Goldberg, “Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought”

In June, the University of Chicago Press will release Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought by Chad Alan Goldberg (University of Wisconsin-Madison). The publisher’s description follows:

Modernity and the JewsIn the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, prominent social thinkers in France, Germany, and the United States sought to understand the modern world taking shape around them. Although they worked in different national traditions and emphasized different features of modern society, they repeatedly invoked Jews as a touchstone for defining modernity and national identity in a context of rapid social change.

In Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought, Chad Alan Goldberg brings us a major new study of Western social thought through the lens of Jews and Judaism. In France, where antisemites decried the French Revolution as the “Jewish Revolution,” Émile Durkheim challenged depictions of Jews as agents of revolutionary subversion or counterrevolutionary reaction. When German thinkers such as Karl Marx, Georg Simmel, Werner Sombart, and Max Weber debated the relationship of the Jews to modern industrial capitalism, they reproduced, in secularized form, cultural assumptions derived from Christian theology. In the United States, William Thomas, Robert Park, and their students conceived the modern city and its new modes of social organization in part by reference to the Jewish immigrants concentrating there. In all three countries, social thinkers invoked real or purported differences between Jews and gentiles to elucidate key dualisms of modern social thought. The Jews thus became an intermediary through which social thinkers discerned in a roundabout fashion the nature, problems, and trajectory of their own wider societies. Goldberg rounds out his fascinating study by proposing a novel explanation for why Jews were such an important cultural reference point. He suggests a rethinking of previous scholarship on Orientalism, Occidentalism, and European perceptions of America, arguing that history extends into the present, with the Jews—and now the Jewish state—continuing to serve as an intermediary for self-reflection in the twenty-first century.

“Cultures of Communication” (Puff et al, eds)

In May, the University of Toronto Press will release Cultures of Communication: Theologies of Media in Early Modern Europe and Beyond edited by Helmut Puff (University of Michigan), Ulrike Strasser (University of California, San Diego),  and Christopher Wild (University of Chicago). The publisher’s description follows:

Culture of CommunicationContrary to the historiographical commonplace “no Reformation without print” Cultures of Communication examines media in the early modern world through the lens of the period’s religious history. Looking beyond the emergence of print, this collection of ground-breaking essays highlights the pivotal role of theology in the formation of the early modern cultures of communication. The authors assembled here urge us to understand the Reformation as a response to the perceived crisis of religious communication in late medieval Europe. In addition, they explore the novel demands placed on European media ecology by the acceleration and intensification of global interconnectedness in the early modern period. As the Christian evangelizing impulse began to propel growing numbers of Europeans outward to the Americas and Asia, theories and practices of religious communication had to be reformed to accommodate an array of new communicative constellations – across distances, languages, cultures.

 

Nolt, “The Amish”

This month, Johns Hopkins University Press releases “The Amish” by Steven M. Nolt ( Elizabethtown College). The publisher’s description follows:

There seems to be no end to our fascination with the Amish, a religious minority that has both placed itself outside the mainstream of American culture and flourished within it. Yet most people know very little about the nuanced relationship the Amish have with society or their own communities.

Drawing on more than twenty years of fieldwork and collaborative research, Steven M. Nolt’s  The Amish: A Concise Introduction is a compact but richly detailed portrait of Amish life. In fewer than 150 pages, readers will come away with a clear understanding of the complexities of these simple people. Writing in engaging and accessible language, Nolt explains how the Amish at once operate within modern America and stand very much apart from the world. Arguing that Amish life is shaped equally by internal and external social, political, and economic contexts, Nolt explores Amish identity as emerging from a complex cultural negotiation with modernity. He takes on much-hyped topics such as  Rumspringa and reveals the distinctive Amish approach to technology. He also explains how Amish principles stand in contrast to contemporary American values, including rational efficiency, large-scale organization, and Western notions of individuality.

Authoritative, informative, and illustrated, this guide provides a vivid introduction to a way of life many find fascinating but few truly understand.

“Recovering Buddhism in Modern China” (Kiely & Jessup eds.)

In March, the Columbia University Press will release “Recovering Buddhism in Modern China,” edited by Jan Kiely (Chinese University of Hong Kong) and J. Brooks Jessup (Free University of Berlin). The publisher’s description follows:

Modern Chinese history told from a Buddhist perspective restores the vibrant, creative role of religion in postimperial China. It shows how urban Buddhist elites 9780231172769jockeyed for cultural dominance in the early Republican era, how Buddhist intellectuals reckoned with science, and how Buddhist media contributed to modern print cultures. It recognizes the political importance of sacred Buddhist relics and the complex processes through which Buddhists both participated in and experienced religious suppression under Communist rule. Today, urban and rural communities alike engage with Buddhist practices to renegotiate class, gender, and kinship relations in post-Mao China.

This volume vividly portrays these events and more, recasting Buddhism as a critical factor in China’s twentieth-century development. Each chapter connects a moment in Buddhist history to a significant theme in Chinese history, creating new narratives of Buddhism’s involvement in the emergence of urban modernity, the practice of international diplomacy, the mobilization for total war, and other transformations of state, society, and culture. Working across an extraordinary thematic range, this book reincorporates Buddhism into the formative processes and distinctive character of Chinese history.

Harrison, “The Territories of Science and Religion”

The distinguished cultural historian Professor Peter Harrison’s (Oxford) 2011 HarrisonGifford Lectures concerned the relationship of religion and science. Now comes his new book, The Territories of Science and Religion, (this was the title of his first Gifford Lecture) just published by the University of Chicago Press. The first Gifford Lecture concerned the basic concepts of religion and science and their history, the changes that the concepts have undergone, and the utility (and disutility) of the concepts. The publisher’s description follows.

The conflict between science and religion seems indelible, even eternal. Surely two such divergent views of the universe have always been in fierce opposition? Actually, that’s not the case, says Peter Harrison: our very concepts of science and religion are relatively recent, emerging only in the past three hundred years, and it is those very categories, rather than their underlying concepts, that constrain our understanding of how the formal study of nature relates to the religious life.

In The Territories of Science and Religion, Harrison dismantles what we think we know about the two categories, then puts it all back together again in a provocative, productive new way. By tracing the history of these concepts for the first time in parallel, he illuminates alternative boundaries and little-known relations between them—thereby making it possible for us to learn from their true history, and see other possible ways that scientific study and the religious life might relate to, influence, and mutually enrich each other.

A tour de force by a distinguished scholar working at the height of his powers, The Territories of Science and Religion promises to forever alter the way we think about these fundamental pillars of human life and experience.

Bowman, “Cosmoipolitan Justice”

This January, Springer Press will release “Cosmoipolitan Justice: The Axial Age, Multiple Modernities, and the Postsecular Turn” by Jonathan Bowman.  The publisher’s description follows:

Cosmoipolitan JusticeThis book assesses the rapid transformation of the political agency of religious groups within transnational civil society under conditions of globalization weakening sovereign nation-states. It offers a synthesis of the resurgence of Jasper’s axial thesis from distinct lines of research initiated by Eisenstadt, Habermas, Taylor, Bellah, and others. It explores the concept of cosmoipolitanism from the combined perspectives of sociology of religion, critical theory, secularization theory, and evolutionary cultural anthropology. At the theoretical level, cosmoipolitanism prescribes how local, national, transnational, global, and virtual spaces ought publically to engage in transcivilizational discourse without presuming the secular assumptions tied to cosmopolitanism. Employing insights of critical theory, this book offers a micro-level analysis of the pragmatics of discourse of each axial tradition contributing to the role of religion within multiple modernities. While circumscribing the particular historical limits of each tradition, the book extends their internal claims to species universality in light of the potential for boundless communication Jaspers saw initiated with the Axial Age.

Cadegan, “All Good Books Are Catholic Books: Print Culture, Censorship, and Modernity in Twentieth-Century America”

Last month, Cornell published All Good Books Are Catholic Books: Print Culture,80140100707350M Censorship, and Modernity in Twentieth-Century America, by Una M. Cadegan (University of Dayton). The publisher’s description follows.

Until the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the stance of the Roman Catholic Church toward the social, cultural, economic, and political developments of the twentieth century was largely antagonistic. Naturally opposed to secularization, skeptical of capitalist markets indifferent to questions of justice, confused and appalled by new forms of high and low culture, and resistant to the social and economic freedom of women—in all of these ways the Catholic Church set itself up as a thoroughly anti-modern institution. Yet, in and through the period from World War I to Vatican II, the Church did engage with, react to, and even accommodate various aspects of modernity. In All Good Books Are Catholic Books, Una M. Cadegan shows how the Church’s official position on literary culture developed over this crucial period.

The Catholic Church in the United States maintained an Index of Prohibited Books and the National Legion of Decency (founded in 1933) lobbied Hollywood to edit or ban movies, pulp magazines, and comic books that were morally suspect. These regulations posed an obstacle for the self-understanding of Catholic American readers, writers, and scholars. But as Cadegan finds, Catholics developed a rationale by which they could both respect the laws of the Church as it sought to protect the integrity of doctrine and also engage the culture of artistic and commercial freedom in which they operated as Americans. Catholic literary figures including Flannery O’Connor and Thomas Merton are important to Cadegan’s argument, particularly as their careers and the reception of their work demonstrate shifts in the relationship between Catholicism and literary culture. Cadegan trains her attention on American critics, editors, and university professors and administrators who mediated the relationship among the Church, parishioners, and the culture at large.

Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner & Nolt, “The Amish”

kraybill FINAL pbs logo bottom.inddThis month John Hopkins University Press will publish The Amish by Donald B. Kraybill (Elizabethtown College), Karen M. Johnson-Weiner (SUNY-Potsdam), and Steven N. Nolt (Goshen College).  The publisher’s description follows. 

The Amish have always struggled with the modern world. Known for their simple clothing, plain lifestyle, and horse-and-buggy mode of transportation, Amish communities continually face outside pressures to modify their cultural patterns, social organization, and religious world view. An intimate portrait of Amish life, The Amish explores not only the emerging diversity and evolving identities within this distinctive American ethnic community, but also its transformation and geographic expansion.

Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt spent twenty-five years researching Amish history, religion, and culture. Drawing on archival material, direct observations, and oral history, the authors provide an authoritative and sensitive understanding of Amish society.

Amish people do not evangelize, yet their numbers in North America have grown from a small community of some 6,000 people in the early 1900s to a thriving population of more than 275,000 today. The largest populations are found in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, with additional communities in twenty-seven other states and Ontario.

The authors argue that the intensely private and insular Amish have devised creative ways to negotiate with modernity that have enabled them to thrive in America. The transformation of the Amish in the American imagination from “backward bumpkins” to media icons poses provocative questions. What does the Amish story reveal about the American character, popular culture, and mainstream values? Richly illustrated, The Amish is the definitive portrayal of the Amish in America in the twenty-first century.

Krishna-Hensel (ed.), “Religion, Education and Governance in the Middle East”

This month, Ashgate Publishing will publish Religion, Education and Governance in the Middle East: Between Tradition and Modernity edited by Sai Felicia Krishna-Hensel (Auburn University at Montgomery).  The publisher’s description follows.

The Middle East is a key geopolitical strategic region in the international system but its distinctive cultural and political divisions present a mosaic of states that do not lend themselves to simplistic interpretations. A thoughtful analysis of the Middle East requires an understanding of the synergism between tradition and modernity in the region as it adapts to a globalizing world. Religious education and activism continue to remain a significant factor in the modernization process and the development of modern governance in the states of the Middle East.

This interdisciplinary book explores the historical and contemporary role of religious tradition and education on political elites and governing agencies in several major states as well as generally in the region. The relationship between democracy and authority is examined to provide a better understanding of the complexity underlying the emergence of new power configurations. As the region continues to respond to the forces of change in the international system it remains an important and intriguing area for analysts.

Classic Revisited: Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity

It’s been a while since I did one of these, and though Michael Allen Gillespie’s The Theological Origins of Modernity (2008) is a little young for “classic” status, it is a learned and original intellectual history of modernity.  Gillespie’s thesis is that the conventional account of modernity as setting itself in opposition to or as rejecting altogether religion and theology is mistaken.  Instead, as he puts it early in the book:

[F]rom the very beginning, modernity sought not to eliminate religion but to support and develop a new view of religion and its place in human life, and did so not out of hostility to religion but in order to sustain certain religious beliefs.  As we shall see, modernity is best understood as an attempt to find a new metaphysical/theological answer to the question of the nature and relation of God, man, and the natural world that arose in the late medieval world as a result of a titanic struggle between contradictory elements within Christianity itself . . . . I will argue further that while this metaphysical/theological core of the modern project was concealed over time by the very sciences that it produced, it was never far from the surface, and it continued to guide our thinking and action, often in ways that we do not perceive or understand.  I will argue that the attempt to read the questions of theology and metaphysics out of modernity has in fact blinded us to the continuing importance of theological issues in modern thought in ways that make it very difficult to come to terms with out current situation.

Gillespie goes about making his case by beginning with the contest between scholasticism and nominalism (the view that what is real is particular and individual, not universal, and so “God [cannot] be understood by human reason but only by biblical revelation or mystical experience”).  The conflict was, as he says above, primarily and originally a late medieval conflict, not one which came into being in the Enlightenment (let alone later).  “The God that Aquinas and Dante described was infinite, but the glory of his works and the certainty of his goodness were manifest everywhere.  The nominalist God, by contrast, was frighteningly omnipotent, utterly beyond human ken, and a continual threat to human well-being.  Moreover, this God could never be captured in words and consequently could be experienced only as a titanic question that evoked awe and dread.  It was this question, I want to suggest, that stands at the beginning of modernity.”  (15)

One feature of the book that was particularly enjoyable for me is Gillespie’s emphasis on the poet Petrarch as the representative both of this struggle and of the turn toward nominalism (in graduate school years ago, Petrarch’s poems about Laura in the Canzoniere were one of my favorite things).  I confess that before reading Gillespie’s book, I had never thought about Petrarch as an important or even a notable figure with respect to these kinds of issues.  Gillespie devotes roughly a chapter and a half to him.  He claims that Petrarch was the first writer to face the nominalist challenge — the view that “there is no divine logos or reason that can serve as the foundation for a political, cosmopolitan, or theological identity.” (45)  Confronted with the political and social chaos of the mid-14th century, Petrarch looked “not to the city, God, or the cosmos for support, but into himself, finding an island of stability and hope not in citizenship but in human individuality.”

I cannot do justice to Gillespie’s superb treatment of Petrarch, but here’s a relatively late summary paragraph in his discussion:

It is difficult today to appreciate the impact Petrarch had on his contemporaries in part because we find it so difficult to appreciate his impact on us.  Petrarch is scarcely remembered in our time.  There are very few humanists or academics who can name even one of his works; and none of his Latin works makes it on to a list of great books.  And yet, without Petrarch, there would be no humanists or academics, no great books, no book culture at all, no humanism, no Renaissance, and no modern world as we have come to understand it.  Why then have we forgotten him?  Several factors contribute to his oblivion: the neglect of Latin literature as literary scholars have increasingly focused on national literatures, changing scholarly tastes and fashions, and the fact that many of his works fall outside of familiar genres.  But the real cause lies deeper.  Petrarch seldom tells us anything that we don’t already know, and as a result he seems superfluous to us.  But this is the measure of his importance, for what he achieved is now so universally taken for granted that we find it difficult to imagine things could have been otherwise.  (69)

One last side note, and please forgive the musical addendum, but Franz Liszt certainly did not forget Petrarch.  Have a listen to his extremely beautiful song cycle, “Les Années de Pèlerinage” (“The Years of Wandering” — which is just what Petrarch did for most of his life), and particularly Year 3 in that cycle (“en Italie”), which contains some wonderful settings of several Petrarchan sonnets.  Number 47 is really spectacular and, maybe, captures a little of what Gillespie is talking about.

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