Sarah Ruden’s New Translation of Augustine’s Confessions

I’ve greatly enjoyed classicist Sarah Ruden’s work, ever since reading her Paul Among the People (2010), which situates St. Paul in the classical world and corrects the image of him as a repressed killjoy. Her 2012 translation of Apuleius’ The Golden Ass is readable and a lot of fun. So I very much look forward to her latest work, a new translation of Augustine’s Confessions. Here’s the description from the Penguin Random House website:

9780812996562One of the great works of Western literature, from perhaps the most important thinker of Christian antiquity, in a revolutionary new translation by one of today’s leading classicists

Sarah Ruden’s fresh, dynamic translation of Confessions brings us closer to Augustine’s intent than any previous version. It puts a glaring spotlight on the life of one individual to show how all lives have meaning that is universal and eternal.

In this intensely personal narrative, Augustine tells the story of his sinful youth and his conversion to Christianity. He describes his ascent from a humble farm in North Africa to a prestigious post in the Roman Imperial capital of Milan, his struggle against his own overpowering sexuality, his renunciation of secular ambition and marriage, and the recovery of the faith his mother had taught him during his earliest years. Augustine’s concerns are often strikingly contemporary, and the confessional mode he invented can be seen everywhere in writing today.

Grounded in her command of Latin as it was written and spoken in the ancient world, Sarah Ruden’s translation is a bold departure from its predecessors—and the most historically accurate translation ever. Stylistically beautiful, with no concessions made to suit later theology and ritual, Ruden’s rendition will give readers a startling and illuminating new perspective on one of the central texts of Christianity.

Littlejohn, “The Peril and Promise of Christian Liberty”

If you want to understand the classical liberal approach to church and state, you will find yourself returning repeatedly to John Locke. And, in Locke, you’ll come across references to the Anglican thinker Richard Hooker. Learning more about Hooker and his approach to natural law is thus a very good idea. A new book from Eerdmans, The Peril and Promise of Christian Liberty: Richard Hooker, the Puritans, and Protestant Political Theology, by W. Bradford Littlejohn, seems a promising place to start. Here’s the publisher’s description:

9780802872562How do Christians determine when to obey God even if that means disobeying human authorities? In this book W. Bradford Littlejohn addresses that question, with particular attention to the magisterial political-theological work of Richard Hooker, a leading figure in the sixteenth-century English Reformation.

Littlejohn shows how Martin Luther and other Reformers considered Christian liberty to be compatible with considerable civil authority over the church, but he also analyzes the ambiguities and tensions of that relationship and how it helped provoke the Puritan movement. The heart of the book examines how, according to Richard Hooker, certain forms of Puritan legalism posed a greater threat to Christian liberty than did meddling monarchs. In expounding Hooker’s remarkable attempt to offer a balanced synthesis of liberty and authority in church, state, and conscience, Littlejohn draws out pertinent implications for Christian liberty and politics today.

Kaufman, “Augustine’s Leaders”

Lord, make me political, but not just yet: A new study, Augustine’s Leaders, by Peter Iver Kaufman (University of Richmond), argues that Saint Augustine was ultimately skeptical that Christianity had much to offer practical politics, especially contemporary liberal politics. Here’s a description of the book, from the Wipf and Stock website:

CASCADE_TemplateIn Augustine’s Leaders, Peter Iver Kaufman works from the premise that appropriations of Augustine endorsing contemporary liberal efforts to mix piety and politics are mistaken–that Augustine was skeptical about the prospects for involving Christianity in meaningful political change. His skepticism raises several questions for historians. What roles did one of the most influential Christian theologians set for religious and political leaders? What expectations did he have for emperors, statesmen, bishops, and pastors? What obstacles did he presume they would face? And what pastoral, polemical, and political challenges shaped Augustine’s expectations–and frustrations? Augustine’s Leaders answers those questions and underscores the leadership its subject provided as he continued to commend humility and compassion in religious and political cultures that seemed to him to reward, above all, celebrity and self-interest.

Birge, “Marriage and the Law in the Age of Khubilai Khan”

In June, the Harvard University Press will release “Marriage and the Law in the Age of Khubilai Khan: Cases from the Yuan dianzhang,” by Bettine Birge (University of Southern California).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Mongol conquest of China in the thirteenth century and Khubilai Khan’s founding of the Yuan dynasty brought together under one government people of 9780674975514-lgdifferent languages, religions, and social customs. Chinese law evolved rapidly to accommodate these changes, as reflected in the great compendium Yuan dianzhang (Statutes and Precedents of the Yuan Dynasty). The records of legal cases contained in this seminal text, Bettine Birge shows, paint a portrait of medieval Chinese family life—and the conflicts that arose from it—that is unmatched by any other historical source.

Marriage and the Law in the Age of Khubilai Khan reveals the complex, sometimes contradictory inner workings of the Mongol-Yuan legal system, seen through the prism of marriage disputes in chapter eighteen of the Yuan dianzhang, which has never before been translated into another language. The text includes court testimony—recorded in the vivid vernacular of people from all social classes—in lawsuits over adultery, divorce, rape, wife-selling, marriages of runaway slaves, and other conflicts. It brings us closer than any other source to the actual Mongolian speech of Khubilai and the great khans who succeeded him as they struggled to reconcile very different Mongol, Muslim, and Chinese legal traditions and confront the challenges of ruling a diverse polyethnic empire.

Lindkvist, “Religious Freedom and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”

In June, Cambridge University Press will release “Religious Freedom and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” by Linde Lindkvist (Uppsala Universitet).  The publisher’s description follows:

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is widely considered to be the most influential statement on religious freedom in human history. Religious 9781107159419Freedom and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides a groundbreaking account of its origins and developments, examining the background, key players, and outcomes of Article 18, and setting it within the broader discourse around international religious freedom in the 1940s. Taking issue with standard accounts that see the text of the Universal Declaration as humanity’s joint response to the atrocities of World War II, it shows instead how central features of Article 18 were intimately connected to the political projects and visions of particular actors involved in the start-up of the UN Human Rights program. This will be essential reading for anyone grappling with the historical and contemporary meaning of human rights and religious freedom.

Howard, “The Pope and the Professor”

In May, Oxford University Press will release The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age by Thomas Albert Howard (Valparaiso University). The publisher’s description follows:

Pope and the ProfessorThe Pope and the Professor tells the captivating story of the German Catholic theologian and historian Ignaz von Dollinger (1799-1890), who fiercely opposed the teaching of Papal Infallibility at the time of the First Vatican Council (1869-70), convened by Pope Pius IX (r. 1846-1878), among the most controversial popes in the history of the papacy. Dollinger’s thought, his opposition to the Council, his high-profile excommunication in 1871, and the international sensation that this action caused offer a fascinating window into the intellectual and religious history of the nineteenth century. Thomas Albert Howard examines Dollinger’s post-conciliar activities, including pioneering work in ecumenism and inspiring the”Old Catholic” movement in Central Europe. Set against the backdrop of Italian and German national unification, and the rise of anticlericalism and ultramontanism after the French Revolution, The Pope and the Professor is at once an endeavor of historical and theological inquiry. It provides nuanced historical contextualization of the events, topics, and personalities, while also raising abiding questions about the often fraught relationship between individual conscience and scholarly credentials, on the one hand, and church authority and tradition, on the other.

Gurock, “The Holocaust Averted”

This month, Rutgers University Press released the paperback edition of The Holocaust Averted: An Alternate History of American Jewry, 1938-1967 by Jeffrey S. Gurock (Yeshiva University). The publisher’s description follows:

The Holocaust AvertedThe increasingly popular genre of “alternative histories” has captivated audiences by asking questions like “what if the South had won the Civil War?” Such speculation can be instructive, heighten our interest in a topic, and shed light on accepted history. In The Holocaust Averted, Jeffrey Gurock imagines what might have happened to the Jewish community in the United States if the Holocaust had never occurred and forces readers to contemplate how the road to acceptance and empowerment for today’s American Jews could have been harder than it actually was.

 

Based on reasonable alternatives grounded in what is known of the time, places, and participants, Gurock presents a concise narrative of his imagined war-time saga and the events that followed Hitler’s military failures. While German Jews did suffer under Nazism, the millions of Jews in Eastern Europe survived and were able to maintain their communities. Since few people were concerned with the safety of European Jews, Zionism never became popular in the United States and social antisemitism kept Jews on the margins of society. By the late 1960s, American Jewish communities were far from vibrant.

This alternate history—where, among many scenarios, Hitler is assassinated, Japan does not bomb Pearl Harbor, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt is succeeded after two terms by Robert A. Taft—does cause us to review and better appreciate history. As Gurock tells his tale, he concludes every chapter with a short section that describes what actually happened and, thus, further educates the reader.

Royce, “The Political Theology of European Integration”

In May, Palgrave Macmillan will release “The Political Theology of European Integration: Comparing the Influence of Religious Histories on European Policies,” by Mark Royce (Northern Virginia Community College).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book traces the connections between diverging postwar European integration policies and intra-Christian divisions to argue that supranational integration 9783319534466originates from Roman Catholic internationalism, and that resistance to integration, conversely, is based in Protestantism. Royce supports this thesis through a rigorously supported historical narrative, arguing that sixteenth-century theological conflicts generated seventeenth-century constitutional solutions, which ultimately effected the political choices both for and against integration during the twentieth century. Beginning with a survey of all ecclesiastical laws of seventeen West European countries and concluding with a full discussion of the Brexit vote and emerging alternatives to the EU, this examination of the political theology surrounding the European Union will appeal to all scholars of EU politics, modern theology, religious sociology, and contemporary European history.

Orwin, “Redefining the Muslim Community”

Next month, the University of Pennsylvania Press will release “Redefining the Muslim Community: Ethnicity, Religion, and Politics in the Thought of Alfarabi,” by Alexander Orwin (Harvard University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Writing in the cosmopolitan metropolis of Baghdad, Alfarabi (870-950) is unique in the history of premodern political philosophy for his extensive discussion of pennpressbluelogothe nation, or Umma in Arabic. The term Umma may be traced back to the Qur’ān and signifies, then and now, both the Islamic religious community as a whole and the various ethnic nations of which that community is composed, such as the Turks, Persians, and Arabs. Examining Alfarabi’s political writings as well as parts of his logical commentaries, his book on music, and other treatises, Alexander Orwin contends that the connections and tensions between ethnic and religious Ummas explored by Alfarabi in his time persist today in the ongoing political and cultural disputes among the various nationalities within Islam.

According to Orwin, Alfarabi strove to recast the Islamic Umma as a community in both a religious and cultural sense, encompassing art and poetry as well as law and piety. By proposing to acknowledge and accommodate diverse Ummas rather than ignoring or suppressing them, Alfarabi anticipated the contemporary concept of “Islamic civilization,” which emphasizes culture at least as much as religion. Enlisting language experts, jurists, theologians, artists, and rulers in his philosophic enterprise, Alfarabi argued for a new Umma that would be less rigid and more creative than the Muslim community as it has often been understood, and therefore less inclined to force disparate ethnic and religious communities into a single mold. Redefining the Muslim Community demonstrates how Alfarabi’s judicious combination of cultural pluralism, religious flexibility, and political prudence could provide a blueprint for reducing communal strife in a region that continues to be plagued by it today.

Akhtar, “Philosophers, Sufis, and Caliphs”

In May, the Cambridge University Press will release “Philosophers, Sufis, and Caliphs: Politics and Authority from Cordoba to Cairo and Baghdad,” by Ali Humayun Akhtar (Bates College & University of Wisconsin – Madison).  The publisher’s description follows: 

What was the relationship between government and religion in Middle Eastern history? In a world of caliphs, sultans, and judges, who exercised political and religious 9781107182011authority? In this book, Ali Humayun Akhtar investigates debates about leadership that involved ruling circles and scholars of jurisprudence and theology. At the heart of this story is a medieval rivalry between three caliphates: the Umayyads of Cordoba, the Fatimids of Cairo, and the Abbasids of Baghdad. In a fascinating revival of Late Antique Hellenism, Aristotelian and Platonic notions of wisdom became a key component of how these caliphs debated their authority as political leaders. By tracing how these political debates impacted the theological scholars and their own conception of communal guidance, Akhtar offers a new picture of premodern political authority and the connections between Western and Islamic civilizations. It will be of use to students and specialists of the premodern and modern Middle East.

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