Some interesting titles from Lexington Books

Lexington Books is an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield.  They send me some of their catalogues, including their catalog of books in religious studies.  The latest one showed up in my mailbox yesterday.  I’m not planning to order anything from it, but several titles in it caught my attention for a moment or two.  Among them:

Medieval America: Cultural Influences of Christianity in Law and Public Policy, by Andrew M. Koch and Paul H. Gates. The authors argue that “promoting and maintaining a free, open, and tolerant society requires the necessary limitation of religious influence in the domains of law and policy.”  That seems to go beyond the usual US doctrine of separation of church and state, and to head in the direction of the French tradition of laïcité.

Theology and the Soul of the Liberal State, edited by Leonard V. Kaplan and Charles L. Cohen.  In opposition to the apparent gravamen of Medieval America’s argument, this book’s essays hold “that the liberal state cannot keep theology out of public discourse and may even benefit from its intervention.”

The Weimar Moment: Liberalism, Political Theology, and Law, edited by Leonard V. Kaplan and Rudy Koshar.  I’ve long been intrigued by Carl Schmitt, who lived under the Weimar Republic and developed the theory of “political theology” (putting it crudely, political theology is the proposition that all political ideas are simply theological ideas in disguise.)  Judging by its title, it would appear that this book is likely to discuss Schmitt.  I can’t be sure, since the description currently posted on the publisher’s website linked above is gibberish, and there don’t seem to be any reviews yet.  The book hasn’t been printed yet, so that situation isn’t surprising.

Theology and Public Philosophy: Four Conversations, edited by Kenneth L. Grasso and Cecilia Rodriguez Castillo.  They’ve attracted some very distinguished contributors; the catalogue lists “Charles Taylor; Fred Dallmayr; William Schweiker; Nicholas Wolterstorff; J. Budziszewski; Jeanne Heffernan Schindler; Joshua Mitchell; Robin Lovin; Charles Mathewes; Jonathan Chaplin; Michael L. Budde; Jean Porter; Eloise A. Buker; Christopher Beem; Peter Berkowitz and Jean Bethke Elshtain.”  To keep a conversation going, the editors avoid the explosive topics that usually bring theological commitments to the surface in political debate, and give the book a structure that is designed to ensure a variety of viewpoints: “Each of the book’s four sections consists of an original essay by an eminent scholar focusing on a specific aspect of the problem that is the volume’s focus followed by three responses that directly engage its argument or explore the broader problematic it addresses. The volume thus takes the form of a dialogue in which the analyses of four eminent scholars are each engaged by three interlocutors.”

What Democrats Talk About When They Talk About God: Religious Communication in Democratic Party Politics, edited by David Weiss.  It wasn’t all that long ago that American politicians generally avoided religious references in their public statements.  Nowadays they all seem to be auditioning for a pulpit.  So it might be interesting to analyze the use of religious language, public and private, by members of the USA’s two major parties.

Radical Religion: Contemporary Perspectives on Religion and the Left, edited by Benjamin J. Pauli.  The online catalogue summarizes it thus: “The political Left has had a turbulent relationship with religion, from outright hostility to attempts to meld religious faith with progressivism. Confronted with contemporary social ills, the progressive Left continues to disagree about the role that religion should play, whether in understanding social challenges and solutions, or stimulating social critique and reform. Radical Religion presents valuable insights, from both religious and secular perspectives, for progressives today as they struggle to formulate a coherent agenda and effective strategies for social change. This book presents arguments from a diverse group of scholars, and offers a snapshot of contemporary, progressive thinking about religion.”

The Rise and Fall of Triumph: The History of a Radical Roman Catholic Magazine, 1966-1976, by Mark D. Popowski.  I’m interested in movements that are conservative in some senses and radical in others.  Readers of this site will have noticed that I pay a great deal of attention to the antiwar right and the anticapitalist right, for example.  And I love magazines.  So this book sounds like it would be right up my alley: “Triumph’s editors formed the magazine to defend the faith against what they perceived as the imprudent and secular excesses of Vatican II reformers, but especially against what they viewed as an increasing barbarous and anti-Christian American society. Yet Triumph was not a defensive magazine; rather, it was audaciously triumphalist—proclaiming the Roman Catholic faith as the solution to America’s ills. The magazine sought to convert Americans to Roman Catholicism and to construct a confessional state, which subjected its power to the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church.”   So, the magazine tried to sustain a premodern perspective, which at least left its contributors free to oppose militarism, hyper-capitalism, nationalism, and other delusions specific to our age of bigness.

Marriage and Metaphor: Constructions of Gender in Rabbinic Literature, by Gail Labovitz.  Dr Labovitz is a married woman and an ordained rabbi who does not shy away from elements of the rabbinic tradition that make it awkward for a person such as herself to exist.  “Labovitz shows how rabbis use the concepts of property and ownership to discuss the roles of a husband and wife, thereby modeling marriage after a business transaction-one in which the wife is seen as an acquisition owned by and subject to the husband. This ownership metaphor is clearly present in all strata of rabbinic literature and the book explores how it continues to guide rabbinic thinking, serve as a tool for legal reasoning, and produce new linguistic applications. With a close and careful reading of rabbinic texts, Labovitz applies metaphor theory and feminist linguistics to demonstrate the ways in which rabbis regularly use information from the realm of property and commercial transactions to structure their understanding of marriage and gender relations.”  I’m always suspicious of religious types who find that their ancient traditions and sacred texts, if interpreted correctly, agree with their own favorite ideas.  Conversely, when a lady rabbi says that the rabbinical tradition is full of strictures against lady rabbis, I’m put at ease.

Charles Sanders Peirce and a Religious Metaphysics of Nature, by Leon Niemoczynski.  The catalog says that “Niemoczynski points to Peirce’s phenomenological and metaphysical understanding of possibility-the concept of ‘Firstness’-as especially critical to understanding how the divine might be meaningfully encountered in religious experience.”  I’d never thought of Peirce as either a metaphysician or as a thinker who would be in any way attractive to religious believers, but apparently I was wrong.

Nietzsche and Zen: Self-Overcoming Without a Self, by Andre van der Braak.  One of my principal intellectual influences is Irving Babbitt, who was among other things a student of Buddhism.  When Babbitt looked at Buddhism, he saw a corrective to the excesses of late Romanticism.  When he looked at Nietzsche, Babbitt saw an exemplar of those excesses.  So I’d be interested to see a study of the overlap between Nietzsche’s thought and Buddhism.

Buddhism and Postmodernity: Zen, Huayan, and the Possibility of Buddhist Postmodern Ethics, by Jin Y. Park.  “Buddhism and Postmodernity is a response to some of the questions that have emerged in the process of Buddhism’s encounters with modernity and the West. Jin Y. Park broadly outlines these questions as follows: first, why are the interpretations and evaluations of Buddhism so different in Europe (in the nineteenth century), in the United States (in the twentieth century), and in traditional Asia; second, why does Zen Buddhism, which offers a radically egalitarian vision, maintain a strongly authoritarian leadership; and third, what ethical paradigm can be drawn from the Buddhist-postmodern form of philosophy?”  While these questions may not seem to have much in common, Professor Park evidently proposes a model which enables her to address all three at the same time.

The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism: And Why Philosophers Can’t Solve It, by Thaddeus J. Kozinski.  Apparently the author holds that for the philosopher, the only good pluralism is a self-extinguishing pluralism.  “Drawing on a diverse number of sources, Kozinski addresses the flaws in each philosopher’s views and shows that the only philosophically defensible end of any overlapping consensus political order must be the eradication of the ideological pluralism that makes it necessary. In other words, a pluralistic society should have as its primary political aim to create the political conditions for the communal discovery and political establishment of that unifying tradition within which political justice can most effectively be obtained.”  I suppose every ideology and political system extinguishes itself sooner or later, so to evaluate pluralism in terms of its ability to give rise to unity isn’t particularly unfair.

God and Money: A Theology of Money in a Globalizing World, by Nimi Wariboko.  The print catalogue quotes a blurb in which Peter J. Paris of the Princeton Theological Seminary tells us that in this book, “the author helps his readers see money not as a material thing alone but as a social relation.  This is an altogether new perspective, not only describing the moral dimension of money itself but inspiring readers to discern the ethical issues implicit in the global monetary system.”  That sounds like a tremendous contribution to the understanding of economic life.  On the other hand, Rowman and Littlefield’s online catalogue summarizes the book this way: “Making a case for a denationalized global currency as an alternative to the dollar, euro, and yen as the world vehicular and reserve currencies, God and Money explores the significance and theological-ethical implications of money as a social relation in the light of the dynamic relations of the triune God. Wariboko deftly analyzes the dynamics at work in the global monetary system and argues that the monarchical-currency structure of the dollar, euro, and yen may be moving toward a trinitarian structure of a democratic world currency.”  Which sounds idiotic.  According to the book’s acknowledgements, Professor Paris worked closely with Professor Wariboko while he was writing it, so it is likely that he has a firmer grasp of its contents than does the editorial assistant who had to crank out the description in the catalogue, but still, it gives pause.

Biblical Bethsaida: A Study of the First Century CE in the Galilee, by Carl E. Savage.  “Using archaeological data from Bethsaida itself, Savage investigates the material practices of Bethsaida’s ancient inhabitants, describing these practices as significant indicators of their sense of place both ideologically and geographically. He evaluates the historical plausibility of various social reconstructions for the region, and finds that the image that emerges of first-century Bethsaida is one similar to those of other Jewish communities in the Galilee.” I’m slightly curious about the interaction between Jews and non-Jews in the communities where Christianity first arose, so I look at archaeological accounts of the first century Galilee from time to time.

Something about the prices struck me as rather odd.  Most of the books cost about $60 in hardback, while volumes that are of interest to more than one academic discipline cost about $100.  That’s a fairly typical range of prices from a publisher aiming at university libraries.  The odd thing is the price of the ebook editions.  For most of those, they charge the hardback price minus one cent.   So, Medieval America is $60 hardback, $59.99 as an ebook.  The Rise and Fall of Triumph is $75 hardback, $74.99 as an ebook.  The Weimar Moment is $100 hardback, $99.99 as an ebook.  That reminds me ofone of David Letterman‘s Top Ten Lists from many years ago, “Top Ten OtherFailed McDonald’s Promotions.”  On the list was “Get 500 Quarter Pounders for the price of 499!”

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