Just this week, the New York Times ran a very interesting essay on the changing demographic reality of global Christianity. Although for centuries Christianity has been strongest in the West, that is changing. Christianity’s center of gravity is shifting to the global South. And even in the developed countries of the West, immigration from the global South is changing Christianity. Tomorrow’s American Christianity will look quite different from today’s.
I’m sure these developments will figure in a forthcoming collection of essays from Edinburgh University Press, Christianity in North America. The editors are Kenneth Ross of Zomba Theological University (Malawi), Grace Kim of the Earlham School of Religion (Indiana) and Todd Johnson of the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Massachusetts). Looks to be a valuable reference source. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
Building on the success of EUP’s highly acclaimed Atlas of Global Christianity, this volume is the seventh in a series of reference works that takes the analysis of worldwide Christianity to a deeper level of detail. It focuses on Christianity in North America, covering every country and offering both reliable demographic information and original interpretative essays by locally based scholars and practitioners. It maps patterns of growth and decline, assesses major traditions and movements, analyzes key themes, and examines current trends. As a comprehensive account of the presence of Christianity in every part of North America, this volume will become a standard work of reference in its field.
In January 2014 (nearly 10 years ago!), Mark and I were fortunate to host Professor Michael Walzer at the Colloquium in Law and Religion (co-hosted, that year, with our friend, Professor Michael Moreland, at Villanova). If memory serves, Professor Walzer gave a very interesting paper on what the Jewish law of war could take from the Catholic “Just War” tradition of thought. The paper was filled with insights about religious law, and some important differences between the Catholic and Jewish intellectual and spiritual inheritance (one of which concerned the difference between the Natural Law Tradition and the Noahide Covenant). It was an honor to have him with us.
But, of course, Professor Walzer’s most notable contributions have been in the area of liberal political thought (see, for example, here). Liberalism has had a rather more contested legacy in the 10 or so years since we last met with Prof. Walzer than it had in the generation and more before that. And so it is that Walzer has a new book that seems to grapple with some of that recent contestation, in what looks like an important statement and recapitulation of his own views. The book is The Struggle for a Decent Politics: On “Liberal” as an Adjective (Yale University Press). Congratulations to him.
There was a time when liberalism was an ism like any other, but that time, writes Michael Walzer, is gone. “Liberal” now conveys not a specific ideology but a moral stance, so the word is best conceived not as a noun but as an adjective—one is a “liberal democrat” or a “liberal nationalist.”
Walzer itemizes the characteristics described by “liberal” in an inventory of his own deepest political and moral commitments—among other things, to the principle of equality, to the rule of law, and to a pluralism that is both political and cultural. Unabashedly asserting that liberalism comprises a universal set of values (“they must be universal,” he writes, “since they are under assault around the world”), Walzer reminds us in this inspiring book why those values are worth fighting for.
Here at the Forum at elsewhere, my friend Nate Oman (William and Mary Law School) and I have debated the “doux commerce” thesis: the notion that the market, over time, softens disagreements about religion and other deep commitments. It’s a thesis with a proud lineage that goes back to Montesquieu and other Enlightenment figures. Nate is persuaded by the thesis and wrote a very good book about it. I’m less persuaded by the thesis and wrote an article critiquing it. But it’s been a fun and interesting debate.
This collection considers the relationship between religion, state, and market. In so doing, it also illustrates that the market is a powerful site for the cultural work of secularizing religious conflict. Though expressed as a simile, with religious freedom functioning like market freedom, “free market religion” has achieved the status of general knowledge about the nature of religion as either good or bad. It legislates good religion as that which operates according to free market principles: it is private, with no formal relationship to government; and personal: a matter of belief and conscience. As naturalized elements of historically contingent and discursively maintained beliefs about religion, these criteria have ethical and regulatory force. Thus, in culture and law, the effect of the metaphor has become instrumental, not merely descriptive. This volume seeks to productively complicate and invite further analysis of this easy conflation of democracy, religion, and the market. It invites scholars from a variety of disciplines to consider more intentionally the extent to which markets are implicated and illuminate the place of religion in public life. The book will be a valuable resource for researchers and academics working in the areas of law and religion, ethics, and economics.
There is a growing consensus that the principle of free speech is in crisis, whether the dangers are coming primarily from government actors, or private actors intent on suppressing dissenting views, or both (matters on which there is considerable disagreement). There is also growing anxiety about the sustainability of academic freedom, as well as the associated structure of tenure. There is even doubt and intense disagreement about the basic function and purpose of the university. Here is a new book discussing these developments in historical perspective, The Collapse of Freedom of Expression: Reconstructing the Ancient Roots of Modern Liberty (Notre Dame Press) by Jordi Pujol.
The topic of free speech is rarely addressed from a historical, philosophical, or theological perspective. In The Collapse of Freedom of Expression, Jordi Pujol explores both the modern concept of the freedom of expression based on the European Enlightenment and the deficiencies inherent in this framework. Modernity has disregarded the traditional roots of the freedom of expression drawn from Christianity, Greek philosophy, and Roman law, which has left the door open to the various forms of abuse, censorship, and restrictions seen in contemporary public discourse. Pujol proposes that we rebuild the foundations of the freedom of expression by returning to older traditions and incorporating both the field of pragmatics of language and theological and ethical concepts on human intentionality as new, complementary disciplines.
Pujol examines emblematic cases such as Charlie Hebdo, free speech on campus, and online content moderation to elaborate on the tensions that arise within the modern concept of freedom of expression. The book explores the main criticisms of the contemporary liberal tradition by communitarians, libertarians, feminists, and critical race theorists, and analyzes the gaps and contradictions within these traditions. Pujol ultimately offers a reconstruction project that involves bridging the chasm between the secular and the sacred and recognizing that religion is a font of meaning for millions of people, and as such has an inescapable place in the construction of a pluralist public sphere.
The news last week that Saudi Arabia and Iran will restore diplomatic relations (a deal brokered by China, which fact raised eyebrows among American observers) is quite significant for the Mideast. Although both are Islamic-law countries, they are serious rivals–and part of the rivalry stems from religion. Saudi is a majority Sunni country and Iran a majority Shia one. But religion makes up only part of the story of their rivalry, as a new book from Cambridge, The Struggle for Supremacy in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and Iran, points out. The author is Simon Mabon (International Politics) at Lancaster University. Here’s the description from the Cambridge website:
Since 1979, few rivalries have affected Middle Eastern politics as much as the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, too often the rivalry has been framed purely in terms of ‘proxy wars’, sectarian difference or the associated conflicts that have broken out in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen. In this book, Simon Mabon presents a more nuanced assessment of the rivalry, outlining its history and demonstrating its impact across the Middle East. Highlighting the significance of local groups, Mabon shows how regional politics have shaped and been shaped by the rivalry. The book draws from social theory and the work of Pierre Bourdieu to challenge problematic assumptions about ‘proxy wars’, the role of religion, and sectarianism. Exploring the changing political landscape of the Middle East as a whole and the implications for regional and international security, Mabon paints a complex picture of this frequently discussed but oft-misunderstood rivalry.
One of the great and perennial problems in law is the relationship between “the rules” and the transcendental order (if any) that animates them. This is so in all the Abrahamic religions, which have, over the centuries, developed different understandings of that relationship. Even within a single religion, different strains emerge: the Thomism of Catholicism differs from the approach of the Christian East and from Protestant understandings. Luther burned the canon law books, after all.
A new book from Yale explores perhaps the greatest sage of Jewish law who attempted a synthesis between faith and legal reasoning: Maimonides: Faith in Reason. The author is Alberto Manguel. Here’s the publisher’s description:
An exploration of Maimonides, the medieval philosopher, physician, and religious thinker, author of The Guide of the Perplexed, from one of the world’s foremost bibliophiles
Moses ben Maimon, or Maimonides (1138–1204), was born in Córdoba, Spain. The gifted son of a judge and mathematician, Maimonides fled Córdoba with his family when he was thirteen due to Almohad persecution of all non-Islamic faiths. Forced into a long exile, the family spent a decade in Spain before settling in Morocco. From there, Maimonides traveled to Palestine and Egypt, where he died at Saladin’s court.
As a scholar of Jewish law, a physician, and a philosopher, Maimonides was a singular figure. His work in extracting all the commanding precepts of Jewish law from the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud, interpreting and commenting on them, and translating them into terms that would allow students to lead sound Jewish lives became the model for translating God’s word into a language comprehensible by all. His work in medicine—which brought him such fame that he became Saladin’s personal physician—was driven almost entirely by reason and observation.
In this biography, Alberto Manguel examines the question of Maimonides’ universal appeal—he was celebrated by Jews, Arabs, and Christians alike. In our time, when the need for rationality and recognition of the truth is more vital than ever, Maimonides can help us find strategies to survive with dignity in an uncertain world.
Law – charters, statutes, judicial decisions, and traditions – mattered in colonial America, and laws about religion mattered a lot. The legal history of colonial America reveals that America has been devoted to the free exercise of religion since well before the First Amendment was ratified. Indeed, the two colonies originally most opposed to religious liberty for anyone who did not share their views, Connecticut and Massachusetts, eventually became bastions of it. By focusing on law, Scott Douglas Gerber offers new insights about each of the five English American colonies founded for religious reasons – Maryland, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts – and challenges the conventional view that colonial America had a unified religious history.
Continuing our international and comparative theme in the book notes this week, this forthcoming book from Oxford, The Global Politics of Interreligious Dialogue: Religious Change, Citizenship, and Solidarity in the Middle East, looks interesting. The history of the Mideast contains episodes of peaceful interreligious exchange, like those described here, and interreligious strife. Let’s hope the sort of recent interactions the author, political scientist Michael Driessen (John Cabot University, Rome) describes continue. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Over the last thirty years, governments across the globe have formalized new relationships with religious communities through their domestic and foreign policies and have variously sought to manage, support, marginalize, and coopt religious forces through them. Many scholars view these policies as evidence of the “return of religion” to global politics although there is little consensus about the exact meaning, shape, or future of this political turn.
In The Global Politics of Interreligious Dialogue, Michael D. Driessen examines the growth of state-sponsored interreligious dialogue initiatives in the Middle East and their use as a policy instrument for engaging with religious communities and ideas. Using a novel theoretical framework and drawing on five years of ethnographic fieldwork, Driessen explores both the history of interreligious dialogue and the evolution of theological approaches to religious pluralism in the traditions of Roman Catholicism and Sunni Islam. He analyzes state-centric accounts of interreligious dialogue and conceptualizes new ideas and practices of citizenship, religious pluralism, and social solidarity that characterize dialogue initiatives in the region.
To make his case, Driessen presents four studies of dialogue in the Middle East–the Focolare Community in Algeria, the Adyan Foundation in Lebanon, KAICIID of Saudi Arabia, and DICID of Qatar–and highlights key interreligious dialogue declarations produced in the broader Middle East over the last two decades. Compelling and nuanced, The GlobalPolitics of Interreligious Dialogue illustrates how religion operates in contemporary global politics, offering important lessons about the development of alternative models of democracy, citizenship, and modernity.
The judicialisation of religious freedom conflicts is long recognised. But to date, little has been written on the active role that religious actors and advocacy groups play in this process. This important book does just that. It examines how Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Sikhs, Evangelicals, Christian conservatives and their global support networks have litigated the right to freedom of religion at the European Court of Human Rights over the past 30 years. Drawing on in-depth interviews with NGOs, religious representatives, lawyers and legal experts, it is a powerful study of the social dynamics that shape transnational legal mobilisation and the ways in which legal mobilisation shapes discourses and conflict lines in the field of transnational law.
The eminent sociologist of religion, Robert Wuthnow, must be one of the most prolific scholars alive. Now emeritus at Princeton, he continues to churn out books that are essential for understanding American religion in the 21st century. His new book, Religion’s Power: What Makes It Work (Oxford) focuses on the communal rituals that give religion its strength. Community is central to a plausible definition of religion (or at least it should be), and Wuthnow’s new book will no doubt help show why that is so. Here’s a description from the Oxford website:
What makes religion so powerful? Why does it attract so many followers? Raise so much money? Influence how people vote? The usual answer is that religion is powerful because it offers divine hope. But there is more to it than that. Why does a worship service seem powerful? Why is it powerful to hear someone testify about their faith? Who sets the rules for who can be a member and who cannot? What does religion do to reinforce gender and racial differences? Or to challenge them?
Religion’s Power takes a fresh look at these questions by examining what happens during religious rituals to signal the leader’s power, the power of the deity being worshipped, and, inadvertently, why some people in the congregation are deemed more powerful than others. Robert Wuthnow explores how religious narratives are constructed to demonstrate sincerity, how religious organizations control time by controlling space, how codified knowledge gives religious organizations power, and the small ways in which religion shapes identities and politics. Building on classical work in the sociology of religion and drawing extensively on historical and ethnographic studies, Religion’s Power foregrounds cases ranging from nineteenth-century church organ and lightning rod controversies to current clashes about border walls and racial justice. This is a book for beginning students of religion as well as for advanced scholars and for practitioners, fellow travelers, and critics who want to understand better what makes religion powerful.