Johnson, “The Souls of China”

This month, Pantheon Publishing releases “The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao,” by Ian Johnson.  The publisher’s description follows:

Ciszek and Flaherty, “With God in Russia”

In June, Harper Collins Publishers will release With God in Russia: The Inspiring Classic Account of a Catholic Priest’s Twenty-three Years in Soviet Prisons and Labor Camps by Walter J. Ciszek S.J. and Daniel L. Flaherty S.J. The publisher’s description follows:

With God in Russia.pngRepublished for a new century and featuring an afterword by Father James Martin, SJ, the classic memoir of an American-born Jesuit priest imprisoned for fifteen years in a Soviet gulag during the height of the Cold War—a poignant and spiritually uplifting story of extraordinary faith and fortitude as indelible as Unbroken. Foreword by Daniel L. Flaherty.

While ministering in Eastern Europe during World War II, Polish-American priest Walter Ciszek, S.J., was arrested by the NKVD, the Russian secret police, shortly after the war ended. Accused of being an American spy and charged with “agitation with intent to subvert,” he was held in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison for five years. The Catholic priest was then sentenced without trial to ten more years of hard labor and transported to Siberia, where he would become a prisoner within the forced labor camp system made famous in Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Prize—winning book The Gulag Archipelago.

In With God in Russia, Ciszek reflects on his daily life as a prisoner, the labor he endured while working in the mines and on construction gangs, his unwavering faith in God, and his firm devotion to his vows and vocation. Enduring brutal conditions, Ciszek risked his life to offer spiritual guidance to fellow prisoners who could easily have exposed him for their own gains. He chronicles these experiences with grace, humility, and candor, from his secret work leading mass and hearing confessions within the prison grounds, to his participation in a major gulag uprising, to his own “resurrection”—his eventual release in a prisoner exchange in October 1963 which astonished all who had feared he was dead.

Powerful and inspirational, With God in Russia captures the heroic patience, endurance, and religious conviction of a man whose life embodied the Christian ideals that sustained him.

Hattersley, “The Catholics”

This month, Chatto & Windus released The Catholics: The Church and its People in Britain and Ireland, from the Reformation to the Present Day by Roy Hattersley (The Guardian). The publisher’s description follows:

CatholicsThroughout the three hundred years that followed the Act of Supremacy – which, by making Henry VIII head of the Church, confirmed in law the breach with Rome – English Catholics were prosecuted, persecuted and penalised for the public expression of their faith. Even after the passing of the emancipation acts Catholics were still the victims of institutionalised discrimination.

The first book to tell the story of the Catholics in Britain in a single volume, The Catholics includes much previously unpublished information. It focuses on the lives, and sometimes deaths, of individual Catholics – martyrs and apostates, priests and laymen, converts and recusants. It tells the story of the men and women who faced the dangers and difficulties of being what their enemies still call ‘Papists’. It describes the laws which circumscribed their lives, the political tensions which influenced their position within an essentially Anglican nation and the changes in dogma and liturgy by which Rome increasingly alienated their Protestant neighbours – and sometime even tested the loyalty of faithful Catholics.

The survival of Catholicism in Britain is the triumph of more than simple faith. It is the victory of moral and spiritual unbending certainty. Catholicism survives because it does not compromise. It is a characteristic that excites admiration in even a hardened atheist.

Symposium: “What Is To Be Done?” (Washington D.C., Apr. 20)

On April 20, the Religious Freedom Institute and the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame are hosting a symposium titled “What Is To Be Done?: Responding to the Global Persecution of Christians” at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. as part of the Under Ceasar’s Sword Project. A brief description of the event follows:

what-is-to-be-done-symposiumThis one-day symposium will feature the launch of the report, In Response to Persecution, of the Under Caesar’s Sword Project.

How do Christians respond to persecution? How can the rest of the world exercise solidarity with them? This day-long public symposium will propose concrete recommendations for action in response to these questions. It will feature globally prominent speakers on religious freedom and leading scholars of global Christianity. A highlight will be the launch of the report, In Response to Persecution, which conveys the results of the Under Caesar’s Sword project, the world’s first systematic global investigation of Christian responses to persecution, featuring findings from over 25 of the world’s most repressive countries. In attendance at the symposium will be government officials, business leaders, academics, and religious leaders, as well as representatives of non-governmental, human rights, and news organizations.

More information on the symposium can be found here.

Gampel, “Anti-Jewish Riots in the Crown of Aragon and the Royal Response, 1391–1392”

In October, Cambridge University Press will release Anti-Jewish Riots in the Crown of Aragon and the Royal Response, 1391-1392 by Benjamin R. Gampel (Jewish Theological Seminary). The publisher’s description follows:

anti-jewish-riotsThe most devastating attacks against the Jews of medieval Christian Europe took place during the riots that erupted, in 1391 and 1392, in the lands of Castile and Aragon. For ten horrific months, hundreds if not thousands of Jews were killed, numerous Jewish institutions destroyed, and many Jews forcibly converted to Christianity. Benjamin Gampel explores why the famed convivencia of medieval Iberian society – in which Christians, Muslims and Jews seemingly lived together in relative harmony – was conspicuously absent. Using extensive archival evidence, this critical volume explores the social, religious, political, and economic tensions at play in each affected town. The relationships, biographies and personal dispositions of the royal family are explored to understand why monarchic authority failed to protect the Jews during these violent months. Gampel’s extensive study is essential for scholars and graduate students of medieval Iberian and Jewish history.

Chinese President Warns of “Overseas Infiltration Via Religious Means”

This AP story reports that proponents of religious freedom are fearful of an increase in religious persecution in China following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s comments at a Beijing conference where he warned against “overseas infiltrations via religious means.” Followers of various religions have already suffered numerous forms of persecution, including Muslims being banned from wearing veils and beards, imprisonment of Catholic clergy members, and the removal and destruction of Christian symbols.

Despite China’s history of religious persecution since the Communist takeover in 1949, the number of Christians in the country has continued to increase. The story reports that according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, China’s 111 million Christians make it the world’s third largest Christian country behind only the United States and Brazil.

Calling It Genocide

In a press statement yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry did what many human rights activists have been asking him to do for months: he called ISIS’s treatment of Christians and other religious minorities “genocide.” Kerry’s statement came as a surprise. For months, the State Department had been hinting that, although it believed that ISIS’s treatment of Yazidis qualified as genocide, it was not prepared to use that word to refer to the group’s treatment of Christians. In fact, as late as Wednesday, in response to a looming congressional reporting deadline, the State Department indicated it would need more time to decide what to do.

State had been reluctant to use the word “genocide” with respect to Christians for a few reasons—all of them bad. First, ISIS’s treatment of Christians was said to differ from its treatment of other religious minorities. In theory, ISIS, also known by its Arabic acronym, “Daesh,” allows Christians to remain unmolested as long as they pay the jizya  and comply with the other terms of the dhimma, the notional agreement that offers protection to “People of the Book.” By contrast, Yazidis, whom ISIS considers idolaters, receive no such protection. They must convert or die.

This distinction is specious. By contemporary human rights standards, the dhimma is quite oppressive. It’s silly to present it as a workable modus vivendi for religious minorities in the twenty-first century. Besides, as Nina Shea and others have documented, in practice ISIS routinely ignores the dhimma and engages in a systematic campaign of murder, rape, enslavement, and expulsion against Christians. Its activities, reminiscent of the last great wave of anti-Christian persecution in the region 100 years ago, clearly qualify as genocide as that term has come to be understood in contemporary law. ISIS manifestly aims “to destroy” Christians, “in whole or in part,” as a “religious group.”

Second, much of the evidence for genocide was said to remain hidden in ISIS-occupied territory, inaccessible to human rights observers. Without direct access, how could one be sure what was happening? It’s not necessary to be physically present, however, to know that ISIS is engaged in a campaign to drive out Christians (or murder them) and erase their culture. ISIS declares its intentions openly and makes videos to document its activities.

Finally, there was the longstanding worry that speaking out on behalf of Christians would appear sectarian and embarrass American goals in the region – and might actually work to Christians’ detriment. There is something to this. Mideast Christians often suffer from their association with Christians in the West. And Western intervention often occasions disaster for them (see: the Iraq War). But the situation is truly dire for Mideast Christians at the moment. Any marginal detriment would go unnoticed in the context of the overwhelming catastrophe they face.

Some may be inclined to dismiss the Secretary’s statement, but that would be wrong. True, in terms of legal consequences, the statement seems weak. “I am neither judge, nor prosecutor, nor jury with respect to the allegations of genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing by specific persons,” Kerry said. “Ultimately, the full facts must be brought to light by an independent investigation and through formal legal determination made by a competent court or tribunal.” Meanwhile, the United States will “collect, document, preserve, and analyze the evidence of atrocities,” and “do all we can to see that the perpetrators are held accountable.” In essence, he seems to be saying, the US will monitor the situation and refer for prosecution, either in the US or at an international tribunal, specific persons it determines to have engaged in genocide, and these people may eventually be convicted–assuming, of course, we can get our hands on them at all.

All this seems a bit remote. Candidly, ISIS’s leaders and operatives do not worry overmuch about legal process, in the US or elsewhere. Threatening to prosecute them is unlikely to deter them from their campaign to restore the caliphate. But law is not the most important criterion for judging Kerry’s statement. The statement has an important moral valence. “I hope,” Kerry said, “that my statement today will assure the victims of Daesh’s atrocities that the United States recognizes and confirms the despicable nature of the crimes that have been committed against them.” Moreover, by highlighting the gravity of the situation, the statement may make it easier for human rights advocates to lobby the US and international organizations to offer needed humanitarian and financial assistance to Christians and other religious minorities. It may make it easier to convince the US and other Western countries to offer asylum to Christian and other religious refugees.

Yesterday’s statement was a welcome development. Thanks must go, not only to Secretary Kerry, but to Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), who led a bipartisan effort in Congress to get the State to designate the treatment of Mideast Christians as genocide, as well as human rights activists like Shea, who worked tirelessly to keep this issue on the national agenda. For a long time, it has seemed that the suffering of Mideast Christians was not a priority for the US. Perhaps that has begun to change.

“Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome” (eds. Salzman et al)

In November, the Cambridge University Press released “Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome: Conflict, Competition, and Coexistence in the Fourth Century,” edited by Michele Renee Salzman (University of California, Riverside), Marianne Sághy (Central European University), and Rita Lizzi Testa (Università degli Studi di Perugia). The publisher’s description follows: 

This book sheds new light on the religious and consequently social changes taking place in late antique Rome. The essays in this volume argue that the once-51gcE0J9FuL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_dominant notion of pagan-Christian religious conflict cannot fully explain the texts and artifacts, as well as the social, religious, and political realities of late antique Rome. Together, the essays demonstrate that the fourth-century city was a more fluid, vibrant, and complex place than was previously thought. Competition between diverse groups in Roman society – be it pagans with Christians, Christians with Christians, or pagans with pagans – did create tensions and hostility, but it also allowed for coexistence and reduced the likelihood of overt violent, physical conflict. Competition and coexistence, along with conflict, emerge as still central paradigms for those who seek to understand the transformations of Rome from the age of Constantine through the early fifth century.

  • The most up-to-date analysis of the texts and archaeological evidence from late antique Rome
  • Written by an international team of scholars with diverse backgrounds and approaches
  • Illuminates new approaches to ancient history by addressing the nature of religious change in the largest city in the Mediterranean world – Rome

Lenski, “Constantine and the Cities”

In February, the University of Pennsylvania Press will release “Constantine and the Cities: Imperial Authority and Civic Politics” by Noel Lenski.  The publisher’s description follows:

Over the course of the fourth century, Christianity rose from a religion actively persecuted by the authority of the Roman empire to become 15509the religion of state—a feat largely credited to Constantine the Great. Constantine succeeded in propelling this minority religion to imperial status using the traditional tools of governance, yet his proclamation of his new religious orientation was by no means unambiguous. His coins and inscriptions, public monuments, and pronouncements sent unmistakable signals to his non-Christian subjects that he was willing not only to accept their beliefs about the nature of the divine but also to incorporate traditional forms of religious expression into his own self-presentation. In Constantine and the Cities, Noel Lenski attempts to reconcile these apparent contradictions by examining the dialogic nature of Constantine’s power and how his rule was built in the space between his ambitions for the empire and his subjects’ efforts to further their own understandings of religious truth.

Focusing on cities and the texts and images produced by their citizens for and about the emperor, Constantine and the Cities uncovers the interplay of signals between ruler and subject, mapping out the terrain within which Constantine nudged his subjects in the direction of conversion. Reading inscriptions, coins, legal texts, letters, orations, and histories, Lenski demonstrates how Constantine and his subjects used the instruments of government in a struggle for authority over the religion of the empire.

Fox, “The Unfree Exercise of Religion”

In February, the Cambridge University Press will release “The Unfree Exercise of Religion: A World Survey of Discrimination Against Religious Minorities,” by Jonathan Fox (Bar Ilan University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religious discrimination is the norm in many countries around the world, and the rate is rising. Nearly every country which discriminates9781107133068 does so unequally, singling out some religious minorities for more discrimination than others. Religious tradition does not explain this complex issue. For example, Muslim majority states include both the most discriminatory and tolerant states in the world, as is also the case with Christian majority states. Religious ideologies, nationalism, regime, culture, security issues, and political issues are also all part of the answer. In The Unfree Exercise of Religion Jonathan Fox examines how we understand concepts like religious discrimination and religious freedom, and why countries discriminate. He makes a study of religious discrimination against 597 religious minorities in 177 countries between 1990 and 2008. While 29 types of discrimination are discussed in this book, the most common include restrictions in places of worship, proselytizing, and religious education.

  • Examines how we think about concepts like religious discrimination and religious freedom, which are often used but rarely examined and defined, helping readers think more systematically about these topics
  • Discusses evidence that religious discrimination is the norm rather than the exception and is on the rise, even in democracies
  • Seeks to help undermine incorrect stereotypes and assumptions on the topic of religious discrimination
%d bloggers like this: