Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Two Catholic politicians...

Tim Kaine and Newt Gingrich. Both of whom are raising interesting questions about the relationship between Catholic faith and political life.

new classes...

The spring trimester at the Divinity School begins this week, and I'm taking two new classes. This will be the first time I'm doing two classes at once, and a full-time job along with some personal writing projects may leave me with a little less time for the blog. We'll see. Below are the courses I'm taking, with descriptions. I imagine I'll be sharing some from readings and bibliographies as they're applicable, perhaps especially so with less time to be more original.

Calvin's Institutes (Dr. Susan Schreiner)

Sorry, no description... this was a last minute addition to the course list. But I think the content is pretty self-explanatory.

Medieval Mirrors for Princes (Dr. Vasileios Syros)

"This course provides a close reading of a selection of texts from the medieval Islamic and Latin mirrors for princes literature, e.g. Alfarabi's Aphorisms of a Statesman, Nasir ad-Din Tusi's Nasirean Ethics, John of Salisbury's Policraticus and Thomas Aquinas' on Kingship. We will explore the application of classical motives and ideas and identify the themes that underpin the evolution of medieval advice literature: the qualities and virtues of the ideal prince, the relations between the ruler and his subjects and the best ways for maintaining one's ruler and averting civil strife and social upheaval. We will also look at how medieval mirrors for princes anticipated the ideas and concepts of early modern advice literature."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Reasons, logics, justifications, etc... two CFP's.

Two calls are out for articles on reason and logic.

From JAAR:

ARE RELIGIOUS reasons similar to or fundamentally different from scientific and scholarly reasons? The JAAR invites papers that explore the features of reason, justification, and legitimation in religious contexts. Religions provide many kinds of reasons for belief and action. Much attention, for example, has been given to the forms of reasoning embedded in cultural forms labeled as “magic” and “divination,” and similar issues arise for a host of other practices, including textual exegesis. Do particular examples of religious reasoning bring fundamental problems for understanding across cultures or conceptual schemes? How are reasons, whether religious or scientific, implicated in contestations for influence or power? Does consideration of religious reasoning challenge contemporary academic understandings of what counts as reason or rationality?

Topics may include but are not limited to:

• The forms of reasoning embedded in interpretative activities such as divination, dream interpretation, and textual exegesis;
• The roles of extraordinary states (such as mysticism, shamanism, possession, and paranormal phenomena) in discovering and legitimating both knowledge and norms for practice;
• The persuasive dimensions of performative practices, including dance and theater;
• The philosophical grounds for argumentation, rhetoric, and cross-cultural interpretation; and
• The complexities in accounts of Western, scientific, or scholarly reasoning that are contrasted with religious reasoning. We particularly encourage papers that offer both specific case studies and theoretical reflection.

Deadline for submission is Monday, August 3, 2009. Please submit papers to:
Journal of the American Academy of Religion
Department of Religious Studies
PO Box 400126
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4126
Please direct queries to jaar@virginia.edu.

And from a new journal, Logica Universalis:
(check out the first two volumes online, which appear to be open-access)

Is logic universal?
Special issue of the journal Logica Universalis (Birkhauser/Springer)

There will be a special issue of the journal logica universalis dedicated to the question "Is logic universal?"

Many questions are connected to this issue:
1. Do all human beings have the same capacity of reasoning?
Do a man, a woman, a child, a papuan, a yuppie, reason in the same way?
2. Does reasoning evolve?
Did human beings reason in the same way two centuries ago?
In the future will human beings reason in the same way?
Did computers change our way to reason?
Is a mathematical proof independent of time and culture ?
3. Do we reason in different ways depending on the situation?
Do we use the same logic for everyday life, physics, economy?
4. Do the different systems of logic reflect the diversity of reasonings?
5. Is there any absolute true way of reasoning ?

Any contributions dedicated to one aspects of the question "Is logic
universal?" is welcome.
Submit your paper to
before August 31st 2009

Jean-Yves Beziau
Invited Researcher CPNq/DCR/FUNCAP
UFC - Federal University of Ceara
Fortaleza, Brazil

Logica Universalis

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali is retiring...

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali is retiring, a move that will likely bring a sigh of relief to English liberals, and mixed feelings from conservative Anglicans. Mixed because the diocese is losing an outspoken leader, though other ministries are gaining from it. Many English evangelicals had hoped that he would be the next Archbishop of Canterbury, but for the life of me I can't imagine that ever would have been a very likely possibility. Nazir-Ali intends to work as an advocate for persecuted Christians, probably a perfect next calling for him. Apparently he's interested in working with British converts to Christianity from Islam, and perhaps also in Africa and Asia with persecuted Christian minorities.

Here is a very poorly reasoned assessment of the situation. I'm sure there will be better commentary in time. The fault of the author, I think, is that he doesn't take seriously enough the expressed intentions of conservative Anglicans with whom Nazir-Ali has worked. He makes them sound as if they were planning to sack Canterbury, do away with the Lambeth Conference, etc. etc. Here's my gem of a response, which will probably be in the comment box at the Telegraph by the time you read this post. I remain completely balanced and not biased at all, as you can see. :)

I think you grossly misunderstand the point of GAFCON and Anglican conservatism. What has come of it is a fledgling North American province and an attempt to hold the Anglican Communion together. You act as if it was an attempted coup or revolution! Under such misled impressions, I can understand why you might see the bishop's retirement as a "fizzling" of some conservative movement or other... and it may be that, in the Church of England (I'm an American and I don't know the politics very well). But Nazir-Ali, Akinola, and others have never intended schism and have always emphasized the unity of Anglicanism. How you miss that is beyond me.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A few items...

  • The Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals has posted a CFP. “Saving the World? The Changing Terrain of American Protestant Missions” is offering grants of $1,000 for studies of the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference and how it has affected 20th century American Protestant missions. The grant is for short papers that will be presented at a conference, I'm assuming in celebration of the centennial. Faculty and grad students are invited- this sort of thing would be a great opportunity to try your hand at a small grant and get some practice under your belt for bigger research proposals down the road. Deadline is April 31st.
  • Historical TheoBlogy has recently posted two great digital resources, of Albert Magnus' opera omnia and a digitization project for 16th century books at the Bayerische StaatsBibliothek.
  • A new edited volume out in Brill's Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions series, Christian Humanism.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mark Jordan at Harvard

Maybe others know this already, but I just ran across the news. Mark D. Jordan has moved from Emory to Harvard Divinity, beginning this January as the first holder of the Richard R. Niebuhr Professorship of Divinity. Jordan is known for his work on homosexuality, religious rhetoric, and medieval theology, especially Aquinas. In 2006 he published Rewritten Theology: Aquinas after his readers.

A New Translation of Kant's Religion... and a new translation of "bloßen Vernunft"

Hackett Publishing is putting out Kant's Religion as translated by Werner Pluhar, who has previously translated the three Critiques for Hackett. The title of the book will be rendered, Religion Within the Bounds of Bare Reason.

In past English translation, this work has been rendered Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone by Greene & Hudson, or Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason by Wood & Giovanni. The translation of "bloßen Vernunft"as "bare reason" came from the contribution of Stephen Palmquist, who wrote an introduction for the new translation. Here is a paper of Palmquist's where the translation decision is defended. Section II gets into the bare/mere/alone distinction more explicitly.

Apparently Palmquist's decision is not entirely unique. John Richardson in 1799 used the title, The Religion Under the Sphere of Naked Reason, although the work was not an actual translation of Kant's Religion, but rather of selections from him. (Palmquist doesn't seem to mention this, even when he discusses the translation of "naked reason" in his paper)

The book is up on limited preview at GoogleBooks. Palmquist's introduction, though not as long as Greene & Silber, is substantial and I believe fully viewable on Google.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Free Will Theorem"... a lecture series at Princeton

Yesterday the Princeton University Press blog mentioned a lecture series by two mathematicians on free will, beginning March 23rd. From the description:

The gist of it is this: They say they have proved that if humans have free will, then elementary particles -- like atoms and electrons -- possess free will as well.

"You want to know how the world works -- there's this sense that the present state is somehow derived from the moment before it," said Conway, an extrovert's extrovert who, in addition to studying fundamental mathematical subjects like symmetry, excels in card tricks and memory games. "We were trying to understand how it happens, and we suddenly realized there was no way of explaining successive states because the previous state could give rise to two different positions."

By saying "two different positions," Conway means that a particle is free to zip one way or another as he is equally unbound in deciding whether or not to drop a cup he is clasping.

The lectures sound like they will be fascinating. I contacted Jessica Pellian at PUP to find out whether they would end up online, and apparently others have been wondering the same thing because the the folks over at PUPblog made sure to request that the webmedia folks get it up quickly. As of this afternoon, it's up.

I haven't listened to the lecture yet, but I'm about to. The series will also be ongoing, and I'm sure there will be plenty to discuss as it goes along.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Colin Gunton Memorial Essay Prize 2009

The International Journal of Systematic Theology has posted the theme for the 2009 Colin Gunton Essay Prize:

Does ecumenical theology have a future?

See the website for details.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Wonderful news for the Anglican Communion

The Church of Nigeria has become the first province of the Anglican Communion to formally recognize the Anglican Church in North America!

While the Archbishop of Canterbury still recognizes the Episcopal Church, TEC remains out of communion with a significant portion of Anglican provinces worldwide. The Roman Catholic commission working towards ecumenical goals with the Anglican Communion has also declared a severe impairment of its work because of TEC, and the Russian Orthodox Church has done the same. This recognition, however, marks the beginnings of what will likely be a more substantial reallignment. The direction that Canterbury will go between TEC and ACNA is probably beyond anyone's knowledge at this point, but more global and ecumenical ties will likely shift increasingly towards ACNA now that it is formed and at work laying out its canonical structure. I'm sure they'll be more to report over the course of the spring and summer, as both TEC and ACNA have assemblies coming up.

For those who are interested in the history of the Church of Nigeria's involvement in these affairs of ecclesiastical reallignment, please read my article in The Ecclesiastical Law Journal.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pacal's Wager: Some Thoughts

One of my papers for this past semester involved Hume and Pascal on the future state, so when I ran across this I simply had to respond. Not out of any great interest in apologetics, but more for the sake of poor Pascal, who is now rolling in his grave as atheist and Christian apologists alike run roughshod over what is really a fascinating bit of philosophical theology.

Hitchens, Ehrman, and others can be found with soundbytes on the "wager argument," but I thought these guys had more interesting dynamics... not standing at a lectern or anything:

Where to begin?

1. Where on earth does Pascal say that belief in God and final judgment isn't a matter of sacrifice? The whole point of a wager involves a stake that one makes. When speaking of believers, Pascal speaks of them as those "who now wager all they have". The sense of having lost nothing comes precisely from the fact that everything pales before the reality of God-- it is based on Pascal's previous discussion of the infinite and the finite. But nowhere does he act as if he's talking about casual belief. The moral rigorism of the Port Royal Jansenists was anything but casual, and the argument Pascal makes for belief in God isn't a glib hedging of bets.

2. The idea that Pascal's argument "ignores other heavens and hells" is a relatively easy accusation to make, but it's a sophomoric punt to pluralism in hopes that religious diversity will somehow obfuscate any particular religious claim. Really, the atheists on this video would be best served by reading Pascal in light of their own line of argument. The atheist apologists are arguing not simply against Christianity, but against all religious beliefs, and they do so with one basic argument that could perhaps be accused of ignoring "other heavens and hells". The reason why it doesn't, however, is because all varieties of religious belief amount to the same thing for them, and that's fair enough if they can present a plausible reduction. The same goes for Pascal, I think. He's not simply ignoring other heavens and hells, rather his logic is centered upon the Christian faith and its narrative concerning heaven and hell. The fundamental nature of his claims about God and the future state inform his claims about disbelief... which is not simply disbelief in an atheistic sense, but rather disbelief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

3. The idea that "belief is subject to the will" is interpreted in the video as "you can choose to believe as a kind of covering-your-ass thing". Pascal's discussion of the will and the heart in belief are geared more towards its relationship to reason, and here he does say that such things are non-rational in a sense. But again, the wager isn't a cover-your-ass move that you can simply will without further concern... it's not a casually calculated bet. Pascal's tone is throughout a pastoral one. He is counseling the unbeliever through the struggle that is belief: "You would like to find faith and do not know the way? You would like to be cured of unbelief and ask for remedies? Learn from those who were bound like you, and who now wager all they have." Note that Pascal's interlocuter is searching for faith in a struggle of the will. There is no neutral subject here that is simply being asked to voluntaristically flip the "on" switch of belief.

4. The above paragraph brings up a point more directly discussed by Christopher Hitchens than in the linked video... Hitchens typically says that Pascal is presenting his argument to "the one who is so made as that they cannot believe". The source of this in the Pensées comes just before the above quoted section, and reads: " [you may say] '...I am forced to wager, and am not free. I have not been released and I am made in such a way that I cannot believe. What, then, would you have me do?' That is true. But at least realize that your inability to believe comes from your passions, since reason brings you to this and yet you cannot believe. Work, then, on convincing yourself, not by adding more proofs of God's existence, but by diminishing your passions." So, while Hitchens is technically correct that Pascal is addressing the unbeliever, he takes the fact completely out of context when he asks for a rational proof in Pascal's wager. This is quite simply not what the argument is meant to be. Quite the opposite, it seeks to move the reader away from that sort of thinking.

The thing that's so creative about the Pensées, and about the wager argument in particular, is not any sort of rational proof for any sort of theological truth (I trust that those who have some interest in Pascal are already aware of this). What I see as the heart of his discourse is an argument for a way of thinking, that deals with the crisis of reason and faith presented by the Enlightenment in a manner not ignorant of the critiques of philosophers. Pascal counsels on the assumption that much in a Christian rationalist perspective is indeed wrong-headed, and that a more nuanced, in some ways Augustinian understanding of the nature of faith contributes in turn to our understanding of reason and its limits. The heart of Pascal's wager argument comes at the beginning of it, I think, when he says:

“Who then will condemn Christians for being unable to give rational grounds for their belief, professing as they do a religion for which they cannot give rational grounds? …if they did prove it they would not be keeping their word. It is by being without proof that they show they are not without sense.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Islamic thought and social life

Islamic contributions to social thought and life have been in a suspended state of "at a crossroads" over the past few years; here are a few important contributions worth pursuing on the matter:

-In the news, the Vatican has supported contributions from Islamic finance as banks face a crisis of trust with their clients. Meanwhile, Osama Bin Laden has called for the overthrow of Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who does not support strict interpretation of sharia law in Somalia, accusing him of being an apostate and implicated by a connection with the United States and other international relations.

-The current Boston Review features a set of articles on "Democracy and Muslim Minorities". Martha Nussbaum writes on threats to Islamic liberalism in India, John R. Bown writes on the use of sharia law in England, and David Mikhail writes on detention practices in the U.S. and what this means for moderate Islam.

-I'm currently cataloging Building a Better Bridge: Muslims, Christians, and the Common Good, from Georgetown UP. The volume brings together papers from the fourth annual Building Bridges seminar in Sarajevo, Bosnio-Herzegovina, 2005.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Anglo-Saxon modern torture practices in recent news

There has been a good bit coming out over the past few days about torture practices that our government has engaged in. I thought I'd post some links here that readers may be interested in following.

-Darius Relaji (author of the highly regarded Torture and Democracy) has an article in Slate about CIA torture techniques, which primarily involve the "clean torture" (torture that doesn't leave physical marks) methods referred to as Anglo-Saxon modern.

-Andrew Sullivan also has some details on torture here, here, here, and here. Sullivan pulls information from Red Cross testimony, and these posts discuss the participation of medical doctors in torture, as well as experimental torture... I believe all stuff here is under the Bush administration.

-Sullivan links this, but it seems that lots of the attention may be coming out in anticipation of Mark Danner's cover story in the April 9 New York Review of Books issue.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Two publishers to keep an eye on for early modern thought...

These publishers aren't new, but they aren't the usual suspects as far as university presses or religious publishers are concerned, so I figured it would be worth devoting a post to them. Both have strong early modern studies lists, mostly covering philosophy and political thought. Both also are interested in the stakes of religion in these conversations, and offer a number of titles that would interest the historian of theology (In making this clarification, I take it that this isn't the case for all publishers).

Liberty Fund, Inc.
The Liberty Fund has been around since 1960, and publishes work in the classic liberal tradition of political and economic thought. I don't know whether the strong philosophical commitments of the Fund discourage potential readers, but there really is some great stuff available here. Their Natural Law and Enlightenment Classics series carries some important texts, from Grotius to Thomasius and even Suárez. David Hume's History of England, Adam Smith's works, and even Jacob Burckhardt, are published by the Fund, in addition to the expected classics of libertarian thought.

Pickering & Chatto Publishers
I came across Pickering & Chatto through a book by one of my brother's undergraduate economics professors. This publisher is known for primary literature as well as secondary studies from the 18th-20th centuries (mostly American & English), recognizable by the classy understated style of their hardbacks. Not to be missed is their multi-volume Reception of Locke's Politics, as well as the series The Enlightenment World with some good looking monographs, both recent and upcoming.

Monday, March 16, 2009

a passing note to publishers...

As a cataloger, a lot of books go by my desk, and I often funnel news of them into this blog in order to help others stay up-to-date on the literature related to theology in its historical and systematic aspects. A decent share of clavi non defixi readers actually work for these publishers, and I've appreciated the correspondence from these folks. I'm glad I can be of some little service in facilitating discussion and passing on information when I run across it.

I've lately been trying to streamline and expand my ability to note new literature a bit by RSS'ing publishers and publisher blogs as much as possible. This allows for a quick skim of news items and an easier time of deciding what might be useful to mention here for readers. Some of you, however, are not so easily filed on my google account, either because you don't have a blog, or new-release updates, or because your update method is somewhat clunky (downloadable PDF every few months, spotty email notifications, quarterly catalog, etc.). Speaking only for myself, I'd just recommend checking out what might be possible to add for your publisher's website in terms of updates, for the sake of folks like us who are trying to keep up with everything that's out there. Trust me, I still check your site periodically even if you don't have this, but I'd be less likely to miss something noteworthy if I were tethered to you in a more substantial way.

Thoughts? Suggestions?

A few items...

  • Halden notes a moving article from a homosexual Christian (a Wheaton grad!) about the struggles of life amidst the negotiation of intimacy and loneliness.
  • The Philosophical Quarterly is sponsoring an international essay prize. This year's topic is "Moral Autonomy." Essays are due Nov. 1st.
  • Martin Marty offers a synopsis of some recent polling of mainline clergy. Ignoring the (admittedly muted) culture war chip on his shoulder, it's an interesting read about the churches in which I was raised... and still attend? I don't know if non-Episcopalian Anglicans count as "mainline", precisely because of the political and generational conotations that go along with these labels. In any case, worth reading.
  • The IVP blog shares some thoughts on the festschrift and why it is falling on hard times at the publisher. My personal opinion is that this unfortunate development is based largely on the model of academic publishing that has been in place for the last few decades... but that's another post for another day.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"When Science Is a Siren Song"

My brother pointed this article out to me on the present culture of academic publishing. While Shaywitz is speaking of the sciences here, I think that much of it can apply to humanities disciplines as well. From the article:

"University researchers are in a constant battle for recognition and the rewards associated with success: research space, speaking engagements, funding and autonomy. Consequently, while academic research is often described as "curiosity-driven," the reality is messier, as (curiously) many researchers tend to pursue the trendiest technologies and explore topics that happen to be associated with the most generous levels of research support.

Moreover, since academic success is determined almost exclusively by the number and prestige of research publications, the incentives to generate results are exceedingly powerful and can encourage investigators to see patterns that may not exist, to disregard contradictory observations that might be important, to overvalue data that might be preliminary or unreliable, and to embrace conclusions that deserve to be viewed with far greater skepticism."

Friday, March 13, 2009

From the cataloger's desk...

Two books that I'd much rather spend an hour or two looking through than catalog and pass on.

The first is a study by Guy Bedouelle, The Reform of Catholicism, 1480-1620. It's a short volume, and the first book in a new series by PIMS, Catholic and Recusant Texts of the Late Medieval & Early Modern Periods. As far as I can tell, the new series will be listed under the wider Studies and Texts, of which Bedouelle is v. 161.

The second is a huge, gorgeous volume from Cambridge, Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt (ed. Bernard Rosenthal). I've spoken before a bit about witchcraft, and I've been interested for some time in the... for lack of a better word... inquisitorial episodes of the Church's history. How ecclesial and social structures deal with heresy or spiritual deviance (I'm thinking witchcraft, possession, etc.), and especially how these structures change in the modern period, is an important consideration as we make sense of a world that we're reticent to call secular. Almost 1,000 documents are transcribed by Rosenthal and the team of editors, a comprehensive collection of all pertinent legal documents. At $150, the price isn't horrible for all that you get.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI responds to the SSPX situation

Rumors (and a German version of the letter) surfaced yesterday that Benedict XVI would release his long-awaited letter today in response to the lifting of excommunication for SSPX bishops.

See here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Wolterstorff responds to Smith

See here. I can't offer much comment as I haven't read the book*, but the response impressively addresses Smith's accusations.

*One of these days I'll catch up on this literature. Too much I don't know about my own research interests to get into this now in any great earnest.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Jamie Smith on a roll at the Immanent Frame

James K.A. Smith has offered his third and final response to the ongoing discussion of Nicholas Wolterstorff's recent book, Justice: Rights and Wrongs. In his first two posts, Smith discusses the extent to which he senses a resistance on Wolterstorff's part to the idea that the modern language of "right" can be rejected without thus rejecting a commitment to justice. Wolterstorff does not find "right order" theories of justice appropriate and so fails to engage as well as he might with the thought of people like McIntyre or Hauerwas. In his final installment, Smith identifies Wolterstorff's stance as a sort of "Whig Calvinism", comparing it to the "Whig Thomism" of earlier theorists like John Courtney Murray.

Well worth the read, as is Wolterstorff's book. The fact that some of the leading political theorists today are employing or at least engaging directly with (I'm thinking of Jeffrey Stout here) theological implications of and contributions to liberal theory is promising. Communitarian alternatives are also benefitting from the exchange as they become increasingly sharpened.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A quick plug for a friend...

I know this isn't exactly on topic for a theology blog, and I know it sort of feeds into the pop-culture stuff that we snobby academic bloggers love to loathe. But bear with me, and feel free to call me inconsistent.

An old rowing buddy of mine entered that The Best Job in the World thing where someone gets picked to be an island caretaker in the Great Barrier Reef. Steve got to the finals, and is looking for votes on his application video so that he can get the job. Here's his video. Please visit and rack up some votes for him. Apparently you can vote from the same email address every 24 hours too, so rinse and repeat as needed.

Theological Studies articles available for download

Theological Studies, a journal near and dear to my heart, is in the process of putting up its past articles for download. This will be an immense help to those who don't have access to an institutional subscription for the journal. Please read the necessary info for downloads, copyright, and usage.

For those unfamiliar with Theological Studies, Michael Fahey's outgoing editorial from 2005 offers a wonderful overview of the origin and development of the journal.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Book Sale at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

The Augsburg Fortress store at LSTC is apparently closing, and they're having a clearance sale on most all of their items. It seems that Augsburg Fortress has only run the bookstore for a year and a half, but it does sound as if the store is closing rather than simply changing hands. Actually, it looks like Augsburg Fortress is closing all of their U.S. stores. Here's the notice from the manager on the sale:

Clearance Sale! Take 30% off of Books, Music, Gifts, Clergy Shirts and Apparel along with 20% off of church supplies. Sale starts March 2nd. The sale does not apply to ELW Product, curriculum, and Book of Faith. All sales are final. Sale applies to in store items only.

We are located on the lower level of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1100 E. 55th Street , Chicago, IL 60615. You can reach by phone at 773-256-0753

Hours Monday- Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. closed Saturdays.