Faithful Narratives

Faithful Narratives: Historians, Religion, and the Challenge of Objectivity

Andrea Sterk
Nina Caputo
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Cornell University Press
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    Faithful Narratives
    Book Description:

    Historians of religion face complex interpretive issues when examining religious texts, practices, and experiences. Faithful Narratives presents the work of twelve eminent scholars whose research has exemplified compelling strategies for negotiating the difficulties inherent in this increasingly important area of historical inquiry. The chapters range chronologically from Late Antiquity to modern America and thematically from the spirituality of near eastern monks to women's agency in religion, considering familiar religious communities alongside those on the margins and bringing a range of spiritual and religious practices into historical focus.

    Focusing on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the essays address matters central to the study of religion in history, in particular texts and traditions of authority, interreligious discourse, and religious practice and experience. Some examine mainstream communities and traditions, others explore individuals who crossed religious or confessional boundaries, and still others study the peripheries of what is considered orthodox religious tradition. Encompassing a wide geographical as well as chronological scope, Faithful Narratives illustrates the persistence of central themes and common analytical challenges for historians working in all periods.

    Contributors: Peter Brown, Princeton University; Nina Caputo, University of Florida; Carlos Eire, Yale University; Susanna Elm, University of California, Berkeley; Anthony Grafton, Princeton University; Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College; Phyllis Mack, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; Kenneth Mills, University of Toronto; David Nirenberg, University of Chicago; Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame; David B. Ruderman, University of Pennsylvania; Lamin Sanneh, Yale University; Andrea Sterk, University of Florida; John Van Engen, University of Notre Dame.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7105-6
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: The Challenge of Religion in History
    (pp. 1-12)
    Andrea Sterk and Nina Caputo

    Contemporary Western society presents a baffling array of religious options, opinions, and extremes, from militant secularism to radical fundamentalism. The success of antireligious writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens suggests that atheism is not simply on the rise but an increasingly potent force to be contended with in public discourse. Churchgoing may be on the decline in Europe, but there is no shortage of devotion in other parts of the world, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where religious fervor has kept pace with processes of secular democratic reform.¹ On the local level, within our own town of...

  5. Part One: Late Antique and Medieval Religious Debates and Their Modern Implications

    • Chapter 1 Pagan Challenge, Christian Response: Emperor Julian and Gregory of Nazianzus as Paradigms of Interreligious Discourse
      (pp. 15-31)
      Susanna Elm

      On December 11, 361, a man called Julian arrived in Constantinople, a city at the time also known as the New Rome.¹ Julian entered this city as the sole ruler of the Roman Empire and as the legitimate successor of his recently deceased cousin Constantius. Later, the Emperor Julian became famous, known as the Apostate, because he had reverted from his Christian religion back to the religion of the gods of the Greeks and the Romans. As such, he has been a subject of plays, romance novels, poems, and literary works by authors such as Henrik Ibsen, Vladimir Majakovskij, Gore...

    • Chapter 2 Between Syria and Egypt: Alms, Work, and the “Holy Poor”
      (pp. 32-46)
      Peter Brown

      I have been led to write this paper by one fact, which struck me as I worked, in recent years, on the issues of wealth and the care of the poor in the Christian churches of late antiquity. I found myself asking who, actually, were “the poor”? And I realized, somewhat to my surprise, that, in the eastern Christian world of the later third and fourth centuries, there was, as yet, no simple answer to that question.

      My surprise deserves to be emphasized. We now tend to take for granted that the principal duty of good Christians in the disposal...

    • Chapter 3 Medieval Monks on Labor and Leisure
      (pp. 47-62)
      John Van Engen

      Nearly a century ago historians and historical sociologists singled out work and prayer as especially revealing of human activity. Attitudes toward work and prayer, Max Weber (1864–1920) and R. H. Tawney (1880–1962) contended, significantly shaped the varied histories of early modern peoples: those commercially successful Calvinists (England, Holland, New England), for instance, over against malingering Medieval Catholics and Early Modern Lutherans. These observations were shrewd—if driven as well by debates in their own day over observably different levels of industrialization and capitalization. Fundamental too were methodological disputes, whether society and economy should be approached empirically, or culturally...

    • Chapter 4 Sibling Rivalries, Scriptural Communities: What Medieval History Can and Cannot Teach Us about Relations between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
      (pp. 63-80)
      David Nirenberg

      Since 1989, that is, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the ways in which we think about the geopolitical importance of the history of religion, and particularly of Islam, have been turned on their heads. A brief quote is sufficient to make the point, this one from a 1957 intelligence report by a high-level U.S. intelligence and security interagency group called the Operations Coordinating Board:

      Islam is important to the United States,because it has compatible values.The present division of the world into two camps is often represented as being along...

  6. Part Two: Early Modern Perspectives on Spirituality, Culture, and Religious Boundaries

    • Chapter 5 The People and the Book: Print and the Transformation of Jewish Culture in Early Modern Europe
      (pp. 83-95)
      David B. Ruderman

      In the past several decades, the study of Jewish culture and society in early modern Europe has come into its own with a remarkable explosion of books and essays written on almost every aspect of this fascinating period.¹ Most of this scholarship, however, is exclusively focused on a particular region or locality, denying, it would seem, the very possibility that a distinct early modern Jewish cultural experience can ever be meaningfully described. I wish to assert that such a description is possible and desirable.

      I have recently tried to describe a transregional culture in early modern Europe, linking in some...

    • Chapter 6 The Jewish Book in Christian Europe: Material Texts and Religious Encounters
      (pp. 96-114)
      Anthony Grafton

      Between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries, European Christians confronted and tried to make sense of many different religions. They reconstructed the religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Greeks and Romans whose works they studied at school and university. They studied the origins and history of Christianity—a subject that led to fierce debates, as the Reformation and Counter-Reformation gave it new urgency—and those of what they saw as its most dangerous opponent, Islam. They destroyed the temples of the Aztecs and Incas, only to find that they could not turn the surviving inhabitants of the New World...

    • Chapter 7 Mission and Narrative in the Early Modern Spanish World: Diego de Ocaña’s Desert in Passing
      (pp. 115-131)
      Kenneth Mills

      In the early modern Spanish world, thirst for all manner of information and “news” from abroad appears to have been rivaled only by the enthusiasm of various willing informants to provide it. These participant-tellers delivered in a stunning variety of forms. Amidst the array of communications, there rests a vast range of spiritual reportage by members of religious orders from abroad. Often urgent and dramatic in nature, sometimes quite self-contained, these writings represent a kind of “intelligence” which, while demonstrably vital for sixteenth- and seventeenth-century contemporaries, can be particularly challenging for twenty-first century readers. In the spirit of this volume,...

    • Chapter 8 Incombustible Weber: How the Protestant Reformation Really Disenchanted the World
      (pp. 132-148)
      Carlos Eire

      Why does Max Weber continue to haunt various disciplines a century after he made very large claims for the impact of Protestantism on Western civilization?¹ One would think that Weber and his theses would have been forgotten by now. Instead, despite various attempts to declare him worthy of oblivion, he simply will not vanish from view.² Much like those images of Martin Luther that were rumored to be fireproof—a belief once cited as evidence that Weber was wrong—Weber, too, seems to be incombustible.³

      Ever since Weber proposed that Protestants had caused “the disenchantment of the world,” (entzauberung der...

  7. Part Three: From the Premodern to the Modern World:: Sacred Texts, Individual Agency, and Religious Identity

    • Chapter 9 Religion and Gender in Enlightenment England: The Problem of Agency
      (pp. 151-168)
      Phyllis Mack

      This is the story of two women who lived and preached in the parish of Madeley, in Shropshire, in the second half of the eighteenth century. Abiah Darby (1716–93) arrived in 1745 as the second wife of Abraham Darby II when he took over the management of the family-owned ironworking company.¹ Her parents were Quaker ministers in Durham and her relatives were coal-fitters and mining engineers, so she was comfortable in the atmosphere of an industrializing town and wrote knowledgeably about the techniques of smelting iron and transporting coal.² In 1751 she began traveling as a minister, accompanied by...

    • Chapter 10 Constructions of Jewish Identity through Reflections on Islam
      (pp. 169-184)
      Susannah Heschel

      Can one discover one’s own religious identity by exploring another religion? Philological examinations of the Qur’an by Jewish scholars, starting with Abraham Geiger (1810–74), initially were a project of restoration. By pointing to significant parallels between the Qur’an and rabbinic texts, including Mishnah and Midrash, they thought they were offering Muslims and all those interested in Islam a foundational context, namely, early Judaism. No gift, of course, was ever without an expectation of reciprocity. Although the anthropologist Marcel Mauss analyzed gift exchange within the context of Pacific island societies, his demonstration of the politics of the gift bears implications...

    • Chapter 11 Bible, Translation, and Culture: From the KJV to the Christian Resurgence in Africa
      (pp. 185-202)
      Lamin Sanneh

      While Christianity has been in sharp decline in its historic European heartlands, it has been undergoing a striking resurgence in modern Africa and elsewhere, taking knowledgeable observers by surprise.¹ The normal expectation was that in the age of nationalism Christian missions would come to an end to signal the end of Christianity in Africa. In the meantime, unable to make a dent on Islam in its impregnable North African heartlands, Christian Europe accepted the situation as “the end of an era,” the title of a sober appraisal by a veteran missionary.² From its origins Islam has presented a challenge to...

    • Chapter 12 Reflections on the Bible and American Political Life
      (pp. 203-220)
      Mark A. Noll

      “This country is, as everybody knows, a creation of the Bible, . . . and the Bible is still holding its own, exercising enormous influence as a real spiritual power, in spite of all the destructive tendencies.”¹ These words, spoken more than a century ago, came from an unexpected source as part of an address delivered by Solomon Schechter at the dedication of the main building of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. Yet although this opinion came from the Jewish margin of American society, it echoed what was then a common assertion about the biblical character of...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 221-266)
  9. Contributors
    (pp. 267-270)
  10. Index
    (pp. 271-278)