The book blog
In Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation, I argue that religious traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in particular—offer a way of thinking about justice that poses an alternative to the globally dominant liberal peace and that holds out great promise for societies rebuilding in the wake of massive injustice.
Bronwyn Leebaw, in her post, notes that I seek to stave off the fate of Sophie Wilder, a character in a novel who converts to Catholicism then becomes estranged from her friends and family. Mirabile dictu, unlike Sophie Wilder, my book has met with great efforts to understand it, absorb it, and engage it thoughtfully, this at the hands of six reviewers each of whose own scholarship has contributed crucially to the contemporary conversation about the justice of dealing with past injustice. I am grateful. I am heartened, too, that each reviewer fundamentally “got” the book, grasping and in many ways finding sympathy with what I strove to argue.Read Reconciliation in the real world.
Today, at the beginning of 2013, the world is confronted by a bewildering array of protracted and new armed conflicts: Syria, Gaza, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Myanmar, Mali, Chad, the Central African Republic, and Libya are just a few of the many parts of the world wracked by violent conflict. And, although some of the rhetoric about the burden of civilian suffering compared to military casualties in these so-called “new wars” may have been overblown (not least because civilians have always paid a heavy cost in war), there is little doubting that non-combatants remain firmly in the firing line. The injustices of war are legion and extend to killing, torture, mutilation, sexual and gender based violence and abuse, forced displacement, and much else. For all that the world’s governments proclaim their commitment to the protection of civilians of armed conflict, and for all the writings on the moral and legal constraints introduced over the past three millennia or so, war always produces more than its fair share of injustice.Read Reconciliation and the pursuit of peace.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) celebrated its ten-year anniversary last summer. During its first decade of life, both the shadow and the actuality of international justice in the form of investigation, trial, and judgment have become a central feature of many conflicts, ongoing and concluded. Nearly a decade before the ICC opened its doors, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission attracted enormous global attention, and the moral sanction against racial violence at its core resonated across the globe. And yet, the concept of reconciliation that defined the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has not occupied the same coveted (if also contested) international space that international justice—through trials—does today. If anything, advocates of justice and trials have subsumed reconciliation and truth seeking into a package of justice that has trials at its core. In his new book, Just and Unjust Peace, Daniel Philpott forces us to rethink this ordering.Read Recasting an agenda for peace.
One of Philpott’s goals in Just and Unjust Peace is to challenge both sorts of reactions to the role of religion in debates on ethics and justice: the polite, but perhaps patronizing, stance of detachment, as well as the presumption that religion is essentially incompatible with democratic freedoms. He proposes bridging the two as a way to broaden and better ground an ethical debate on the central question that animates the book: What does justice consist of “in the wake of its massive despoliation?” (3). This is the question that has been at the center of ongoing debates on transitional and international justice, but Philpott goes about addressing it in a wholly original way. Instead of grounding the inquiry in a preliminary engagement with prevailing international legal standards, he begins by articulating a general theoretical approach to justice and reconciliation, and then uses it to examine contemporary institutions and practices.Read Janus-faced justice.
Recent history is full of episodes of egregious, widespread and often systematic wrongdoing: genocide, torture, and mass killing. Cambodia, South Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sierra Leone, and Guatemala are a few of the places where violence has occurred. Histories of violence and injustice leave marks of damage, despair, and pain. The central question Daniel Philpott considers in his book Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation is: “What does justice consist of in the wake of its massive despoliation?” The answer, Philpott argues, is political reconciliation.Read Justice and reconciliation.
The meaning of political reconciliation for Philpott centers on what he calls the “restoration of right relationship.” When a society emerges out of war or dictatorship, it is full of wounded relationships: among citizens, among communities, and between the state and its citizens and communities. These wounds are created by political injustices, the particular sort of injustices that transitional justice, at its best, seeks to address. Philpott argues that an effective conception of political reconciliation must address such injustices, and he roots his conception in a mix of religious and legal doctrines and traditions: human rights, restorative justice, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He offers a conception of transitional justice that goes well beyond the liberal peace.Read A new theory on political wounds.
Daniel Philpott’s book, Just and Unjust Peace, can be regarded as a milestone for policymakers and academics looking for ways that go beyond the liberal peace frameworks. As a “student” of international relations and religion, I see the book as a tremendous contribution to the conversations surrounding conflict transformation and peacebuilding. In this short essay, I am not evaluating the myriad possibilities the book offers in multiple fields. Rather, I would like to convey two important implications of Philpott’s approach for those of us sitting at the intersection of religion and international affairs.Read Relevance of religious episteme in search of a just peace.
Recently I am struck by the ambiguity of the concept of the religious. Reading Linda Heuman’s review of Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution, and then turning to Bellah’s book itself, after having been reading Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies, I feel as I have before how uncertain it is that we who write about religion in history are all writing about the same thing! Bellah’s book is an attempt to factor that uncertainty into the equation, for sure. In one part of Bellah’s overall reconstruction of “axial transitions” (including the birth of monotheism), he considers three case studies, two Native American and one Aboriginal Australian, with scrupulous care. The idea is to get a picture—before the shift to the ecumenical story, when the forces of the axial age change everything—of developmentally prior, not to say primordial, religions, without adopting anything as distortive as a model or a linear theory.Read Colonialism’s religious domain.
To be asked to contribute a commentary on Professor Robert Bellah’s magnum opus is a great honor and a privilege that, in the virtual company of intellectuals of the highest caliber, manages to concentrate the mind and at the same time to fill you with despair; not least because Religion in Human Evolution stands as a measure of the distance that lies between routine, or ordinary, intellectual activity, and genuine, indeed extraordinary, intellectual achievement.Read Good news from the grand narrative.
When writing about other people, we all should follow Pierre Bourdieu’s advice to not be too fascinated by our human subjects. This is necessary in order to escape the “biographical fallacy,” the temptation to narrate lives as if they were historically continuous and logically consistent wholes. Bourdieu is right. Our lives are a mess of disparate events, novelties and routines, strategic decisions and lapses of reason, chances and regrets, with little, if any, overall meaning. At the same time, as Robert N. Bellah writes at the beginning of his magisterial tour de force, we are narrative animals. We cannot avoid telling stories, and every story has to have a hero, a quest, and a finale. In this brief essay I recount a couple of stories about Religion in Human Evolution, reading through the lines of this fascinating work to find and highlight some of the many threads which connect it to its author’s past.Read Back to his roots.
In a special session at the meetings of the American Academy of Religion on November 20, 2011, Robert Bellah discussed his new book, Religion in Human Evolution, with members of a distinguished panel.… Why was this event so special? It was not just the distinction of the members of the panel themselves, beginning with Bellah, arguably the country’s best known sociologist of religion and author of such seminal essays as “Civil Religion in America” and “Religious Evolution,” and groundbreaking books, including Habits of the Heart and Tokugawa Religion. Rather, the significance of the event lay in its recognition of the importance of the book’s project, a breathtaking survey of the whole sweep of the history of religiosity, which is nothing less than the history of humankind.Read A travelogue of ideas.
I am grateful to Mark Juergensmeyer for organizing a panel on my book at the November 2011 meetings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), only a couple of months after publication. Given a somewhat different response from the American Sociological Association (ASA) I can only say that although I have never taught in a university with a department of religious studies, I am as much a religious studies person as a sociologist. Or perhaps better, I can say that I am a sociologist in the image of my own teacher, Talcott Parsons, who never recognized any disciplinary boundary and tended to define sociology as concerned with the world and its contents.
I am also grateful to the three panelists who spoke so graciously at the panel and who have provided written versions of their comments. I tried to respond to them ex tempore at the event and have seen a video of my remarks, but I will use this occasion to give a more considered answer to the many questions they raised, having to deal with some overlap between them as I go along.Read A response to three readers.
The word “magisterial” in publishers’ blurbs usually means little more than “too long,” and indeed Religion in Human Evolution is very long, but it is also magisterial in many of the ways that the Oxford English Dictionary suggests: “Of, relating to, designating, or befitting a master, teacher, or other person qualified to speak with authority; masterly, authoritative, commanding.” It is certainly all of those, a book full of the wisdom and erudition that comes only when someone quite brilliant has thought about a big subject for many years.Read Axial axioms.
When I first received my copy of Religion in Human Evolution by post, the initial impression was of its sheer heft. After opening the package, I turned first, as usual, to its notes and citations. What came immediately to mind was Bellah’s first-person footnote at the conclusion of his article, “Durkheim and History”: “In spite of long-standing opposition…I agree with Durkheim that the problem of evolution, including our own social origins, is central for sociology as a science. To be convincing, this view must be backed by research, a challenge not to be evaded.”
Bellah, this year, in this work under discussion, has responded to, has not “evaded” his own “challenge,” in an exemplary fashion. What is more—given the density of both his data and his arguments, the product of his “research,” apparent on every page—Bellah has attained that rarest of academic achievements, his new book is a damned good read!Read A damned good read.
Any authors would be pleased by an array of laudatory and thoughtful comments on their work, especially by a group of critics as distinguished and diverse as this. We are grateful for the care and attention our commentators have taken with American Grace, especially given that they are outside of our own discipline of political science. In writing this book, our hope was to speak beyond disciplinary boundaries. It is thus particularly gratifying to read John Torpey describe American Grace as “public sociology.” This is precisely what we hoped to achieve. We believe that more social science should be directed toward informing our public discourse, and that rigor versus relevance is a false choice.Read Public sociology: rigor and relevance.
The subtitle of Bellah’s book, From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age, indicates that it is about religions between the Paleolithic and the axial ages. Bellah explicitly states that this is “not a book about modernity,” and that he plans to write another, smaller book on modernity. However, I want to suggest that in a very important sense this book is about modernity as well. This is because Bellah believes that there are necessary links “between past and present,” and that “nothing is ever lost.”Read The return of the grand narrative.
Future histories may report that the public discourse on religion was dominated by reductive naturalism until Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution appeared in 2011. One of the most distinctive features of Bellah’s book is his extensive use of the latest developments in the natural sciences, such as biology, cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and developmental and child psychology. One of his purposes is, as he puts it, “to show how deeply we are shaped by a very long biological history.” This might give the wrong impression that Bellah’s approach is similar to the New Naturalist approach. However, Bellah’s is better characterized as a non-reductive humanistic naturalism, which is a synthesis of the humanistic (interpretative, social, and historical) understanding of religion and the naturalist approach.Read Beyond reductive naturalism.
It is a pleasure and an honor to engage a book that is truly large in ways beyond its sheer size. It is large in scope, ranging across geological, biological, cultural, and historical phenomena spanning both time and place. It is large in significance, asking how one of humanity’s central yet elusive traits—what might be termed its religious gene—fits within and perhaps contributes to one of science’s dominant theoretical frameworks, evolution. It is also large-minded in its appreciation for the distinct yet interrelated ways in which humans express meaning. Professor Bellah’s instinct, I think, is to be inclusive rather than exclusive, to see how diverse modes meld one into another, and to provide nuanced appreciation more than sharp-edged distinctions.Read Five questions for Robert Bellah.