Rex, “The Making of Martin Luther”

Yet another droplet in the outpouring of new and learned Martin Luther scholarship this Rexyear, but I must say that this one looks particularly interesting and worthwhile–historian Richard Rex’s The Making of Martin Luther. This particular work looks to emphasize the intellectual history of Luther’s thought. I had also seen and admired (but, alas, not yet read) Rex’s earlier work on the Tudors. Now it’s two volumes of his that I am looking forward to reading. The publisher is Princeton University Press.

The Making of Martin Luther takes a provocative look at the intellectual emergence of one of the most original and influential minds of the sixteenth century. Richard Rex traces how, in a concentrated burst of creative energy in the few years surrounding his excommunication by Pope Leo X in 1521, this lecturer at an obscure German university developed a startling new interpretation of the Christian faith that brought to an end the dominance of the Catholic Church in Europe. Luther’s personal psychology and cultural context played their parts in the whirlwind of change he unleashed. But for the man himself, it was always about the ideas, the truth, and the Gospel.

Focusing on the most intensely important years of Luther’s career, Rex teases out the threads of his often paradoxical and counterintuitive ideas from the tangled thickets of his writings, explaining their significance, their interconnections, and the astonishing appeal they so rapidly developed. Yet Rex also sets these ideas firmly in the context of Luther’s personal life, the cultural landscape that shaped him, and the traditions of medieval Catholic thought from which his ideas burst forth.

Lucidly argued and elegantly written, The Making of Martin Luther is a splendid work of intellectual history that renders Luther’s earthshaking yet sometimes challenging ideas accessible to a new generation of readers.

Wood, “Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson”

The complicated and modulated relationship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson is one Woodof the pearls of American history. The two disagreed fiercely about just about everything as political men–very much including the church-state question. Yet there was a rapprochement between them in their golden years, as testified by the wealth of correspondence they shared. Gordon Wood is one of the preeminent historians of the American founding. Here he has a new book on the two great men. The publisher is Penguin Random House and the description is below.

From the great historian of the American Revolution, New York Times-bestselling and Pulitzer-winning Gordon Wood, comes a majestic dual biography of two of America’s most enduringly fascinating figures, whose partnership helped birth a nation, and whose subsequent falling out did much to fix its course.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams could scarcely have come from more different worlds, or been more different in temperament. Jefferson, the optimist with enough faith in the innate goodness of his fellow man to be democracy’s champion, was an aristocratic Southern slaveowner, while Adams, the overachiever from New England’s rising middling classes, painfully aware he was no aristocrat, was a skeptic about popular rule and a defender of a more elitist view of government. They worked closely in the crucible of revolution, crafting the Declaration of Independence and leading, with Franklin, the diplomatic effort that brought France into the fight. But ultimately, their profound differences would lead to a fundamental crisis, in their friendship and in the nation writ large, as they became the figureheads of two entirely new forces, the first American political parties. It was a bitter breach, lasting through the presidential administrations of both men, and beyond.

But late in life, something remarkable happened: these two men were nudged into reconciliation. What started as a grudging trickle of correspondence became a great flood, and a friendship was rekindled, over the course of hundreds of letters. In their final years they were the last surviving founding fathers and cherished their role in this mighty young republic as it approached the half century mark in 1826. At last, on the afternoon of July 4th, 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration, Adams let out a sigh and said, “At least Jefferson still lives.” He died soon thereafter. In fact, a few hours earlier on that same day, far to the south in his home in Monticello, Jefferson died as well.

Arguably no relationship in this country’s history carries as much freight as that of John Adams of Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Gordon Wood has more than done justice to these entwined lives and their meaning; he has written a magnificent new addition to America’s collective story.

Copson, “Secularism: Politics, Religion, and Freedom”

From the Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, Andrew Copson, comes Copsonthis new book about secularism. In so much of the new literature on this subject, the focus has turned to post-secular studies and analysis. Not so here, in a book that appears to be part history and part advocacy. The publisher is OUP and the description is below.

Until the modern period the integration of church (or other religion) and state (or political life) had been taken for granted. The political order was always tied to an official religion in Christian Europe, pre-Christian Europe, and in the Arabic world. But from the eighteenth century onwards, some European states began to set up their political order on a different basis. Not religion, but the rule of law through non-religious values embedded in constitutions became the foundation of some states — a movement we now call secularism. In others, a de facto secularism emerged as political values and civil and criminal law altered their professed foundation from a shared religion to a non-religious basis.

Today secularism is an increasingly hot topic in public, political, and religious debate across the globe. It is embodied in the conflict between secular republics — from the US to India — and the challenges they face from resurgent religious identity politics; in the challenges faced by religious states like those of the Arab world from insurgent secularists; and in states like China where calls for freedom of belief are challenging a state imposed non-religious worldview. In this short introduction Andrew Copson tells the story of secularism, taking in momentous episodes in world history, such as the great transition of Europe from religious orthodoxy to pluralism, the global struggle for human rights and democracy, and the origins of modernity. He also considers the role of secularism when engaging with some of the most contentious political and legal issues of our time: “blasphemy,” “apostasy,” religious persecution, religious discrimination, religious schools, and freedom of belief and thought in a divided world.

Jenkins, “Crucible of Faith: The Ancient Revolution That Made Our Modern Religious World”

From the eminent historian of religion, Philip Jenkins, comes this very interesting looking new work about the origins of the Judeo-Christian tradition as we know it today-Crucible-the period just before the time of Christ. The publisher is Basic Books and the description is below.

In Crucible of Faith, Philip Jenkins argues that much of the Judeo-Christian tradition we know today was born between 250–50 BCE, during a turbulent “Crucible Era.” It was during these years that Judaism grappled with Hellenizing forces and produced new religious ideas that reflected and responded to a changing world. By the time of the fall of the Temple in 70 CE, concepts that might once have seemed bizarre became normalized—and thus passed on to Christianity and later Islam. Drawing widely on contemporary sources from outside the canonical Old and New Testaments, Jenkins reveals an era of political violence and social upheaval that ultimately gave birth to entirely new ideas about religion, the afterlife, Creation and the Fall, and the nature of God and Satan.

Hayward, “Patriotism is Not Enough: Harry Jaffa, Walter Berns, and the Arguments that Redefined American Conservatism”

Harry Jaffa and Walter Berns were vital twentieth century figures in American political Jaffa:Bernsand constitutional thought. Berns’s writing–particularly in the earlier part of his academic life–has been influential on my own views about the First Amendment. It’s therefore a pleasure to post this notice about Steven Hayward’s new book on both theorists. The publisher is Encounter Books, and the description is below.

This book is a lively intellectual history of a small circle of thinkers, especially, but not solely, Harry Jaffa and Walter Berns, who challenged the “mainstream” liberal consensus of political science and history about how the American Founding should be understood. Along the way they changed the course of the conservative movement and had a significant impact on shaping contemporary political debates from constitutional interpretation, civil rights, to the corruption of government today. Most importantly, these thinkers explain the deep reasons for patriotism—why we should love America not just because it is our country, but because it is a free and just country.

Hammond, “God’s Businessmen: Entrepreneurial Evangelicals in Depression and War”

The connection of conservative evangelicalism and the business community has taken God's Businessmensomething of a hit in the last decade or so, as business interests and religious interests have undergone a realignment, but this interesting looking book describes their older association well before the Reagan era. The author is Sarah Ruth Hammond, the publisher is Chicago Press, and the description is below.

The evangelical embrace of conservatism is a familiar feature of the contemporary political landscape. What’s less well-known, however, is that the connection predates the Reagan revolution, going all the way back to the Depression and World War II. Evangelical businessmen at the time were quite active in opposing the New Deal—on both theological and economic grounds—and in doing so claimed a place alongside other conservatives in the public sphere. Like previous generations of devout laymen, they self-consciously merged their religious and business lives, financing and organizing evangelical causes with the kind of visionary pragmatism that they practiced in the boardroom.

In God’s Businessmen, Sarah Ruth Hammond explores not only these men’s personal trajectories but also those of the service clubs and other institutions that, like them, believed that businessmen were God’s instrument for the Christianization of the world. Hammond presents a capacious portrait of the relationship between the evangelical business community and the New Deal—and in doing so makes important contributions to American religious history, business history, and the history of the American state.

International Law and Religion: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Koskenniemi et al., eds.)

One of our Center’s areas of focus, and an area of expertise developed by my colleagueInternational Law Mark, is law and religion from a comparative and international perspective. Here’s a new collected volume co-edited by the renowned scholar of international law, Martin Koskenniemi, on the subject. The publisher is OUP and the description is below.

This books maps out the territory of international law and religion challenging received traditions in fundamental aspects. On the one hand, the connection of international law and religion has been little explored. On the other, most of current research on international legal thought presents international law as the very victory of secularization. By questioning that narrative of secularization this book approaches these traditions from a new perspective.

From the Middle Ages’ early conceptualizations of rights and law to contemporary political theory, the chapters bring to life debates concerning the interaction of the meaning of the legal and the sacred. The contributors approach their chapters from an array of different backgrounds and perspectives but with the common objective of investigating the mutually shaping relationship of religion and law. The collaborative endeavour that this volume offers makes available substantial knowledge on the question of international law and religion.

Christianity and Family Law: An Introduction (Witte & Hauk, eds.)

From the indefatigable John Witte of Emory University School of Law comes this new, co-edited volume concerning Christianity and family law, a subject of continuing Wittecomplexity and relevance in constitutional law and elsewhere. The volume is organized as a series of reflections about the writings of specific Christian thinkers on the family–from Moses all the way to Jean Bethke Elshtain. The publisher is CUP and the description is below.

The Western tradition has always cherished the family as an essential foundation of a just and orderly society, and thus accorded it special legal and religious protection. Christianity embraced this teaching from the start, and many of the basics of Western family law were shaped by the Christian theologies of nature, sacrament, and covenant. This volume introduces readers to the enduring and evolving Christian norms and teachings on betrothals and weddings; marriage and divorce; women’s and children’s rights; marital property and inheritance; and human sexuality and intimate relationships. The chapters are authoritatively written but accessible to college and graduate students and scholars, as well as clergy and laity. While alert to the hot button issues of sexual liberty today, the contributing authors let the historical figures speak for themselves about what Christianity has and can contribute to the protection and guidance of our most intimate association.

Manne, “The Rise of the Islamic State”

9781633883710From Prometheus, here is a new study of ISIS’s motivating ideology by Australian scholar Robert Manne (La Trobe University): The Mind of the Islamic State: ISIS and the Ideology of the Caliphate. Manne, a political scientist at La Trobe University in Melbourne, traces the roots of ISIS to earlier Islamic groups like al-Qaeda. Here’s the description from the Penguin Random House, the distributor:

In the ongoing conflict with ISIS, military observers and regional experts have noted that it is just as important to understand its motivating ideology as to win battles on the ground. This book traces the evolution of this ideology from its origins in the prison writings of the revolutionary jihadist Sayyid Qutb, through the thinking of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, who planned the 9/11 terrorist attack, to today’s incendiary screeds that motivate terrorism via the Internet.

Chief among these recent texts are two documents that provide the foundation for ISIS terrorism. One is called The Management of Savagery, essentially a handbook for creating mayhem through acts of violence. The other is the online magazine of horror called Dabiq, which combines theological justifications with ultraviolent means, apocalyptic dreams, and genocidal ambitions. Professor Manne provides close, original, and lucid readings of these important documents. He introduces readers to a strange, cruel, but internally coherent and consistent political ideology, which has now entered the minds of very large numbers of radicalized Muslims in the Middle East, North Africa, and the West.

However disturbing and unsettling, this book is essential reading for anyone concerned about terrorist violence.

 

Crane, “The Meaning of Belief”

9780674088832-lgAmerican progressives increasingly argue that religion is simply a type of ideology, and that, as a result, it should receive no more respect in our law than other sorts of ideological commitments. But religion, as the West traditionally has understood it, is something more than ideology, especially in its corporate, identitarian aspects. The law traditionally has given special protection to religion exactly because it is not an ideology like any other. A new book from Harvard University Press, The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View, by Tim Crane (Central European University) attempts to explain the unique aspects of religion to atheists, who otherwise might fail to understand the force of the worldview they reject. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

Contemporary debate about religion seems to be going nowhere. Atheists persist with their arguments, many plausible and some unanswerable, but these make no impact on religious believers. Defenders of religion find atheists equally unwilling to cede ground. The Meaning of Belief offers a way out of this stalemate.

An atheist himself, Tim Crane writes that there is a fundamental flaw with most atheists’ basic approach: religion is not what they think it is. Atheists tend to treat religion as a kind of primitive cosmology, as the sort of explanation of the universe that science offers. They conclude that religious believers are irrational, superstitious, and bigoted. But this view of religion is almost entirely inaccurate. Crane offers an alternative account based on two ideas. The first is the idea of a religious impulse: the sense people have of something transcending the world of ordinary experience, even if it cannot be explicitly articulated. The second is the idea of identification: the fact that religion involves belonging to a specific social group and participating in practices that reinforce the bonds of belonging. Once these ideas are properly understood, the inadequacy of atheists’ conventional conception of religion emerges.

The Meaning of Belief does not assess the truth or falsehood of religion. Rather, it looks at the meaning of religious belief and offers a way of understanding it that both makes sense of current debate and also suggests what more intellectually responsible and practically effective attitudes atheists might take to the phenomenon of religion.

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