Geffert and Stavrou, “Eastern Orthodox Christianity”

Geffert and Stavrou, “Eastern Orthodox Christianity”

Eastern Orthodox Christianity.jpgIn May, Yale University Press released Eastern Orthodox Christianity: The Essential Texts by Bryn Geffert (Amherst College) and Theofanis Stavrou (University of Minnesota). The publisher’s description follows:

Two leading academic scholars offer the first comprehensive source reader on the Eastern Orthodox church for the English-speaking world. Designed specifically for students and accessible to readers with little or no previous knowledge of theology or religious history, this essential, one-of-a-kind work frames, explores, and interprets Eastern Orthodoxy through the use of primary sources and documents. Lively introductions and short narratives that touch on anthropology, art, law, literature, music, politics, women’s studies, and a host of other areas are woven together to provide a coherent and fascinating history of the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition.

Dunn, “A History of Orthodox, Islamic, and Western Christian Political Values”

In September, Palgrave Macmillan will release “A History of Orthodox, Islamic, and Western Christian Political Values,” by Dennis J. Dunn. The publisher’s description follows:

The book reveals the nexus between religion and politics today and shows that we live in an interdependent world where one global civilization is emerging and where the Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 12.29.47 AMworld’s peoples are continuing to coalesce around a series of values that contain potent Western overtones. Both Putin’s Orthodox Russia and regions under the control of such Islamist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda resent and attempt, in a largely languishing effort, to frustrate this series of values. The book explains the current tension between the West and Russia and parts of the Muslim world and sheds light on the causes of such crises as the Syrian Civil War, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and acts of terrorism such as 9/11 and the ISIS-inspired massacres in Paris.  It shows that religion continues to affect global order and that knowledge of its effect on political identity and global governance should guide both government policy and scholarly analysis of contemporary history.

Llewellyn & Sharma, “Religion, Equalities, and Inequalities”

This month, Routledge releases “Religion, Equalities, and Inequalities,” by Dawn Llewellyn (University of Chester) and Sonya Sharma (Kingston University London).  The publisher’s description follows:

Presenting cutting edge research on how religion can confront and obscure social inequalities in everyday life, Religion, Equalities and Inequalities argues that when 9781472439963religion is left out of social scientific analyses, it can result in incomplete analyses that conceal pathways to social inclusion and exclusion. Bringing together an international and interdisciplinary group of contributors who operate at the vanguard of theoretical and empirical work on how social structures of power, institutions and bodies can generate equalities and inequalities in religion, the collection shows how religion can enable and challenge the inequities that affect people’s everyday lives. Academics and students of religious studies, sociology, politics and social policy will all find this book offers useful insights into the relationship between religion and contemporary culture.

Kane, “Beyond Timbuktu”

Kane, “Beyond Timbuktu”

This month, Harvard University Press has released Beyond Timbuktu: An Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa  by Ousmane Oumar Kane (Harvard). The publisher’s description follows:Beyond Timbuktu.jpg

Renowned for its madrassas and archives of rare Arabic manuscripts, Timbuktu is famous as a great center of Muslim learning from Islam’s Golden Age. Yet Timbuktu is not unique. It was one among many scholarly centers to exist in precolonial West Africa. Beyond Timbuktu charts the rise of Muslim learning in West Africa from the beginning of Islam to the present day, examining the shifting contexts that have influenced the production and dissemination of Islamic knowledge—and shaped the sometimes conflicting interpretations of Muslim intellectuals—over the course of centuries.

Highlighting the significant breadth and versatility of the Muslim intellectual tradition in sub-Saharan Africa, Ousmane Kane corrects lingering misconceptions in both the West and the Middle East that Africa’s Muslim heritage represents a minor Continue reading

The Smartphone and the Virgin

Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Piazza del Popolo, Rome (March 2016)

For readers who are interested, at the First Things site this morning, I have an essay that updates Henry Adams’s famous meditation on the conflict between technology and tradition, “The Dynamo and the Virgin.”  My essay, “The Smartphone and the Virgin,” was inspired by an advertising billboard I saw hanging on the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Rome last spring (above), which made me reflect on the challenges the new information technology poses for human community and tradition, especially the Christian tradition.

Here’s a sample:

Like Adams’s dynamo, too, the Smartphone represents forces essentially destructive of tradition. In the civilization of the dynamo, Adams wrote, people found it impossible to honor or even to understand the claims of the past. In his essay, Adams recalled visiting the cathedral of Amiens with the American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Adams noticed that Saint-Gaudens seemed unmoved by the spiritual power of the place—by the power of the Virgin, who had made the cathedral possible. Gibbon had felt the energy of Gothic cathedrals when he visited them in the eighteenth century, and had condemned it; Ruskin had praised it in the nineteenth. But by the twentieth, people no longer felt the energy at all. Saint-Gaudens admired the dignity of the architecture and the beauty of the sculptures, but perceived no meaning in them: “The art remained, but the energy was lost even upon the artist.”

The Smartphone likewise acts as a solvent on tradition, including religious tradition. Tradition depends on community—more precisely, on a community that sees itself as existing through time, an idea that is captured in the Christian tradition by the communion of saints. Such a community has claims on the individual by virtue of the fact that it has existed before him and will continue to exist after him. The individual is not completely submerged in the community; that would be a kind of totalitarianism. But he cannot create an entirely new world for himself, either. He draws his identity though his participation in a pre-existing, and in significant respects unchanging, order.

The Smartphone draws the user out from that sort of community. True, the Smartphone can promote a certain kind of community, a network of contacts who share interests, ideologies, even religious convictions. But it favors ephemeral interactions with strangers. It’s very easy to add people to your Contacts list—and just as easy to remove them and replace them with others. More important, the Smartphone encourages the user to spend his time in a virtual world he has curated all for himself. Not to mention the relentless, rapid updating of information to which the Smartphone has accustomed us. What claims can tradition have in a culture that values immediacy over everything else, and that has come to expect an update every five minutes?

You can read my full essay here.

Ozment, “Grace Without God”

Ozment, “Grace Without God”

Grace-without-GodThis month, HarperCollins Publishers has released Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age by Katherine Ozment (award-winning journalist and former senior editor at National Geographic). The publisher’s description follows:

Meet “the Nones”—In this thought-provoking exploration of secular America, celebrated journalist Katherine Ozment takes readers on a quest to understand the trends and ramifications of a nation in flight from organized religion.

Studies show that religion makes us happier, healthier and more giving, connecting us to our past and creating tight communal bonds. Most Americans are raised in a religious tradition, but in recent decades many have begun to leave religion, and with it their ancient rituals, mythic narratives, and sense of belonging.

So how do the nonreligious fill the need for ritual, story, community, and, above all, purpose and meaning without the one-stop shop of religion? What do they do with the space left after religion? With Nones swelling to one-fourth of American adults, and Continue reading

Miller, “Friends and Other Strangers”

In July, Columbia University Press will release “Friends and Other Strangers: Studies in Religion, Ethics, and Culture,” by Richard B. Miller (University of Chicago Divinity School).  The publisher’s description follows:

Richard B. Miller aims to stimulate new work in religious ethics through discussions of ethnography, ethnocentrism, relativism, and moral criticism; the ethics of empathy; the meaning of moral responsibility in relation to children and friends; civic virtue, loyalty, war, and alterity; the normative and psychological dimensions of memory; and religion and democratic life.

Dispatches from Kabul: French Words and Fighter Jets

*standingRuins
Former CLR Fellow Jessica Wright ’14 is currently working as an attorney in Kabul, Afghanistan. This post is part of a series of reflections on her experiences there.

There’s an art gallery just off Armenia street in the Mar Mikhail district of Beirut that sells a variety of novelty goods – soap from Aleppo, hand-stamped Iranian linens, black and white photographs from the Lebanese Civil War, books on art. As I was perusing the shelves I came across a notebook with text clippings and war motifs pasted to its cover, a dècoupage of French words and fighter jets. Along the bottom of the front cover there was a phrase: Parce que l’incohérence est preferable à l’ordre qui deforme. It’s a quote from the French philosopher, Roland Barthes, which translates directly to: incoherence is preferable to an order that deforms. I haven’t read Barthes, nor do I claim expertise in French post-structuralism or constructivism or semiotics, but taken on its face, and in light of the unstable political systems in which I live and work, it gave me pause. Dans quelle mesure cette déclaration est-elle correcte? To what extent is that statement true? Precariousness becomes a form of identity in places where nothing sticks – not ideologies, not empires, not armies – but surely chaos and disorder is the regrettable result of circumstance, not rational belief. The fight for successive orders is the history of war, and I imagined Barthes’ words in the mouths of radicals from Raqqa to Kandahar.

crosses
In the late afternoon, the church bells at St. George’s ring out loud and clear across the Martyr’s Square in Beirut, and it feels, for a moment, as if you’re standing in front of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, the Marian church that inspired the cathedral’s neoclassical design. Soon after, the call to prayer begins, projected from the 72-meter- Continue reading

Dispatches from Kabul: An Interlude in the Holy Land

Church domes Old CIty
Former CLR Fellow Jessica Wright ’14 is currently working as an attorney in Kabul, Afghanistan. This post is part of a series of reflections on her experiences there.

Somewhere near Ramallah, we looked up from our newspapers and noticed the high walls topped with razor wire to our left and right, a telltale sign that we were driving through the West Bank section of Route 443, a 16-kilometer stretch of road linking Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Situated to the east of the security barrier and once ruled off-limits to Israeli government ministers because of a flare-up of violence – namely, Molotov cocktail attacks on vehicles – it appears as any stretch of highway does, grey and a little desolate. Perceiving our awareness, the driver looked at us anxiously through the rearview mirror. “We avoid traffic by taking this road today. To our left is Ramallah and to the right is Hebron,” he said in an official tone, hoping, I think, that we weren’t familiar with the villages of the Palestinian territories. “This one wants to go to Ramallah to see a brewery,” said my friend, Alec. The driver shot me an incredulous look. “Okay, yes, go,” he said. “That is, if you want to risk your life for a beer.” I laughed and Alec explained that my perspective is slightly different because I currently live and work in Kabul. “I just want to feel at home,” I said sarcastically. “This stretch of highway is really doing it for me right now.” He ignored me and started on a lengthy and rather partisan history of the First and Second Intifadas that lasted all the way to the Mamilla neighborhood of Jerusalem where we were staying.

Jaffentrance
Alec and I met on the first day of law school and spent the subsequent three years poring over legal texts and treatises together, a humbling experience that challenged us intellectually and emotionally. It was in the midst of this rational endeavor that we occasionally discussed politics and religion, our conversations about the former often ending with a fiery exchange of epithets and accusations; democratic progressives and classical liberals don’t often see eye-to-eye. But the one subject we could discuss without theatrics was religion, and perhaps more importantly, it was religious ritual that often brought us together with our friends in one place: a Shabbos table in Crown Heights. We spent innumerable evenings there sharing a meal, listening to the Hebrew prayers, and discussing ideas, the law, and our lives. And so it seemed quite natural that we should travel from opposite sides of the world – New York and Kabul – to meet again in the Holy Land, a place that is intensely foreign but intimately familiar to both of us as Americans raised in the Jewish and Roman Catholic traditions.

Holy Sepulchre
The streets of the Old City were nearly empty in the late afternoon on Easter Monday, and as we wandered inadvertently from the Christian Quarter, with its well-lit shops and gregarious shopkeepers, and into the less commercial Muslim Quarter, an eerie silence settled over us. Some idling inhabitants ventured a greeting – A-salaam alaikum – and beckoned us in for tea, but we declined politely and kept walking, feeling that perhaps we had wandered too far off the beaten path. I recalled a friend’s warning: “Don’t go near the Damascus Gate,” and thought about the “No knifing” stickers plastered on utility poles up and down Jaffa Road that we had seen earlier in the day. I wasn’t afraid – a kid with a kitchen knife is less intimidating than a Talib with a Kalashnikov – but the aura of the Old Continue reading

“Religion as Empowerment” (Topidi & Fielder, eds.)

In May, Routledge will release “Religion as Empowerment: Global Legal Perspectives,” edited by Kyriaki Topidi (University of Lucerne) and Lauren Fielder (University of Texas).  The publisher’s description follows:

This volume shows how and why legal empowerment is important for those exercising their religious rights under various jurisdictions, in conditions of legal pluralism. At routlogothe same time, it also questions the thesis that as societies become more modern, they also become less religious.

The authors look beyond the rule of law orthodoxy in their consideration of the freedom of religion as a human right and place this discussion in a more plurality-sensitive context. The book sheds more light on the informal and/or customary mechanisms that explain the limited impact of law on individuals and groups, especially in non-Western societies. The focus is on discussing how religion and the exercise of religious rights may or may not empower individuals and social groups and improve access to human rights in general.

This book is important reading for academics and practitioners of law and religion, religious rights, religious diversity and cultural difference, as well as NGOs, policy makers, lawyers and advocates at multicultural jurisdictions. It offers a contemporary take on comparative legal studies, with a distinct focus on religion as an identity marker.

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