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Author’s Name, “Title of Essay,” Religion and Reform, Edited by Ronald A. Simkins and Zachary Smith, Journal of Religion & Society Supplement 18 (2019), Pages of the essay [URL of this page].
Paul’s quotation of the prophet Isaiah and subsequent announcement that he will proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles in the final verses of the Acts of the Apostles has been read as evidence that the mission to the Jews has come to an end. Against this interpretation, I argue that Paul’s words, when read in light of Paul’s prophetic rebuke of Jews in Acts 13:41 and Paul’s two earlier “turns” to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46; 18:6), function as part of his gospel proclamation to encourage reform. Just as Paul’s use of prophetic rebuke and turns to the Gentiles did not bring an end to the mission to the Jews in the course of the Acts narrative, neither do they end the Jewish mission in Acts 28.
During the latter half of the sixteenth century, a handful of Tübingen theologians initiated informal correspondence with the ecumenical patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Jeremias II of Constantinople, in which they expressed the hope and expectation that he would acknowledge the orthodoxy of Lutheran faith and practice. Jeremias’s response was gracious, but uncompromising in its assertion that the only way a Christian could be considered truly orthodox would be to receive chrismation and enter into the sacramental life of the Orthodox Church. The Lutheran theologians stepped up their defense on the basis of their vast knowledge and understanding of scripture and patristics, only to be met by more of the same from Constantinople. Tensions increased with each exchange as conciliatory overtures melted away to reveal each side’s defining, non-negotiable core position. Upon delivering a delayed third response, the Patriarch invited the Lutherans to remain in contact, but admonished them never again to raise doctrinal matters with the Orthodox Church. This paper provides the historical backdrop for the main issues that continue to plague Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue to the present day.
Anastasios of Sinai wrote in the midst of the Arab conquest of Egypt and Palestine in the seventh century. He shared his monastic wisdom with various Christian correspondents in a series of replies to questions from the surrounding area. In his letters, Anastasios described the Arab conquerors as a divinely sanctioned other punishing Christians for unfaithfulness. At the same time, he called on Christians to repent from theological corruption and moral evil, while remaining steadfast in their faith during this time of oppression. Anastasios drew upon a common Byzantine motif of “Saracens” as distinct others to communicate to his Christian community God’s activity amid the Arab conquest.
This study addresses the question of reform in Islam as formulated under the rubric of “renewal” (tajdid). As an idea, tajdid arises from a hadith in which God promises to send a “renewer” (mujaddid) at the turn of each century. Whereas premodern scholars eagerly made claims on this epithet, modern reformers tend to look past the person of the mujaddid to the discourse of renewal itself. Yet, in taking tajdid as a broad-based framework for socio-religious reform, do modern advocates violate the spirit, let alone the letter, of the tradition? To answer this question, I examine both the interpretive history of tajdid and the interpretive potential of the mujaddid hadith. Accordingly, I demonstrate that tajdid is less a model or doctrine of reform than the vital rhetoric of legitimating the innovations such reform entails. Insofar as contemporary reformers share in this rhetorical activity, I argue that they too are mujaddids.
Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865-1935), a prolific writer and publisher who was also politically active, is generally known to Western readers as a Syrian or Lebanese-Syrian Islamic modernist. He is particularly associated with efforts to reform Islam (islah) during the colonial period. This essay considers some of his writings on political matters and the caliphate. This involves some of his thinking in the tumultuous era leading up to November 1922, when the Turkish National Assembly abolished the Ottoman Sultanate-Caliphate, leaving a merely spiritual Caliphate in its place; his seminal book The Caliphate, written in the aftermath of that action; and some of his thinking following the final abolition of the Caliphate in March 1924. While acknowledging shifts, reversals, and inconsistencies, the essay also points to a firm and constant element in Rida’s agenda: enabling Muslim sovereign authority insofar as circumstances would allow. Other considerations would bend to that objective. In this respect, his reformist project on the caliphate was focused more on the circumstances of Muslims as a people than on the nature of Islam as a religion.
The article affirms that the contemporary ecumenical agreements (especially between Roman Catholics and Lutherans) are the result of extensive study and exhaustive dialogue at an institutional level. The author’s thesis pushes back against a particular claim that these contemporary ecumenical breakthroughs are the result of a progressive, liberal attitude that is dismissive of the importance of rigorous doctrine. The author argues that, in the cases he presents, the ecumenism of the twentieth and twenty-first century is actually most faithful to the processes and insights of confessional dialogue in the sixteenth century. It is not a devaluation of doctrine but the decoupling of church and state as a context for these dialogues that offers the greatest cause for why more recent dialogues have met with more success than dialogues in the past.
This article proposes a twist to the traditional halakhah-centered story of what is different about Reform Judaism: I suggest that even though we might describe American Reform Judaism’s distinctiveness as its approach to law – its conviction that Jewish law must be interpreted to fit the lives of Jews, and not the other way around – historically, many of its most defining moments have been about public embodiment. This article explores three such moments: the trefa banquet of 1883, conversations about women’s ordination, and a ruling on patrilineal descent. Although these moments were related to Jewish law in the sense that Orthodox Jews thought that each violated halakhah, there were plenty of other violations of halakhah that did not generate such vocal objection from more observant Jews, and so violation of halakhah is not sufficient explanation for why these three became defining flashpoints. I suggest that these moments had more to do with the public presence and visibility of bodies than they did with philosophical principles or liberal theology.
This study takes a critical anthropological approach to examining and critiquing the notion of religious reform from culturally diverse perspectives. It compares Evangelical Lutheran, Mennonite Brethren, and Old Order Amish farming communities undergoing social, cultural, and economic threats to their survival during the 1990s to the present in Northeast Iowa to identify the degree to which resistance to the reform of local religious community traditions and practices allows these groups to survive eroding processes of social, cultural, and economic change in American agriculture. The comparative and longitudinal study argues that the Old Order Amish religious resistance to existential threats is the most effective because it views change from the perspective of an ontological double-consciousness of both living “in the world” and not being “of the world” compared to the “worldliness” of the other groups in this study.
This article takes up a period in the Bible’s history of publication when the text was redacted to approximately half of its original size. In the mid-twentieth century, editors, publishers, and book designers worked to rebrand these shortened Bibles as works of modern literature. It considers the rise of short Bibles, looking at the editorial choices behind the creation of The Dartmouth Bible as one prominent example of the literary and social components of textual emendation required to make the Bible “readable” in modern terms. It then compares these short Bibles to analogous abridgement projects, looking at literary abridgment in general as well as other redactions of the biblical canon. It concludes by arguing that making the Bible “readable” by removing its hermeneutic difficulties abbreviates not only the text but also the interpretive tasks this canon poses to its reader – an abbreviation that is not without its cost.
Pope Francis and his immediate predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, offer a positive vision of an appropriate societal response to crime and to criminals by emphasizing human dignity, rehabilitation, and social reconciliation. Their approach critiques today’s excessive focus upon punishment at the expense of prevention and rehabilitation, especially in respect to low-level crime. By contrast, the popes argue that modern states give insufficient attention to macro-level crime and corruption. Correction of these imbalances will serve the common good and provide much-needed reform of contemporary justice systems.
There is a long-noted anthropological and methodological divide between Catholic social and sexual ethics. We argue in three cumulative sections that Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia moves towards an anthropological and methodological integration of Catholic social teaching and Catholic sexual teaching. First, we explore Amoris Laetitia’s anthropological integration of Catholic social and Catholic sexual teaching; second, we explore its methodological integration of Catholic social and sexual teaching; finally, we demonstrate how the anthropological and methodological insights of Amoris Laetitia might provide a more integrated and credible response to a contemporary ethical issue.
I demonstrate that contemporary martyrdom is a form of ecumenism because it is a dialogue amongst Christians from different backgrounds, founded on fidelity to the ultimate religious truth – the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. The most striking form of ecumenism is that of the martyrs who reveal the truth of all humanity’s communion with Christ. This paper involves four steps. The first part acknowledges the scandal of early modern Christians making martyrs of one another which helped to divide the Christian body. The second demonstrates, according to John Paul II, that the martyrs of the twentieth century have contributed to the ecumenical movement. The third analyzes the shared martyrdom between the German Jesuit Alfred Delp and the Lutheran Helmuth James von Moltke, executed for being members of an anti-Nazi resistance group. The fourth concludes that these martyrs witnessed the truth of Christ, who is the universal truth that links another with oneself in a shared humanity.
This paper argues for an international system in which political sovereignty is minimally shared among nation-states and international authorities in order to establish a global “moral floor” whereby international institutions have real power to enforce prohibitions against extreme violations of human well-being. The notion that the sovereignty of nation-states would be even minimally qualified sparks volatile debate. Fear of the loss of communal identity in nation-states causes some to desire a retreat from international law and norms. On the contrary, I argue that a system of minimally shared sovereignty does allow for preservation of communal identity. As a case study, I examine certain developments in religious-legal thought in Jewish communities during the classical rabbinic period. Multiple Jewish communities retained distinct identities in often-oppressive diasporic conditions, without political sovereignty, by developing systems of legal norms and integrating those laws creatively with laws of governing authorities. Contemporary Jewish thought, drawing on these experiences, provides helpful ways of conceptualizing shared sovereignty.
The Christian theological tradition has been predominantly essentialist: it has held that creation is ordered by God’s providential work into natural kinds, and that each kind exemplifies a nature proper to it. Yet essentialism is often taken to be a discredited position in the modern academy. This paper assesses four contemporary arguments against essentialism: a broadly Wittgensteinian one; a Derridean one; an argument from evolutionary biology; and an argument from transhumanist thought. In so doing, it seeks to establish the criteria that any contemporary restatement of essentialism must meet to be considered a success.
The Bible was composed during the Holocene era, which was characterized by a stable climate enabling humans and human civilization to grow and flourish. The biblical cosmology, as expressed through its creation stories and other texts, is a product of that era. Now that we have entered a new geological era – the Anthropocene, as many scholars claim – which is characterized by anthropogenic climate change, the biblical cosmology raises questions of theodicy: Is the creation of God faulty? Is God ultimately responsible for the dire consequences and suffering that humans will experience as a result of climate change? This paper considers how the changing circumstances of climate change challenge the biblical cosmology, and whether the biblical cosmology remains relevant in the Anthropocene.
Recent research has presented evidence that among demographic groups, Millennials are reporting reduced levels of religious affiliation, of religiousness, or of religiosity. This has led some to characterize this decline as an increase in secularism. The issue is defined and approaches to operationalizing secularism are examined. Given that Millennials are often seen as being tech-savvy and heavy users of technology such as social media, Twitter and Facebook are considered as remedies for any increase in secularism. While it may be true that Millennials are to some extent dependent on technology, there is little evidence to suggest that technology can forestall increased secularism, particularly in view of the multi-faceted causes of religious disaffiliation.