“Theological Reflections on the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement” (Tse & Tan, eds.)

In May, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Theological Reflections on the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement,” edited by Justin K. H. Tse (University of Washington), and Jonathan Y. Tan (Case Western Reserve University).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book gathers the voices of four local Hong Kong theologians to reflect on the 2014 democracy protests in the city from the perspectives of Catholic social teaching, Unknownfeminist and queer intersectionality, Protestant liberation, and textual exegesis. The volume also includes an extended primer on Hong Kong politics to aid readers as they reflect on the theology underlying the democracy protests.
September 28, 2014 is known as the day that political consciousness in Hong Kong began to shift. As police fired eighty-seven volleys of tear gas at protesters demanding “genuine universal suffrage” in Hong Kong, the movement (termed the “Umbrella Movement”) ignited a polarizing set of debates over civil disobedience, government collusion with private interests, and democracy. The Umbrella Movement was also a theological watershed moment, a time for religious reflection. This book analyzes the role that religion played in shaping the course of this historic movement.

“Religion, Law and Democracy” (eds. Lind et al)

In February, the Nordic University Press will release “Religion, Law and Democracy: New Challenges for Society and Research” edited by Anna-Sara Lind (University of Uppsala), Mia Lövenheim (University of Uppsala), and Ulf Zackariasson (University of Uppsala).  The publisher’s description follows:

How are Western, mostly secular, societies handling religion in its increasingly pluralistic and complex forms? What different forms9789188168238 of interactions between and negotiations of religion and religious beliefs can we see in contemporary society? What are the primary contenders in these interactions and negotiations? The authors of Religion, Law and Democracy give ample examples of a variety of interaction processes between different expressions of religion and different spheres of society, such as the media, the judicial systems and state administration and policy. The authors primarily approach these questions from a North European but also to some extent a global perspective. A common denominator is a dynamic perspective on the relation between religious organizations, society and the individual actors – in other words how all of these levels are interconnected and transformed in these processes.

Dowd, “Christianity, Islam, and Liberal Democracy”

Across the continent of Africa, Christianity and Islam are growing rapidly, side bychris side. The conventional wisdom is the two religions are destined for bloody conflict. This summer, Oxford will release a book that challenges this wisdom and argues that African religious diversity actually can encourage liberal democracy. The book is Christianity, Islam, and Liberal Democracy, by Robert A. Dowd (Notre Dame). The publisher’s description follows:

Drawing from research conducted in Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda, Christianity, Islam, and Liberal Democracy offers a deeper understanding of how Christian and Islamic faith communities affect the political attitudes of those who belong to them and, in turn, prospects for liberal democracy. While many analysts believe that religious diversity in developing countries is an impediment to liberal democracy, Robert A. Dowd concludes just the opposite. Dowd draws on narrative accounts, in-depth interviews, and large-scale surveys to show that Christian and Islamic religious communities are more likely to support liberal democracy in religiously diverse and integrated settings than in religiously homogeneous or segregated ones. Religious diversity and integration, in other words, are good for liberal democracy. In religiously diverse and integrated environments, religious leaders tend to be more encouraging of civic engagement, democracy, and religious liberty.

By providing a theoretical framework for understanding when and where Christian and Islamic communities in sub -Saharan Africa encourage and discourage liberal democracy, Dowd demonstrates how religious communities are important in affecting political actions and attitudes. This evidence, the book ultimately argues, should prompt policymakers interested in cultivating religiously-inspired support for liberal democracy to aid in the formation of religiously diverse neighborhoods, cities, and political organizations.

“Religion and Political Tolerance in America” (Djupe, ed.)

This June, Temple University Press will release “Religion and Political Tolerance in America: Advances in the State of the Art” edited by Paul A. Djupe (Denison University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion and Political ToleranceReligious institutions are often engaged in influencing the beliefs and values that individuals hold. But religious groups can also challenge how people think about democracy, including the extension of equal rights and liberties regardless of viewpoint, or what is commonly called political tolerance.

The essays in Religion and Political Tolerance in America seek to understand how these elements interrelate. The editor and contributors to this important volume present new and innovative research that wrestles with the fundamental question of the place of religion in democratic society. They address topics ranging from religious contributions to social identity to the political tolerance that religious elites (clergy) hold and advocate to others, and how religion shapes responses to intolerance.

The conclusion, by Ted Jelen, emphasizes that religion’s take on political tolerance is nuanced and that they are not incompatible; religion can sometimes enhance the tolerance of ordinary citizens.

Kittelstrom, “The Religion of Democracy”

This April, Penguin Press will release “The Religion of Democracy: Seven Liberals and the American Moral Tradition” by Amy Kittelstrom (Sonoma State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Religion of DemocracyToday we associate liberal thought and politics with secularism. When we argue over whether the nation’s founders meant to keep religion out of politics, the godless side is said to be liberal. But the role of religion in American politics has always been far more nuanced and complex than today’s debates would suggest and closer to the heart of American intellectual life than is commonly understood. American democracy was intended by its creators to be more than just a political system, and in The Religion of Democracy, historian Amy Kittelstrom shows how religion and democracy have worked together as universal ideals in American culture—and as guides to moral action and the social practice of treating one another as equals who deserve to be free.

The first people in the world to call themselves “liberals” were New England Christians in the early republic, for whom being liberal meant being receptive to a range of beliefs and values. The story begins in the mid-eighteenth century, when the first Boston liberals brought the Enlightenment into Reformation Christianity, tying equality and liberty to the human soul at the same moment these root concepts were being tied to democracy. The nineteenth century saw the development of a robust liberal intellectual culture in America, built on open-minded pursuit of truth and acceptance of human diversity. By the twentieth century, what had begun in Boston as a narrow, patrician democracy transformed into a religion of democracy in which the new liberals of modern America believed that where different viewpoints overlap, common truth is revealed. The core American principles of liberty and equality were never free from religion but full of religion.

The Religion of Democracy re-creates the liberal conversation from the eighteenth century to the twentieth by tracing the lived connections among seven thinkers through whom they knew, what they read and wrote, where they went, and how they expressed their opinions—from John Adams to William James to Jane Addams; from Boston to Chicago to Berkeley. Sweeping and ambitious, The Religion of Democracy is a lively narrative of quintessentially American ideas as they were forged, debated, and remade across our history.

Bretherton, “Resurrecting Democracy”

In December, Cambridge University Press released “Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life” by Luke Bretherton (Duke University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Resurrecting DemocracyThrough a case study of community organizing in the global city of London and an examination of the legacy of Saul Alinsky around the world, this book develops a constructive account of the relationship between religious diversity, democratic citizenship, and economic and political accountability. Based on an in-depth, ethnographic study, Part I identifies and depicts a consociational, populist and post-secular vision of democratic citizenship by reflecting on the different strands of thought and practice that feed into and help constitute community organizing. Particular attention is given to how organizing mediates the relationship between Christianity, Islam and Judaism and those without a religious commitment in order to forge a common life. Part II then unpacks the implications of this vision for how we respond to the spheres in which citizenship is enacted, namely, civil society, the sovereign nation-state, and the globalized economy. Overall, the book outlines a way of re-imagining democracy, developing innovative public policy, and addressing poverty in the contemporary context.

Hamid, “Temptations of Power”

9780199314058_450Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East by Shadi Hamid (Brookings Doha Center). The publisher’s description follows.

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously declared that we had reached “the end of history,” and that liberal democracy would be the reigning ideology from now on. But Fukuyama failed to reckon with the idea of illiberal democracy. What if majorities, working through the democratic process, decide they would rather not accept gender equality and other human rights norms that Western democracies take for granted? Nowhere have such considerations become more relevant than in the Middle East, where the Arab uprisings of 2011 swept the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties into power. Since then, one question has been on everyone’s mind: what do Islamists really want?

In Temptations of Power, noted Brookings scholar Shadi Hamid draws on hundreds of interviews with Islamist leaders and rank-and-file activists to offer an in-depth look at the past, present, and future of Islamist parties across the Arab world. The oldest and most influential of these groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, initially dismissed democracy as a foreign import, but eventually chose to participate in Egyptian and Jordanian party politics in the 1980s. These political openings proved short-lived. As repression intensified, though, Islamist parties did not — as one may have expected — turn to radicalism. Rather, they embraced the tenets of democratic life, putting aside their dreams of an Islamic state, striking alliances with secular parties, and reaching out to Western audiences for the first time.

When the 2011 revolutions took place, Islamists found themselves in an enviable position, but one they were unprepared for. Up until then, the prospect of power had seemed too remote. But, now, freed from repression and with the political arena wide open, they found themselves with an unprecedented opportunity to put their ideas into practice across the region. Groups like the Brotherhood combine the features of political parties and religious movements. However pragmatic they may be, their ultimate goal remains the Islamization of society and the state. When the electorate they represent is conservative as well, they can push their own form of illiberal democracy while insisting they are carrying out the popular will. This can lead to overreach and, at times, significant backlash, as the tragic events in Egypt following the military takeover demonstrated.

While the coup and the subsequent crackdown were a devastating blow for the Islamist “project,” premature obituaries of political Islam, a running feature of commentary since the 1950s, usually turn out to be just that – premature. In countries as diverse as Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Yemen, Islamist groups will remain an important force whether in the ranks of opposition or the halls of power.

Drawing from interviews with figures like ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, Hamid’s account will serve as an essential compass for those trying to understand where the region’s varied Islamist groups have come from, and where they might be headed.

Hamid, “Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East”

Next month, Oxford will publish Temptations of Power:9780199314058_140 Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East, by Shadi Hamid (Director of Research and Fellow, Brookings Doha Center). The publisher’s description follows.

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously declared that we had reached “the end of history,” and that liberal democracy would be the reigning ideology from now on. But Fukuyama failed to reckon with the idea of illiberal democracy. What if majorities, working through the democratic process, decide they would rather not accept gender equality and other human rights norms that Western democracies take for granted? Nowhere have such considerations become more relevant than in the Middle East, where the Arab uprisings of 2011 swept the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties into power. Since then, one question has been on everyone’s mind: what do Islamists really want?

In Temptations of Power, noted Brookings scholar Shadi Hamid draws on hundreds of interviews with Islamist leaders and rank-and-file activists to offer an in-depth look at the past, present, and future of Islamist parties across the Arab world. The oldest and most influential of these groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, initially dismissed democracy as a foreign import, but eventually chose to participate in Egyptian and Jordanian party politics in the 1980s. These political openings proved short-lived. As repression intensified, though, Islamist parties did not — as one may have expected — turn to radicalism. Rather, they embraced the tenets of democratic life, putting aside their dreams of an Islamic state, striking alliances with secular parties, and reaching out to Western audiences for the first time.

When the 2011 revolutions took place, Islamists found themselves in an enviable position, but one they were unprepared for. Up until then, the prospect of power had seemed too remote. But, now, freed from repression and with the political arena wide open, they found themselves with an unprecedented opportunity to put their ideas into practice across the region. Groups like the Brotherhood combine the features of political parties and religious movements. However pragmatic they may be, their ultimate goal remains the Islamization of society and the state. When the electorate they represent is conservative as well, they can push their own form of illiberal democracy while insisting they are carrying out the popular will. This can lead to overreach and, at times, significant backlash, as the tragic events in Egypt following the military takeover demonstrated.

While the coup and the subsequent crackdown were a devastating blow for the Islamist “project,” premature obituaries of political Islam, a running feature of commentary since the 1950s, usually turn out to be just that – premature. In countries as diverse as Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Yemen, Islamist groups will remain an important force whether in the ranks of opposition or the halls of power.

Drawing from interviews with figures like ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, Hamid’s account will serve as an essential compass for those trying to understand where the region’s varied Islamist groups have come from, and where they might be headed.

Tocqueville’s America and Ours

The County Election (1852)

The “democracy” that Tocqueville observed in the United States was a pervasive social condition, not simply a matter of political or legal equality. Indeed, he opened Democracy in America by saying that “[o]f all the novel things which attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, none struck me more forcibly than the equality of social conditions.” The “extraordinary influence” of “this fundamental fact” shaped both “civil society” and “political customs and laws.” Democracy at 11.

Tocqueville is sometimes misrepresented as opposing liberty to equality. The fact is that he was a partisan of both. In the chapter immediately succeeding his analysis of soft despotism (which he called a “Continuation” of the latter), he says unequivocally that “all those who now wish to found or guarantee the independence and dignity of their fellows should show themselves friends of equality.” Preventing democracy from slipping into despotism is a question, he says, of “drawing freedom from within the democracy in which God has placed us.” Id. at 809. True, he acknowledges that “[e]quality introduces into men’s minds several tendencies which are a danger to liberty.” Id. at 813. But he holds the “firm belief” that “the dangers imposed by the principle of equality upon human independence” are “not insurmountable.” Id. at 817. Inequality, no less than equality, may pose a danger to liberty in a democracy.

Democracy and social equality

Tocqueville observed social equality everywhere in America. In a short section of Volume I of Democracy entitled “Remains of the Aristocratic Party in the United States” (Vol. I, Pt. ii, ch. 2), Tocqueville invites his readers to consider the situation of “the wealthy man,” “this opulent citizen.” “Within the four walls of his house he adores luxury; he invites only a few chosen guests.” But in public, “[h]is clothes are simple and his demeanor is modest.” When “he emerges from home to make his way to work . . . everyone is free to accost him. On the way, his shoemaker might pass by and they stop; both then begin to chat. What can they say? These two citizens are concerned with affairs of state and will not part without shaking hands.” True, the rich feel “a deep distaste” for their country’s democratic institutions, and “both fear and despise” the people. But they bow before the force of democratic social conventions. Democracy at 208-09.

Elsewhere Tocqueville describes the manner of Americans towards one another as “natural, open, and unreserved.” “In America, where privileges of birth have never existed and where wealth grants no particular right to its owner, strangers readily congregate in the same places and find neither danger nor advantage in telling each other freely what they think . . . . [T]here is practically nothing that they expect or fear from each other and they make no more effort to reveal than to conceal their social position.” Id. at 656.

Fishtown and Belmont

It would be unrealistic to think of America in such terms nowadays. Consider Charles Murray’s recent work, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (2012). Murray argues that America is “coming apart at the seams – not seams of race or ethnicity, but of class” (id. at 12). The white working class, he contends, has become estranged from the nation’s “founding virtues” of “industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity” (id. at 131). Basing his Continue reading

Tocqueville on the naturalness of religious belief

In considering the relationship between Christianity and modern democracy, Tocqueville was bound to offer some explanation of the fact that democracy in America was hospitable to that faith while democracy in France was hostile to it. Such an explanation could of course also help explain why, in America, the Reformation and the Enlightenment were and have remained allies while, in much of Europe, the Enlightenment and the Counter-Reformation were, until recent times, vehemently opposed. And it could also shed light on the persisting phenomenon that Americans even now are typically more “religious” than Europeans.

One might have thought that the difference between French and American had something to do with the origins of the two democracies: American democracy took hold in an overwhelmingly Protestant environment, while French democracy arose in opposition to the Catholic Church. Indeed, Tocqueville himself observed that the early Puritan settlers of America brought with them “a form of Christianity which I can only describe as democratic and republican,” and that the circumstances of America’s founding were thus “exceptionally favorable to the establishment of a democracy and a republic in governing public affairs.” Democracy in America at 336 (Bevan trans.). To understand America fully, Tocqueville suggests, we must keep its Puritan origins in mind: “[i]t is religion which has given birth to Anglo-American societies: one must never lose sight of that.” Id. at 496.

In fact, however, Tocqueville’s explanation of the (sometimes amicable, sometimes antagonistic) relationship between Christianity and democracy followed another course. The crucial distinction, he argues, is not between Protestant and Catholic forms of Christianity, but between religion in its “natural” state and religion as a “political” institution. When a political régime permits religion to remain in its “natural” condition, and religion for its part does not seek a “political” role, religion will flourish and, moreover, the régime may find itself stronger for that fact. On the other hand, if a régime seeks to instrumentalize religion or if religion seeks political power, religion will inevitably suffer and any benefits to the régime from its alliance with religion will be fleeting.

Although Tocqueville says that “[a]longside every religion lies some political opinion which is linked to it by affinity,” id. at 336, and acknowledges that “Catholicism resembles absolute monarchy,” id. at 337, he nonetheless insists that neither Protestantism nor Catholicism is especially fitted to or congruent with any specific type of political régime. “[I]n the United States there is no single religious doctrine which is hostile to democratic and republican institutions.” Id. at 338. If anything, Tocqueville believes that Catholicism, despite its apparent affinity for monarchy, would be a better form of Christianity from the standpoint of democracy than Protestantism. Catholicism leads men towards equality, while Protestantism leads them towards independence, id. at 337; and the former condition is more favorable to democracy. Thus, although Catholics retain “a firm loyalty” to their form of worship and are “full of fervent zeal” for their beliefs, they are “the most republican and democratic class in the United States” id., at once “the most obedient believers and the most independent citizens,” id. at 338.

Such, in brief, is Tocqueville’s main line of argument. But as we shall discover, many qualifications to it are needed and some significant problems for it arise. Let us begin by considering his analysis of the situation in pre-Revolutionary France.

Two Trends in French Enlightenment Thought

The French Revolution, Tocqueville thought, saw two great passions at work: political and religious. Of these, the anti-religious passion was “the first to be kindled and the last to be extinguished.” Alexis de Tocqueville, The Ançien Régime and the Revolution 21 (original ed. 1856; Bevan trans. 2008). The Revolution’s hatred of religion was largely the handiwork of eighteenth century French Enlightenment philosophy which, he says, “is correctly considered as one of the main causes of the Revolution” and which was “profoundly anti-religious.” Id.

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