Strict Sunday observance is less and less common among Christians in the West, and Sunday closing laws–although the US Supreme Court famously upheld their constitutionality in McGowan v. Maryland (1961)–have fallen into disuse, in those jurisdictions where they haven’t been repealed. As Robert Louis Wilken once said, the only thing that currently distinguishes Sunday from other days of the week is that the malls open a little later. At one time, though, Sundays were a day of observance, and the laws reflected that fact.
A new book from Eerdmans, A Brief History of Sunday: From the New Testament to the New Creation, by Justo González, offers a history of Christians’ Sunday observance and of laws that date back to Constantine, and reflects on current practice in the West and beyond. Here’s the description from the Eerdmans website:
In this accessible historical overview of Sunday, noted scholar Justo González tells the story of how and why Christians have worshiped on Sunday from the earliest days of the church to the present.
After discussing the views and practices relating to Sunday in the ancient church, González turns to Constantine and how his policies affected Sunday observances. He then recounts the long process, beginning in the Middle Ages and culminating with Puritanism, whereby Christians came to think of and strictly observe Sunday as the Sabbath. Finally, González looks at the current state of things, exploring especially how the explosive growth of the church in the Majority World has affected the observance of Sunday worldwide.
Readers of this book will rediscover the joy and excitement of Sunday as early Christians celebrated it and will find fresh, inspiring perspectives on Sunday amid our current culture of indifference and even hostility to Christianity.
Rod Dreher is one of the most interesting and prolific writers on religion and culture in America today. He’s also a participant in the Tradition Project, our center’s multi-year program on the continuing value of received wisdom for law, politics, and culture. He’s out with a new best seller, The Benedict Option, on the need for contemporary Christians to adapt, to present circumstances, an older model of intentional Christian living. He argues that adapting this older model will be necessary for Christian communities to survive in a post-Christian age.
We’re hoping to interview Rod about his book in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, here’s a description from the Penguin Random House website:
In June, Routledge will release “Religious Interactions in Europe and the Mediterranean World: Coexistence and Dialogue from the 12th to the 20th Centuries,” edited by Katsumi Fukasawa (Kyoto-Sangyo University), Benjamin J. Kaplan (University College London), and Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire (University of Nice Sophia Antipolis). The publisher’s description follows:
The religious histories of Christian and Muslim countries in Europe and Western Asia are often treated in isolation from one another. This can lead to a limited and simplistic understanding of the international and interreligious interactions currently taking place. This edited collection brings these national and religious narratives into conversation with each other, helping readers to formulate a more sophisticated comprehension of the social and cultural factors involved in the tolerance and intolerance that has taken place in these areas, and continues today.
Part One of this volume examines the history of relations between people of different Christian confessions in western and central Europe. Part Two then looks at the relations between Western and Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Islam and Judaism in the vast area that extends around the Mediterranean from the Iberian Peninsula to western Asia. Each Part ends with a Conclusion that considers the wider implications of the preceding essays and points the way toward future research.
Bringing together scholars from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and America this volume embodies an international collaboration of unusual range. Its comparative approach will be of interest to scholars of Religion and History, particularly those with an emphasis on interreligious relations and religious tolerance.
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 waves 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.
People who follow such things know how often the mainstream media misstates basic facts about Christianity and Christian history. At the First Things site today, I recount a recent example from the New York Times, a review of a museum exhibition on Jerusalem by Pulitzer Prize winning art critic Holland Cotter.
Not only does Cotter appear ignorant of the fact that Christians revere Jerusalem because they believe the Resurrection occurred there, he also distorts Christians’ history in the city, including the Crusades. This ignorance of Christianity should alarm not only Christians, but anyone who relies on the Times, and the media more broadly, to help understand our world:
As I say, poking fun at the Times’s lack of knowledge is amusing. But there’s a serious point as well. Notwithstanding the fragmentation of the media, the Times is still the most important newspaper in America, perhaps the world. More than any other journal, it has the power to set our country’s political agenda. That’s why omissions like Cotter’s are worth noting. They reflect a basic ignorance of Christianity—of its teachings and its history—that one has to assume affects other sections of the paper as well. That the Times presents a distorted picture of Christianity shouldn’t bother only Christians. It should unsettle anyone who looks to the paper for an informed and objective account of the role of religion in the world today.
You can read the whole thing here.
In August, Northwestern University Press released Hidden in Plain Sight: Jews and Jewishness in British Film, Television, and Popular Culture edited by Nathan Abrams (Bangor University, Wales). The publisher’s description follows:
Hidden in Plain Sight: Jews and Jewishness in British Film, Television, and Popular Culture is the first collection of its kind on this subject. The volume brings together a range of original essays that address different aspects of the role and presence of Jews and Jewishness in British film and television from the interwar period to the present. It constructs a historical overview of the Jewish contribution to British film and television, which has not always been sufficiently acknowledged. Each chapter presents a case study reflective of the specific Jewish experience as well as its particularly British context, with cultural representations of how Jews responded to events from the 1930s and ’40s, including World War II, the Holocaust, and a legacy of antisemitism, through to the new millennium.
The Faculty of Law at Hebrew University seeks papers for an upcoming conference, Law as Religion, Religion as Law. Abstracts are due on October 26. The conference itself will be held on June 5-7, 2017. The University’s description of the event follows:
The conventional approach to the relationship between law and religion operates with the assumption that these are two discrete domains, which often clash with one another. This outlook animates public discourse about such basic topics and tropes as the freedom of religion and freedom from religion; religion and human rights; and the competing jurisdiction of civil and religious courts.
A dichotomous account, however, is not the only way to understand the intersection between law and religion. The “Law as Religion, Religion as Law” project will explore a different perspective that considers religion and law as two kinds of orientations or sensibilities; or two alternate ways of structuring reality. From this vantage point, religion and law share similar properties, and arguably have a more symbiotic relationship. Moreover, many legal systems exhibit religious characteristics, and most religions invoke legal categories or terminology. This suggestive blurring of categories is likewise worthy of further inquiry.
Scholars in multiple disciplines (including law, religious studies, philosophy, history, political science and other relevant fields) are invited to propose articles that explore “Law as Religion, Religion as Law,” from a variety of methods and orientations. All accepted abstracts will be invited to write articles and present their research at an international conference that will be held at Jerusalem, Israel, on June 5-7, 2017. Following the conference, the article drafts will be sent for peer review, and if accepted, will be published in a designated volume (published with a leading academic press). We will also accept submissions of article drafts for consideration for publication in this volume from scholars who cannot attend the international conference in Jerusalem.
Further details are available here.
In September, Oxford University Press will release Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio: Music, Theology, Culture by Markus Rathey (Yale University). The publisher’s description follows:
In the last decades of the 17th century, the feast of Christmas in Lutheran Germany underwent a major transformation when theologians and local governments waged an early modern “war on Christmas,” discouraging riotous pageants and carnivalesque rituals in favor of more personal and internalized expressions of piety. Christmas rituals, such as the “Heilig Christ” plays and the rocking of the child (Kindelwiegen) were abolished, and Christian devotion focused increasingly on the metaphor of a birth of Christ in the human heart. John Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, composed in 1734, both reflects this new piety and conveys the composer’s experience living through this tumult during his own childhood and early career.
Markus Rathey’s book is the first thorough study of this popular masterpiece in English. While giving a comprehensive overview of the Christmas Oratorio as a whole, the book focuses on two themes in particular: the cultural and theological understanding of Christmas in Bach’s time and the compositional process that led Bach from the earliest concepts to the completed piece. The cultural and religious context of the oratorio provides the backdrop for Rathey’s detailed analysis of the composition, in which he explores Bach’s compositional practices, for example, his reuse and parodies of movements that had originally been composed for secular cantatas. The book analyzes Bach’s original score and sheds new light on the way Bach wrote the piece, how he shaped musical themes, and how he revised his initial ideas into the final composition.
In May, the University of British Columbia released Mixed Blessings: Indigenous Encounters with Christianity in Canada by Tolly Bradford (Concordia University of Edmonton) and Chelsea Horton. The publisher’s description follows:
Mixed Blessings transforms our understanding of the relationship between Indigenous people and Christianity in what is now Canada.
While acknowledging the harm of colonialism, including the trauma inflicted by church-run residential schools, this book challenges the portrayal of Indigenous people as passive victims of malevolent missionaries who experienced a uniformly dark history. Instead, the authors — scholars in history, Indigenous studies, religious studies, and theology — illuminate the diverse and multifaceted ways that Indigenous communities and individuals across Canada have interacted, and continue to interact, meaningfully with Christianity.
Ranging widely across time and place, these insightful case studies explore why some Indigenous people — including prominent leaders such as Louis Riel and Edward Ahenakew — historically aligned themselves with Christianity while others did not. It also plumbs the processes and politics involved in combining spiritual traditions and reflects on the role of Christianity in Indigenous communities today.