Over the past four decades, a cottage industry of important new scholarship has emerged. This work is dedicated to the history of rights discourse in the Western tradition prior to the Enlightenment: we now know a great deal more about classical Roman understandings of rights (iura), liberties (libertates), capacities (facultates), powers (potestates), and related concepts, and their elaboration by medieval and early modern canonists, civilians, and common lawyers. We can now pore over an intricate latticework of arguments about individual and group rights and liberties developed by medieval Catholic canonists and moralists, and the ample expansion of this medieval handiwork by neo-scholastic writers in early modern Spain. We also have a deeper understanding of classical republican theories of liberty developed in Greece and Rome, and of their transformative influence on early modern common lawyers, humanist jurists, and political revolutionaries on both sides of the Atlantic. We now know, in brief, that the West knew ample “liberty before liberalism” and had many human rights laws in place before there were modern democratic revolutions fought in their name.
Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’
It has become a truism to say that Samuel Moyn’s work landed like “a grenade” amid common understandings of postwar history. In numerous influential publications, he claims that the post-World War II popularity of “human rights” was not due to the advocacy of enlightened (Kantian) philosophers, liberal democrats, or progressive New Dealers, as many had long believed. Rather, it was reactionary European Catholics who elevated human rights as the buzzword of the era, part of their successful effort to build a conservative, anti-communist, and spiritually intolerant Western bloc. Moreover, Moyn provocatively maintains that Catholics, who spent the 1930s assiduously combating the notion of individual rights and assailing democratic regimes in Austria, Germany, France, and elsewhere, did not embrace human rights out of a heroic change of heart or a recognition of democracy’s intrinsic values. Their flimsy support of these principles stemmed from the conviction that human rights could be mobilized in their decades-long crusade against communism, individualism, and gender equality. Moyn therefore casts a harsh light on Europe’s postwar reconstruction and the era’s human rights renaissance as a whole. The architects of both, so it turns out, were actually the gravediggers of liberalism and equality.
A month before, the tide at Stalingrad had turned against the Germans. Just two days before, General Erich von Manstein had abandoned his efforts to relieve the Wehrmacht’s doomed Sixth Army. But there was no telling that the extraordinary German strength in the war so far would now ebb quickly.
The Americans had formally entered the war a year before, but the Allies would not reach mainland Italy for another nine months, or make it to Rome for a year and a half. The pope—Eugenio Pacelli, or Pius XII—was in dire straits. His relationship with Benito Mussolini had long since soured, and he was a prisoner in his own tiny Roman domain.
As for the Jews, the worst victims of the conflict, millions were dead already; the victims at Babi Yar had lain in their ravine for more than a year; Treblinka, the most infernal death camp, had come on line six months before and already completed much of its grim work.
Officially, of course, the Catholic Church and its leader were neutral, and didn’t play politics. Many of his flock were to be found on both sides of the war.
Do Christians have the best sex? What kind of sex is best? And what does sex have to do with salvation?
If you have ever wondered how evangelicals seek to answer these questions, then Amy DeRogatis’s recently published book Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism is for you.
In June 2009, I was interviewing a Fijian Methodist minister on the island of Matuku when the subject of curses came up. I had asked him about mana and sau, terms associated with spiritual power, which are often paired in indigenous Fijian discourse. Mana is anthropologically famous as a term Robert Codrington credited to Melanesians; Marshall Sahlins theorized for Polynesians; and Claude Lévi-Strauss characterized as a “floating signifier,” a sign “susceptible of receiving any meaning at all.” Sau, in Fijian, is often associated with a punitive spiritual force linked to chiefs. If you disobey the chief and you get sick, that’s sau.
When I asked the minister at Matuku about mana and sau, he responded in part by explaining the latter term as follows: “Here’s an example. You say something, [then] it happens. It’s like this, if I should curse you. You will go out today, even if you haven’t heard what I said, you will meet with misfortune. You’ll go and get hurt, eh?…That’s one translation of sau.”
The cityscape of Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, is dominated by two houses of worship known as the National Mosque and the National Church. Facing each other in the heart of the city, these impressive architectural monuments symbolize the crucial place of organized religion in the postcolonial Nigerian state’s efforts at forging a unified national public. The national population of 160 million is notoriously heterogeneous, comprising hundreds of languages, ethnicities, and so-called “traditional” religious and political institutions. For political and rhetorical expediency, this diversity is often reduced to the country’s 36 states, 6 geopolitical zones, and 3 majority languages (plus English). But the Muslim/Christian dichotomy is arguably the central organizing trope in contemporary discourses of Nigerian nationhood.
Over at The Telegraph, Tom Phillips writes about the rapid growth of Christianity in China.
When Pope John Paul II visited Poland in 1979, he used his addresses and homilies to speak of faith and the moral renewal of the country, and of human dignity and religious freedom. Millions of Poles responded to his words with hymns and prayers. But aside from carrying crosses, they also waved Polish flags. For them, the pope’s appeals to the dignity of the human person did not resonate in an abstract theological sense, but within concrete historical experience: their opposition to Marxist atheism and Russian control, and their commitment to preserving the Catholic identity of the Polish nation.
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.
This short essay draws up the principal ideas from a book chapter concerning the historical field of Chinese religions in comparative context in order to identify its distinctive problems and possible pathways. In order to distinguish religions in the Sinosphere from other state-religion relationships in the longue durée, we need to identify how the state and religions have managed the question of transcendence. Scholars working with the Axial Age theories of religion have often expressed confusion or hesitation with regard to Chinese notions of transcendence. I argue that Chinese religions have a transcendent dimensions often missed by analysts because they operate with an Abrahamic notion of radical transcendence and dualism rather than what I call “dialogical transcendence.”
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.
Is absolute secularity conceivable? The question arises from the paradoxical intuition that the secularization thesis is simultaneously both right and muddled. Perhaps the most fundamental problem with the broader secularization thesis (which I take to claim that, over the past half-millennium or so, Western society has undergone a systemic diminution of religious practice) is that it isn’t clear what the non-secular is. After all, it can be extended from those beliefs and practices that avowedly depend on religious revelation to those that affirm some form of transcendentalism, though they may make no room for God as such. But for a long time both radical atheists and Christian apologists have argued that what looks as if it is secular through and through may not, in fact, be secular at all.
Two days ago, Karen L. King, Hollis Professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School, identified a scrap of papyrus in which Jesus speaks of “his wife,” the first time Jesus has explicitly referred to a wife.
To this stimulating and learned series of posts I cannot add much about the genealogy of religious freedom or its fate in the US courts, never mind predict the consequences of judicial decisions, or even address a larger question raised by Winni Sullivan and others which, I take it, has to do with the general effects of submitting questions of religious practice to a particular kind of legal system, one that works by means of precedents, binding decisions, etc. I make two comments as an anthropologist.
Last week at The New York Times, human rights advocate Benedict Rogers wrote an op-ed piece on the state of religious relations in Indonesia.
For New York Magazine, Lisa Miller profiles Cornel West, surveying the course of his academic career, personal life, and variety of public spats with figures like Larry Summers and Barack Obama.
Richard Florida follows up on what exactly the recent Gallup poll on differences in religiosity by state tells us about America. He compares the poll’s findings with his own socioeconomic data, which confirms correlations identified by the longstanding World Values Survey:
On April 2nd, Dallas District Court Judge Martin Hoffman ruled that it is legal to pray for God to harm someone as long as no one is actually threatened or harmed.
As a historian of religion, much of my recent work has focused on tracing the genealogy of what we call religious freedom in developments internal to European Christianity. My goal has not been to frame a normative theory of what limit ought to be placed on the freedom of religion—whatever this word is taken to mean—in any contemporary jurisdiction nor (apart from the effect of British colonialism on India) to trace the very different histories of the modernization of cultural traditions in other parts of the world, as these traditions have been shaped by the complex forces of economic development, nationalism, and technologization.
In a recent issue of TIME, Amy Sullivan writes of a 2009 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and an example of American expats in Mexico that both suggest Americans may prefer to grow their own when it comes to religious congregations.
Rethinking Secularism is the title of a striking new collection of essays, edited by Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen that is rich with shrewd, and often detailed and intricate, discussions of the way the political and the social, the public and the personal, are threaded with, and frequently created out of, the interpretive, the symbolic, and the imaginary. It is also a book with whose central claim I could not be in fuller agreement: the religious and the secular do not designate different ends of a historical timeline, much less a simple binary, so much as different inflections of a process beginning, at least in the West, with the slow disintegration of Latin Christendom in the Late Middle Ages, and that we have come to recognize as the longue durée of the modern.
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.
Michel Foucault famously describes Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon as a “cruel, ingenious cage” to be understood not as a “dream building … [but as] the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form … a figure of political technology.” For Foucault, panopticism is “the general principle of a new ‘political anatomy’ whose object and end are not relations of sovereignty but the relations of discipline: [t]he celebrated, transparent circular cage, with its high towers powerful and knowing.” In reading the Supreme Court’s decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC recognizing a “ministerial exception” to antidiscrimination law—a case hailed almost immediately as a victory for religious freedom—it is for me the specter of the Panopticon that haunts every page.
Conventional wisdom has it that religious liberty is a universally valid principle, enshrined in national constitutions and international charters and treaties, whose proper implementation continues to be thwarted by intransigent forces in society such as illiberal governments, religious fundamentalists, and traditional norms. Insomuch as the Middle East, and the Muslim world in general, are supposed to be afflicted with the ills of fundamentalism and illiberal governments, then the salvific promise of religious liberty looms large. In this brief post I would like to question this way of thinking through a consideration of the career of religious liberty in the modern Middle East.
Like a good movie, the story of international religious freedom offers something for everyone. It pits cowardly oppressors against heroic saviors. It is a story of the triumph of international law over those who fail to adhere to global norms and standards. It is a story of secular tolerance versus violent religion. And today especially, it is a story of the need for the U.S. government and its friends to “convince” others—particularly Muslims—that they should endorse a particular model of religious liberty as a template for organizing and democratizing their politics and societies.
Last month, Eurochurch.net published a report on the state of missional church-planting activities in Europe authored by Darrell Jackson and Tim Herbert.
Today begins a discussion series at the collaborative theology blog An und für sich on Daniel Barber’s recent book, On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity. Daniel Whisper from the University of Liverpool makes the start in the AUFS series.
In May of 2010, I sat down for a conversation with the legendary human rights advocate Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group. Jones and I had just come out of an intense two day workshop at the SSRC on religion, peacebuilding, and development in Mindanao, organized in conjunction with the SSRC’s project on religion and international affairs. Participants in the workshop included scholars and peacebuilders from the United States, Mindanao, Japan, and Indonesia.
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?”
Reviewing Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists for the Guardian, Terry Eagleton expresses his distaste for the tradition of “reluctant nonbelief”—thinkers who do not themselves believe, but find some sort of social utility in belief.
The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life has recently published a new study on global Christianity.
From very early in the movement, spirituality and faith have played a role in the Occupy movement. Religious observances began happening at Occupy Wall Street and around the country, such as the Muslim Jumu’ah and the Jewish Kol Nidre. Religious leaders have come out in support of the Occupy movement, and its social vision, especially in the wake of the wave of crackdowns by local governments on the movement in November.
America Abroad, the award-winning documentary radio program, has released a new documentary, “The Politics of Faith—The Role of Religion in Divided Societies.” Drawing from interviews with locals and experts, the documentary examines the religious undercurrents that are sharpening societal divides, from Egypt to China, from Russia to Malaysia.
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.
Sam McPheeters travels through the Holy Land in search of the “Jerusalem syndrome” for Vice.
As I argued in my previous post, there are indications that Paul Kahn subscribes to Carl Schmitt’s belief in the substantial cultural indebtedness of the modern to “the theological.” Most of these stem from the “genealogical” side of his methodology. But his search for residuum of the past is supported, as I will here attempt to demonstrate, by a very selective use of history.
We live in a world in which ideas, institutions, artistic styles, and formulas for production and living circulate among societies and civilizations that are very different in their historical roots and traditional forms. Parliamentary democracy spread outward from England, among other countries, to India; likewise, the practice of nonviolent civil disobedience spread from its origins in the struggle for Indian independence to many other places, including the United States with Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, Manila in 1983, and the Velvet and Orange Revolutions of our time.
But these ideas and forms of practice don’t just change place as solid blocks; they are modified, reinterpreted, given new meanings, in each transfer. This can lead to tremendous confusion when we try to follow these shifts and understand them. One such confusion comes from taking a word itself too seriously; the name may be the same, but the reality will often be different.
This is evident in the case of the word “secular.”
At Foreign Policy, Molly Worthen examines the sentiments and commitments that inform many American evangelicals’ ambivalence towards the democratic possibilities of the Arab Spring.
Atlantic columnist Wendy Kaminer discusses American Atheists’ suit to prevent the “World Trade Center cross,” an original cross-beam from one of the two towers that was recently moved from a lower Manhattan church to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. The move, American Atheists charge, identifies the United States with Christianity and excludes nonbelievers from the ranks of the aggrieved.
Earlier this year, Jonathan D. Fitzgerald, a former adjunct professor at King’s College, wrote an exposé for Killing the Buddha on the small Evangelical and—at least in the eyes of its authorities, if not in those of all of its students—politically conservative college housed in New York’s Empire State Building. Now, Andrew Marantz, of New York Magazine, takes a closer look at D’Souza’s tenure, the college’s sense of its vocation, and the student body being trained to become, in D’Souza’s words, “dangerous Christians.”