Halbertal & Holmes, “The Beginning of Politics”

“‘And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis.'” In the Book of Acts, the Apostle Paul thus abbreviates the transition, in ancient Israel, from rule by judges to rule by kings–a transition which, Bible readers will remember, did not work out entirely well, at least in the short term. A new book from Princeton University Press, The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel, by NYU Law professors Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmesdescribes the political themes in the Biblical story. The publisher’s description is below:

j10964New insights into how the Book of Samuel offers a timeless meditation on the dilemmas of statecraft

The Book of Samuel is universally acknowledged as one of the supreme achievements of biblical literature. Yet the book’s anonymous author was more than an inspired storyteller. The author was also an uncannily astute observer of political life and the moral compromises and contradictions that the struggle for power inevitably entails. The Beginning of Politics mines the story of Israel’s first two kings to unearth a natural history of power, providing a forceful new reading of what is arguably the first and greatest work of Western political thought.

Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes show how the beautifully crafted narratives of Saul and David cut to the core of politics, exploring themes that resonate wherever political power is at stake. Through stories such as Saul’s madness, David’s murder of Uriah, the rape of Tamar, and the rebellion of Absalom, the book’s author deepens our understanding not only of the necessity of sovereign rule but also of its costs—to the people it is intended to protect and to those who wield it. What emerges from the meticulous analysis of these narratives includes such themes as the corrosive grip of power on those who hold and compete for power; the ways in which political violence unleashed by the sovereign on his own subjects is rooted in the paranoia of the isolated ruler and the deniability fostered by hierarchical action through proxies; and the intensity with which the tragic conflict between political loyalty and family loyalty explodes when the ruler’s bloodline is made into the guarantor of the all-important continuity of sovereign power.

The Beginning of Politics is a timely meditation on the dark side of sovereign power and the enduring dilemmas of statecraft.

 

Dyer & Watson, “C. S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law”

C.S. Lewis was neither a legal theorist or a political philosopher. But his works often touch on law and politics. He famously argued for distinguishing between Christian and civil marriage, for example. And natural law was a recurrent theme in his work, especially his concept of “the Tao,” a term he borrowed from Asian religion, which for him signified the objective values that all human cultures share. Lewis explains the Tao most thoroughly in The Abolition of Man, but he alludes to it in other works as well, including Mere Christianity and even the Space Trilogy.

Next month, Cambridge releases a new study of Lewis’s views on these questions, C. S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law, by Justin Buckley Dyer (University of Missouri-Columbia) and Micah J. Watson (Calvin College). Here is the publisher’s description:

9781107518971Conventional wisdom holds that C. S. Lewis was uninterested in politics and public affairs. The conventional wisdom is wrong. As Justin Buckley Dyer and Micah J. Watson show in this groundbreaking work, Lewis was deeply interested in the fundamental truths and falsehoods about human nature and how these conceptions manifest themselves in the contested and turbulent public square. Ranging from the depths of Lewis’ philosophical treatments of epistemology and moral pedagogy to practical considerations of morals legislation and responsible citizenship, this book explores the contours of Lewis’ multi-faceted Christian engagement with political philosophy generally and the natural-law tradition in particular. Drawing from the full range of Lewis’ corpus and situating his thought in relationship to both ancient and modern seminal thinkers, C. S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law offers an unprecedented look at politics and political thought from the perspective of one of the twentieth century’s most influential writers.

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.

Lockley, “Visionary Religion and Radicalism in Early Industrial England”

Last month, Oxford University Press published Visionary Religion and Radicalism in Early Industrial England: From Southcott to Socialism by Philip Lockley (Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Faculty of Theology, University of Oxford).  The publisher’s description follows.Visionary Religion and Radicalism in Early Industrial England

The political potential of millenarian religion has long exercised the interests of scholars of western history and religion. The religious vision of an imminent messianic age in modernity was once commonly contrasted with secular movements for revolutionary change such as socialism. Recent shifts in historiography and the study of religion have downplayed such comparisons, and yet early industrial England witnessed significant interactions between millenarianism and traditions of radical popular politics, including the first English socialisms. This book offers a new explanation of such interactions, revealing their basis in rich traditions of popular theology and religious practice, and not the collective disillusion and secular conversions once thought. Through a detailed archive-based study of the popular millenarian movement of Southcottianism – the followers of Joanna Southcott – from 1815 to 1840, this work challenges social and gender views of plebeian religion in the period. Adopting innovative approaches in the history of religion, including a view of theology from the perspective of millenarians themselves, this book further overturns existing assumptions about millenarian attitudes to agency, including those of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class. This history of Southcottianism provides a compelling case-study of the political possibilities of visionary religion, revealing how theology framed popular conceptions of human and divine agency in the making of the millennium, and was intimately involved in an early collaboration between the competing Christian and secular visions of transformation which have shaped the modern world.

Houge, “Stumping God: Reagan, Carter, and the Invention of Political Faith”

This August, Baylor University Press published Stumping God: Reagan, Carter, and the Invention of Political Faith by Andrew P. Houge (Baylor University). The publisher’s description follows.

For more than three decades, American presidential candidates have desperately sought the conservative Evangelical vote. With an ever broadening base of support, the Evangelical movement in America may now seem to many a very powerful lobbyist on Capitol Hill. As Andrew Hogue shows, however, this was not always the case.

In Stumping God Hogue deconstructs the 1980 presidential election, in which Ronald Reagan would defeat Jimmy Carter and John B. Anderson, and uncovers a disproportionately heavy reliance on religious rhetoric—a rhetoric that would be the catalyst for a new era of presidential politics. Until 1980, the idea that conservative politics was somehow connected with conservative theology was distant from the American imagination. Hogue describes the varying streams of influence that finally converged by the Reagan-Carter election, including the rapidly rising Religious Right. By 1980, candidates were not only challenged to appeal rhetorically to a conservative religious base, but found it necessary to make public their once-private religious commitments.

In compelling and illuminating fashion, Stumping God explains the roots of modern religious politics and encourages readers to move beyond the haze of rhetorical appeals that—for better or worse—continually clouds the political process.

Diouf (ed.), “Tolerance, Democracy, and Sufis in Senegal”

In January, Columbia University Press will publish Tolerance, Democracy, and Sufis in Senegal edited by Mamadou Diouf (Columbia University).  The publisher’s description follows.

This collection critically examines “tolerance,” “secularism,” and respect for religious “diversity” within a social and political system dominated by Sufi brotherhoods. Through a detailed analysis of Senegal’s political economy, essays trace the genealogy and dynamic exchange among these concepts while investigating public spaces and political processes and their reciprocal engagement with the state, Sunni reformist and radical groups, and non-religious organizations.

Through a rich and nuanced historical ethnography of the formation of Senegalese democracy, this anthology illuminates the complex trajectory of the Senegalese state and its reflection of similar postcolonial societies. Offering rare perspectives on the country’s “successes” since liberation, this collection identifies the role of religion, gender, culture, ethnicity, globalization, politics, and migration in the reconfiguration of the state and society, and it makes an important contribution to democratization theory, Islamic studies, and African studies. Scholars of comparative politics and religious studies will also appreciate the volume’s treatment of Senegal as both an exceptional and universal example of postcolonial development.

Pandya, “Muslim Women and Islamic Resurgence”

Next Month, I. B. Tauris Publishers will publish Muslim Women and Islamic Resurgence: Religion, Education and Identity Politics in Bahrain by Sophia Pandya (California State University Long Beach).  The publisher’s description follows.

Bahrain’s tumultuous political landscape often overshadows the societal upheavals that this tiny country is facing. Sophia Pandya cuts through this to examine how international Islamic revivalism coupled with increased secular education has impacted Muslim women’s religious practice and public position. She unsettles assumptions that education is a secularising force for Muslim women, showing that modern education among Bahraini women has in fact deepened both their engagement with Islam and their political participation. Uncovering what transpires when newly educated women have the opportunity to reinterpret religion and gain access to the work place and the political arena, Pandya sheds light on the complex intersections between women and public life, education and Islam. This book provides great insights into religious women’s efforts towards self-determination within conservative Islamic movements as well as the impact of globalisation and wider economic and political developments in Bahrain.

Hallaq, “The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament”

This December, Columbia University Press will publish The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament by Wael B. Hallaq (Columbia University).  The publisher’s description follows.

Wael B. Hallaq boldly argues that the “Islamic state,” judged by any standard definition of what the modern state represents, is both an impossible and inherently self-contradictory concept. Comparing the legal, political, moral, and constitutional histories of pre-modern Islam and Euro-America, he finds the adoption and practice of the modern state to be highly problematic for modern Muslims. He then conducts a more expansive critique of modernity’s moral predicament, which renders impossible any project resting solely on ethical foundations.

The modern state not only suffers from serious legal, political, and constitutional issues, Hallaq argues, but it also, by its very nature, fashions a subject inconsistent with what it means to be, or to live as, a Muslim. By Islamic standards, the state’s technologies of the self are severely lacking in moral substance, and the Muslim state, as Hallaq shows, has done little to advance an acceptable form of genuine Shari‘a governance. The Islamists’ constitutional battles in Egypt and Pakistan, the Islamic legal and political failures of the Iranian Revolution, and similar disappointments underscore this fact. Nevertheless, the state remains the favored template of the Islamists and the ulama (Muslim clergymen). Providing Muslims with a path toward realizing the good life, Hallaq turns to the rich moral resources of Islamic history. Along the way, he proves political and other “crises of Islam” are not unique to the Islamic world nor to the Muslim religion. These crises are integral to the modern condition of both East and West, and recognizing such parallels enables Muslims to engage more productively with their Western counterparts.

Davidson, “Only Muslim”

In July, Cornell University Press published Only Muslim: Embodying Islam in Twentieth-Century France by Naomi Davidson (University of Ottawa).  The publisher’s description follows.

The French state has long had a troubled relationship with its diverse Muslim populations. In Only Muslim, Naomi Davidson traces this turbulence to the 1920s and 1930s, when North Africans first immigrated to French cities in significant numbers. Drawing on police reports, architectural blueprints, posters, propaganda films, and documentation from metropolitan and colonial officials as well as anticolonial nationalists, she reveals the ways in which French politicians and social scientists created a distinctly French vision of Islam that would inform public policy and political attitudes toward Muslims for the rest of the century—Islam français. French Muslims were cast into a permanent “otherness” that functioned in the same way as racial difference. This notion that one was only and forever Muslim was attributed to all immigrants from North Africa, though in time “Muslim” came to function as a synonym for Algerian, despite the diversity of the North and West African population.

Davidson grounds her narrative in the history of the Mosquée de Paris, which was inaugurated in 1926 and epitomized the concept of Islam français. Built in official gratitude to the tens of thousands of Muslim subjects of France who fought and were killed in World War I, the site also provided the state with a means to regulate Muslim life throughout the metropole beginning during the interwar period. Later chapters turn to the consequences of the state’s essentialized view of Muslims in the Vichy years and during the Algerian War. Davidson concludes with current debates over plans to build a Muslim cultural institute in the middle of a Parisian immigrant neighborhood, showing how Islam remains today a marker of an unassimilable difference.

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