Catlos, “Kingdoms of Faith”

97804650558761It’s often impossible to know whether religious conflicts are a cause or a symptom of wider social dysfunction. A new history of Muslim Spain from Basic Books, Kingdoms of Faith: A New History of Muslim Spain, by Brian Catlos, maintains that disputes among Christians, Jews, and Muslims during the centuries of Islamic rule were typically not about religion. It also offers a corrective to the many popular histories that assert that Al-Andalus was a sort of tolerant religious paradise. Readers can assess the arguments for themselves:

A magisterial, myth-dispelling history of Islamic Spain spanning the millennium between the founding of Islam in the seventh century and the final expulsion of Spain’s Muslims in the seventeenth.
In Kingdoms of Faith, award-winning historian Brian A. Catlos rewrites the history of Islamic Spain from the ground up, evoking the cultural splendor of al-Andalus, while offering an authoritative new interpretation of the forces that shaped it.
Prior accounts have portrayed Islamic Spain as a paradise of enlightened tolerance or the site where civilizations clashed. Catlos taps a wide array of primary sources to paint a more complex portrait, showing how Muslims, Christians, and Jews together built a sophisticated civilization that transformed the Western world, even as they waged relentless war against each other and their coreligionists. Religion was often the language of conflict, but seldom its cause–a lesson we would do well to learn in our own time.

 

Picard, “Sea of the Caliphs”

9780674660465-lgIn 1571, at the Battle of Lepanto, a collection of European powers led by Venice (at least that’s how I learned it, notwithstanding Chesterton’s great poem), defeated the Ottoman navy and ensured that Christian Europe, not Muslim Turkey, would control the Mediterranean Sea. A new history from Harvard University Press, Sea of the Caliphs: The Mediterranean in the Medieval Islamic World, shows that the contest between Christian and Muslim states for control of Mediterranean trade routes goes back quite far. The author is historian Christophe Picard (University of Paris I, Panthéon-Sorbonne). The publisher’s description follows:

 “How could I allow my soldiers to sail on this disloyal and cruel sea?” These words, attributed to the most powerful caliph of medieval Islam, Umar Ibn al-Khattab (634–644), have led to a misunderstanding in the West about the importance of the Mediterranean to early Islam. This body of water, known in Late Antiquity as the Sea of the Romans, was critical to establishing the kingdom of the caliphs and for introducing the new religion to Europe and Africa. Over time, it also became a pathway to commercial and political dominion, indispensable to the prosperity and influence of the Islamic world. Sea of the Caliphs returns Muslim sailors to their place of prominence in the history of the Islamic caliphate.

As early as the seventh century, Muslim sailors competed with Greek and Latin seamen for control of this far-flung route of passage. Christophe Picard recreates these adventures as they were communicated to admiring Muslims by their rulers. After the Arab conquest of southern Europe and North Africa, Muslims began to speak of the Mediterranean in their strategic visions, business practices, and notions of nature and the state. Jurists and ideologues conceived of the sea as a conduit for jihad, even as Muslims’ maritime trade with Latin, Byzantine, and Berber societies increased.

In the thirteenth century, Christian powers took over Mediterranean trade routes, but by that time a Muslim identity that operated both within and in opposition to Europe had been shaped by encounters across the sea of the caliphs.

Kotkin, “Stalin”

9781594203800Rounding out this week’s posts, here is a new and well-received book from Penguin Random House, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941by Princeton historian Stephen Kotkin. The book focuses on the period of forced collectivization, during which Stalin consolidated the Communist regime and, in the process, killed almost a million people. The 1930s were also the time of the most vicious persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church, led by the so-called League of the Militant Godless. Tens of thousands of churches were closed, and hundreds of thousands of clergy executed. After 1941, when Stalin needed the help of the Church in rallying opposition to Hitler, the persecution lifted a bit, but the real damage already had occurred. Here’s a description of the book from the publisher’s website:

Pulitzer Prize-finalist Stephen Kotkin has written the definitive biography of Joseph Stalin, from collectivization and the Great Terror to the conflict with Hitler’s Germany that is the signal event of modern world history

In 1929, Joseph Stalin, having already achieved dictatorial power over the vast Soviet Empire, formally ordered the systematic conversion of the world’s largest peasant economy into “socialist modernity,” otherwise known as collectivization, regardless of the cost.

What it cost, and what Stalin ruthlessly enacted, transformed the country and its ruler in profound and enduring ways. Building and running a dictatorship, with life and death power over hundreds of millions, made Stalin into the uncanny figure he became. Stephen Kotkin’s Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941 is the story of how a political system forged an unparalleled personality and vice versa.

The wholesale collectivization of some 120 million peasants necessitated levels of coercion that were extreme even for Russia, and the resulting mass starvation elicited criticism inside the party even from those Communists committed to the eradication of capitalism. But Stalin did not flinch. By 1934, when the Soviet Union

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Tackett, “The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution”

9780674979895-lgNot too far from our university’s Paris campus, on the way to the Jardin du Luxembourg, is the site of the old Carmelite Monastery. A marker commemorates an incident that occurred there that seems entirely incongruous with the quiet neighborhood today: the murder of hundreds of Catholic priests in 1792, part of the September Massacres that took place during the Revolution. I’m not sure if this forthcoming book from Harvard addresses that massacre, or the more famous murder of several Carmelite nuns a couple of years later, but it looks to be a worthwhile history of the Reign of Terror. The book is The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution and the author is UC-Irvine historian Timothy Tackett. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

Between 1793 and 1794, thousands of French citizens were imprisoned and hundreds sent to the guillotine by a powerful dictatorship that claimed to be acting in the public interest. Only a few years earlier, revolutionaries had proclaimed a new era of tolerance, equal justice, and human rights. How and why did the French Revolution’s lofty ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity descend into violence and terror?

The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution offers a new interpretation of this turning point in world history. Timothy Tackett traces the inexorable emergence of a culture of violence among the Revolution’s political elite amid the turbulence of popular uprisings, pervasive subversion, and foreign invasion. Violence was neither a preplanned strategy nor an ideological imperative but rather the consequence of multiple factors of the Revolutionary process itself, including an initial breakdown in authority, the impact of the popular classes, and a cycle of rumors, denunciations, and panic fed by fear—fear of counterrevolutionary conspiracies, fear of anarchy, fear of oneself becoming the target of vengeance. To comprehend the coming of the Terror, we must understand the contagion of fear that left the revolutionaries themselves terrorized.

Tackett recreates the sights, sounds, and emotions of the Revolution through the observations of nearly a hundred men and women who experienced and recorded it firsthand. Penetrating the mentality of Revolutionary elites on the eve of the Terror, he reveals how suspicion and mistrust escalated and helped propel their actions, ultimately consuming them and the Revolution itself.

Heller, “Jabotinsky’s Children”

From Princeton University Press, a new book on a lesser-known aspect of Jewish history, “right-wing Zionism” in pre-war Poland. The book, Jabotinsky’s Children: Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism, is by McGill University professor Daniel Kupfert Heller. Here’s a description of the book from the Princeton website:

k11134By the late 1930s, as many as fifty thousand Polish Jews belonged to Betar, a youth movement known for its support of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of right-wing Zionism. Poland was not only home to Jabotinsky’s largest following. The country also served as an inspiration and incubator for the development of right-wing Zionist ideas. Jabotinsky’s Children draws on a wealth of rare archival material to uncover how the young people in Betar were instrumental in shaping right-wing Zionist attitudes about the roles that authoritarianism and military force could play in the quest to build and maintain a Jewish state.

Recovering the voices of ordinary Betar members through their letters, diaries, and autobiographies, Jabotinsky’s Children paints a vivid portrait of young Polish Jews and their turbulent lives on the eve of the Holocaust. Rather than define Jabotinsky as a firebrand fascist or steadfast democrat, the book instead reveals how he deliberately delivered multiple and contradictory messages to his young followers, leaving it to them to interpret him as they saw fit. Tracing Betar’s surprising relationship with interwar Poland’s authoritarian government, Jabotinsky’s Children overturns popular misconceptions about Polish-Jewish relations between the two world wars and captures the fervent efforts of Poland’s Jewish youth to determine, on their own terms, who they were, where they belonged, and what their future held in store.

Shedding critical light on a vital yet neglected chapter in the history of Zionism, Jabotinsky’s Children provides invaluable perspective on the origins of right-wing Zionist beliefs and their enduring allure in Israel today.

 

Montefiore, “The Romanovs”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, a self-conscious attempt to break the hold of Christianity and establish an enlightened, secular, egalitarian state. Secular, it was, anyway. Before establishing their state, the Bolsheviks had to overthrow a self-consciously Orthodox Christian regime and remove and then eliminate the ruling Romanov dynasty–the last step, as Omar Sharif’s character explains in Doctor Zhivago, “to show there’s no going back.” Historian Samuel Sebag Montefiore has written a new book on that dynasty, The Romanovs, published in May by Penguin Random House. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

9780307280510The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world’s surface for three centuries. How did one family turn a war-ruined principality into the world’s greatest empire? And how did they lose it all?

This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s gripping chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence, and wild extravagance.

Drawing on new archival research, Montefiore delivers an enthralling epic of triumph and tragedy, love and murder, that is both a universal study of power and a portrait of empire that helps define Russia today.

Davis-Secord, “Where Three Worlds Met”

In June, the Cornell University Press will release “Where Three World Met: Sicily in the Early Medieval Mediterranean,” by Sarah Davis-Secord (University of New Mexico).  The publisher’s description follows:

Sicily is a lush and culturally rich island at the center of the Mediterranean Sea. Throughout its history, the island has been conquered and colonized by successive logo_cornelluniversitypresswaves of peoples from across the Mediterranean region. In the early and central Middle Ages, the island was ruled and occupied in turn by Greek Christians, Muslims, and Latin Christians.

In Where Three Worlds Met, Sarah Davis-Secord investigates Sicily’s place within the religious, diplomatic, military, commercial, and intellectual networks of the Mediterranean by tracing the patterns of travel, trade, and communication among Christians (Latin and Greek), Muslims, and Jews. By looking at the island across this long expanse of time and during the periods of transition from one dominant culture to another, Davis-Secord uncovers the patterns that defined and redefined the broader Muslim-Christian encounter in the Middle Ages.

Sicily was a nexus for cross-cultural communication not because of its geographical placement at the center of the Mediterranean but because of the specific roles the island played in a variety of travel and trade networks in the Mediterranean region. Complex combinations of political, cultural, and economic need transformed Sicily’s patterns of connection to other nearby regions—transformations that were representative of the fundamental shifts that took place in the larger Mediterranean system during the Middle Ages. The meanings and functions of Sicily’s positioning within these larger Mediterranean communications networks depended on the purposes to which the island was being put and how it functioned at the boundaries of the Greek, Latin, and Muslim worlds.

Caravale, “Beyond the Inquisition” (Weinstein, trans.)

Next month, Notre Dame Press will release Beyond the Inquisition: Ambrogio Catarino Politi and the Origins of the Counter-Reformation by Giorgio Caravale (University of Roma Tre) and translated by the late Donald Weinstein. The publisher’s description follows:

Beyond the InquisitionIn Beyond the Inquisition, originally published in an Italian edition in 2007, Giorgio Caravale offers a fresh perspective on sixteenth-century Italian religious history and the religious crisis that swept across Europe during that period. Through an intellectual biography of Ambrogio Catarino Politi (1484–1553), Caravale rethinks the problems resulting from the diffusion of Protestant doctrines in Renaissance Italy and the Catholic opposition to their advance. At the same time, Caravale calls for a new conception of the Counter-Reformation, demonstrating that during the first half of the sixteenth century there were many alternatives to the inquisitorial model that ultimately prevailed.

Lancellotto Politi, the jurist from Siena who entered the Dominican order in 1517 under the name of Ambrogio Catarino, started his career as an anti-Lutheran controversialist, shared friendships with the Italian Spirituals, and was frequently in conflict with his own order. The main stages of his career are all illustrated with a rich array of previously published and unpublished documentation. Caravale’s thorough analysis of Politi’s works, actions, and relationships significantly alters the traditional image of an intransigent heretic hunter and an author of fierce anti-Lutheran tirades. In the same way, the reconstruction of his role as a papal theologian and as a bishop in the first phase of the Council of Trent and the reinterpretation of his battle against the Spanish theologian Domingo de Soto and scholasticism reestablish the image of a Counter-Reformation that was different from the one that triumphed in Trent, the image of an alternative that was viable but never came close to being implemented.

 

 

“Charity and Social Welfare” (Van Molle, ed.)

In March, Cornell University Press will release “Charity and Social Welfare: The Dynamics of Religious Reform in Northern Europe, 1780-1920,” edited by Leen Van Molle (KU Leuven).  The publisher’s description follows:

“Charity” is a word that fits well in the history of religion and churches, whereas the concept of social reform seems to belong more to the vocabulary of the modern 80140100179110lwelfare states. Christian charity found itself, during the long nineteenth century, within the maelstrom of social turmoil. In this context of social unrest, although charity managed to confirm its relevance, it was also subjected to fierce criticism, as well as to substitute state-run forms of social care and insurance. The history of the welfare states remained all too blind to religion. This book unravels how the churches in Britain and Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium shaped and adjusted their understanding of poverty. It reveals how they struggled with the “social question” and often also with the modern nation-states to which they belonged. Either in the periphery of public assistance or in a dynamic interplay with the state, political parties and society at large, the churches reinvented their tradition as providers of social relief.

 

Ellis, “Politics and Piety”

In March, Brill Publishers will release Politics and Piety: The Protestant ‘Awakening’ in Prussia, 1816-1856 by David L. Ellis (Augustana College). The publisher’s description follows:

politics-and-pietyIn Politics and Piety: The Protestant ‘Awakening’ in Prussia, 1816-1856, David L. Ellis analyzes the connections between political conservatism and Prussia’s neo-Pietist religious revival, especially in Brandenburg and Pomerania, in the years surrounding the revolution of 1848. Awakened conservatives waged a cultural struggle against political and religious liberalism, impacting the state church, the outcome of the revolution, and Prussia’s controversial neutrality in the Crimean War. Awakened leaders, in their effort to recover and adapt a pre-Napoleonic order, ironically modernized conservatism with individualistic rhetoric, widely circulated newspapers, and political organization.

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