Posts Tagged ‘society’

March 30th, 2016

The sacred and the social

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Carlyle Lectures PosterIn these Carlyle Lectures, given at the University of Oxford in January and February 2016, I suggested that between 1650 and 1800 sacred history offered a fertile resource to political philosophers interested in exploring the concepts of “society” and “sociability.” The lectures thus brought together two stories which early modern intellectual historians have tended to keep separate. One is the study of sacred history, in particular of its foundation text, the Bible, which entered a new phase in the Renaissance, and reached a peak of intensity and originality in the seventeenth century. Over this period a succession of scholars from Erasmus to Richard Simon transformed understanding of both the text and the context of the Bible by study of its composition and authorship, and of its chronologies and historical and geographical content. The excitement of that early modern scholarship has recently been captured by Anthony Grafton and a growing number of younger historians, including Scott Mandelbrote and Dmitri Levitin. In turn, their work has enabled me to appreciate what the political philosophers who are my subjects saw in sacred history.

March 10th, 2016

Robert P. Benedict Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy

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University of Cambridge historian John Robertson will be delivering this year’s Robert P. Benedict Lectures on the History of Political Thought at Boston College entitled, The Sacred and the Social: 1650-1790.

January 6th, 2015

Why corporations have religious freedom

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We stand unitedThe legal status of corporations as fictive persons is well-lampooned in the bumper sticker that reads, “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.” As entities with legal status as persons, corporations do not bleed or feel pain except metaphorically, for example, when they hemorrhage cash, perform anemically, or suffer from an economic downturn or shortage of labor. Nevertheless, as fictive persons recognized by law, corporations are building blocks of commerce, government, and religion in the United States, and they have operated as organizing mechanisms in Western society since ancient Roman times. Of course, shielded by legal protection, corporations have done great harm—think of the Royal Africa Company and its role in stimulating the rapid growth of slavery in the Atlantic world in the eighteenth century. Accordingly, in the United States, constitutional amendments and labor and civil rights legislation have been enacted to constrain or outlaw numerous forms of corporate activity deemed unsafe or unfair.

September 10th, 2013

The return of sacred history

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Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation is an expansively ambitious work. Indeed, its aim is to provide nothing less than an “explanation of why the Western world today is as it is.” In this regard it sits comfortably alongside Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, with whose neo-Thomist structure, content, and purpose it has much in common. Both writers mix their Thomism with Hegelianism, treating the secular world as the form in which man confronts his own alienated or sublimated religious impulse. Lying behind this philosophical-historical theory of secularization is a conception of the world as the space in which its transcendent creator manifests himself sacramentally

September 5th, 2013

An intended absence? Democracy and The Unintended Reformation

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The long-term consequences of the Reformation have been a subject of heated debate for many decades. Most accounts have taken one of two forms. On the one hand, in the wake of Weber’s magisteral Protestant Ethic, many historians have wondered about the relationship between Protestantism and capitalist development (R.H. Tawney and E.P. Thompson the most famous among them). On the other hand, many historians, philosophers, and theologians, writing from a Catholic perspective, have seen Luther’s Reformation as the blow that shattered the glorious unity of medieval Christendom. Brad Gregory is clearly of the latter camp, and he boldly revives this largely forgotten axis of “modernity critique” (even figures like Alasdair MacIntyre, to whom Gregory owes so much, pay comparatively little attention to the Reformation). In this exhaustive, and exhausting, tome, Gregory seeks to show how the little monk of Wittenberg is behind all of the most disquieting aspects of the modern condition. Although this is largely hidden by Gregory’s immense erudition and soothing style, The Unintended Reformation is a frightening and deeply anti-democratic work, both in its methods and in its findings.