A New Book on Covenant Theology

Calvinist Covenant Theology, refracted through the colonial experience in New England, had a large influence on the American Founding. A book out last month from Yale University Press, Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises, by theologian Scott Hahn (Franciscan University of Steubenville), traces the role of covenant in Scripture. Here’s the description from Yale’s website:

While the canonical scriptures were produced over many centuries and represent a diverse library of texts, they are unified by stories of divine covenants and their implications for God’s people. In this deeply researched and thoughtful book, Scott Hahn shows how covenant, as an overarching theme, makes possible a coherent reading of the diverse traditions found within the canonical scriptures.
 
Biblical covenants, though varied in form and content, all serve the purpose of extending sacred bonds of kinship, Hahn explains. Specifically, divine covenants form and shape a father-son bond between God and the chosen people. Biblical narratives turn on that fact, and biblical theology depends upon it. With meticulous attention to detail, the author demonstrates how divine sonship represents a covenant relationship with God that has been consistent throughout salvation history. A canonical reading of this divine plan reveals an illuminating pattern of promise and fulfillment in both the Old and New Testaments. God’s saving mercies are based upon his sworn commitments, which he keeps even when his people break the covenant.

In This Sign Conquer

The Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christianity and set it on the path to becoming the state religion, is one of Christian history’s most controversial figures. The Orthodox and Catholic Churches venerate him as a saint. Among Protestants, his legacy is rather more mixed. But his influence on Christianity, especially with respect to its relationship with state power, has been immense. A new history from Harvard, The Triumph of Empire: The Roman World from Hadrian to Constantine, discusses his rise to power. The author is Michael Kulikowski (Pennsylvania State University). Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

The Triumph of Empire takes readers into the political heart of imperial Rome and recounts the extraordinary challenges overcome by a flourishing empire. Michael Kulikowski’s history begins with the reign of Hadrian, who visited the farthest reaches of his domain and created stable frontiers, and spans to the decades after Constantine the Great, who overhauled the government, introduced a new state religion, and founded a second Rome.

Factionalism and intrigue sapped the empire from within, even at its apex. Roman politics could resemble a blood sport: rivals resorted to assassination; emperors rose and fell with bewildering speed, their reigns measured in weeks, not years; and imperial succession was never entirely assured. Canny emperors—including Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, and Diocletian—constantly cultivated the aristocracy’s favor to maintain a grip on power. Despite such volatility, the Roman Empire protected its borders, defeating successive attacks from Goths and Germans, Persians and Parthians. Yet external threats persisted and the imperial government sagged under its own administrative weight. Religion, too, was in flux with the rise of Christianity and other forms of monotheism. In the fourth century CE, Constantine and his heirs reformed imperial institutions by separating civilian and military hierarchies, restructuring the government of both provinces and cities, and ensuring the prominence of Christianity.

The Triumph of Empire is a fresh, authoritative narrative of Rome at its height and of its evolution—from being the central power of the Mediterranean world to becoming one of several great Eurasian civilizations.

A New Collection of Essays on Disestablishment in the US

This forthcoming collection of essays from the University of Missouri Press, Disestablishment and Religious Dissent: Church-State Relations in the New American States, 1776-1833, looks very interesting. The editors are law professor Carl Esbeck (University of Missouri School of Law) and historian Jonathan Den Hartog (Samford University). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

On May 10, 1776, the Second Continental Congress sitting in Philadelphia adopted a Resolution which set in motion a round of constitution making in the colonies, several of which soon declared themselves sovereign states and severed all remaining ties to the British Crown. In forming these written constitutions, the delegates to the state conventions were forced to address the issue of church-state relations. Each colony had unique and differing traditions of church-state relations rooted in the colony’s peoples, their country of origin, and religion.

This definitive volume, comprising twenty-one original essays by eminent historians and political scientists, is a comprehensive state-by-state account of disestablishment in the original thirteen states, as well as a look at similar events in the soon-to-be-admitted states of Vermont, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Also considered are disestablishment in Ohio (the first state admitted from the Northwest Territory), Louisiana and Missouri (the first states admitted from the Louisiana Purchase), and Florida (wrestled from Spain under U.S. pressure). The volume makes a unique scholarly contribution by recounting in detail the process of disestablishment in each of the colonies, as well as religion’s constitutional and legal place in the new states of the federal republic.

Fish on the First

I first became acquainted with Stanley Fish in college. Literary theory was then the rage, and as a classical languages major, literary theory was making its primary disciplinary impact in the area of translation. Questions like– what does it mean to translate a work in one language into another? Is it possible to do so? What is lost and gained in the process? Are there such things as “better” and “worse” translations?–these dominated the intellectual scene, and they were the sorts of questions, mutatis mutandis and adapted to a much larger scale, that were being asked by Fish in English and Literature departments. Such questions radically changed the nature of the study of literature. For myself, at the time, I was mostly concerned with ensuring that my translation of Vergil or Cicero or Caesar was right, not whether it was possible.

I still recall that one had a choice in those days: take your Milton with Fish, or take it with Reynolds Price. To give some sense of the difference: Price had us memorize several stanzas of Lycidas (“Yet once more, O ye Laurels, and once more // Ye Myrtles brown, with Ivy never-sear, // I com to pluck your Berries harsh and crude…”).

Since the 1990s, Fish has become much more involved in the work of law and interpretation, adapting his core ideas to, for example, target textualism and originalism (they say that law always lags other academic disciplines). He has several interesting pieces on intentionalism in interpretation. And my own last experience in the classroom with Fish is his book on the nature of the academic enterprise, Save the World on Your Own Time, portions of which I have assigned in seminars ranging from Catholic Social Thought to the Religion Clauses.

Any Fish publication is therefore cause to perk up and take notice, and this new book is no exception: The First: How to Think About Hate Speech, Campus Speech, Religious Speech, Fake News, Post-Truth, and Donald Trump (Atria). Covers a lot of ground; as is Fish’s wont.

“How does the First Amendment really work? Is it a principle or a value? What is hate speech and should it always be banned? Are we free to declare our religious beliefs in the public square? What role, if any, should companies like Facebook play in policing the exchange of thoughts, ideas, and opinions?

With clarity and power, Stanley Fish, “America’s most famous professor” (BookPage), explores these complex questions in The First. From the rise of fake news, to the role of tech companies in monitoring content (including the President’s tweets), to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest, First Amendment controversies continue to dominate the news cycle. Across America, college campus administrators are being forced to balance free speech against demands for safe spaces and trigger warnings.

Ultimately, Fish argues, freedom of speech is a double-edged concept; it frees us from constraints, but it also frees us to say and do terrible things. Urgent and controversial, The First is sure to ruffle feathers, spark dialogue, and shine new light on one of America’s most cherished—and debated—constitutional rights.”

When Do International Mores Defeat Local Ones?

So many of the most prominent law and religion cases–Lautsi, Kokkinakis, Eweida, and on and on–represent conflicts between the views and mores of particular European and sometimes Asian states, on the one hand, and those of the international European community, on the other. Here is a new book that looks like it will discuss some of these issues: International Judicial Review: When Should International Courts Intervene? (Cambridge University Press), by Shai Dothan.

“This book is motivated by a question: when should international courts intervene in domestic affairs? To answer this question thoroughly, the book is broken down into a series of separate inquiries: when is intervention legitimate? When can international courts identify good legal solutions? When will intervention initiate useful processes? When will it lead to good outcomes? These inquiries are answered based on reviewing judgments of international courts, strategic analysis, and empirical findings. The book outlines under which conditions intervention by international courts is recommended and evaluates the implications that international courts have on society.”

Neoliberalism’s Theology

Here is a new book confronting the frequently pilloried term, “neoliberalism,” and offering an interesting theory about its underlying causes and ends: Neoliberalism and Political Theology: From Kant to Identity Politics (Oxford University Press), by Carl Raschke.

“Neoliberalism in recent years has become the operative buzzword among pundits and academics to characterise an increasingly dysfunctional global political economy. It is often–wrongly–identified exclusively with free market fundamentalism and illiberal types of cultural conservatism. Combining penetrating argument and broad-ranging scholarship, Carl Raschke shows what the term really means, how it evolved and why it has been so misunderstood.

Raschke lays out how the present new world disorder, signalled by the election of Trump and Brexit, derives less from the ascendancy of reactionary forces and more from the implosion of the post-Cold War effort to establish a progressive international moral and political order for the cynical benefit of a new cosmopolitan knowledge class, mimicking the so-called civilising mission of 19th-century European colonialists.”

How To Make Hard Decisions

It is some sign of law and religion’s salience today that Professor Peter Schuck of Yale Law School decided to include a conundrum of the field as one of his “Top 5” tough choices in his new book, One Nation Undecided: Clear Thinking About Five Hard Issues That Divide Us (Princeton University Press). The others are poverty, immigration, affirmative action, and campaign finance. All of the rest–concerning the certitude that “we’ve all” expressed views on these matters “without thinking them through”–well…I suppose Professor Schuck will tell us in the book just how he comes to that conclusion.

“We’ve all expressed opinions about difficult hot-button issues without thinking them through. With so much media spin, political polarization, and mistrust of institutions, it’s hard to know how to think about these tough challenges, much less what to do about them. One Nation Undecided takes on some of today’s thorniest issues and walks you through each one step-by-step, explaining what makes it so difficult to grapple with and enabling you to think smartly about it. In this unique what-to-do book, Peter Schuck tackles poverty, immigration, affirmative action, campaign finance, and religious objections to gay marriage and transgender rights. No other book provides such a comprehensive, balanced, and accessible analysis of these urgent social controversies. One Nation Undecided gives you the facts and competing values, makes your thinking about them more sophisticated, and encourages you to draw your own conclusions.

Sixsmith reviews Holland’s “Dominion”

Here’s something of a new feature for our book-related posts. On occasion, we’ll have an interesting review of a book that we have previously posted. I thought this review at the University Bookman by Ben Sixsmith of Tom Holland’s book, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, was very worthwhile and gave a good account of the book’s themes, strengths, and weaknesses. A bit:

“Holland’s stylistic talents add a great deal to the book. His portraits of Boniface, Luther, and Calvin are vivid, evocative, and free of romanticization or its opposite. Some of his accounts of episodes in religious history are a little superficial—he could have read Helen Andrews for a more complicated portrait of Bartolomé de las Casas, for example—but a sweeping historical narrative without superficial aspects would be like an orchard with no bruising on the fruit. It is only natural.”

Islam and Human Rights

In my experience, the Western human-rights community overlooks, or downplays, human rights documents that come from non-Western sources. A good example is the Cairo Declaration, a statement of human rights announced by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1990: few human-rights courses in American law schools spend significant time on the Cairo Declaration, notwithstanding its importance in global human-rights debates. That may be because these non-Western sources offer a challenge to Western understandings of “universal” concepts like human dignity. But I’ve written about that subject elsewhere.

Here is a new collection about the OIC from Penn Press, The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Human Rights, edited by Marie Juul Petersen (Danish Institute of Human Rights) and Turan Kayaoglu (University of Washington – Tacoma). The publisher’s description follows:

Established in 1969, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is an intergovernmental organization the purpose of which is the strengthening of solidarity among Muslims. Headquartered in Jeddah, the OIC today consists of fifty seven states from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The OIC’s longevity and geographic reach, combined with its self-proclaimed role as the United Nations of the Muslim world, raise certain expectations as to its role in global human rights politics. However, to date, these hopes have been unfulfilled. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Human Rights sets out to demonstrate the potential and shortcomings of the OIC and the obstacles on the paths it has navigated.

Historically, the OIC has had a complicated relationship with the international human rights regime. Palestinian self-determination was an important catalyst for the founding of the OIC, but the OIC did not develop a comprehensive human rights approach in its first decades. In fact, human rights issues were rarely, if at all, mentioned at the organization’s summits or annual conferences of foreign ministers. Instead, the OIC tended to focus on protecting Islamic holy sites and strengthening economic cooperation among member states. As other international and regional organizations expanded the international human rights system in the 1990s, the OIC began to pay greater attention to human rights, although not always in a manner that aligned with Western conceptions.

This volume provides essential empirical and theoretical insights into OIC practices, contemporary challenges to human rights, intergovernmental organizations, and global Islam. Essays by some of the world’s leading scholars examine the OIC’s human rights activities at different levels—in the UN, the organization’s own institutions, and at the member-state level—and assess different aspects of the OIC’s approach, identifying priority areas of involvement and underlying conceptions of human rights.

What’s Happening in Iran?

We tend to forget, in America, that sometimes anti-American governments really do have support from local populations. Here is a timely book from Stanford, Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic, which explores the worldview of those Iranians who support the Islamic regime. The author is Narges Bajoghli of Johns Hopkins University. Here is the description from the Stanford website:

An inside look at what it means to be pro-regime in Iran, and the debates around the future of the Islamic Republic.

More than half of Iran’s citizens were not alive at the time of the 1979 Revolution. Now entering its fifth decade in power, the Iranian regime faces the paradox of any successful revolution: how to transmit the commitments of its political project to the next generation. New media ventures supported by the Islamic Republic attempt to win the hearts and minds of younger Iranians. Yet members of this new generation—whether dissidents or fundamentalists—are increasingly skeptical of these efforts.

Iran Reframed offers unprecedented access to those who wield power in Iran as they debate and define the future of the Republic. Over ten years, Narges Bajoghli met with men in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Ansar Hezbollah, and Basij paramilitary organizations to investigate how their media producers developed strategies to court Iranian youth. Readers come to know these men—what the regime means to them and their anxieties about the future of their revolutionary project. Contestation over how to define the regime underlies all their efforts to communicate with the public. This book offers a multilayered story about what it means to be pro-regime in the Islamic Republic, challenging everything we think we know about Iran and revolution.

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