When one thinks about the historical role of the religion in American foreign policy in Asia, the first religion that comes to mind is Christianity. The need to protect Evangelical missionaries dictated much American foreign policy in China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for example. A new book from Yale University Press, Cold War Monks: Buddhism and America’s Secret Strategy in Southeast Asia, by scholar Eugene Ford, suggests another example. During the Cold War, the book maintains, the US Government enlisted Buddhism as a vehicle for opposing the spread of Communism. Here’s the description from the Yale website:
The groundbreaking account of U.S. clandestine efforts to use Southeast Asian Buddhism to advance Washington’s anticommunist goals during the Cold War
How did the U.S. government make use of a “Buddhist policy” in Southeast Asia during the Cold War despite the American principle that the state should not meddle with religion? To answer this question, Eugene Ford delved deep into an unprecedented range of U.S. and Thai sources and conducted numerous oral history interviews with key informants. Ford uncovers a riveting story filled with U.S. national security officials, diplomats, and scholars seeking to understand and build relationships within the Buddhist monasteries of Southeast Asia.
This fascinating narrative provides a new look at how the Buddhist leaderships of Thailand and its neighbors became enmeshed in Cold War politics and in the U.S. government’s clandestine efforts to use a predominant religion of Southeast Asia as an instrument of national stability to counter communist revolution.
In February, I.B. Tauris released “Women and Violence in India: Gender, Oppression, and the Politics of Neoliberalism,” by Tamsin Bradley (University of Portsmouth). The publisher’s description follows:
India’s endemic gender-based violence has received increased international scrutiny and provoked waves of domestic protest and activism. In recent years, related studies on India and South Asia have proliferated but their analyses often fail to identify why violence flourishes. Unwilling to simply accept patriarchy as the answer, Tamsin Bradley presents new research examining how different groups in India conceptualise violence against women, revealing beliefs around religion, caste and gender that render aggression socially acceptable. She also analyses the role that neoliberalism, and its corollary consumerism, play in reducing women to commodity objects for barter or exchange. Unpacking varied conservative, liberal and neoliberal ideologies active in India today, Bradley argues that they can converge unexpectedly to normalise violence against women. Due to these complex and overlapping factors, rates of violence against women in India have actually increased despite decades of feminist campaigning.
This book will be crucial to those studying Indian gender politics and violence, but also presents new data and methodologies which have practical implications for researchers and policymakers worldwide.
Last month, Penguin Random House Press released Genghis Khan and the Quest for God: How the World’s Greatest Conqueror Gave Us Religious Freedom by Jack Weatherford (Former Professor, Macalaster College, Minnesota). The publisher’s description follows:
A landmark biography by the New York Times bestselling author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World that reveals how Genghis harnessed the power of religion to rule the largest empire the world has ever known.
Throughout history the world’s greatest conquerors have made their mark not just on the battlefield, but in the societies they have transformed. Genghis Khan conquered by arms and bravery, but he ruled by commerce and religion. He created the world’s greatest trading network and drastically lowered taxes for merchants, but he knew that if his empire was going to last, he would need something stronger and more binding than trade. He needed religion. And so, unlike the Christian, Taoist and Muslim conquerors who came before him, he gave his subjects freedom of religion. Genghis lived in the 13th century, but he struggled with many of the same problems we face today: How should one balance religious freedom with the need to reign in fanatics? Can one compel rival religions – driven by deep seated hatred–to live together in peace?
A celebrated anthropologist whose bestselling Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World radically transformed our understanding of the Mongols and their legacy, Jack Weatherford has spent eighteen years exploring areas of Mongolia closed until the fall of the Soviet Union and researching The Secret History of the Mongols, an astonishing document written in code that was only recently discovered. He pored through archives and found groundbreaking evidence of Genghis’s influence on the founding fathers and his essential impact on Thomas Jefferson. Genghis Khan and the Quest for God is a masterpiece of erudition and insight, his most personal and resonant work.
This month, the Cambridge University Press releases “Religion and Nationalism in Southeast Asia,” by Joseph Liow (Nanyang Technological University). The publisher’s description follows:
Religion and nationalism are two of the most potent and enduring forces that have shaped the modern world. Yet, there has been little systematic study of how these two forces have interacted to provide powerful impetus for mobilization in Southeast Asia, a region where religious identities are as strong as nationalist impulses. At the heart of many religious conflicts in Southeast Asia lies competing conceptions of nation and nationhood, identity and belonging, and loyalty and legitimacy. In this accessible and timely study, Joseph Liow examines the ways in which religious identity nourishes collective consciousness of a people who see themselves as a nation, perhaps even as a constituent part of a nation, but anchored in shared faith. Drawing on case studies from across the region, Liow argues that this serves both as a vital element of identity and a means through which issues of rights and legitimacy are understood.
In September, Routledge will release “Religion and Development in the Asia-Pacific: Sacred Places as Development Spaces,” by Matthew Clarke (Deakin University) and Anna Halafoff (Deakin University). The publisher’s description follows:
Community development is most effective and efficient when it is situated and led at the local level and considers the social behaviours, needs and worldviews of local communities. With more than eight out of ten people globally self-reporting religious belief, Religion and Development in the Asia-Pacific: Sacred places as development spaces argues that the role and impact of religions on community development needs to be better understood. It also calls for greater attention to be given to the role of sacred places as sites for development activities, and for a deeper appreciation of the way in which sacred stories and teachings inspire people to work for the benefit of others in particular locations.
The book considers theories of ‘place’ as a component of successful development interventions and expands this analysis to consider the specific role that sacred places – buildings and social networks – have in planning, implementing and promoting sustainable development. A series of case studies examine various sacred places as sites for development activities. These case studies include Christian churches and disaster relief in Vanuatu; Muslim shrines and welfare provision in Pakistan; a women’s Buddhist monastery in Thailand advancing gender equity; a Jewish aid organisation providing language training to Muslim Women in Australia; and Hawaiian sacred sites located within a holistic retreat centre committed to ecological sustainability.
Religion and Development in the Asia-Pacific demonstrates the important role that sacred spaces can play in development interventions, covering diverse major world religions, interfaith and spiritual contexts, and as such will be of considerable interest for postgraduate students and researchers in development studies, religious studies, sociology of religion and geography.
This month, Edinburgh University Press released Islamic Thought in China: Sino-Muslim Intellectual Evolution from the 17th to the 21st Century edited by Johnathan N. Lipman (Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts). The publisher’s description follows:
How can people belong simultaneously to two cultures, originating in two different places and expressed in two different languages, without alienating themselves from either? Muslims have lived in the Chinese culture area for 1400 years, and the intellectuals among them have long wrestled with this problem. Unlike Persian, Turkish, Urdu, or Malay, the Chinese language never adopted vocabulary from Arabic to enable a precise understanding of Islam’s religious and philosophical foundations. Islam thus had to be translated into Chinese, which lacks words and arguments to justify monotheism, exclusivity, and other features of this Middle Eastern religion. Even in the 21st century, Muslims who are culturally Chinese must still justify their devotion to a single God, avoidance of pork, and their communities’ distinctiveness, among other things, to sceptical non-Muslim neighbours and an increasingly intrusive state.
The essays in this collection narrate the continuing translations and adaptations of Islam and Muslims in Chinese culture and society through the writings of Sino-Muslim intellectuals. Progressing chronologically and interlocking thematically, they help the reader develop a coherent understanding of the intellectual issues at stake.
This month, Cambridge University Press releases “Japanese Confucianism: A Cultural History” by Kiri Paramore (Leiden University). The publisher’s description follows:
For more than 1500 years, Confucianism has played a major role in shaping Japan’s history – from the formation of the first Japanese states during the first millennium AD, to Japan’s modernization in the nineteenth century, to World War II and its still unresolved legacies across East Asia today. In an illuminating and provocative new study, Kiri Paramore analyses the dynamic history of Japanese Confucianism, revealing its many cultural manifestations, as religion and as a political tool, as social capital and public discourse, as well as its role in international relations and statecraft. The book demonstrates the processes through which Confucianism was historically linked to other phenomenon, such as the rise of modern science and East Asian liberalism. In doing so, it offers new perspectives on the sociology of Confucianism and its impact on society, culture and politics across East Asia, past and present.
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,
feminist 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.
In May, Brill Publishing will release “The Western Christian Presence in the Russias and Qājār Persia, c.1760–c.1870,” by Thomas S. R. O Flynn. The publisher’s description follows:
In The Western Christian Presence in the Russias and Qājār Persia, c.1760–c.1870, Thomas O Flynn vividly paints the life and times of missionary enterprises in early nineteenth-century Russia and Persia at a moment of immense change when Tsarist Russia embarked on an expansionist campaign reaching to the Caucasus. Simultaneously he charts the relationship between the new Persian dynasty of the Qājārs and missionary activity on the part of European and American missionaries. This book reconstructs that world from a predominantly religious perspective. It recounts the sustaining ideals as well as the everyday struggles of the western missionaries, Protestant (Scottish, Basel and American Congregationalist) and Catholic (Jesuit and Vincentian). It looks at the reactions of diverse tribal peoples, the Tatars of the North Caucasus, the Kabardians and Circassians. Persia was the ultimate goal of these missionaries, which they eventually reached in the 1820s. Altogether this study throws light on the troubled course of history in West Asia and provides the background to politico-religious conflicts in Chechnya and Persia that persist to the present day.
In May, Routledge will release “South Asian Islam and British Multiculturalism” by Amir Ali (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India). The publisher’s description follows:
This book analyses South Asian Islam’s engagement with the West, and Britain in particular. It traces the roots of British multiculturalism to South Asia and the Deobandi school of Islam. The work shows how the pattern of interaction that initially emerged between the Deobandi Muslims and the colonial British state in late-19th century replicated itself in the British society in the second half of 20th century. The monograph reflects upon Islam’s ‘compatibility’ with liberal democracy as well as explores how it contributed to its origins in the Enlightenment ethos.
A nuanced, sensitive and topical study, this book will be essential to understanding the world in the light of contemporary world events—Paris 13/11 and Charlie Hebdo attacks, the Danish cartoon controversy, and the Trojan Horse incident in certain British schools as well as the much earlier Rushdie affair. It will be of great interest to researchers and scholars of political science, religion, political Islam, British and South Asian Studies, and history.