Koerpel, “Maurice Blondel”

Few thinkers have had more to say about the relationship between reason, revelation, Blondeltheology, and tradition than Maurice Blondel, the French Catholic philosopher of the war period and critic of modernity. Here is a new work on this understudied figure, Maurice Blondel: Transforming Catholic Tradition (Notre Dame Press), by Robert C. Koerpel.

During the past few decades there has been renewed interest in the twentieth-century French Catholic philosopher Maurice Blondel (1861–1949) and his influence on modern and contemporary theology, but little scholarship has been published in the English-speaking world. In Maurice Blondel: Transforming Catholic Tradition, Robert Koerpel examines Blondel’s work, the historical and theological development of the idea of tradition in modern Catholicism, tradition’s relation to reason and revelation, and Blondel’s influence on Catholicism’s understanding of tradition. The book presents aspects of Blondel’s thought that deserve to be more widely known and contributes to important debates in current theology on modern French Catholic thought and the emerging conversations surrounding them. Koerpel looks to the cultural context from which Blondel’s thought emerges by situating it within the broader conceptual, historical, and theological developments of modernity. He examines the problem of reason and revelation in modern Catholicism, the role and nature of tradition, and the relationships between theology and history, truth and change, nature and grace, and scripture and the development of doctrine.

This book provides readers with an appreciation of Blondel’s conceptually creative answer to how tradition represents the Word of God in human history and why it is one of his most important contributions to modern and contemporary theology. They will discover how this contribution restores the animated vitality between the institutional and liturgical dimensions of tradition essential to the living, dynamic nature of Catholicism.

Sheehan-Dean, “The Calculus of Violence”

9780674984226-lgIt’s a puzzlement. The American Civil War took place in a deeply Christian, even Evangelical society, only a short time after the Second Great Awakening. And yet the conflict was intensely bloody–more than 600,000 people died. How could people who took Christianity so seriously engage in such carnage? A forthcoming history from Harvard University Press, The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War, by scholar Aaron Sheehan-Dean (Louisiana State) maintains that the belligerents in fact tried to limit the bloodshed, that it could have been much, much worse. So perhaps the puzzle is not so great as it appears. Here is the description from the Harvard website:

Shiloh, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg—tens of thousands of soldiers died on these iconic Civil War battlefields, and throughout the South civilians suffered terrible cruelty. At least three-quarters of a million lives were lost during the American Civil War. Given its seemingly indiscriminate mass destruction, this conflict is often thought of as the first “total war.” But Aaron Sheehan-Dean argues for another interpretation.

The Calculus of Violence demonstrates that this notoriously bloody war could have been much worse. Military forces on both sides sought to contain casualties inflicted on soldiers and civilians. In Congress, in church pews, and in letters home, Americans debated the conditions under which lethal violence was legitimate, and their arguments differentiated carefully among victims—women and men, black and white, enslaved and free. Sometimes, as Sheehan-Dean shows, these well-meaning restraints led to more carnage by implicitly justifying the killing of people who were not protected by the laws of war. As the Civil War raged on, the Union’s confrontations with guerrillas and the Confederacy’s confrontations with black soldiers forced a new reckoning with traditional categories of lawful combatants and raised legal disputes that still hang over military operations around the world today.

In examining the agonizing debates about the meaning of a just war in the Civil War era, Sheehan-Dean discards conventional abstractions—total, soft, limited—as too tidy to contain what actually happened on the ground.

Camerlenghi, “St. Paul’s Outside the Walls”

9781108429511This forthcoming book, by Dartmouth art historian Nicola Camerlenghi, might seem a bit outside our jurisdiction. But as I said yesterday, art reflects and shapes the values of a culture, and scholars of law and religion ought to pay it more attention. Besides, the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls is one of the most important churches in history, with strong church-state associations. It was one of the first churches founded by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, and its position outside the walls, in addition to reflecting the burial site of the saint for which it is named, reflects the sensitivity the emperor had to show pagans, who still made up the majority of Rome’s citizens.

And there’s another church-state association. Hildebrand, who went on to become Pope Gregory VII, was once abbot of the monastery attached to St. Paul’s–that Pope Gregory VII, from the Investiture Crisis. The monastery still displays his bony finger in a reliquary. I saw it myself once. Imagine, the finger that shook at Henry IV. What would Constantine have thought? If all this is not enough to qualify the book for a post, I don’t know what would.

The book is St. Paul’s Outside the Walls: A Roman Basilica, From Antiquity to the Modern Era. The publisher is Cambridge. Here’s a description from the Cambridge website:

This volume examines one of Rome’s most influential churches: the principal basilica dedicated to St Paul. Nicola Camerlenghi traces nearly two thousand years of physical transformations to the church, from before its construction in the fourth century to its reconstruction following a fire in 1823. By recounting this long history, he restores the building to its rightful place as a central, active participant in epochal political and religious shifts in Rome and across Christendom, as well as a protagonist in Western art and architectural history. Camerlenghi also examines how buildings in general trigger memories and anchor meaning, and how and why buildings endure, evolve, and remain relevant in cultural contexts far removed from the moment of their inception. At its core, Saint Paul’s exemplifies the concept of building as a process, not a product: a process deeply interlinked with religion, institutions, history, cultural memory, and the arts. This study also includes state-of-the-art digital reconstructions synthesizing a wealth of historical evidence to visualize and analyze the earlier (now lost) stages of the building’s history, offering glimpses into heretofore unexamined parts of its long, rich life.

Walsh, “The Fiery Angel”

EB_The-Fiery-Angel_lowres-310x460Art reflects a culture’s values and sometimes even drives them. This is why conservatives often find contemporary art so off-putting. It’s not that conservatives are philistines–though some are, as are some progressives. Rather, it’s that they understand that the values our current art express are mostly inimical to their own–especially the pointless insistence on ugliness and transgression for transgression’s sake. (At some point, transgression become simply cliched; and we have long since passed that point). In fact, some of the most thoughtful conservative commentators today recognize that giving up the arts to progressives was a major mistake. In a conservative reformation of society, art may prove a lot more important than law or politics.

Anyway, a new book from Encounter, The Fiery Angel: Art, Culture, Sex, Politics and the Struggle for the Soul of the West, by critic Michael Walsh, looks interesting. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

In Western Civilization, the arts embody the eternal battle between good and evil, and through understanding the arts, we can address the political issues that plague us. Far from being museum pieces, simple recreation, or tales and artifacts from the past, the arts should be seen at the wellspring of our politics, and in particular in public policy debates. They are actually the reason we have public and foreign policy in the first place. In an age that prizes specialization, it’s a mistake to think of public/foreign policy as a discipline onto itself. The Fiery Angel is a historical survey showing significant ways the arts both reflect and affect the course of history, and outlines the way forward, arguing for the restoration of the Heroic Narrative which forms the basis of all Western cultural and religious traditions.

Esolen, “Nostalgia”

41ppx0hK5L._SX329_BO1204203200_-202x306“For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” This verse from Hebrews has strongly influenced Christian understandings of politics from the time of the early Church to the present. The conviction that Christians are, most fundamentally, citizens of another, eternal city has shaped their relations with temporal cities both pagan and Christian. It has comforted them in periods of alienation and checked them in times of triumph.

A forthcoming book by scholar Anthony Esolen (Thomas More College), Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World (Regnerey) addresses Christians’ longing for home–a longing, which, on earth, must always be unfulfilled, however much Christians love their families, communities, and nations. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

America’s political elite has a stake in the destruction of cultural memory—anything that resists the new management state and the rootless elites. But it is a deeply human thing not only to have a home, which is rare enough in our time, but to long to return home. For Christians, this longing to return home not only makes us defenders of our homes and families here on earth, but also wayfarers, in that we understand we are contantly moving towards our true home, the “patria” that is the presence of God, in eternity.

This Christian nostalgia is the subject of scorn and condescension from secular elites, who are invested in making us forget our loginging to return home. Instead, they would have us join in the silly and inhuman worship of mother earth as our “home” and the more dangerous and destructive worship of change for change’s sake—as if we could make heaven ourselves or work ourselves up into gods.

In Nostalgia, this essential new work by Out of the Ashes author Anthony Esolen, the singularly Christian concept of true nostalgia is examined, defended, and brilliantly celebrated as Esolen reveals the central role nostalgia plays in great works of literature including Shakespeare, Dante, Dickens, and Eliot.

Schindler, “Freedom from Reality”

P03373We’re late getting to this, but last year the Notre Dame Press released a new treatment of Locke’s concept of liberty, Freedom from Reality: The Diabolical Character of Modern Liberty, by D.C. Schindler (John Paul II Institute). “Diabolical” makes it sound worse than it is; the author uses the word in the sense of “divisive” and “subversive” rather than “Satanic”–though of course the author may have the latter meaning in mind, too! The book is one of a series of recent works critiquing classical liberalism as paradoxical and, ultimately, the source of its own destruction. It looks like a useful addition to the conversation. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

It is commonly observed that behind many of the political and cultural issues that we face today lies an impoverished conception of freedom, which, according to D. C. Schindler, we have inherited from the classical liberal tradition without a sufficient awareness of its implications. Freedom from Reality presents a critique of the deceptive and ultimately self-subverting character of the modern notion of freedom, retrieving an alternative view through a new interpretation of the ancient tradition. While many have critiqued the inadequacy of identifying freedom with arbitrary choice, this book seeks to penetrate to the metaphysical roots of the modern conception by going back, through an etymological study, to the original sense of freedom.

Schindler begins by uncovering a contradiction in John Locke’s seminal account of human freedom. Rather than dismissing it as a mere “academic” problem, Schindler takes this contradiction as a key to understanding the strange paradoxes that abound in the contemporary values and institutions founded on the modern notion of liberty: the very mechanisms that intend to protect modern freedom render it empty and ineffectual. In this respect, modern liberty is “diabolical”—a word that means, at its roots, that which “drives apart” and so subverts. This is contrasted with the “symbolical” (a “joining-together”), which, he suggests, most basically characterizes the premodern sense of reality. This book will appeal to students and scholars of political philosophy (especially political theorists), philosophers in the continental or historical traditions, and cultural critics with a philosophical bent.

Doe, “Comparative Religious Law”

ComparativeOne of our Center’s three primary areas of focus concerns the law of religious traditions, and one of our very first conferences back in 2010 was about “Religious Legal Theory.” It’s certainly a subject that Mark has written about, as in his piece on the role of law in Islam and Christianity. Here is a new volume that looks to be a vital resource for this very interesting corner of law and religion: Comparative Religious Law: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, by Norman Doe (Cambridge University Press).

Comparative Religious Law provides for the first time a study of the regulatory instruments of Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious organisations in Britain in light of their historical religious laws. Norman Doe questions assumptions about the pervasiveness, character and scope of religious laws, from the view that they are not or should not be recognised by civil law, to the idea that there may be a fundamental incompatibility between religious and civil law. It proposes that religious laws pervade society, are recognised by civil law, have both a religious and temporal character, and regulate wide areas of believers’ lives. Subjects include sources of law, faith leaders, governance, worship and education, rites of passage, divorce and children, and religion-State relations. A Charter of ‘the principles of religious law’ common to all three Abrahamic faiths is proposed, to stimulate greater mutual understanding between religion and society and between the three faiths themselves.

Marsden, “Religion & American Culture”

George Marsden is one of several great Evangelical historians of American religion (a group that also includes the likes of Mark Noll and Nathan Hatch) who has made major contributions to the study of Christianity as a historiographically seriously AmericanMarsden phenomenon. Indeed, it strikes me that Noll’s important The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was written in 1990, and since then the community of serious Evangelical scholars in history and elsewhere has become very rich and interesting. Here is a new book by Marsden, Religion & American Culture: A Brief History (Eerdmans) which looks like it could serve as a useful introduction to his work more broadly.

While Americans still profess to be one of the most religious people in the industrialized world, many aspects of American culture have long been secular and materialistic. That is just one of the many paradoxes, contradictions, and surprises in the relationship between Christianity and American culture. In this book George Marsden, a leading historian of American Christianity and award-winning author, tells the story of that relationship in a concise and thought-provoking way.

Surveying the history of religion and American culture from the days of the earliest European settlers right up through the elections of 2016, Marsden offers the kind of historically and religiously informed scholarship that has made him one of the nation’s most respected and decorated historians. Students in the classroom and history readers of all ages will benefit from engaging with the story Marsden tells.

Callanan, “Montesquieu’s Liberalism and the Problem of Universal Politics”

The contest between globalism and nationalism, seen in so many political contests today Callananhere and abroad, might be understood as one facet of a deeper problem: whether politics–and liberal politics specifically–is a fundamentally universal activity or instead one rooted in cultural and contingent particularities. Here is a very interesting new book by Middlebury College political theorist Keegan Callanan about Montesquieu’s thought, but with clear implications for the way in which we think about universalism and particularism in politics. Professor Callanan’s book is Montesquieu’s Liberalism and the Problem of Universal Politics (CUP).

Dubbed ‘the oracle’ by no less an authority than James Madison, Montesquieu stands as a theoretical founder of the liberal political tradition. But equally central to his project was his account of the relationship of law to each nation’s particular customs and place, a teaching that militates against universal political solutions. This teaching has sometimes been thought to stand in tension with his liberal constitutionalism. In this book, Keegan Callanan argues that Montesquieu’s political particularism and liberalism are complementary and mutually reinforcing parts of a coherent whole. In developing this argument, Callanan considers Montesquieu’s regime pluralism, psychological conception of liberty, approach to political reform, and account of ‘the customs of a free people’, including the complex interaction of religion and commerce. Callanan concludes that, by re-orienting our understanding of liberalism and redirecting our attention toward liberty’s distinctive preconditions, a return to Montesquieu’s political philosophy leaves us better prepared to confront liberal democracy’s contested claim to universality.

Fukuyama, “Identity”

From the well-known author of the deeply influential and not particularly convincing Fukuyama“The End of History and the Last Man” comes this new book about identity and the “demand for recognition” as the key to understanding contemporary politics. Certainly the demand for recognition has fueled many developments in the law, including the recent rise to prominence of dignity-related theories of legal right in constitutional law. The book is Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, by Francis Fukuyama (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and looks to be in part a self-help book for liberal democracies for coping with this form of politics–another call to “forge” a “universal” notion of “dignity.” For a very different, and, to my mind, much more persuasive account of “dignity” today, see Mark’s recent piece on the subject.

In 2014, Francis Fukuyama wrote that American institutions were in decay, as the state was progressively captured by powerful interest groups. Two years later, his predictions were borne out by the rise to power of a series of political outsiders whose economic nationalism and authoritarian tendencies threatened to destabilize the entire international order. These populist nationalists seek direct charismatic connection to “the people,” who are usually defined in narrow identity terms that offer an irresistible call to an in-group and exclude large parts of the population as a whole.

Demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today. The universal recognition on which liberal democracy is based has been increasingly challenged by narrower forms of recognition based on nation, religion, sect, race, ethnicity, or gender, which have resulted in anti-immigrant populism, the upsurge of politicized Islam, the fractious “identity liberalism” of college campuses, and the emergence of white nationalism. Populist nationalism, said to be rooted in economic motivation, actually springs from the demand for recognition and therefore cannot simply be satisfied by economic means. The demand for identity cannot be transcended; we must begin to shape identity in a way that supports rather than undermines democracy.

Identity is an urgent and necessary book—a sharp warning that unless we forge a universal understanding of human dignity, we will doom ourselves to continuing conflict.

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