral and political philosophy. In a major new work, Jeremy Waldron attempts to remedy that shortfall with a subtle and multifaceted account of the basis for the West’s commitment to human equality.

What does it mean to say we are all one another’s equals? Is this supposed to distinguish humans from other animals? What is human equality based on? Is it a religious idea, or a matter of human rights? Is there some essential feature that all human beings have in common? Waldron argues that there is no single characteristic that serves as the basis of equality. He says the case for moral equality rests on four capacities that all humans have the potential to possess in some degree: reason, autonomy, moral agency, and the ability to love. But how should we regard the differences that people display on these various dimensions? And what are we to say about those who suffer from profound disability—people whose claim to humanity seems to outstrip any particular capacities they have along these lines?

Waldron, who has worked on the nature of equality for many years, confronts these questions and others fully and unflinchingly. Based on the Gifford Lectures that he delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 2015, One Another’s Equals takes Waldron’s thinking further and deeper than ever before.

Lawrence, “The Koran in English”

For English-language scholars trying to learn about Islamic law, the lack of authoritative sources in English can be a real problem. Most Islamic scholarship is in languages that are inaccessible to Americans; one has no choice but to rely on translations, which may or may not be reliable. This is especially true of the Quran itself. For pious Muslims, of course, the Quran exists only in Arabic; anything else is only a summary or explanation that can never capture the original. Most English speakers use one of three twentieth-century translations–the Pickthall, the Asad, or the Ali versions–but each of these has its own issues, and it’s easy to get confused.

A new book by Duke professor Bruce B, Lawrence discusses the attempt to translate the Quran into English in his new book, The Koran in English: A Biography (Princeton). Here’s a description from the Princeton University Press website:

j10947The untold story of how the Arabic Qur’an became the English Koran

For millions of Muslims, the Qur’an is sacred only in Arabic, the original Arabic in which it was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century; to many Arab and non-Arab believers alike, the book literally defies translation. Yet English translations exist and are growing, in both number and importance. Bruce Lawrence tells the remarkable story of the ongoing struggle to render the Qur’an’s lyrical verses into English—and to make English itself an Islamic language.

The “Koran” in English revisits the life of Muhammad and the origins of the Qur’an before recounting the first translation of the book into Latin by a non-Muslim: Robert of Ketton’s twelfth-century version paved the way for later ones in German and French, but it was not until the eighteenth century that George Sale’s influential English version appeared. Lawrence explains how many of these early translations, while part of a Christian agenda to “know the enemy,” often revealed grudging respect for their Abrahamic rival. British expansion in the modern era produced an anomaly: fresh English translations—from the original Arabic—not by Arabs or non-Muslims but by South Asian Muslim scholars.

The first book to explore the complexities of this translation saga, The “Koran” in English also looks at cyber Korans, versions by feminist translators, and now a graphic Koran, the American Qur’an created by the acclaimed visual artist Sandow Birk.

Wilkinson, “All Falling Faiths”

The Sixties won the Culture Wars. Or, perhaps it’s better to say, the Sixties are winning; Culture Wars never really end. That Sixties culture dominates America today is obvious, and many celebrate that fact. Some aspects of Sixties culture in fact are worthy of celebration. But not all, and not everybody is celebrating. Earlier year, Encounter Books published an assessment of the Sixties by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, All Falling Faiths: Reflections on the Promise and Failure of the 1960s. Here’s the publisher’s description:

all-falling-faithsIn this warm and intimate memoir Judge Wilkinson delivers a chilling message. The 1960s inflicted enormous damage on our country; even at this very hour we see the decade’s imprint in so much of what we say and do. The chapters reveal the harm done to the true meaning of education, to our capacity for lasting personal commitments, to our respect for the rule of law, to our sense of rootedness and home, to our desire for service, to our capacity for national unity, to our need for the sustenance of faith. Judge Wilkinson does not seek to lecture but to share in the most personal sense what life was like in the 1960s, and to describe the influence of those frighteningly eventful years upon the present day.

Judge Wilkinson acknowledges the good things accomplished by the Sixties and nourishes the belief that we can learn from that decade ways to build a better future. But he asks his own generation to recognize its youthful mistakes and pleads with future generations not to repeat them. The author’s voice is one of love and hope for America. But our national prospects depend on facing honestly the full magnitude of all we lost during one momentous decade and of all we must now recover.

Center Co-Sponsoring Conference on Tradition in America and Russia Next Week in Trent

Tradition ProjectNext week, Marc and I will travel to the Italian city of Trent for an important conference, “Tradition and Traditionalisms Compared,” at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler. The conference, which our Center’s Tradition Project is co-sponsoring with the Postsecular Conflicts Project at the University of Innsbruck, will gather scholars and commentators from the US and Europe to consider the competing understandings of tradition in American and Russian law and politics. It’s a great lineup of participants, and with all that’s going on in the world today, a very timely topic.

From the Tradition Project, aside from Marc and me, the participants include Patrick Deneen (Notre Dame), Rod Dreher (The American Conservative), Michael Moreland (Villanova), and Adrian Vermeule (Harvard). The other participants are listed in the conference program, which you can find here. From the papers people have submitted, it looks like we will have a candid and productive discussion on deep issues–exactly what one hopes for in a scholarly community.

We’ll have a report on the conference after the event. Meanwhile, let me say that we’ve been delighted to plan this program with Kristina Stoeckl (Innsbruck) and Pasquale Annicchino (EUI), and that we look forward to seeing everyone in Trento next week!

Mekhennet, “I Was Told to Come Alone”

Souad Mekhennet is a German journalist of Turkish-Moroccan descent. She has covered the Islamic State and other jihadi groups extensively for papers like The New York Times and the Washington Post. This month, Henry Holt releases her memoir of some of her experiences tracking down and interviewing extremists, I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad. Here’s the publisher’s description:

9781627798976“I was told to come alone. I was not to carry any identification, and would have to leave my cell phone, audio recorder, watch, and purse at my hotel. . . .”

For her whole life, Souad Mekhennet, a reporter for The Washington Post who was born and educated in Germany, has had to balance the two sides of her upbringing – Muslim and Western. She has also sought to provide a mediating voice between these cultures, which too often misunderstand each other.

In this compelling and evocative memoir, we accompany Mekhennet as she journeys behind the lines of jihad, starting in the German neighborhoods where the 9/11 plotters were radicalized and the Iraqi neighborhoods where Sunnis and Shia turned against one another, and culminating on the Turkish/Syrian border region where ISIS is a daily presence. In her travels across the Middle East and North Africa, she documents her chilling run-ins with various intelligence services and shows why the Arab Spring never lived up to its promise. She then returns to Europe, first in London, where she uncovers the identity of the notorious ISIS executioner “Jihadi John,” and then in France, Belgium, and her native Germany, where terror has come to the heart of Western civilization.

Mekhennet’s background has given her unique access to some of the world’s most wanted men, who generally refuse to speak to Western journalists. She is not afraid to face personal danger to reach out to individuals in the inner circles of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, and their affiliates; when she is told to come alone to an interview, she never knows what awaits at her destination.

Souad Mekhennet is an ideal guide to introduce us to the human beings behind the ominous headlines, as she shares her transformative journey with us. Hers is a story you will not soon forget.

Montero, “All Things in Common”

Rod Dreher’s recent bestseller, The Benedict Option, calls on Christians to reestablish tighter, more intentional communities in order to survive in a post-Christian, and increasingly anti-Christian, culture. Dreher uses the Benedictine communities of the fifth century as an example, but there are even earlier ones. The Book of Acts describes Christian communities that were very tight and very intentional, including with respect to property. Few Christian lay communities hold everything in common nowadays, though some, like the Bruderhof, continue the practice.

In April, Wipf and Stock released a new monograph on the subject, All Things in Common, by Roman A. Montero. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

9781532607912All Things in Common gets behind the “communism of the apostles” passages in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37, using the anthropological categories of “social relationship” espoused by David Graeber and other anthropologists. Looking at sources ranging from the Qumran scrolls to the North African apologist Tertullian to the Roman satirist Lucian, All Things in Common reconstructs the economic practices of the early Christians and argues that what is described in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 is a long-term, widespread set of practices that were taken seriously by the early Christians, and that differentiated them significantly from the wider world. This book takes into account Judean and Hellenistic parallels to the early Christian community of goods, as well as the socioeconomic context from which it came, and traces its origins back to the very teachings of Jesus and his declaration of the Jubilee.

This book will be of interest to anyone interested in Christian history, and especially the socioeconomic aspects of early Christianity, as well as anyone interested in Christian ethics and New Testament studies. It would also be of interest to anyone interested in possible alternatives to the ideology of capitalism.

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