Cardinal Who?

80140105274650LSome of our readers may know of this episode, but I have to confess I had never heard of it. During World War I, a cardinal in Belgium, Désiré Mercier, became the face of Belgian national resistance to the German occupation. Apparently, Mercier was quite famous at the time; his autobiography was a best-seller in the United States. I find this episode interesting for three reasons. First, one can hardly imagine Belgian nationalism nowadays; the country is beset by centrifugal tensions that threaten to tear it apart. Second, it is somewhat unusual today to think of a Catholic cardinal as principally a nationalist leader, though of course there are exceptions. Finally, and most intriguingly, how could this man, so important a figure on the world stage in his own time, be so completely forgotten only 100 years later?

A new book from Cornell University Press addresses Cardinal Mercier and his role during World War I: Cardinal Mercier in the First World War: Belgium, Germany and the Catholic ChurchThe author is KU-Leuven historian Jan De Volder. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier, Archbishop of Malines, was the incarnation of the Belgian resistance against the German occupation during the First World War. With his famous pastoral letter of Christmas 1914 ‘Patriotisme et Endurance’ he reached a wide audience, and gained international influence and respect.

Mercier’s distinct patriotic stance clearly determined his views of national politics, especially of the ‘Flemish question’, and his conflict with the German occupier made him a hero of the Allies. The Germans did not always know how to handle this influential man of the Church. Pope Benedict XV did not always approve of the course of action adopted by the Belgian prelate. Whereas Mercier justified the war effort as a just cause in view of the restoration of Belgium’s independence, the Pope feared that “this useless massacre” meant nothing but the “suicide of civilized Europe”.

Through a critical analysis of the policies of Cardinal Mercier and Pope Benedict XV, this book sheds revealing light on the contrasting positions of Church leaders in the face of the Great War.

Some Good News About Religion in American Universities

9781481308717We’re a little late getting to this, but last September Baylor University Press released a book that argues religion is not in such dire shape in American academics: The Resilience of Religion in American Higher Education, by John Schmalzbauer (Missouri State) and Kathleen Mahoney (GHR Foundation). At a time when most observers see religiously-affiliated universities altering their missions to appeal to a more secular audience, for example, Schmalzbauer and Mahoney argue that many such institutions are actually embracing their founding faith traditions. Here’s a description of the book from the Baylor website:

A well-worn, often-told tale of woe. American higher education has been secularized. Religion on campus has declined, died, or disappeared. Deemed irrelevant, there is no room for the sacred in American colleges and universities. While the idea that religion is unwelcome in higher education is often discussed, and uncritically affirmed, John Schmalzbauer and Kathleen Mahoney directly challenge this dominant narrative.

The Resilience of Religion in American Higher Education documents a surprising openness to religion in collegiate communities. Schmalzbauer and Mahoney develop this claim in three areas: academic scholarship, church-related higher education, and student life. They highlight growing interest in the study of religion across the disciplines, as well as a willingness to acknowledge the intellectual relevance of religious commitments.  The Resilience of Religion in American Higher Education also reveals how church-related colleges are taking their founding traditions more seriously, even as they embrace religious pluralism. Finally, the volume chronicles the diversification of student religious life, revealing the longevity of campus spirituality.

Far from irrelevant, religion matters in higher education. As Schmalzbauer and Mahoney show, religious initiatives lead institutions to engage with cultural diversity and connect spirituality with academic and student life, heightening attention to the sacred on both secular and church-related campuses.

First-Century Nones?

9780231170772I don’t know enough of the history to say whether Gnosticism qualified as its own religion or whether it was a loose movement among members of many religions. If the latter, Gnosticism has a great deal in common with today’s movement of the Nones–people who belong to no single religion, but draw from mystical streams in many different faith traditions. So this new history of Gnosticism from Columbia, The Gnostic New Age: How a Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion from Antiquity to Today, might help in sorting through an important trend in contemporary American religion. The author is Rice University scholar April DeConick. Here’s the description from the Columbia website:

Gnosticism is a countercultural spirituality that forever changed the practice of Christianity. Before it emerged in the second century, passage to the afterlife required obedience to God and king. Gnosticism proposed that human beings were manifestations of the divine, unsettling the hierarchical foundations of the ancient world. Subversive and revolutionary, Gnostics taught that prayer and mediation could bring human beings into an ecstatic spiritual union with a transcendent deity. This mystical strain affected not just Christianity but many other religions, and it characterizes our understanding of the purpose and meaning of religion today.

In The Gnostic New Age, April D. DeConick recovers this vibrant underground history to prove that Gnosticism was not suppressed or defeated by the Catholic Church long ago, nor was the movement a fabrication to justify the violent repression of alternative forms of Christianity. Gnosticism alleviated human suffering, soothing feelings of existential brokenness and alienation through the promise of renewal as God. DeConick begins in ancient Egypt and follows with the rise of Gnosticism in the Middle Ages, the advent of theosophy and other occult movements in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and contemporary New Age spiritual philosophies. As these theories find expression in science-fiction and fantasy films, DeConick sees evidence of Gnosticism’s next incarnation. Her work emphasizes the universal, countercultural appeal of a movement that embodies much more than a simple challenge to religious authority.

The City on a Hill

Shortly before departing from England for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Puritan leader John Winthrop delivered a sermon on what the Puritans hoped to accomplish in the new world. Adapting a famous Gospel passage, he said the colony would be “as a city upon a hill” and that “the eyes of all people are upon us.” The Puritan fervor lasted only a generation or two, but the sense of Boston as an exceptional place that would serve as a model for the entire world really never faded–either for Bostonians or for Americans as a whole.

A new book from Princeton describes the history of the city, from its Puritan founding through its decline in influence, which the author dates to the Civil War. Looks very interesting. The book is The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630-1865; the author is Yale historian Mark Peterson. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

A groundbreaking history of early America that shows how Boston built and sustained an independent city-state in New England before being folded into the United States

In the vaunted annals of America’s founding, Boston has long been held up as an exemplary “city upon a hill” and the “cradle of liberty” for an independent United States. Wresting this iconic urban center from these misleading, tired clichés, The City-State of Boston highlights Boston’s overlooked past as an autonomous city-state, and in doing so, offers a pathbreaking and brilliant new history of early America. Following Boston’s development over three centuries, Mark Peterson discusses how this self-governing Atlantic trading center began as a refuge from Britain’s Stuart monarchs and how—through its bargain with slavery and ratification of the Constitution—it would tragically lose integrity and autonomy as it became incorporated into the greater United States.

Drawing from vast archives, and featuring unfamiliar figures alongside well-known ones, such as John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and John Adams, Peterson explores Boston’s origins in sixteenth-century utopian ideals, its founding and expansion into the hinterland of New England, and the growth of its distinctive political economy, with ties to the West Indies and southern Europe. By the 1700s, Boston was at full strength, with wide Atlantic trading circuits and cultural ties, both within and beyond Britain’s empire. After the cataclysmic Revolutionary War, “Bostoners” aimed to negotiate a relationship with the American confederation, but through the next century, the new United States unraveled Boston’s regional reign. The fateful decision to ratify the Constitution undercut its power, as Southern planters and slave owners dominated national politics and corroded the city-state’s vision of a common good for all.

“Religion in the Modern World”

Here is a new book by the noted religious studies scholar Keith Ward that seems to fall under our general remit here at the center, and that argues for religious tolerance and co-existence (both surely good things): Religion in the Modern World: Celebrating Pluralism and Diversity (Cambridge University Press).

“The subject of religious diversity is of growing significance, with its associated problems of religious pluralism and inter-faith dialogue. Moreover, since the European Enlightenment, religions have had to face new, existential challenges. Is there a future for religions? How will they have to change? Can they co-exist peacefully? In this book, Keith Ward brings new insights to these questions. Applying historical and philosophical approaches, he explores how we can establish truth among so many diverse religions. He explains how religions have evolved over time and how they are reacting to the challenges posed by new scientific and moral beliefs. A celebration of the diversity in the world’s religions, Ward’s timely book also deals with the possibility and necessity of religious tolerance and co-existence.”

An Intellectual History of “The Pursuit of Happiness”

Everyone knows the famous lines of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” “Happiness” is actually mentioned again later as one of the objects for which government is instituted in the first place. But what exactly is “happiness” (and where in this formulation did “property” go?).

Here is a new book that explores the intellectual history of the subject: The Pursuit of Happiness: An Intellectual History (University of Missouri Press), by Carli N. Conklin.

“Scholars have long debated the meaning of the pursuit of happiness, yet have tended to define it narrowly, focusing on a single intellectual tradition, and on the use of the term within a single text, the Declaration of Independence. In this insightful volume, Carli Conklin considers the pursuit of happiness across a variety of intellectual traditions, and explores its usage in two key legal texts of the Founding Era, the Declaration and William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England.

For Blackstone, the pursuit of happiness was a science of jurisprudence, by which his students could know, and then rightly apply, the first principles of the Common Law. For the founders, the pursuit of happiness was the individual right to pursue a life lived in harmony with the law of nature and a public duty to govern in accordance with that law. Both applications suggest we consider anew how the phrase, and its underlying legal philosophies, were understood in the founding era. With this work, Conklin makes important contributions to the fields of early American intellectual and legal history.”

“Democratizing” Europe (other than in the way that it is presently democratizing)

From Harvard University Press, a book of essays examining how to “democratize” Europe, How to Democratize Europe. Yet the book seems to take the point of view of democratizing it through the mechanisms and implementation of international bodies like the European Union, rather than through the populist and nationalist movements and ideas that are actually on the rise in Europe. A very prominent list of contributors (“all star,” as HUP has it), including the celebrated author Thomas Piketty and others.

“The European Union is struggling. The rise of Euroskeptic parties in member states, economic distress in the south, the migrant crisis, and Brexit top the news. But deeper structural problems may be a greater long-term peril. Not least is the economic management of the Eurozone, the nineteen countries that use the Euro. How can this be accomplished in a way generally acceptable to members, given a political system whose structures are routinely decried for a lack of democratic accountability? How can the EU promote fiscal and social justice while initiating the long-term public investments that Europe needs to overcome stagnation? These are the problems a distinguished group of European and American scholars set out to solve in this short but valuable book.

Among many longstanding grievances is the charge that Eurozone policies serve large and wealthy countries at the expense of poorer nations. It is also unclear who decides economic policy, how the interests of diverse member states are balanced, and to whom the decision-makers are accountable. The four lead authors—Stéphanie Hennette, Thomas Piketty, Guillaume Sacriste, and Antoine Vauchez—describe these and other problems, and respond with a draft treaty establishing a parliament for economic policy, its members drawn from national parliaments. We then hear from invited critics, who express support, objections, or alternative ideas.”

But Who Exactly Is For Hate?

In our latest Legal Spirits podcast, Mark and I tackled the public side of regulating so-called “hate speech.” Our next podcast will deal with the private side–private pressure to conform to a standard of speech considered non-hateful.

It may suggest something about how fragmented public debate has become that one of the only subjects one can come to consensus about is that one should not be “hateful.” The “bare desire to harm,” as the Supreme Court has put it, is one of the last remaining non-controversial moral propositions.

Here is a new book that argues against “hate” and for lots of the notions that people seem to champion today (diversity, inclusivity, liberalism, and so on), but it makes me wonder whether there is really anybody out there who would disagree, at least with the proposition about hatred. Who, exactly, is for hate? The book is Against Hate (Polity Press) by the German author Carolin Emcke.

“Racism, extremism, anti-democratic sentiment – our increasingly polarized world is dominated by a type of thinking that doubts others’ positions but never its own.

In a powerful challenge to fundamentalism in all its forms, Carolin Emcke, one of Germany’s leading intellectuals, argues that we can only preserve individual freedom and protect people’s rights by cherishing and celebrating diversity. If we want to safeguard democracy, we must have the courage to challenge hatred and the will to fight for and defend plurality in our societies. Emcke rises to the challenge that identitarian dogmas and populist narratives pose, exposing the way in which they simplify and distort our perception of the world.

Against Hate  is an impassioned call to fight intolerance and defend liberal ideals. It will be of great interest to anyone concerned about the darkening politics of our time and searching for ways forward.”

On the tradition of Catholicism

Here is an interesting book of essays that explores and reflects on the concept of tradition within and from the perspective of Catholicism: Living the Catholic Tradition: Philosophical and Theological Considerations (Catholic University Press), edited by Renée Köhler-Ryan.

“Every aspect of human life is influenced by traditions. Whether at home, at work, or at leisure, what we do and say has developed out of inherited beliefs, ideas, and practices. But how often do we stop to reflect on the importance of traditions? Understanding tradition means coming to know ourselves better, and so considering tradition from different perspectives is a worthwhile pursuit.

Traditionally, Catholic thought has relied on philosophers and theologians to reflect on, develop, and pass along what really matters to the next generation. This book brings together the work of an international team of such scholars, who gathered for a conference at the Catholic University of Notre Dame Australia (Sydney) to reflect together on the perennial significance of traditions. Living the Catholic Tradition examines, philosophically and theologically, how traditions are not a thing from the past. It engages with biblical scholarship, systematic theology, moral philosophy and theology, political philosophy, and the arts. Readers will come away from reading this book ready to continue the tradition of thinking deeply about what matters to vibrant communities of belief and practice.”

Sheen, King, and Falwell

Later this spring, Penn Press will publish Religion in the Public Square: Sheen, King, Falwell, by Ave Maria politics professor James Patterson. The book covers three preachers–not often linked–who influenced American public policy in the 20th Century. I wonder about Patterson’s point about Falwell: did Falwell instigate a breakdown in the post-war Judeo-Christian consensus or did he simply reflect it? Anyway, looks interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description

In Religion in the Public Square, James M. Patterson considers religious leaders who popularized theology through media campaigns designed to persuade the public. Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rev. Jerry Falwell differed profoundly on issues of theology and politics, but they shared an approach to public ministry that aimed directly at changing how Americans understood the nature and purpose of their country. From the 1930s through the 1950s, Sheen was an early adopter of paperbacks, radio, and television to condemn totalitarian ideologies and to defend American Catholicism against Protestant accusations of divided loyalty. During the 1950s and 1960s, King staged demonstrations and boycotts that drew the mass media to him. The attention provided him the platform to preach Christian love as a political foundation in direct opposition to white supremacy. Falwell started his own church, which he developed into a mass media empire. He then leveraged it during the late 1970s through the 1980s to influence the Republican Party by exhorting his audience to not only ally with religious conservatives around issues of abortion and the traditional family but also to vote accordingly.

Sheen, King, and Falwell were so successful in popularizing their theological ideas that they won prestigious awards, had access to presidents, and witnessed the results of their labors. However, Patterson argues that Falwell’s efforts broke with the longstanding refusal of religious public figures to participate directly in partisan affairs and thereby catalyzed the process of politicizing religion that undermined the Judeo-Christian consensus that formed the foundation of American politics.

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