Religion

Winnifred Fallers Sullivan on the impossibility of religious freedom

July 8, 2014
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Winnifred Fallers Sullivan on the impossibility of religious freedom

 

The impossibility of religious freedom

by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan

In the last week the US Supreme Court has decided two religious freedom cases (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College v. Burwell) in favor of conservative Christian plaintiffs seeking exemptions from the contraceptive coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Liberals have gone nuts, wildly predicting the end of the world as we know it. While I share their distress about the effects of these decisions on women, I want to talk about religion. I believe that it is time for some serious self-reflection on the part of liberals. To the extent that these decisions are about religion (and there are certainly other reasons to criticize the reasoning in these opinions), they reveal the rotten core at the heart of all religious freedom laws. The positions of both liberals and conservatives are affected by this rottenness but I speak here to liberals.

You cannot both celebrate religious freedom and deny it to those whose religion you don’t like. Human history supports the idea that religion, small “r” religion, is a nearly ubiquitous and perhaps necessary part of human culture. Big “R” . . .

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Strange Bedfellows: Pope Francis and Leo Steinberg

December 27, 2013
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Strange Bedfellows: Pope Francis and Leo Steinberg

Leo Steinberg (1920–2011) was an art historian whose focus extended from the Renaissance to the modern, and who left a critical legacy on several generations of scholars, critics, and artists. One of his classic works. The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, addressed the as-yet-unsuspected eroticism of the iconographies devoted to Christ and Mary, which generated much controversy throughout Steinberg’s career.

In a recent piece for the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog, Lee Siegel uses Steinberg’s writing as a lens for understanding the correlation between Pope Francis’s embrace of gay Catholics and his devotion to the poor and afflicted. Here, Siegel notes a central tenet of Steinberg’s book, specifically that, “as a result of the rise of the Franciscan order, around 1260, an emphasis on Christ’s nakedness, and, thus, on his humanity, joined compassion to an acceptance of the role of sexuality in human life.”

Siegel points out that a Renaissance-era credo of the Franciscan order, from which Pope Francis takes his name, was nudus nudum Christum sequi (“follow naked the naked Christ”). He goes on to account for how Steinberg’s art historical thesis implies a theological premise . . .

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The Rise of Secularism

July 19, 2013
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The Rise of Secularism

When it comes to American religious history, few books have caused as much debate as John Lardas Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America. In the book, Modern uncovers surprising connections between secular ideology and the rise of new technologies that opened up new ways of being religious in the nineteenth century, and he challenges the strict separation between the religious and the secular that remains integral to the discussions of religion we engage in today. The Immanent Frame describes the debate thusly:

Modern’s understanding of secularism and his argument that mid-nineteenth century American religious movements are in some sense responsible for the secularizing ethos which the majority of them opposed. From Modern’s perspective secularization represents not the separation of the religious from the profane but the opportunity for religion to discover within the secular its true meaning.

Religion thus confronts modernity not by disappearing but inventing modern figures to adapt to the novelty of the technological age, and to redefine itself.  Perhaps Modern’s most compelling example of these claims is mid-nineteenth century American evangelicalism—specifically its reliance on modern media and technologies.

At last fall’s American Academy of Religion conference, the book was the subject of a panel . . .

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Andrew M. Greeley (1928-2013)

May 30, 2013
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Andrew M. Greeley (1928-2013)

Saddened today to note the passing of Andrew M. Greeley  (1928–2013)—priest, sociologist, journalist, prolific critic, novelist, and philanthropist. Father Greeley (his preferred moniker) was a priest’s priest—while at the same time an ardent and impassioned critic of established Catholic authority. His writings spanned academic treaties—ecumenical and secular, ethnographic and sociological—weekly newspaper columns, literary potboilers, and vehemently outspoken diatribes against the hypocrisy of the Church in which he was ordained. Among these, the University of Chicago Press was fortunate to publish two works, Priests: A Calling in Crisis (2004) and The Truth about Conservative Christians: What They Think and What They Believe (coauthored with Michael Hout; 2006). A longtime affiliate of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, Greeley also gifted the school with a 1.25 million dollar endowment in 1984 (despite three denials of his own tenure while a professor), which was formerly used to endow a chair of Catholic studies.

“I’m a priest, pure and simple,” he once said, “albeit a priest with a condo in the John Hancock Building and a home in Arizona.”

Chicago Sun-Times obituary

New York Times obituary

. . .

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Before We Loved the Buddha by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.

May 7, 2013
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Before We Loved the Buddha by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.

Before We Loved the Buddha

by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.

***

According to a famous Chinese legend, in 60 CE (or thereabout), the Emperor Ming of China had a dream. He dreamed that he saw a golden man flying through the sky, rays of light streaming from his head. The next day, he summoned his ministers to interpret the dream. They told him that the golden man was a sage from the west called the Buddha. The emperor immediately dispatched a delegation to find this sage. After a long journey, they returned with a scripture and a statue. And this is how Buddhism first came to China.

In 1603, the famous Catholic missionary to China, Matteo Ricci, published a book, in Chinese, in which he explained that the golden man the emperor saw in his dream was not the Buddha; he was Jesus. If the emperor’s envoys had gone farther west, they would have arrived in the Holy Land, and would have returned with the Gospels. Bringing Buddhism to China had all been a terrible mistake.

Among the “founders” of the world religions—Abraham, the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad—perhaps the best loved (or at . . .

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The New Idolatry: Religious Thinking in the Un-Commonwealth of America

September 6, 2011
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The New Idolatry: Religious Thinking in the Un-Commonwealth of America

Just prior to the Labor Day holiday, Eric L. Santner, Press author and Philip and Ida Romberg Professor of Modern Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago, was in touch with some compelling observations on recent debates over taxation; the Republican penchant for religious thinking; and controversies over purity, job creation, and other new spirits of capitalism. Santner’s most recent book The Royal Remains: The People’s Two Bodies and the Endgames of Sovereignty (reviewed here at Bookslut) indeed touches upon the foundation of these issues, often in pursuit of the vital metaphor of the king’s lost body, throughout the difficult transition from subjecthood to secularity in the psyches of democratic societies. Read Santner’s essay in full below:

The New Idolatry: Religious Thinking

in the Un-Commonwealth of America

At a recent debate among Republican presidential candidates in Iowa, all participants raised their hand when asked whether they would oppose a deficit-reduction agreement that featured 10 dollars in budget cuts for every dollar in increased tax revenue. I think one misses something important if one dismisses this moment as a bit of cynical political theater. But it is equally insufficient to see in it a display of genuine political commitments and . . .

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A belated PROSODY

February 15, 2011
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A belated PROSODY

We’re just settling in after our long winter’s nap (in which we dream a dream very much like the College Art Association’s annual meeting and centennial year launch in New York), chiding ourselves for forgetting to offer some important early February accolades.

Last week, at a ceremony in Washington, DC, the 2010 PROSE Awards were announced, honoring the best scholarly and professional publications in over forty categories, nominated by peer publishers, librarians, and science professionals.

Among them? The PROSE Award for U.S. History, handed out to Claude Fischer’s Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character, in which Fischer draws upon decades worth of research to track our American “We” over the past three centuries. And we were just as delighted to see Courtney Bender’s The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination, a work that locates contemporary American spiritual beliefs in various nineteenth-century movements, take home the PROSE Award for Theology and Religious Studies.

And let’s add kudos for our honorable mentions to this rousing chorus: Matthew Jesse Jackson’s The Experimental Group: Ilya Kabakov, Moscow Conceptualism, Soviet Avant-Gardes (Art History and Criticism), Alan D. Schrift’s The History of Continental Philosophy (Multivolume Reference, . . .

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Top Five or Ten: Nuns Behaving (Badly)

November 19, 2010
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Top Five or Ten: Nuns Behaving (Badly)

We often find ourselves comparing the nunneries of late sixteen- and early seventeenth-century Italy to a fairly volatile combination of The Craft and Moulin Rouge—just not publicly. So when the Economist took note of Craig Monson’s Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Music, Magic, Art, and Arson in the Convents of Italy, we immediately put on our thinking habit and got to work. In the book, Monson resurrects forgotten tales and restores to life the long-silent voices of cloistered heroines, drawing attention to the predicament of modern religious women, whose “misbehavior”—seeking ordination as priests or refusing to give up their endowments to pay for others’ wrongdoing in their own archdioceses—continues even today.

The Economist delights in the “too modest” Monson’s tome, which “wears its learning with a smile” despite its serious milieu:

Convents in 16th- and 17th-century Italy were largely dumping-grounds for spare women: widows, discarded mistresses, converted prostitutes and, above all, the unmarried daughters of the nobility. Aristocratic families were loath to stump up dowries for more than one daughter. The rest were walled away. In Milan in the 1600s, three-quarters of the female nobility were cloistered. At the same time the church was cracking down on lax discipline, . . .

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Press Release: Kammen, Digging Up the Dead

April 28, 2010
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Press Release: Kammen, Digging Up the Dead

When Edgar Allan Poe died in a Baltimore gutter in 1849, he was buried in an unmarked grave, his funeral attended by only a handful of friends. Within a few decades, however, his growing reputation led to his body being dug up and reburied not once, but twice, in more ostentatious quarters—the second move accompanied by a memorial service attended by such prominent figures as Tennyson and Whitman. And Poe’s bones may not yet be done with their travels: last year’s celebration of his bicentennial brought with it a public tussle between citizens of Baltimore and Philadelphia over each city’s right to call Poe’s legacy—and body—their own.

Poe, however, is far from alone: as Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Michael Kammen reveals in Digging Up the Dead, Americans have been fighting over the remains of their heroes since the early days of the Republic. Vividly recounting the restless afterlives of such figures as Sitting Bull, Jefferson Davis, Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mark Rothko, Kammen shows how regional pride, mistaken identities, battles over reputations, and even crassly commercial tourism have all played parts in this impressively grisly obsession with exhumation. From the grotesqueries of grave robbing and skull . . .

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A close confrontation with the horror of the Nazi state

March 15, 2010
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A close confrontation with the horror of the Nazi state

As James Srodes writes in his recent review of Jews in Nazi Berlin for the Washington Times “all significant historical events—even the ghastly Holocaust—tend to flatten and diminish as time draws us away from the moment they occurred.” Thus the importance of Beate Meyer, Hermann Simon, and Chana Schütz’s archival portrait of Jewish life in the shadow of Nazi Germany—as Srodes writes, a book which “forcibly yanks us back with a fresh, close confrontation with what it was like to face the full horror of the Nazi state’s extermination campaign—and to survive it.”

Srodes continues:

This book chronicles the… harrowing story of what it was like to live in the heart of the Nazi beast and what one faced in the simple, instinctive struggle to stay alive, to protect one’s loved ones, to bargain with and finally evade the Nazi killing machine. The book itself is a compilation of an exhaustive archival research project shared by two postwar institutions dedicated to gathering, preserving and making sense of the personal documents, photos, diaries, letters and government records of a once great Jewish community that had flourished in the capital of what was believed to be one of the most cultured, . . .

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