Biale et al., “Hasidism”

9780691175157Enlightenment secularism seems to have a concentrating effect on religion. In response to the challenge secularism poses, more moderate expressions of religion fade away, while more insular, “extreme” communities come into existence and thrive. Perhaps, as secularism occupies more and more space in a culture, only those religious communities that consciously set their face against it can survive.

A new book from Princeton University Press, Hasidism: A New History, by historian David Biale and others, discusses the history of the Jewish movement, particularly, how the movement formed in response to European secularism. Looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:

The first comprehensive history of the pietistic movement that shaped modern Judaism

This is the first comprehensive history of the pietistic movement that shaped modern Judaism. The book’s unique blend of intellectual, religious, and social history offers perspectives on the movement’s leaders as well as its followers, and demonstrates that, far from being a throwback to the Middle Ages, Hasidism is a product of modernity that forged its identity as a radical alternative to the secular world.

Hasidism originated in southeastern Poland, in mystical circles centered on the figure of Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, but it was only after his death in 1760 that a movement began to spread. Challenging the notion that Hasidism ceased to be a creative movement after the eighteenth century, this book argues that its first golden age was in the nineteenth century, when it conquered new territory, won a mass following, and became a mainstay of Jewish Orthodoxy. World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Holocaust decimated eastern European Hasidism. But following World War II, the movement enjoyed a second golden age, growing exponentially. Today, it is witnessing a remarkable renaissance in Israel, the United States, and other countries around the world.

Written by an international team of scholars, Hasidism is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand this vibrant and influential modern Jewish movement.

“Justice and Leadership in Early Islamic Courts” (Rabb & Balbale, eds.)

9780674984219-lgLaw features much more prominently in the life of Islam than Christianity. This was, in some ways, a comparative advantage for the new faith. At least the leaders of Christian communities perceived it as such: in the early centuries of their encounter with Islam, Christian leaders often identified the influence the fiqh courts had in encouraging conversions within their communities. One medieval Armenian cleric, Mkhitar Gosh, even complied a Christian law code to compete with fiqh, so that Armenian Christians would have less temptation to resort to Islamic courts.

A new collection of essays from Harvard University Press, Justice and Leadership in Early Islamic Courts, addresses the history of the early Islamic courts. The editors are Intisar Rabb (Harvard Law School) and Abigail Krasner Balbale (Bard Graduate Center). Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

This book presents an in-depth exploration of the administration of justice during Islam’s founding period, 632–1250 CE. Inspired by the scholarship of Roy Parviz Mottahedeh and composed in his honor, this volume brings together ten leading scholars of Islamic law to examine the history of early Islamic courts. This approach draws attention to both how and why the courts and the people associated with them functioned in early Islamic societies: When a dispute occurred, what happened in the courts? How did judges conceive of justice and their role in it? When and how did they give attention to politics and procedure?

Each author draws on diverse sources that illuminate a broader and deeper vision of law and society than traditional legal literature alone can provide, including historical chronicles, biographical dictionaries, legal canons, exegetical works, and mirrors for princes. Altogether, the volume offers both a substantive intervention on early Islamic courts and on methods for studying legal history as social history. It illuminates the varied and dynamic legal landscapes stretching across early Islam, and maps new approaches to interdisciplinary legal history.

“The Political Writings of Alexander Hamilton” (Holloway & Wilson, eds.)

9781107088474Alexander Hamilton had a tempestuous inner life, including with respect to religion. Devout as a child, skeptical as an adult, towards then end of his life he seems to have become an orthodox Christian. Whatever his internal views, his position with respect to the public importance of religion was clear. He drafted Washington’s Farewell Address, one of the most important texts in American history on the place of religion in public life, and even proposed a Christian Constitutional Society, to counter Jacobinism in the United States.

The Christian Constitutional Society is one of the issues addressed in a new, two-volume collection from Cambridge University Press, The Political Writings of Alexander Hamilton. The editors are Carson Holloway (Nebraska) and our own Tradition Project participant Bradford Wilson (Princeton). Looks very interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Few of America’s founders influenced its political system more than Alexander Hamilton. He played a leading role in writing and ratifying the Constitution, was de facto leader of one of America’s first two political parties, and was influential in interpreting the scope of the national government’s constitutional powers. This comprehensive collection provides Hamilton’s most enduringly important political writings, covering his entire public career, from 1775 to his death in 1804. Readers are introduced to Hamilton – in his own words – as defender of the American cause, as an early proponent of a stronger national government, as a founder and protector of the American Constitution, as the nation’s first secretary of the treasury, as President George Washington’s trusted foreign policy advisor, and as a leader of the Federalist Party. Presented in a convenient two volume set, this book provides a unique insight into the political ideas of one of America’s leading founders; a must-have reference source.

Video of Last Week’s Panel on Christian Persecution

For those who are interested, Fordham’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center has posted a video of last week’s panel on the the persecution of Mideast Christians, in which I participated, along with Sidney Griffith (Catholic University), James Skedros (Hellenic College/Holy Cross Seminary), and Samuel Tadros (Hudson Institute). Fordham’s George Demacopoulous served as moderator. Have a look:

Barclay & Rienzi, “Constitutional Anomalies”

Allow people to pose religious objections to generally-applicable laws, the argument goes, and you will end up with chaos, a world in which every person is a law unto himself. That argument carried the day twenty-seven years ago in Employment Division v. Smith, and resurfaced as recently as last week, during oral argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop. A new article by Stephanie Barclay (Becket) and Mark Rienzi (Catholic University-Columbus School of Law), “Constitutional Anomalies or As-Applied Challenges? A Defense of Religious Objections,” maintains that the argument is overstated. The authors argue that religious accommodations are analogous to customary “as-applied” challenges in constitutional law, which have not destroyed the rule of law. Here’s the abstract:

In the wake of Hobby Lobby and now in anticipation of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the notion that religious exemptions are dangerously out of step with norms of constitutional jurisprudence has taken on renewed popularity within the academy. Critics increasingly claim that religious exemptions, such as those available prior to Employment Division v. Smith and now available under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), are a threat to basic fairness, equality, and the rule of law. Under this view, exemptions create an anomalous private right to ignore laws that everyone else must obey. And such a scheme will result in a tidal wave of religious claimants striking down government action at every turn.

Our article presents a novel observation that undermines these central criticisms. Far from being “anomalous” or “out of step” with our constitutional traditions, religious exemptions are just a form of “as-applied” challenge offered as a default remedy elsewhere in constitutional adjudication. Furthermore, under this form of as-applied adjudication, courts regularly provide exemptions from generally applicable laws for other First Amendment protected activity like expressive conduct that mirror exemptions critics fear in the context of religious exercise. This is true even in the hotly debated context of anti-discrimination laws.

The article also presents original empirical analysis, including a national survey of all federal RFRA cases since Hobby Lobby, indicating that concerns of critics about religious exemptions have not been borne out as an empirical matter. Our findings suggest that even after Hobby Lobby, cases dealing with religious exemption requests remain much less common than cases dealing with other expressive claims, and are less likely to result in invalidation of government actions. In fact, religious cases as a percentage of the total reported case load appear to have decreased after Hobby Lobby. Thus, far from creating anomalous preferential treatment that threatens the rule of law, a religious exemption framework simply offers a similar level of protection courts have long provided for dissenting minority rights housed elsewhere in the First Amendment.

Henry, “Christmas with the Presidents”

Just in time for the Christmas season is this book by Mike Henry, Christmas With the Presidents: Holiday Lessons for Today’s Kids From America’s Leaders (Rowman & HenryLittlefield). If the blurb is to be credited, this looks like an overt piece of political-theological pedagogy masquerading as history. Perfect fare for the Friday fluff category.

Everyone celebrates the Christmas holidays in their own way, and that includes the President of the United States. Some have enjoyed large gatherings, while others took part in a quiet, relaxing atmosphere. This book takes a look at each of the country’s leaders approach to the year’s biggest holiday season, and some of the traditions they started.

Scruton, “The Politics of Culture and Other Essays”

Sir Roger Scruton, our Tradition Project lecturer for our session on “Tradition, Culture, Scruton.jpgand Citizenship” (see above for the lecture) has a new collection of essays coming out in January 2018, The Politics of Culture and Other Essays (St. Augustine Press). This particular collection seems to center on Sir Roger’s manifold aesthetic and literary interests.

This work brings together Scruton’s best essays from many sources, arranging them thematically. The book has four sections: Language and Art, Writers in Context, Architecture, and Culture and Anarchy. Though the essays are diverse, certain themes are developed in particular and then in general ways, and there are several important essays on writers and critics, that contribute to the reappraisal of their work – among them Dante, Andre Breton, Graham Greene, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, Jacques Lacan, and Yukio Mishima.

 

Rodgers, “The Struggle for the Soul of Journalism: The Pulpit vs. the Press, 1833-1923”

Here’s what looks like a fascinating account of a historical struggle in nineteenth andJournalism early twentieth century America: Ronald R. Rodgers, The Struggle for the Soul of Journalism: The Pulpit vs. the Press, 1833-1923 (University of Missouri Press). Of course, the struggle resulted in the ostensible triumph of the press over the pulpit in the twentieth century. Or did it? In the new era of “fake news” and the systematic loss of authority of institutions like the press (and the church), one wonders just who vanquished whom. Perhaps everyone lost.

In this study, Ronald R. Rodgers examines several narratives involving religion’s historical influence on the news ethic of journalism: its decades-long opposition to the Sunday newspaper as a vehicle of modernity that challenged the tradition of the Sabbath; the parallel attempt to create an advertising-driven Christian daily newspaper; and the ways in which religion—especially the powerful Social Gospel movement—pressured the press to become a moral agent. The digital disruption of the news media today has provoked a similar search for a news ethic that reflects a new era—for instance, in the debate about jettisoning the substrate of contemporary mainstream journalism, objectivity. But, Rodgers argues, before we begin to transform journalism’s present news ethic, we need to understand its foundation and formation in the past.

Bowman, “Christian: The Politics of a Word in America”

Recently I have written about what I have termed “anti-Christian identity politics,” an emerging style of political identification and argumentation in an increasingly fragmented country. Here is a new book by historian Matthew Bowman, Christian: The Politics of a Word in America (HUP) that explores political divisions among groups that Christianidentify as Christian in America.

Religious diversity has long been a defining feature of the United States. But what may be even more remarkable than the sheer range of faiths is the diversity of political visions embedded in those religious traditions. Matthew Bowman delves into the ongoing struggle over the potent word “Christian,” not merely to settle theological disputes but to discover its centrality to American politics.

As Christian: The Politics of a Word in America shows, for many American Christians, concepts like liberty and equality are rooted in the transcendent claims about human nature that Christianity offers. Democracy, equality under the law, and other basic principles of American government are seen to depend upon the Christian faith’s sustenance and support. Yet despite this presumed consensus, differing Christian beliefs have led to dispute and disagreement about what American society and government should look like. While many white American Protestants associate Christianity with Western Euro-American civilization, individual liberty, and an affirmation of capitalism, other American Christians have long rejected those assumptions. They maintain that Christian principles demand political programs as wide-ranging as economic communalism, international cooperation, racial egalitarianism, and social justice.

The varieties of American Christian experience speak to an essentially contested concept of political rights and wrongs. Though diverse Christian faiths espouse political visions, Christian politics defy clear definition, Bowman writes. Rather, they can be seen as a rich and varied collection of beliefs about the interrelationships of divinity, human nature, and civic life that engage and divide the nation’s Christian communities and politics alike.

Reich, “The Common Good”

Here’s another entry in an emerging genre that includes Mark Lilla’s “The Once and ReichFuture Liberal”: liberal public intellectuals arguing for an American “common good” that is intended to “unify” what appears to be an increasingly fractured country. Here, it is Robert Reich in The Common Good (Penguin Random House). Of course the idea of the “common good” is an ancient one, and finds one very powerful and influential expression in the writing of religious figures with philosophical interests. But it is interesting to note that though Reich aspires to “save America’s soul,” such accounts do not seem to figure at all in Reich’s account, which the blurb for the book claims is grounded “in everyday reality and common sense.”

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