Religion

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, Humanities and Social . . .

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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, in . . .

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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 fondling . . .

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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, civilized . . .

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Still provocative after all these years

February 5, 2010
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Still provocative after all these years

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published a profile of one of the most consistently interesting academics today, Mark C. Taylor, chair of the religion department at Columbia University and a prolific author, having published tens of books and innumerable articles on topics from poststructuralism to the visual arts. Recently however Taylor’s copious oeuvre has been slightly overshadowed by his controversial critique of tenure and the structure of the academy, originally published in the New York Times, and the basis of his forthcoming book from Knopf, Crisis on Campus. In the Chronicle article, “The Provocations of Mark Taylor”, Eric Banks revisits the furor created by the article’s radical recommendations for interdisciplinarity and the abolishing of “traditional disciplinary structures” but connects Taylor’s critique to his other work, including his recent book from Columbia University Press, Field Notes From Elsewhere, his 2004 Confidence Games: Money and Markets in a World Without Redemption, and his 2007 treatise on religion in contemporary culture After God. Noting his concurrent efforts at reform in the religion department at Columbia, Banks article concludes: “Whether his administration at Columbia, or for that matter his forthcoming Knopf title, will light a fire of reform, the experience is worth trying . . .

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Quote if the Week: Reinhold Niebuhr

December 18, 2009
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Quote if the Week: Reinhold Niebuhr

Meanwhile we are drawn into an historic situation in which the paradise of our domestic security is suspended in a hell of global insecurity; and the conviction of the perfect compatibility of virtue and prosperity which we have inherited from both our Calvinist and our Jeffersonian ancestors is challenged by the cruel facts of history. For our sense of responsibility to a world community beyond our own borders is a virtue, even though it is partly derived from the prudent understanding of our own interests. But this virtue does not guarantee our ease, comfort, or prosperity. We are the poorer for the global responsibilities which we bear. And the fulfillments of our desires are mixed with frustrations and vexations. —Reinhold Niebuhr, from The Irony of American History Reinhold Niebuhr (1892—1971) was one of the most influential American theologians of the twentieth century, best known for relating the Christian faith to the realities of modern politics and diplomacy. The recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964, he is the author of many books, including The Nature and Destiny of Man. Ever since Barack Obama called him “one of my favorite philosophers” Niebuhr’s work has enjoyed renewed attention, most recently . . .

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“South Asia Across the Disciplines” on the web

October 27, 2009
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“South Asia Across the Disciplines” on the web

In January we announced the birth of the new series “South Asia Across the Disciplines”—a unique collaborative publication effort between Columbia University Press, the University of California Press, and the University of Chicago Press designed to increase publication opportunities for emerging scholars in the field. We recently unveiled a new website for the project offering more details, including a formal call for submissions and a list of forthcoming publications at www.saacrossdisciplines.org. According to the SAAD website: “South Asia Across the Disciplines” publishes work that aims to raise innovative questions in the field. These include the relationship between South Asian studies and the disciplines; the conversation between past and present in South Asia; the history and nature of modernity, especially in relation to cultural change, political transformation, secularism and religion, and globalization. Above all, the series showcases monographs that strive to open up new archives, especially in South Asian languages, and suggest new methods and approaches, while demonstrating that South Asian scholarship can be at once deep in expertise and broad in appeal. We invite manuscripts from art history, history, literary studies, philology or textual studies, philosophy, religion, and the interpretive social sciences, especially those that show an openness to disciplines . . .

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Press Release: Brague, The Legend of the Middle Ages

April 20, 2009
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Press Release: Brague, The Legend of the Middle Ages

For decades now, in volume after volume, the celebrated French thinker Rémi Brague has delved deep into the past and emerged, again and again, with fresh insights that sharply illuminate the present. In his acclaimed The Wisdom of the World, for example, Brague showed how modernity stripped the universe of its ethical and sacred wisdom. The Law of God, his last work, added depth and context to current debates about God’s role in worldly affairs. And now, The Legend of the Middle Ages proceeds in Brague’s characteristically brilliant style to unknot the long-tangled strands of our ideas about this misunderstood age. Recently, the Middle Ages have emerged as the model for a harmonious future—a time when different religions and cultures peacefully coexisted and exchanged ideas. This legend, Brague argues, comes no closer to telling the full story than the Enlightenment-era portrayal of the Middle Ages as a benighted past from which the West had to evolve. Here, in a penetrating interview and sixteen essays, he marshals nuanced readings of medieval religion and philosophy to reconstruct the true character of this complicated and intellectually rich period. Brague’s vibrant portrait—of an age neither dark nor devoid of conflict—not only makes for compelling . . .

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Martin Buber at 131

February 9, 2009
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Martin Buber at 131

February 8 marked the 131th anniversary of the birth of Martin Buber, theologian, philosopher, and political radical. Buber (1878–1965) was actively committed to a fundamental economic and political reconstruction of society as well as the pursuit of international peace. In his voluminous writings on Arab-Jewish relations in Palestine, Buber united his religious and philosophical teachings with his politics, which he felt were essential to a life of public dialogue and service to God. Buber’s presences looms large over the Chicago Jewish studies list; in addition to Buber’s own writings in print, the Press also recently published a study analyzing his interpretation of Hasidic spirituality as a form of cultural criticism. In honor of this influential thinker’s life and work, we offer a Martin Buber reading list. A Land of Two Peoples: Martin Buber on Jews and Arabs Martin Buber, Edited with Commentary and a new Preface by Paul Mendes-Flohr Collected in A Land of Two Peoples are the private and open letters, addresses, and essays in which Buber advocated binationalism as a solution to the conflict in the Middle East. A committed Zionist, Buber steadfastly articulated the moral necessity for reconciliation and accommodation between the Arabs and Jews. From the . . .

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Where Would Jesus Invest?

December 18, 2008
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Where Would Jesus Invest?

The Bible famously states that Christians cannot serve both God and mammon, and that it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a pin than for a rich man to enter heaven. But clearly, believers, as well as non-believers, benefited from the economic boom years just as surely as they’ve felt the pinch since the collapse. But how can Christian thought help us better understand the recession? To answer this question, we turned to religion and economic scholar Stewart Davenport, whose recent book, Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon: Northern Christians and Market Capitalism, 1815–1860 examines how antebellum Protestants reconciled their faith with the developing American economy. The Economic Crisis: What Would Jesus Do? To begin, I’d like to point out the folly of asking this question in the first place. “What would Jesus do?”—although a catchy slogan—is obviously not a substantive ethical question. “WWJD?” makes for good bracelets to sell to teenagers, in other words, but is thoroughly inadequate for the serious reflection of complex ethical dilemmas. I only wanted to include it in the title here so I could have the opportunity to distance myself from it. In what follows I will briefly explain why, . . .

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