Heydt, “Moral Philosophy in Eighteenth- Century Britain: God, Self, and Other”

Here is an interesting looking work of intellectual history concerning the 18th century, Great Britain.jpgwhich traces the development of various important Enlightenment ideas about morality in Great Britain: Moral Philosophy in Eighteenth-Century Britain: God, Self, and Other (CUP), by Colin Heydt.

The long eighteenth century is a crucial period in the history of ethics, when our moral relations to God, ourselves and others were minutely examined and our duties, rights and virtues systematically and powerfully presented. Colin Heydt charts the history of practical morality – what we ought to do and to be – from the 1670s, when practical ethics arising from Protestant natural law gained an institutional foothold in England, to early British responses to the French Revolution around 1790. He examines the conventional philosophical positions concerning the content of morality, and utilizes those conventions to reinterpret the work of key figures including Locke, Hume, and Smith. Situating these positions in their thematic and historical contexts, he shows how studying them challenges our assumptions about the originality, intended audience, and aims of philosophical argument during this period. His rich and readable book will appeal to a range of scholars and students.

Pieper, “Exercises in the Elements”

Here is a new collection of essays and other writings by the great twentieth century neo-Thomist philosopher, Josef Pieper: Exercises in the Elements: Essays–Speeches–Notes (St.Pieper Augustine Press). Pieper is perhaps best known for his extended essay, “Leisure: The Basis of Culture,” and I’ve written something before about one of my own favorites of his works, “Tradition: Concept and Claim.” This new and wide-ranging collection looks like it treats many different topics.

This title, which at first sight seems curious, shows Pieper’s philosophical work as rooted in the basics. He takes his inspiration from Plato – and his Socrates – and Thomas Aquinas. With them, he is interested in philosophy as pure theory, the theoretical being precisely the non-practical. The philosophizer wants to know what all existence is fundamentally about, what “reality” “really” means. With Plato, Pieper eschews the use of language to convince an audience of anything which is not the truth. If Plato was opposed to the sophists – among them the politicians – Pieper is likewise opposed to discourse that leads to the “use” of philosophy to bolster a totalitarian regime or any political or economic system.

A fundamental issue for Pieper is “createdness.” He sees this as the fundamental truth of our being – all being – and the fundamental virtue we can practice is the striving to live according to our perception of real truth in any given situation. The strength and attraction of Pieper’s writing is its direct and intuitive character which is independent of abstract systematization. He advocates staying in touch with the “real” as we experience it deep within ourselves. Openness to the totality of being – in no matter what context being reveals itself – and the affirmation of all that is founded in this totality are central pillars of all his thinking. Given the “simplicity” of this stance, it is no surprise that much of it is communicated – and successfully – through his gift for illustration by anecdote. Like Plato, this philosopher is a story-teller and, like him, very readable.

“The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in America” (Gutjahr ed.)

One of the most interesting books I’ve read recently is Daniel Dreisbach’s Reading the BibleBible With the Founding Fathers, an exploration of the influence of the Bible on the political and cultural lives of the early Republic. This book, The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in America (OUP), edited by Paul Gutjahr, looks like an excellent companion/reference volume on the same subject, though it extends beyond the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and contains essays by many leading lights (including Dreisbach).

Early Americans have long been considered “A People of the Book.” Because the nickname was coined primarily to invoke close associations between Americans and the Bible, it is easy to overlook the central fact that it was a book-not a geographic location, a monarch, or even a shared language-that has served as a cornerstone in countless investigations into the formation and fragmentation of early American culture. Few books can lay claim to such powers of civilization-altering influence. Among those which can are sacred books, and for Americans principal among such books stands the Bible.

This Handbook is designed to address a noticeable void in resources focused on analyzing the Bible in America in various historical moments and in relationship to specific institutions and cultural expressions. It takes seriously the fact that the Bible is both a physical object that has exercised considerable totemic power, as well as a text with a powerful intellectual design that has inspired everything from national religious and educational practices to a wide spectrum of artistic endeavors to our nation’s politics and foreign policy.

This Handbook brings together a number of established scholars, as well as younger scholars on the rise, to provide a scholarly overview–rich with bibliographic resources–to those interested in the Bible’s role in American cultural formation.

Scott, “Sex and Secularism”

9780691160641The description of this new book from Princeton University Press, Sex and Secularism, by Joan Wallach Scott (Institute for Advanced Study) puzzles me. The author appears to argue that secularism historically stood for the oppression of women and for Christian superiority, and that only the recent challenge of Islam has caused secularism to switch positions and promote women’s equality. I’m not sure what secularism the author means. Simone de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex in the 1940s, long before “the Muslim question” arose in the West, and, although one can make a good argument that secularism derives historically from Christian ideas about church and state, it seems implausible that secularism was itself a means of promoting Christian superiority. Secularists eagerly attacked Christian legal and cultural superiority at every turn. Anyway, readers can judge for themselves. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:

How secularism has been used to justify the subordination of women

Joan Wallach Scott’s acclaimed and controversial writings have been foundational for the field of gender history. With Sex and Secularism, Scott challenges one of the central claims of the “clash of civilizations” polemic—the false notion that secularism is a guarantee of gender equality.

Drawing on a wealth of scholarship by second-wave feminists and historians of religion, race, and colonialism, Scott shows that the gender equality invoked today as a fundamental and enduring principle was not originally associated with the term “secularism” when it first entered the lexicon in the nineteenth century. In fact, the inequality of the sexes was fundamental to the articulation of the separation of church and state that inaugurated Western modernity. Scott points out that Western nation-states imposed a new order of women’s subordination, assigning them to a feminized familial sphere meant to complement the rational masculine realms of politics and economics. It was not until the question of Islam arose in the late twentieth century that gender equality became a primary feature of the discourse of secularism.

Challenging the assertion that secularism has always been synonymous with equality between the sexes, Sex and Secularism reveals how this idea has been used to justify claims of white, Western, and Christian racial and religious superiority and has served to distract our attention from a persistent set of difficulties related to gender difference—ones shared by Western and non-Western cultures alike.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Ecklund & Scheitle, “Religion vs. Science”

9780190650629Here is an interesting-looking contribution from Oxford University Press to the sociology of religion in the United States: Religion vs. Science: What Religious People Really Think, by sociologists Elaine Howard Ecklund (Rice University) and Christopher P. Scheitle (West Virginia University). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the authors conclude, after a five-year study, that media portrayals of an anti-science bias on the part of religious Americans are simplistic. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

At the end of a five-year journey to find out what religious Americans think about science, Ecklund and Scheitle emerge with the real story of the relationship between science and religion in American culture. Based on the most comprehensive survey ever done-representing a range of religious traditions and faith positions-Religion vs. Science is a story that is more nuanced and complex than the media and pundits would lead us to believe.

The way religious Americans approach science is shaped by two fundamental questions: What does science mean for the existence and activity of God? What does science mean for the sacredness of humanity? How these questions play out as individual believers think about science both challenges stereotypes and highlights the real tensions between religion and science. Ecklund and Scheitle interrogate the widespread myths that religious people dislike science and scientists and deny scientific theories.

Religion vs. Science is a definitive statement on a timely, popular subject. Rather than a highly conceptual approach to historical debates, philosophies, or personal opinions, Ecklund and Scheitle give readers a facts-on-the-ground, empirical look at what religious Americans really understand and think about science.

Mullen, “The Chance of Salvation”

9780674975620-lgObservers since Tocqueville have noted the individualism that runs deep in the American character. This individualism extends to religion. Americans see religion as a personal decision, a voluntary choice of spiritual identity. The idea that one would have a moral obligation to adhere to the religion of one’s ancestors, or to a religion one has chosen for oneself but no longer finds compelling, is quite foreign to us. This individualism explains why conversion is comparatively frequent in America — more frequent than in Europe, for example. A new book from Harvard University Press, The Chance of Salvation: A History of Conversion in America, by George Mason University professor Lincoln A. Mullen, traces the history of conversion in America. Looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

The United States has a long history of religious pluralism, and yet Americans have often thought that people’s faith determines their eternal destinies. The result is that Americans switch religions more often than any other nation. The Chance of Salvation traces the history of the distinctively American idea that religion is a matter of individual choice.

Lincoln Mullen shows how the willingness of Americans to change faiths, recorded in narratives that describe a wide variety of conversion experiences, created a shared assumption that religious identity is a decision. In the nineteenth century, as Americans confronted a growing array of religious options, pressures to convert altered the basis of American religion. Evangelical Protestants emphasized conversion as a personal choice, while Protestant missionaries brought Christianity to Native American nations such as the Cherokee, who adopted Christianity on their own terms. Enslaved and freed African Americans similarly created a distinctive form of Christian conversion based on ideas of divine justice and redemption. Mormons proselytized for a new tradition that stressed individual free will. American Jews largely resisted evangelism while at the same time winning converts to Judaism. Converts to Catholicism chose to opt out of the system of religious choice by turning to the authority of the Church.

By the early twentieth century, religion in the United States was a system of competing options that created an obligation for more and more Americans to choose their own faith. Religion had changed from a family inheritance to a consciously adopted identity.

 

Leppin, “Martin Luther”

9780801098215On this 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, we continue with our list of new and forthcoming works on Martin Luther. From Baker Academic Press, here is a new biography of the Reformer — looking rather skeptical on that jacket cover, come to think of it  — by German medievalist Volker Leppin (University of Tübingen), Martin Luther: A Late Medieval Life. The description from the publisher’s website:

This brief, insightful biography of Martin Luther strips away the myths surrounding the Reformer to offer a more nuanced account of his life and ministry. Coinciding with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, this accessible yet robustly historical and theological work highlights the medieval background of Luther’s life in contrast to contemporary legends. Internationally respected church historian Volker Leppin explores the Catholic roots of Lutheran thought and locates Luther’s life in the unfolding history of 16th-century Europe. Foreword by Timothy J. Wengert.

Annicchino, “Law and International Religious Freedom”

9781138282445I’m delighted to post this forthcoming book by Forum guest blogger and Tradition Project member Pasquale Annicchino, Law and International Religious Freedom: The Rise and Decline of the American Model (Routledge). Pasquale, a fellow at the European University Institute, is a rising star in comparative law and religion studies, with a special focus on international religious freedom. The issues he highlights in this book — the debate between individualistic and communitarian understandings of religion and the need for law to focus on major rights violations — are important ones, in America and abroad. Here’s a description of his book from the Routledge website:

This book analyzes the promotion and protection of freedom of religion in the international arena with a particular focus on the role and influence of the US International Religious Freedom Act, 1998. It also investigates the impact of the IRFA on the legislation and policies of third countries and the EU. The book develops the story of the protection of religious freedom through foreign policy by showing how religious laws affect and shape a more communitarian dimension of the notion of freedom of religion which stands in contrast with a traditionally Western individualistic understanding of the right. It is argued that it is still possible to defend the unstable category of freedom of religion or belief especially when major violations are at stake. The book presents a balanced contribution to the academic debate on the promotion and protection of religious freedom. The comparative approach and interdisciplinary methodology make it a valuable resource for academics, students and policy- makers in Law, International Relations and Strategic Studies.

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