His the Religion

The Peace of Augsburg (1555) ended a struggle within the Holy Roman Empire between the Catholic Emperor Charles V and Lutheran princes. A key principle of the treaty was cuius regio, eius religio–“whose realm, his religion”–a prince could determine the religion of his state without interference from outside. It doesn’t seem like much, today; we wouldn’t say that freedom consists in believing as the prince directs you. But the principle acknowledged national, if not individual, autonomy in matters of religion, a major innovation at the time.

Last week, Yale University Press released a new biography of the Hapsburg prince and devoted Catholic who agreed to this arrangement, Emperor:A New Life of Charles V, by historian Geoffrey Parker (Ohio State). Here’s the description of the book from the Yale website:

Drawing on vital new evidence, a top historian dramatically reinterprets the ruler of the world’s first transatlantic empire.

The life of Emperor Charles V (1500–1558), ruler of Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and much of Italy and Central and South America, has long intrigued biographers. But the elusive nature of the man (despite an abundance of documentation), his relentless travel and the control of his own image, together with the complexity of governing the world’s first transatlantic empire, complicate the task.
 
Geoffrey Parker, one of the world’s leading historians of early modern Europe, has examined the surviving written sources in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, as well as visual and material evidence. He explores the crucial decisions that created and preserved this vast empire, analyzes Charles’s achievements within the context of both personal and structural factors, and scrutinizes the intimate details of the ruler’s life for clues to his character and inclinations. The result is a unique biography that interrogates every dimension of Charles’s reign and views the world through the emperor’s own eyes.

Balkanization

When American law professors hear the word “Balkanization” today, they’re likely to think of the homonymous blog. But of course the word originally refers to the peninsula in southeastern Europe, where a patchwork of fissiparous nations and religions have contended for centuries. A new book from Harvard, The Great Cauldron: A History of Southeastern Europe, by Marie-Janine Calic (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität – Munich) explores the history. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

A sweeping history of southeastern Europe from antiquity to the present that reveals it to be a vibrant crossroads of trade, ideas, and religions.

We often think of the Balkans as a region beset by turmoil and backwardness, but from late antiquity to the present it has been a dynamic meeting place of cultures and religions. Combining deep insight with narrative flair, The Great Cauldron invites us to reconsider the history of this intriguing, diverse region as essential to the story of global Europe.

Marie-Janine Calic reveals the many ways in which southeastern Europe’s position at the crossroads of East and West shaped continental and global developments. The nascent merchant capitalism of the Mediterranean world helped the Balkan knights fight the Ottomans in the fifteenth century. The deep pull of nationalism led a young Serbian bookworm to spark the conflagration of World War I. The late twentieth century saw political Islam spread like wildfire in a region where Christians and Muslims had long lived side by side. Along with vivid snapshots of revealing moments in time, including Krujë in 1450 and Sarajevo in 1984, Calic introduces fascinating figures rarely found in standard European histories. We meet the Greek merchant and poet Rhigas Velestinlis, whose revolutionary pamphlet called for a general uprising against Ottoman tyranny in 1797. And the Croatian bishop Ivan Dominik Stratiko, who argued passionately for equality of the sexes and whose success with women astonished even his friend Casanova.
Calic’s ambitious reappraisal expands and deepens our understanding of the ever-changing mixture of peoples, faiths, and civilizations in this much-neglected nexus of empire.

The Destruction of the Temple (Part II)

Following up on yesterday’s post about the impact the destruction of the Second Temple had on the politics of Christians in the Roman Empire, here is another on the impact the event had on Jews, Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth. The author is Jodi Magness (UNC-Chapel Hill) and the publisher is Princeton University Press. The publisher’s description follows:

A new account of the famous site and story of the last stand of a group of Jewish rebels who held out against the Roman Empire

Two thousand years ago, 967 Jewish men, women, and children—the last holdouts of the revolt against Rome following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple—reportedly took their own lives rather than surrender to the Roman army. This dramatic event, which took place on top of Masada, a barren and windswept mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, spawned a powerful story of Jewish resistance that came to symbolize the embattled modern State of Israel. The first extensive archaeological excavations of Masada began in the 1960s, and today the site draws visitors from around the world. And yet, because the mass suicide was recorded by only one ancient author—the Jewish historian Josephus—some scholars question if the event ever took place.

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist who has excavated at Masada, explains what happened there, how we know it, and how recent developments might change understandings of the story. Incorporating the latest findings, she integrates literary and historical sources to show what life was like for Jews under Roman rule during an era that witnessed the reign of Herod and Jesus’s ministry and death.

Featuring numerous illustrations, this is an engaging exploration of an ancient story that continues to grip the imagination today.

The Destruction of the Temple

Quite apart from theological meanings, the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD had major political implications for Jews and Christians in the Roman Empire. For Jews, it signaled the beginning of the Diaspora and the end of statehood for the next 2000 years. For Christians, the destruction of the temple, and the Jewish rebellion more generally, created an opportunity to draw a distinction between themselves and Jews and declare their political loyalty to the emperor, themes that appear repeatedly in the New Testament.

A new book from Yale, The Temple in Early Christianity: Experiencing the Sacred, explores the meaning for early Christians of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. The author is Eyal Regev (Bar-Ilan). Here’s the description from the Yale website:

A comprehensive treatment of the early Christian approaches to the Temple and its role in shaping Jewish and Christian identity.

The first scholarly work to trace the Temple throughout the entire New Testament, this study examines Jewish and Christian attitudes toward the Temple in the first century and provides both Jews and Christians with a better understanding of their respective faiths and how they grow out of this ancient institution. The centrality of the Temple in New Testament writing reveals the authors’ negotiations with the institutional and symbolic center of Judaism as they worked to form their own religion.

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.

King Louis and the Conversion of Muslims

Here is an interesting-looking new book from Princeton on an historical episode (or legend) of which I’d never heard. In the middle ages, the crusading French king and Catholic saint, Louis IX, allegedly converted a significant number of Muslims to Christianity and settled them in France. Most historians dismiss the episode as apocryphal, but, in The Apple of His Eye: Converts from Islam in the Reign of Louis IX, Princeton historian William Chester Jordan takes the story seriously. Whether true or not, the story is certainly suggestive of how the Catholic Church historically has viewed Muslims, a topic that recent comments by Pope Francis have revived. Here’s a description of the book from the Princeton website:

The thirteenth century brought new urgency to Catholic efforts to convert non-Christians, and no Catholic ruler was more dedicated to this undertaking than King Louis IX of France. His military expeditions against Islam are well documented, but there was also a peaceful side to his encounter with the Muslim world, one that has received little attention until now. This splendid book shines new light on the king’s program to induce Muslims—the “apple of his eye”—to voluntarily convert to Christianity and resettle in France. It recovers a forgotten but important episode in the history of the Crusades while providing a rare window into the fraught experiences of the converts themselves.

William Chester Jordan transforms our understanding of medieval Christian-Muslim relations by telling the stories of the Muslims who came to France to live as Christians. Under what circumstances did they willingly convert? How successfully did they assimilate into French society? What forms of resistance did they employ? In examining questions like these, Jordan weaves a richly detailed portrait of a dazzling yet violent age whose lessons still resonate today.

Until now, scholars have dismissed historical accounts of the king’s peaceful conversion of Muslims as hagiographical and therefore untrustworthy. Jordan takes these narratives seriously—and uncovers archival evidence to back them up. He brings his findings marvelously to life in this succinct and compelling book, setting them in the context of the Seventh Crusade and the universalizing Catholic impulse to convert the world.

Islam in Late Antiquity

15883We don’t think of it this way today, but in terms of ancient geopolitics, Islam was as much the heir of the Roman Empire as was Byzantium or the barbarian kingdoms of the West. Consider: within about a century of the fall of Rome, Islam had conquered the key Roman province of Egypt and all of North Africa. What had been a crucial part of the Roman world, the home of Tertullian and Augustine, very quickly became a crucial part of a new imperial state.

A new book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, The Apocalypse of Empire: Imperial Eschatology in Late Antiquity and Early Islam, by Stephen J. Shoemaker (University of Oregon) situates the Islamic conquest in terms of broader imperial politics and ideology–Roman, but also Persian. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

In The Apocalypse of Empire, Stephen J. Shoemaker argues that earliest Islam was a movement driven by urgent eschatological belief that focused on the conquest, or liberation, of the biblical Holy Land and situates this belief within a broader cultural environment of apocalyptic anticipation. Shoemaker looks to the Qur’an’s fervent representation of the imminent end of the world and the importance Muhammad and his earliest followers placed on imperial expansion. Offering important contemporary context for the imperial eschatology that seems to have fueled the rise of Islam, he surveys the political eschatologies of early Byzantine Christianity, Judaism, and Sasanian Zoroastrianism at the advent of Islam and argues that they often relate imperial ambition to beliefs about the end of the world. Moreover, he contends, formative Islam’s embrace of this broader religious trend of Mediterranean late antiquity provides invaluable evidence for understanding the beginnings of the religion at a time when sources are generally scarce and often highly problematic.

Scholarship on apocalyptic literature in early Judaism and Christianity frequently maintains that the genre is decidedly anti-imperial in its very nature. While it may be that early Jewish apocalyptic literature frequently displays this tendency, Shoemaker demonstrates that this quality is not characteristic of apocalypticism at all times and in all places. In the late antique Mediterranean as in the European Middle Ages, apocalypticism was regularly associated with ideas of imperial expansion and triumph, which expected the culmination of history to arrive through the universal dominion of a divinely chosen world empire. This imperial apocalypticism not only affords an invaluable backdrop for understanding the rise of Islam but also reveals an important transition within the history of Western doctrine during late antiquity.

How Belief Came to Transcend Religion

9780691174747_0The last sentence of the announcement of this new book from Princeton University Press–The Birth of Modern Belief: Faith and Judgment from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, by Berkeley historian Ethan Shagan–caught my attention. It confirms an essential, conservative critique of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment didn’t put an end to “belief” as a basis for one’s deepest commitments; it merely changed the objects of belief from traditional Christian concepts to new ones. I’m not sure what Shagan’s position is on all that, but the book looks very interesting indeed. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:

This landmark book traces the history of belief in the Christian West from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, revealing for the first time how a distinctively modern category of belief came into being. Ethan Shagan focuses not on what people believed, which is the normal concern of Reformation history, but on the more fundamental question of what people took belief to be.

Shagan shows how religious belief enjoyed a special prestige in medieval Europe, one that set it apart from judgment, opinion, and the evidence of the senses. But with the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation, the question of just what kind of knowledge religious belief was—and how it related to more mundane ways of knowing—was forced into the open. As the warring churches fought over the answer, each claimed belief as their exclusive possession, insisting that their rivals were unbelievers. Shagan challenges the common notion that modern belief was a gift of the Reformation, showing how it was as much a reaction against Luther and Calvin as it was against the Council of Trent. He describes how dissidents on both sides came to regard religious belief as something that needed to be justified by individual judgment, evidence, and argument.

Brilliantly illuminating, The Birth of Modern Belief demonstrates how belief came to occupy such an ambivalent place in the modern world, becoming the essential category by which we express our judgments about science, society, and the sacred, but at the expense of the unique status religion once enjoyed.

McHugo on Sunni and Shia Islam

9781626165861We’re a little late getting to this one, but earlier this year, Georgetown University Press published an interesting looking book on a religious divide that gets insufficient attention from Americans: A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi’is by John McHugo (University of St. Andrews). The Sunni/Shia divide forms the background for many contemporary conflicts in the Mideast, especially between Saudi Arabia and Iran. An understanding of the conflict is thus essential to appreciating the politics of the region. Here’s the description of the new book from the Georgetown website:

The 1,400-year-old schism between Sunnis and Shi’is is currently reflected in the destructive struggle for hegemony between Saudi Arabia and Iran—with no apparent end in sight. But how did this conflict begin, and why is it now the focus of so much attention?

Charting the history of Islam from the death of the Prophet Muhammad to the present day, John McHugo describes the conflicts that raged over the succession to the Prophet, how Sunnism and Shi’ism evolved as different sects during the Abbasid caliphate, and how the rivalry between the Sunni Ottomans and Shi’i Safavids ensured that the split would continue into the modern age. In recent decades, this centuries-old divide has acquired a new toxicity that has resulted in violence across the Arab world and other Muslim countries.

Definitive, insightful, and accessible, A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi’is is an essential guide to understanding the genesis, development, and manipulation of the schism that for far too many people has come to define Islam and the Muslim world

A New Book on Eusebius

9781108474078Lately, law-and-religion scholars have been turning their attention to the Patristic period, during which Christians first began to think in earnest about the relation between church and state. To give just two examples, there’s Steve Smith’s new book on pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire, and Robert Louis Wilken’s forthcoming book on early Christian concepts of religious liberty, which he presented at our Center’s colloquium this past fall. And so it might be a good time for us to reconsider Eusebius, that chronicler of Christianity in its formative centuries. A forthcoming book from Cambridge, Eusebius and Empire: Constructing Church and Rome in the Ecclesiastical History, does just that. The author is historian James Corke-Webster (King’s College London). Cambridge presents the book as a “radical” new treatment, which makes a traditionalist like me a little skeptical, but readers will be able to judge for themselves. Here’s the description from Cambridge’s website:

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, written in the early fourth century, continues to serve as our primary gateway to a crucial three hundred year period: the rise of early Christianity under the Roman Empire. In this volume, James Corke-Webster undertakes the first systematic study considering the History in the light of its fourth-century circumstances as well as its author’s personal history, intellectual commitments, and literary abilities. He argues that the Ecclesiastical History is not simply an attempt to record the past history of Christianity, but a sophisticated mission statement that uses events and individuals from that past to mould a new vision of Christianity tailored to Eusebius’ fourth-century context. He presents elite Graeco-Roman Christians with a picture of their faith that smooths off its rough edges and misrepresents its size, extent, nature, and relationship to Rome. Ultimately, Eusebius suggests that Christianity was – and always had been – the Empire’s natural heir.

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