Posts Tagged ‘Catholicism’

November 17th, 2014

Malediction, exorcism, and evil

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It is best to begin by considering the word malediction in the simple sense of speaking evil or evil-saying. The idea of evil—male—is conceptually, existentially, morally, and cosmologically complex, so I want to focus first on the saying—diction. I am thinking of an actual utterance: what seems to me the relatively straightforward act of “hurling epithets.” This phrase is felicitous because the notion of hurling emphasizes the physical, embodied, material aspect of malediction as a rhetorical performance. The same recognition of the physicality of utterance is needed to understand why the children’s retort to the bully, “sticks and stone may break my bones but names will never hurt me,” is simply wrong. Names are hurtful insofar as they are no less material than sticks or stones when they are hurled and hit their mark.

October 30th, 2014

Pope Francis reaffirms belief in evolution

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Addressing the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on October 27, Pope Francis stated that not only are the Big Bang and evolution consistent with God and creation, but in fact require a divine presence.

October 9th, 2014

Losing sight of reason

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Thomas Pfau has created a brand new narrative, not a scholarly book. In the best Christian traditio renovanda (renewing tradition), Pfau’s narrative is an ambitious project to delve into the most loathsome and putrid foundations of modernity and its development. At the same time, Minding the Modern reconstructs an ideal alternative world-to-come based on solid Thomistic solutions. The “road not taken” by the West, which is dooming its own present and its future, appears at its best.

Pfau never portrays modernity as being specifically loathsome and putrid. Instead, he describes modernity as a “catastrophe,” a “shipwreck,” “discontinuous,” “dystopic,” “a failure to remember,” “traumatic,” etc. It is clear from the beginning of the book that Pfau is neither supportive of, nor sympathetic to, modernity. His narrative is not intended to provide a neutral, objective, and academic understanding of modernity, but rather a demolishing and biased critique of it; yet another one from a decidedly Catholic perspective.

September 12th, 2014

Overlapping senses of salvation

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With a Guatemala’s history of social and political instability, the place of religion in public life is often fraught with tensions and ambiguities, especially with regard to the nature of morality. These issues tend to crop up when the practices of competing religious institutions exit the relatively circumscribed spaces of churches and enter into erstwhile public spaces. The following examples, drawn from my own fieldwork and that of two other ethnographers of Christianity in Guatemala, illustrate these tensions and suggest that greater attention to the sensory dimensions of public religiosity can shed light on the varying ways that religious actors imagine and engage with public spaces.

May 9th, 2014

Pope Francis and liberation theology

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One year into Francis’s papacy, many observers—both inside and outside the Catholic community—are still holding their breath. He has certainly made a good first impression.

February 27th, 2014

Contents and discontents of (post)modernity

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The Unintended Reformation is an unusual work of history in deliberately focusing as much on the present as on the past, and in emphasizing the ongoing importance of the Reformation era for understanding the Western world today. Having considered issues related to the book’s genre, method, and assumptions in the first part of my response and others related to its historical arguments and omissions in the second part, the principal focus here will be the reactions of the forum participants to my description and assessment of the present. I will also take up speculation about my supposed agenda, and the book’s lack of ideas for solving contemporary problems.

February 18th, 2014

CFP: Rethinking Political Catholicism

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On May 22-23, 2014, John Cabot University, as part of its Summer Institute for Religion and Global Politics will host an international conference entitled “Rethinking Political Catholicism: Empirical and Normative Perspectives.”

February 7th, 2014

Historical arguments and omissions

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A number of the forum reviewers raise objections to various aspects of the historical arguments in The Unintended Reformation. Others criticize me for having neglected what they regard as important omissions that adversely affect the book’s arguments. I will consider each of these sorts of criticisms in turn. Many of these critiques derive from the difficulty of keeping in mind that the book’s structure—a function of its method, which follows from its explanatory purpose as discussed in the first part of my response—distributes phenomena from the same historical era across six chapters rather than keeping them together. In combination with the necessarily compressed exposition, which also derives from the method, this sometimes results in readers not heeding or forgetting what is incorporated elsewhere in the book.

January 21st, 2014

Genre, method, and assumptions

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More than 60 reviews of The Unintended Reformation have appeared since January 2012, including forums in four journals (Historically Speaking, Church History, Catholic Historical Review, Pro Ecclesia), in addition to the multiple sessions that have been devoted to the book at professional conferences. The responses here at The Immanent Frame add another ten. I am grateful to my colleagues for their responses, to Jonathan VanAntwerpen and The Immanent Frame for hosting them, and for the opportunity to reply. I am gratified the work has provoked discussion and debate that shows little sign of abating. I am also pleased that most reviewers have acknowledged the book’s ambition and erudition, and that some regard it as an important analysis of modern Western history comparable to Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age or Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Less satisfying (although not unpredictable) has been the ways in which the book has been misread, misunderstood, and misrepresented by some reviewers, including some respondents here.

December 21st, 2013

A changing papacy?

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On December 11, Time Magazine named Pope Francis its 2013 “Person of the Year.” The award, according to Time, seeks to honor the person or group who, “for better or for worse,” has most influenced the events of that year.

November 26th, 2013

Beyond the Catholic-Protestant divide

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The epigraph of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation comes from an essay that Jacques Maritain wrote for the Review of Politics in 1942 entitled “The End of Machiavellianism.” In it, Maritain evinces some of his own realist, even tragic sensibilities—his hunch that human beings often do not deliver on the grand promises that they make, and that what may have appeared so good long, long ago can bear rotten fruit centuries later. Although tracing the distant and historical causes of contemporary problems can be like trying to identify “in a river’s mouth,” as Maritain writes, “which waters come from which glaciers and which tributaries,” if we are to have any chance of understanding ourselves, the work cannot be avoided. The epigraph offers a glimpse into Gregory’s intentions and his inspiration, and it helps explain why he would read his area of specialization, the Reformation, in darker terms than some of his American colleagues. For Jacques Maritain, the Protestant reformers set in motion the modern, rationalist thinking that severed the ontological bonds between the realness of the world and the intellectual capacities of the knower. For Gregory, the tragedy of the Reformation was not the content of the reformers’ ideas but the unsolved and unsatisfying contestations between Catholics and Protestants.

November 6th, 2013

History without hermeneutics: Brad Gregory’s unintended modernity

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I would like to draw attention to three aspects of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation, a book whose courage and ambition I applaud, if for no other reason than that it exemplifies what an engaged form of historiography (and humanistic inquiry more generally) can and should do. The first aspect has to do with the commercialization and commodification of knowledge in post-Reformation modernity and how it impacts advanced inquiry today. From it follows my second concern, which lies with the indebtedness of Gregory’s own narrative to the fruits of modern, disciplinary and specialized inquiry. Finally, I wish to take up the question of whether Gregory’s historiographical approach might be seriously compromised by the apparent absence of a focused hermeneutical engagement with the major voices (theological, philosophical, political, economic, etc.) widely credited with shaping the landscape of post-Reformation modernity, both secular and religious.

October 1st, 2013

What is religion in China? A brief history

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The complex and ever-changing relationship between the Chinese state and the nation’s religions stretches back thousands of years. While the state never struggled with religious leaders for power, it governed an embedded religiosity in the population, one best described as diffused, non-exclusive, and pluralistic. As a companion to The Immanent Frame’s newly launched series of essays on the state of religion in China, this piece embarks on a brief historical survey, outlining the wide variety of beliefs and practices that religion in China encapsulates, and paying particular attention to the events and philosophies that have shaped the policies of the atheist People’s Republic of China.

September 24th, 2013

Secular supercessionism and alternative modernity

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Recent years have seen the resurgence of “metahistories” that seek to provide a single complex narrative of seemingly disparate events and developments. Among the most prominent contemporary accounts are Marcel Gauchet’s La condition historique (2005), Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age (2007) and Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution (2011). In different ways, all three offer an overarching story of how the distant past—whether the emergence of the modern state or the rise of secular unbelief as a default position or cultural capacities driving religious development—continues to shape the present. Brad S. Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation is another such ambitious attempt, charting the way in which Protestantism unwittingly invented the capitalism and secular liberalism that together constitute our current condition.

September 5th, 2013

Catholic bishops on immigration reform

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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has undertaken a coordinated effort to preach the message of immigration reform in diocese across America as reported by The New York Times.

August 21st, 2013

Religion and the environment

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Climate change and the environment can be contentious issues, particularly in American politics. Despite political differences, weather events such as droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfires in the United States have highlighted environmental issues for impacted communities, including various religious groups and faith traditions. In recent years religious individuals and organizations have become increasingly vocal about various environmental issues, and the following roundup presents some of the latest perspectives from different faiths.

May 10th, 2013

The Vatican Spring?

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Does the election of Francis I signal a major shift in Vatican policy, structure, or doctrine? How significant is Francis’ status as an “outsider” to the Roman Curia, especially his background as a Latin American and a Jesuit? Is this status likely to position him as an agent of change within the Church, or do his theological continuities with his predecessors and the entrenched Vatican bureaucracy guarantee that any reform he initiates will be largely cosmetic?

Read responses by Michele Dillon, John L. Esposito, Jeffrey Guhin, Cecelia Lynch, James Martin, S.J., J. Michelle Molina, and Sarah Shortall.

March 14th, 2013

Habemus Papam: Pope Francis Roundup

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On March 13, 2013, after five rounds of voting, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was selected as pope, making him the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church, the first non-European pope in modern times, and the first from the Jesuit order. In this post, we round up a range of reactions to the selection of the new pope—both within the English-language press and across Latin America.

February 12th, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI resigns

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In a surprising announcement, Pope Benedict XVI stated on Monday that would resign at the end of the month.

October 2nd, 2012

Mark Lilla reviews The Unintended Reformation

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Over at The New RepublicMark Lilla reviews historian Brad S. Gregory’s latest book, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society.

August 30th, 2012

Group home for prospective nuns

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In a recent article from the Religion News Service, Bruce Nolan discusses a new group home for single women who are contemplating whether they want to devote their lives to the church.

June 25th, 2012

Bishop accountability?

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At the most recent United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Review Board stated that it was crucial for Bishops to be more strict in following their own policies against sexual abuse.

June 12th, 2012

Sexuality and the Catholic Church

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This past week the Catholic church denounced Sister Margaret A. Farley, an American nun and professor of Christian Ethics at Yale Divinity School, for her book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.

May 16th, 2012

The bishops, the sisters, and religious freedom

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At its March 2012 meeting, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty,” a document drafted by the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

May 14th, 2012

The graduation wars

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In Il Sussidiario, Michael Sean Winters gives his opinion on the recent controversies surrounding commencement speakers invited to Catholic institutions of higher education.

May 4th, 2012

Catholic doctrine and universities

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In a recent article, Libby A. Nelson discusses the role of faith in Catholic universities and puts forth the question, how Catholic are these institutions?

April 30th, 2012

Mary’s voice

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In the wake of controversy over the Vatican’s recent rebuke of American nuns’ activities and announcement of plans to reorganize the Leadership Council of Women Religious, Lisa Miller urges the Church to project Mary’s voice.

April 19th, 2012

Catholic bishops on religious liberty

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Last week the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and its Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty released a lengthy statement entitled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” the latest manifestation of the tensions between the USCCB and President Barack Obama’s administration.

April 17th, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Cuba

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Last week at The New Republic, Carlos Eire reviewed the Pope’s recent visit to Cuba.

April 9th, 2012

The problem with the history of toleration

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The problem with the history of toleration is not that no one is studying it. There is now a rapidly growing number of books and articles approaching the topic from a number of angles and in several different countries. The problem is that we assume that all of those studying toleration are studying the same thing. Though in fact we are describing a diversity of arrangements, dynamics, and possibilities taking place in different societies at different times, we still write and think as if there were a single proper form of toleration to which all others should adhere, or an ideal like “religious freedom” to which all should aspire.

March 27th, 2012

Religious freedom between truth and tactic

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In the last issue of First Things, a self-described coalition of “Catholics and Evangelicals together” defends religious freedom. The coalition includes a number of notable Americans, like Charles Colson and George Weigel, with endorsements from the archbishops of Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, along with many others. According to the statement, the situation is unexpectedly urgent. After the fall of the Soviet Union, “throughout the world, a new era of religious freedom seemed at hand.” But, now it is blatantly clear that the scourge of intolerance—especially secularist intolerance—persists.

March 20th, 2012

Ghosts in Antebellum America

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At Religion in American History, John Turner, Professor of History at the University of Southern Alabama, reviews two books that evoke the ghosts of Antebellum America.

March 7th, 2012

The world that Smith made

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There is much that could be said about the history of the Catholic Church and its dedication to the defense of religious freedom. What interests me about the formation of a new Ad Hoc Committee on religious freedom at this time is the company that the bishops are keeping today—and why the bishops’ bellicose language accusing the Obama administration of mounting a war on religious liberty seems to make sense to such a disparate and varied group. Beyond the obvious self-interest, there is a genuine urgency to the bishops’ appeal, one that is legible to a surprising number of Americans.

March 2nd, 2012

The naked public sphere?

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In light of Rick Santorum’s recent comments on religion and the public sphere, we asked a small handful of scholars about the status of such claims regarding religion in American political life. Just how “naked” is the American public square? What is the appropriate place of religion in the public sphere?

Read responses by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Michele Dillon, John L. Esposito, John H. Evans, Philip S. Gorski, R. Marie Griffith, Cristina Lafont, Nancy Levene, Nadia Marzouki, Ebrahim Moosa, Justin Neuman, and John Schmalzbauer.

February 24th, 2012

The contraception mandate

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In what is latest in a series of conflicts between the Obama administration and the Roman Catholic Church, a recent regulation announced by the Department of Health and Human Services mandating that all employers—including religiously affiliated institutions such as Catholic universities and hospitals—provide health care that covers the cost of contraception has provoked widespread outcry from religious leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, as well as from many politicians, both Republican and Democrat. President Obama has outlined a compromise whereby employees at religious organizations would be given access to free contraception directly from health insurers themselves, yet this has done little to quell criticism and ongoing debate.

We’ve invited a small handful of scholars to comment on how the debate highlights enduring and nascent issues involving claims to multiple rights made in the context of American public life.

February 21st, 2012

Do candidates need the Catholic vote anymore?

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Ed Kilgore argues that American Catholics no longer represent a voting constituency that is significantly different from non-Catholics.

January 31st, 2012

“The Church”

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The last sentence of the Court’s opinion in Hosanna-Tabor announces the dogma that binds the majority opinion. Affirming for the first time the constitutional status of the ministerial exception, the Chief Justice declares that “(t)he church must be free to choose those who will guide it on its way.” Not “persons” must be free to choose their own ministers, but “the church” must be free. What is “the church?”

January 27th, 2012

Brazil’s religious right

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In the Guardian, Tom Phillips profiles Jean Wyllys, Brazil’s first openly gay MP—and explores the growing political voice of the country’s far-right evangelical leaders who oppose him.

January 19th, 2012

Religious freedom defeats secular law

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Secular law lost unanimously in the Supreme Court of the United States last week. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal antidiscrimination statute that bars discrimination against employees on the basis of a disability. The ADA also contains an antiretaliation provision that prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who file charges under the statute. The statute itself does not exempt religious employers from liability. Nonetheless, the Court dismissed schoolteacher Cheryl Perich’s ADA retaliation lawsuit against Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School on the grounds that Perich was a minister.

January 4th, 2012

Global Christianity

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The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life has recently published a new study on global Christianity.

November 16th, 2011

Catholic bishops take aim at White House

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On Monday, November 14th, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met in Baltimore to begin day 1 of its national meeting in the wake of increasing tensions between the USCCB and the White House over a range of issues.

October 25th, 2011

Are religious institutions entitled to disobey the law?

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One recurring justification for the ministerial exception has been the “problem” of women priests. The specter of the Roman Catholic Church being forced to ordain women priests has repeatedly haunted discussions of the ministerial exception. Catholic women priests are wrongly used as a justification for the exception. It was unfortunate that the women priests issue became part of the oral argument in Hosanna-Tabor, as it distracts attention from the more important issues at stake in the exception.

October 13th, 2011

Going to law

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Last week, in the first week of its October 2011 term, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in a suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging the local branch of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church with illegal retaliatory firing of a Michigan parochial schoolteacher under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA mandates an end to discrimination against persons with disabilities across a wide range of contexts and is considered a high-water mark of American civil rights legislation. The Church, supported by a wide array of other interested religious organizations, claims immunity from such legislation.

September 21st, 2011

Der Spiegel interview with Hans Kung

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On the occasion of the Pope’s visit to Germany, Der Spiegel has conducted an interview with theologian Hans Kung, one-time colleague and longtime interlocutor of Benedict XVI, at the University of Tubingen. Kung, in his characteristic style, does not hold his tongue in his criticism of, what he believes to be, the rightward turn in the Catholic Church since John Paul II.

September 12th, 2011

American religion in the era of Fosdick’s revenge

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Is bland beautiful? Almost never, most of us would say. But when it comes to religion in a diverse society, the answer may be yes. This is the chief, if probably unintended implication of American Grace, which I take to be the most successfully argued, comprehensive sociological study of American religion in more than half a century. Robert Putnam and David Campbell harvest a generation of research and mature reflection about how religious affiliations of all kinds divide and unite Americans of different generations, regions, sexes, educational levels, and ethno-racial groups.

August 30th, 2011

Understanding resacralization (part 3)

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Should religious discourse be welcomed in the public sphere, or should we require that it first be translated into secular terms? Part of the concern in the debate is that such translation would be demeaning to religiously-committed people, and that they would be unwilling to do this. But in something like the Rimini Meeting it seems that the opposite is the case—translation into secular idiom may in fact be an attractive prospect to religious groups: an attempt to retain a freshness of content by changing the form, a way to express their way of life in a public forum that might invite those who might otherwise steer clear.

August 29th, 2011

Understanding resacralization (part 2)

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The Rimini Meeting is run almost entirely by unpaid volunteers. Everything from the physical construction and take-down of the arena, to its cleaning staff, to the various literary, scientific and artistic exhibits, to food services, is the prerogative of around 4,000 unpaid volunteers who give up their vacation time and pay money (covering their own travel and lodging costs) to work at this event. […] I interviewed nearly 100 of these volunteers, including university students, factory workers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors, housewives, and retirees. Among the questions I asked them was whether they would consider the Meeting a “religious” event. Nearly half of them immediately replied “no.” A handful replied “yes” right away, and the rest couched with “it depends.” But regardless of the initial answer, they all offered very much the same explanation.

August 23rd, 2011

World Youth Day reassessed

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Two writers at the The Guardian enter into the conversation about this year’s World Youth Day and the public reaction that accompanied Pope Benedict’s visit to Madrid. Andrew Brown asks why the public appears not to recognize the Church’s accomplishment, citing the role of the media in creating a narrow narrative of the event, while Miguel-Anxo Murado turns the discussion to politics, claiming that the protests were perhaps not as successful as it may have appeared.

August 9th, 2011

Religion in the call center

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When I set out to examine the lifestyle changes of employees working night shifts in India’s call centers, I was surprised to discover how outsourcing highlights some of the important tensions between new modes of secularity and new religious modernities emerging around the world.

August 9th, 2011

Understanding resacralization (part 1)

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Dominant accounts of the religion-modernity relationship, at least among sociologists of religion in the US, have tended to focus mainly on what falls into these categories of decline, capitulation, withdrawal, or confrontation. But the Rimini Meeting and its offshoots are among a host of new phenomena that really don’t fit into the above, and seem to warrant a different category.