Thursday, March 27, 2008

Smith's distinctions of the love of praise from the love of praiseworthiness, and the love of glory from the love of virtue

Article on Adam Smith v J.J. Rousseau on Morality from Adam Smith's Lost Legacy by Gavin Kennedy
From Sky of Ashes Blog (here, there is notice of an interesting article on “Commerce and Corruption: Rousseau's Diagnosis and Adam Smith's Cure" by Ryan Patrick Hanley (Marquette University, ). Abstract:

‘Modern commercial society has been criticized for attenuating virtue and inhibiting the ethical self-realization of its participants. But Adam Smith, a founding father of liberal commercial modernity, anticipated precisely this critique and took specific measures to circumvent it. This article presents these measures via an analysis of his response to the critique of liberal commercial modernity set forth by Rousseau. It principally argues that Smith's distinctions of the love of praise from the love of praiseworthiness, and the love of glory from the love of virtue, were elements of a normative moral education that sought to elevate civilized man's corrupted self-love, and thereby recover within modern commercial society a respect for ethical nobility.’

Comment: The article is accessible from Here. It is by subscription ($15 for downloadable access) from Sage and worth the price to read of this relatively neglected area of Adam Smith’s contributions. It raises an issue that underlies much of the controversy about morality and market economics, especially capitalism, but which is seldom discussed in context. As such it is enduring interest today.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Religion is part of the genealogy of public reason itself.

Religion in the public sphere: “Recognizing” Religion posted by Craig Calhoun
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Religion, moreover, is part of the genealogy of public reason itself. To attempt to disengage the idea of public reason (or the reality of the public sphere) from religion is to disconnect it from a tradition that continues to give it life and content. Habermas stresses the importance of not depriving public reason of the resources of a tradition that has not exhausted the semantic contributions it can make. Equally, though, the attempt to make an overly sharp division between religion and public reason provides important impetus to the development of alternative or counterpublic spheres as well as less public and less reasoned forms of resistance to a political order that seeks to hold religion at arm’s length.
This issue is significant for Habermas’s reconsideration of the extent to which prevailing secularist assumptions are adequate for the current era. Not only is there value for public reason to gain if it integrates religious contributions, it is a requirement of political justice that public discourse recognize and tolerate but also fully integrate religious citizens. It is with this in mind that he rejects Rawls’ formulations in which public reason requires arguments conducted entirely in secular terms. Rawls’ reasoning is that this is necessary in order to ensure that all arguments are accessible to everyone. Religious people, in this view, must give reasons for their arguments that are not specifically religious and fully available for acceptance by those who are not religious. But this, Habermas rightly suggests, places an unfair and asymmetrical burden on religious citizens.
Official tolerance for diverse forms of religious practice and a constitutional separation of church and state are good, Habermas suggests, but not by themselves sufficient guarantees for religious freedom. “It is not enough to rely on the condescending benevolence of a secularized authority that comes to tolerate minorities hitherto discriminated against. The parties themselves must reach agreement on the always contested delimitations between a positive liberty to practice a religion of one’s own. And the negative liberty to remain spared of the religious practices of others.” This agreement cannot be achieved in private. Religion, thus, must enter the public sphere. There deliberative, ideally democratic processes of collective will formation can help parties both to understand each other and to reach mutual accommodation if not always agreement.
Rawls’ account of the public use of reason allows for religiously motivated arguments, but not for the appeal to “comprehensive” religious doctrines for justification. Justification must rely solely on “proper political reasons” (which means mainly reasons that are available to everyone regardless of the specific commitments they may have to religion or substantive conceptions of the good or their embeddedness in cultural traditions). This is, as Habermas indicates, an importantly restrictive account of the legitimate public use of reason – one which will strike many as not truly admitting religion into public discourse. Crucially, Habermas follows Wolterstorff in arguing that it is in the nature of religion that serious belief is understood as informing – and rightly informing – all of a believer’s life. This makes sorting out the “properly political” from other reasons both practically impossible in many cases and an illegitimate demand for secularists to impose. Attempting to enforce it would amount to discriminating against those for whom religion is not “something other than their social and political existence”. On more ambiguous grounds, Habermas does hold it acceptable to demand “properly political” justifications, independent of religion, from politicians even if not from those who vote for or endorse them.
Habermas seeks to defend a less narrow liberalism, one that admits religion more fully into public discourse (including both democratic will formation and the rule of law) but seeks to maintain a secular conception of the state. He understands this as requiring impartiality in state relations to those of any religious orientation or none and to all religious communities, but not as requiring the stronger laïc prohibition on state action affecting religion even if impartially. Indeed, he goes so far as to suggest that the liberal state and its advocates are not merely enjoined to religious tolerance but – at least potentially – cognizant of a functional interest in public expressions of religion. These may be key resources for the creation of meaning and identity; secular citizens can learn from religious contributions to public discourse (not least when these help clarify intuitions the secular have not made explicit).
In this “polyphonic complexity of public voices” the giving of reasons is still crucial. Public reason cannot proceed simply by expressive communication or demands for recognition, though the public sphere cannot be adequately inclusive if it tries to exclude these. The public sphere will necessarily include processes of culture-making that are not reducible to advances in reason, and which nonetheless may be crucial to capacities for mutual understanding. But if collective will formation is to be based on reason, not merely participation in common culture, then public processes of clarifying arguments and giving reasons for positions must be central. Religious people like all others are reasonably to be called on to give a full account of their reasons for public claims. But articulating reasons clearly is not the same as offering only reasons that can be stated in terms fully “accessible” to the nonreligious. Conversely, though the secular (or differently religious) may be called on to participate in the effort to understand the reasons given by adherents to any one religion, such understanding may include recognition and clarification of points where orientations to knowledge are such that understanding cannot be fully mutual. And the same goes in reverse. Since secular reasons are also embedded in culture and belief and not simply matters of fact or reason alone, those who speak from non-religious orientations are reasonably called on to clarify to what extent their arguments demand such non-religious orientations or may be reasonably accessible to those who do not share them.
Indeed, one could argue that a sharp division between secular and religious beliefs is available only to the secular. While the religious person may accept many beliefs that others regard as adequately grounded in secular reasons alone – about the physical or biological world, for example – she may see these as inherently bound up with a belief in divine creation. She may also regard certain beliefs as inherently outside religion, but even if she uses the word “secular” to describe these, the meaning is at least in part “irreligious” (a reference to a different, non-religious way of seeing things and not simply to things ostensibly “self-sufficient” outside religion or divine influence). It is necessary to demand that the religious person consider her own faith reflexively, see it from the point of view of others, and relate it to secular views. Though this amounts to demanding a cognitive capacity that not all religious people have, it is not one intrinsically contrary to religion and equivalent demands are placed on all citizens by the ethics of public discourse. What the liberal state must not do is “transform the requisite institutional separation of religion and politics into an undue mental and psychological burden for those of its citizens who follow a faith.” And with this in mind, Habermas also suggests that the non-religious bear a symmetrical burden to participate in the translation of religious contributions to the political public sphere into “properly political” secular terms – that is, they must seek to understand what is being said in religious terms and determine to what extent they can understand it (and potentially agree with it) in their own non-religious terms. In this way, they will help to make ideas, norms, and insights deriving from religious sources accessible to all, and to the more rigorously secular internal discursive processes of the state itself.

Friday, March 21, 2008

An unknown alumnus

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Common Word makes no apologies for the violence that Islam has perpetrated against Christian people up to the present day

B. Thornton on Common Word from Indistinct Union by cjsmith
Matthew linked to this series on National Review’s Uncommon Knowledge (link is to pt 2 of 5) with Bruce Thornton a Professor of Classics at Cal-Fresno. He discusses his new book Decline and Fall Europe’s Slow Motion Suicide.

It is certainly true that Islam built an empire quickly and empires are built with military prowess. See Britain in the 19th century, or America in the 20th for other examples.
Islam’s empire came from within as it were. Christianity converted a pre-existing (without) Empire, The Roman, and then proceeded to oppress Jews and Pagan slaughtering God only knows how many thousands in the process.
This is why Empires are very bad by today’s standards: Christian, Islamic, or otherwise. They were better than tribal arrangements which fought one another otherwise. Empires unify tribes which on the positive side decrease intra-tribal warfare at the cost of projecting more violence at enemies beyond the empire. And any conquered group not considered within the bounds of the Empire are relegated to minority/oppressed status–e.g. dhimmitude in the Islamic Empire.
That’s why modern social contract liberal democratic governments are to be preferred–and globalization which creates economic warfare between the nations (which not without serious problems is probably to be preferred to imperial conquests and wars).
And there are elements that seek a renewed Islamic Empire while generally Christianity is not in such a phase. (Though the War on Terror is seen by many as Christian–both pro and con it). But even that could change with a renewed Christianization of Sub-Saharan Africa or China or South Korea.
But there is no argument that a modernized post-imperial Islam (like a truly modernized Christianity) is any threat to world peace. And A Common Word might better be viewed as a very small start in that direction.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Outside the New Testament, even the simplest facts about Jesus are essentially non-existent

Deepak Chopra Riffs on the Mystery of Jesus from ~C4Chaos by ~C4Chaos
Deepak Chopra is riffing on the mystery of Jesus over at Deepak Chopra and Family blog. Here's his opening salvo.

"A stir was made recently by the documentary film from 'Titanic' director James Cameron that claimed to have found the final resting place of Jesus and his family, and although the evidence presented wasn't satisfying to the vast majority of biblical scholars, the search for the real Jesus has become a preoccupation, even obsession. Modern people want evidence that a wandering rabbi, or teacher, actually preached in northern Galilee two thousand years ago, yet outside the New Testament, even the simplest facts about Jesus are essentially non-existent. This has given rise to a number of contending views: " [read more]

I remember reading books about the historical Jesus when I was still in college. There are lots of theories out there, including Jesus studying in Tibet where he was known as St. Issa. Some of the stories are fascinating while some are considered to be blasphemous by others.
The story of Jesus is only one of the many Bible inconsistencies and contradictions. Most Christians don't read the Bible anyway. So the contradictions and inconsistencies don't matter that much. It's a good pastime for theologians, scholars, and those who believe that the Bible is the word of God -- whatever that means. Personally, I find this bickering irrelevant and a waste of human effort.

I agree with the premise that, even if there was really a historical Jesus then he's already buried under layers of theology. Whatever we read about "the story of Jesus" are nothing but interpretations and propaganda of people who are biased with their own ideologies. So might as well forget about it and treat Jesus as a metaphysical construct and use his teachings and story as metaphors for psycho-spiritual development -- something like Chopra's Third Jesus.
P.S. Serendipitously, Scott Adams is also riffing on Jesus (pronounced "Hay-Soos"). The Holy Week is in the air.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

There is no comprehensive Western Yoga that would facilitate surrender

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Derrida supplements Nietzsche's essay with Patočka...":

Well said. But the Western acedemic mind which instantaneously objectifies and therefore controls everything, and which informs even the best of Derrida, has no interest in going through hell, and in fact its entire strategy is to prevent that necessary surrender and transformative process from occurring. And in some sense with good reason, because to suddenly be confronted with the over-whelming naked terror of death would drive nearly everyone insane.

There is no comprehensive Western Yoga that would even begin to facilitate that process. A truly Sacred Space within the context of a comprehensive Sacred Culture would be the necessary crucible where that process of surrender could be "cultivated" and allowed. Are there any such places?

Maybe there was historically, via the whole body participation demanded in attending a live "performance" of the greatest Greek Tragedies. But that capacity to surrender and really come up against ones mortality has long since been lost.

The Vision Quest could be useful.

Death has never REALLY been taken into account in the usual Christian blather. The much hyped "trinity" doesnt realy take death into account nor does the "jesus death and resurrection" nonsense.

By contrast the third and necessary figure/element of the Hindu trinity is Siva, the god of transformation and death. The message being that death rules to here and what are you REALLY going to do about it. And the only thing that Jesus "saves" is postage stamps. Posted by Anonymous to Feel Philosophy at 11:26 AM, March 12, 2008

Historical context (the life-situation, lifeworld) of the authors of the texts

The Jesus of History and the Holon of Christ from Indistinct Union by cjsmith

With the publication of Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (1926), Biblical scholarship moved to searching no longer for the Historical Jesus but the historical context (the life-situation, lifeworld) of the authors of the texts themselves (see Rudolf Bultmann). This followed Heidegger’s reflections on being-in-the-world, the intersubjective over the historicist objective right-hand approaches of empiricism and historical studies. As is well known the Gospels are all written 40-70 years after Jesus’ death, in vastly different social and political contexts than Jesus’ own day. What the Gospels are then are stories of what would Jesus be like if he lived in the situation of the author and the community that composed the text. Post temple destruction Palestine (Mark); Gentile Church in Turkey (Luke); a Jewish-Christian community in Syria (Matthew); and a group expelled from the synagogues (John). This phase was less the search for the Historical Jesus as the search for the Historical Church. This tradition was highly skeptical of knowing anything about the Historical Jesus and a result interest in the subject waned.
Interest was temporarily revived by the second phase of the Historical Jesus search began in the 1950-60s with the work of German scholar Gunther Bornkam, but it too eventually waned with the explosion of interest in feminist, liberationist, and postmodern readings starting in the late 60s and into the 70s.
But in our day we see the study of the Historical Jesus again waxing. The third phase gained real steam by the early 1990s. Well known names include: Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, N.T. Wright, John Meier, Elaine Pagels, Paula Fredriksen, and Richard Horsley.
The third phase of Historical Jesus scholarship has sought to overcome the problem of the first—namely the infiltration of background cultural assumptions onto Jesus. The proponents of this Third Wave argue this could be achieved through a renewed look at the social-cultural-religious world of Jesus’ own day. Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948, the knowledge of 1st century Palestine has exploded. These authors use what is known of contemporary Judaism (or rather Judaisms, as they were multiple strands of the religion it turns out) and Greco-Roman world, to decipher which points of the Gospels make sense against that background and which do not.
There has been much good work by these scholars and I do not want to diminish the efforts. I have learned a great deal from reading all these scholars. Still one can’t help noticing that the author’s own background correlates very strongly with the reconstructed Jesus.

There is undoubtedly a Truth one and eternal which we are seeking, from which all other truth derives

#104777 - 07/08/04 01:56 PM Re: I have the Absolute and Infallible Truth!
Palto Palto regular member Registered: 03/18/04 Posts: 243 IconNoClass:

The ideology Sri Aurobindo portrayed is very intriguing. I do have slightly different views on certain points displayed. There are other parts that I personally find very insightful. First off I agree that there is but one Truth and it is our goal to ascertain that Truth. I also understand that full disclosure of truth to our finite mental capacities is both incomprehensible and most likely destructive. We are not able to ascertain the true meaning of all of the facts even if presented with them. To claim such would be selfish and dishonest, personally placing ourselves in a godlike category.

That is why it is important to have faith in the One who can understand that which we cannot. For this reason also Truth can not be found 'in its entirety' in any single philosophy or Scripture or uttered altogether and forever by one teacher, thinker, prophet or Avatar. I would qualify that by saying that GOD can, but it would have little meaning or benefit to man. The next point made was that Truth expresses itself through time and through the mind of man. I would expand this concept to include events beyond time and outside man's influence or perception, whether immediate and tangible or expansive and intangible. I would agree though that Scripture due to being tied to time and man necessitates the two elements, one temporary, perishable, belonging to the ideas of the period and country in which it was produced, the other eternal and imperishable and applicable in all ages and countries. I see wisdom in the next statement in that our perception of truth can mutate over time having an altered force. This can be intensified through revelation or diminished through culture. This of course does not change Truth but our perception of it.

I also agree that our perception of truth is ever changing and that we can through separation of time and culture never fully understand their viewpoint. I would say though that an understanding of the culture when the document was created might add insight to the intent or acceptable nature. I would also assert that it is possible to understand more of a people through revelation of newfound evidence from the period in addition to deterioration of understanding through missing historic descriptions or the questioning of accepted historical facts. All this though is of little meaning if One who is timeless is in control of the purpose of the document. It may change us individually, but with proper Spiritual guidance the document remains a tool. It is for this reason that great care must be exercised when abandoning Scriptural assertions because the Truth is not ours, but the One who created us. We are mere recipients of His grace and our personal and cultural opinions mean little.

So much division has taken place to cause separation between sects of religion, but even with such division the message reaches those who accept the call. Scripture may also be altered to a point coincident to that allowed by GOD, but not so far as to render it ineffectual. I must say though that the Bible source texts are the most verifiable ancient texts known to be in existence today due to the vast quantity and minimal change throughout. Palto

Sri Aurobindo's writing:
First of all, there is undoubtedly a Truth one and eternal which we are seeking, from which all other truth derives, by the light of which all other truth finds its right place, explanation and relation to the scheme of knowledge. But precisely for that reason it cannot be shut up in a single trenchant formula, it is not likely to be found in its entirety or in all its bearings in any single philosophy or Scripture or uttered altogether and for ever by any one teacher, thinker, prophet or Avatar. Nor has it been wholly found by us if our view of it necessitates the intolerant exclusion of the truth underlying other systems; for when we reject passionately, we mean simply that we cannot appreciate and explain. Secondly, this Truth, though it is one and eternal, expresses itself in Time and through the mind of man; therefore every Scripture must necessarily contain two elements, one temporary, perishable, belonging to the ideas of the period and country in which it was produced, the other eternal and imperishable and applicable in all ages and countries. Moreover, in the statement of the Truth the actual form given to it, the system and arrangement, the metaphysical and intellectual mould, the precise expression used must be largely subject to the mutations of Time and cease to have the same force; for the human intellect modifies itself always; continually dividing and putting together it is obliged to shift its divisions continually and to rearrange its syntheses; it is always leaving old expression and symbol for new or, if it uses the old, it so changes its connotation or at least its exact content and association that we can never be quite sure of understanding an ancient book of this kind precisely in the sense and spirit it bore to its contemporaries. What is of entirely permanent value is that which besides being universal has been experienced, lived and seen with a higher than the intellectual vision. ("Our Demand and Need from the Gita")

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Many of Copernicus' diagrams and calculations were taken from the 14th-century Syrian astronomer Ibn al-Shatir

Appreciating Arabic science that predates Newton—by Jim Al-Khalili
from Science, Culture and Integral Yoga™ by RY Deshpande
Many of the achievements of Arabic science often come as a surprise. For instance, while no one can doubt the genius of Copernicus and his heliocentric model of the solar system in heralding the age of modern astronomy, it is not commonly known that he relied on work carried out by Arab astronomers many centuries earlier. Many of his diagrams and calculations were taken from manuscripts of the 14th-century Syrian astronomer Ibn al-Shatir. Why is he never mentioned in our textbooks? Likewise, we are taught that English physician William Harvey was the first to correctly describe blood circulation in 1616. He was not. The first to give the correct description was the 13th-century Andalucian physician Ibn al-Nafees… The golden age of Arabic science slowed down after the 11th century. Many have speculated on the reason for this. Some blame the Mongols’ destruction of Baghdad in 1258, others the change in attitude in Islamic theology towards science, and the lasting damage inflicted by religious conservatism upon the spirit of intellectual inquiry. But the real reason was simply the gradual fragmentation of the Abbasid empire and the indifference shown by weaker rulers towards science. …

Appreciating Arabic science that predates Newton—by Jim Al-Khalili
by RY Deshpande on Mon 10 Mar 2008 04:07 PM PDT Permanent Link
Arabic Science
Watching the daily news stories of never-ending troubles, hardship, misery, and violence across the Arab world and central Asia, it is not surprising that many in the West view the culture of these countries as backward, and their religion as at best conservative and often as violent and extremist. It has never been more timely or more resonant to explore the extent to which Western cultural and scientific thought is indebted to the work, a thousand years ago, of Arab and Muslim thinkers.

If there is anything I truly believe in, it is that progress through reason and rationality is a good thing—knowledge and enlightenment are always better than ignorance. I proudly share my world view with one of the greatest rulers the Islamic world has ever seen: the ninth-century Abbasid caliph of Baghdad, Abu Ja’far Abdullah al-Ma’mun. Many in the West will know something of Ma’mun’s more illustrious father, Harun al-Rashid, the caliph who is a central character in so many of the stories of the Arabian Nights. It was Ma’mun, who came to power in 813 AD, who truly launched the golden age of Arabic science. His thirst for knowledge was such an obsession that he was to create in Baghdad the greatest centre of learning the world has ever seen, known throughout history simply as Bayt al-Hikma: the House of Wisdom.

Important period
We read in most accounts of the history of science that the contribution of the ancient Greeks would not be matched until the European Renaissance and the arrival of the likes of Copernicus and Galileo in the 16th century. The 1,000-year period sandwiched between the two is dismissed as the dark ages. But the scientists and philosophers whom Ma’mun brought together, and whom he entrusted with his dreams of scholarship and wisdom, sparked a period of scientific achievement that was just as important as the Greeks or Renaissance, and we cannot simply project the European dark ages on to the rest of the world.

Of course, some Islamic scholars are well known in the West. The Persian philosopher Avicenna— born in 980 AD—is famous as the greatest physician of the Middle Ages. His Canon of Medicine was to remain the standard medical text in the Islamic world and across Europe until the 17th century, a period of more than 600 years. But Avicenna was also undoubtedly the greatest philosopher of Islam and one of the most important of all time. Avicenna’s work stands as the pinnacle of medieval philosophy. But Avicenna was not the greatest scientist in Islam. For he did not have the encyclopaedic mind or make the breadth of impact across so many fields as a less famous Persian who seems to have lived in his shadow: Abu Rayhan al-Biruni. Not only did Biruni make significant breakthroughs as a brilliant philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer, but he also left his mark as a theologian, encyclopaedist, linguist, historian, geographer, pharmacist, and physician. He is also considered to be the father of geology and anthropology. Yet Biruni is hardly known in the Western world.

Many of the achievements of Arabic science often come as a surprise. For instance, while no one can doubt the genius of Copernicus and his heliocentric model of the solar system in heralding the age of modern astronomy, it is not commonly known that he relied on work carried out by Arab astronomers many centuries earlier. Many of his diagrams and calculations were taken from manuscripts of the 14th-century Syrian astronomer Ibn al-Shatir. Why is he never mentioned in our textbooks? Likewise, we are taught that English physician William Harvey was the first to correctly describe blood circulation in 1616. He was not. The first to give the correct description was the 13th-century Andalucian physician Ibn al-Nafees.

And we are reliably informed at school that Newton is the undisputed father of modern optics. School science books abound with his famous experiments with lenses and prisms, his study of the nature of light and its reflection, and the refraction and decomposition of light into the colours of the rainbow. But Newton stood on the shoulders of a giant who lived 700 years earlier. For, without doubt, one of the greatest of the Abbasid scientists was the Iraqi Ibn al-Haytham (born in 965 AD), who is regarded as the world’s first physicist and as the father of the modern scientific method—long before Renaissance scholars such as Bacon and Descartes.

But what surprises many even more is that a ninth-century Iraqi zoologist by the name of al-Jahith developed a rudimentary theory of natural selection a thousand years before Darwin. In his Book of Animals, Jahith speculates on how environmental factors can affect the characteristics of species, forcing them to adapt and then pass on those new traits to future generations.

Clearly, the scientific revolution of the Abbasids would not have taken place if not for Islam—in contrast to the spread of Christianity over the preceding centuries, which had nothing like the same effect in stimulating and encouraging original scientific thinking. The brand of Islam between the beginning of the ninth and the end of the 11th century was one that promoted a spirit of free thinking, tolerance and rationalism.

Rulers’ indifference
The golden age of Arabic science slowed down after the 11th century. Many have speculated on the reason for this. Some blame the Mongols’ destruction of Baghdad in 1258, others the change in attitude in Islamic theology towards science, and the lasting damage inflicted by religious conservatism upon the spirit of intellectual inquiry. But the real reason was simply the gradual fragmentation of the Abbasid empire and the indifference shown by weaker rulers towards science.

Why should this matter today? I would argue that, at time of increased cultural and religious tensions, misunderstandings and intolerance, the West needs to see the Islamic world through new eyes. And, possibly more important, the Islamic world needs to see itself through new eyes and take pride in its rich and impressive heritage.

©Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008 (Jim Al-Khalili is a professor of physics at the University of Surrey and the 2007 recipient of the Royal Society’s Michael Faraday Prize.) Keywords: ScienceTechnology, Science, MiddleEast, Islam, History


David Levering Lewis is the University Professor at New York University. Both volumes of his biography of W.E.B. Du Bois received the Pulitzer Prize.
God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215
David Levering Lewis

At the beginning of the eighth century, the Arabs brought a revolution in power, religion and culture to Dark Ages Europe. David Levering Lewis' panoramic history begins with the fall of the Persian and Roman empires, followed by the rise of the prophet Muhammad and the creation of Muslim Spain. Five centuries of engagement between the Muslim imperium and an emerging Europe followed. God's Crucible, filled with accounts of some of the greatest battles ever fought, reveals how cosmopolitan Muslim al-Andalus flourished—a beacon of co-operation and tolerance between Islam, Judaism and Christianity—while proto-Europe, defining itself in opposition to Islam, made virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, religious intolerance, perpetual war and slavery. God's Crucible provides a new interpretation of world-altering events whose influence remains current.

"Lewis has produced a compelling, intellectually bracing and eminently readable account of the misnamed 'Dark Ages'." Scotland on Sunday
February 2008 • £17.99 • ISBN 978 0 393 06472 8 • 384pp • 156 x 235mm • 8 pages of colour illustrations; 4 maps

Monday, March 3, 2008

Politicization of scholars, experts and media commentators

Jonathan VanAntwerpen to

"The politicization of scholars, experts and media commentators post 9/11 has created a minefield for policymakers and the general public," writes John Esposito today at The Immanent Frame. "Many are caught between the contending positions of seemingly qualified experts as well as a new cadre of Islamophobic authors and their revisionist readings of Islam and Islamic history. Today, we now have a new empirically grounded tool that enables us to go beyond the limited interpretations and opinions of experts when asking: What do Muslims think, what do they care about, and what do they want?"

Read more from John Esposito on "Who Speaks for Islam?" Also new at The Immanent Frame — Michael Perry on Religion and the establishment clause — Robert Bellah on "Religious reasons and secular revelations" — Jeffrey Kripal and John Lardas Modern on Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth — Nilufer Gole and Jenny White on headscarves and secularism in Turkey — Mark Lilla responds to Charles Taylor's critique of The Stillborn God


I’ve been tremendously impressed by the new blog, The Immanent Frame, which is an absolutely top-notch group blog, featuring posts from some of the world’s most influential scholars, all focusing on the same cluster of questions and problems. That shows how good a group blog can really be. Perhaps the future of scholarly blogging really lies with this kind of group venture. -- Jim West Interviews Ben Myers Editorial Note: Ben Myers is the author of Faith and Theology at

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Primary goals of Hobbes’ Leviathan is to produce a dutiful and obedient citizen

Part 1: Hobbes’ Philosophically and Politically Motivated Biblical Exegesis
from Per Caritatem by Cynthia R. Nielsen

In contrast to his methodological approach in parts one and two, wherein Hobbes attempts to proceed by way of geometrical demonstration, part three takes a radical turn into the world of biblical exegesis and exhibits something similar to modern biblical criticism. Broadly speaking, one might characterize at least one aspect of the purpose of parts one and two as an attempt to establish Hobbes’ materialistic view of the world. Hobbes, like many of his contemporaries, had accepted the new mechanistic view of the world in which efficient causality (matter and motion) serves as the explanatory apparatus for all phenomena.[1] In this series, I shall attempt to flesh out these claims by examining selected passages from part three of Hobbes’ Leviathan. In particular, I shall focus on the various instances in which Hobbes’ naturalizes traditional Christianity’s claims regarding prophets, incorporeal beings, and miracles. In other words, what I propose is that contrary to Hobbes’ own claim to exegete Scripture in a purely objective way-that is, not informed with the prejudices of tradition and simply based on Scripture and natural reason alone-Hobbes’ biblical exegesis is made to conform to his own philosophical conceptions based on the science of his day (as well as his own political agenda).

In his dedicatory epistle, Hobbes sets forth his goal to pursue a middle path between excessive liberty and excessive authority. He goes on to say that he is aware that many will find his exegesis of certain passages of Scripture offensive. However, Hobbes claims to have offered these with “due submission,” as an obedient civil servant.[2] With these introductory remarks, Hobbes indicates some of his greatest concerns with regard to the Christianity of his day, namely, that Christians must not interpret Scripture in such a way that it allows them to be disobedient to the sovereign. In other words, one of the primary goals of Hobbes’ Leviathan is to produce a dutiful and obedient citizen. As we shall see, this goal, coupled with his materialistic philosophy, drives Hobbes’ hermeneutic and thoroughly informs his exegesis of Scripture. Notes
[1] This will become more evident in the discussion that follows. [2] Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. Ed., Edwin Curley. (Cambridge: Hackett, 1994), p. 2. Subsequent references will be in the text, noting the chapter and paragraph number.